Films Props – How To Create Authentic Looking Aged Paper

January 16, 2020
2 mins read

It’s almost a rite of passage to at one point have aged paper in one of your short films. Can you even say you’ve made a short film without requiring a mysterious parchment or an ancient map? I think not (citation needed).

There seems to be a common misconception that old paper is always burnt. Perhaps this comes from our days in high-school history class, where we burned paper to make it appear aged. Yet, if you study paper from the ages before us, very little of it is burned (unless the paper was in an incident involving fire). Still, I see this notion being carried across into DIY short films. For the most part, aged pieces paper will appear as a tanned yellow, and this is because of oxidation

HowStuffWorks says;

Paper is made from wood, which is made up mainly of white cellulose. Wood also has a lot of a dark substance in it called lignin, which ends up in the paper, too, along with the cellulose. The exposure of lignin to air and sunlight is what turns paper yellow.

In the video below, you can learn the quick, cheap & easy method for creating an aged parchment that looks great on camera. You can skip the video and follow the written text version underneath. However, on this occasion, I would recommend following the video.

The Process

To create an authentic aged paper, you will need the following.

  • Wedding parchment paper.
  • Instant coffee.
  • Kitchen roll (paper towels).
  • A teaspoon.
  • Paper distresser.
  • A glass of water.

Wedding parchment paper is more of an oatmeal white than your typical white A4 sheet of paper. This is great as it gives us an excellent foundation for making our paper look old.

Step 1

First, take two large teaspoons of instant coffee and place it in the center of the kitchen roll.

Image of a person scooping out some coffee onto kitchen roll.

Scrunch up the kitchen roll nice and tight, and completely submerge it into the glass of water until the coffee is soaked. With the coffee now slightly liquidizing, start to brush the coffee onto the parchment paper.

A person rubbing coffee onto parchment paper.

It’s essential to drench the paper in the coffee entirely and also to make sure it is evenly spread. Although, if you are making a bundle of aged paper, then having some coffee build up in one area might look suitable for variation.

Step 2

With both sides completely soaked in coffee, it’s now time to distress the paper to add authenticity to the paper further. First, use the hair dryer to make the paper crispy dry.

A person hair drying the coffee-stained parchment paper

Next, we’re going to use the paper distresser to distress the edges of the paper. The distresser has razors in the ridges that tear and roughen paper. This is great as it gives an authentic look for aging a document. Without the hairdryer, the paper won’t dry as hard, and you will find it challenging to roughen the edges.

A pair of hands distressing the edges of the parchment paper.

Once that is complete—and how rough the edges are is of your creative input—you need to slightly fold the sides of the paper to make it appear warped. In the reference shot below from Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, you can see that the parchments and scrolls are quite warped, possibly from age or because of how the paper was made back then. Either way, turned up edges adds excellent value to the look of the paper.

Still image of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

Image via New Line Cinema

There we have it; the paper indeed looks like an aged document. Depending on which era the paper has come from, you can roughen the edges even more. With some colour grading, you can further enhance the colours of the parchment and make it look like a relic from another time. You can find more tutorials like this on my YouTube channel UglyMcGregor

A prop of a scroll of parchment paper with ancient-like handwriting.

Lewis McGregor

Lewis McGregor is a filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.