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Old Paper Background Texture With Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson.
In this Photoshop Effects tutorial, we’ll learn how to create a simple old paper texture, great for use as a scrapbooking background for displaying old, antique photos! I’ll be using Photoshop CS5 here but any recent version of Photoshop will work.

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Here’s what our old paper texture will look like when we’re done:

Photoshop old paper texture effect. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The final result.

And here’s just one example of how it can be used as a background for a photo layout:

Create an old paper texture background in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
A scrapbooking-style photo layout with the paper texture as the background.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Create A New Photoshop Document

Let’s begin by creating a new document for our paper texture. Go up to the File menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and choose New:

The New Document command in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to File > New.

This opens the New Document dialog box. Enter the width, height and resolution you need. For this tutorial, I’ll enter 1000 pixels for both the Width and Height, and I’ll leave my Resolution set to 72 pixels/inch. If you’re planning to print the final result, you’ll probably want to enter width and height values in inches, and you’ll want to set your resolution to 240 pixels/inch or higher. Click OK when you’re done to close out of the dialog box. Your new Photoshop document will appear on the screen:

Photoshop New Document dialog box. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Enter the dimensions and resolution for your new document.

Step 2: Fill The Document With A Light Brown

At the moment, our new document is filled with solid white. Let’s change the color. Go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choose Fill:

The Fill command in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Fill.

This opens the Fill dialog box. Set the Use option at the top of the dialog box to Color:

The Fill dialog box in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Change the Use option to Color.

As soon as you select Color, Photoshop will pop open the Color Picker which is where we choose the color we want to fill the layer with. Select a light brown. If you want to use the same color I’m using, look for the R, G and B options (which stand for Red, Green and Blue) near the bottom center of the dialog box, then set the R value to 211, G to 178 and B to 140:

Photoshop Color Picker. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Choose a light brown from the Color Picker.

Click OK to close out of the Color Picker, then click OK to close out of the Fill dialog box. Photoshop fills the document with light brown:

Photoshop document filled with light brown. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Photoshop fills the document with the chosen color.

Step 3: Add A New Layer

Click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

The New Layer icon in the Layers panel in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click on the New Layer icon.

Nothing will happen in the document window, but a new blank layer named Layer 1 appears above the Background layer in the Layers panel:

Photoshop CS5 Layers panel. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
A new blank layer appears.

Step 4: Apply The Clouds Filter

We’re going to use this layer to add some texture to the paper. First, make sure your Foreground and Background colors are set to their defaults by pressing the letter D on your keyboard. This resets your Foreground color to black and your Background color to white, just in case they were set to something different. The reason we’re doing this is because the filter we’re about to run uses the Foreground and Background colors. You can see what the colors are currently set to by looking at the Foreground and Background color swatches near the bottom of the Tools panel:

Photoshop Foreground and Background color swatches in the Tools panel. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Foreground (top left) and Background (bottom right) color swatches.

With the Foreground and Background colors reset, go up to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choose Render, and then choose Clouds:

Photoshop filter render clouds. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

There are no additional options for the Clouds filter, so Photoshop will simply go ahead and run it, adding random “clouds” to the layer. Your document will look something like this:

Photoshop rendered clouds. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The image after running the Clouds filter.

Step 5: Apply The Spatter Filter

Go back up to the Filter menu and this time choose Brush Strokes, then choose Spatter:

Photoshop Filter > Brush Strokes > Spatter. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Brush Strokes > Spatter.

This opens Photoshop’s Filter Gallery showing a large preview of the effect on the left, with the Spatter options appearing in the top right corner of the dialog box. Drag the sliders for both the Spray Radius and Smoothness options all the way to the right so they’re both maxed out:

Photoshop Spatter filter options. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Spatter options.

Click OK to close out of the Filter Gallery, at which point Photoshop applies the Spatter filter to the clouds, giving them more of a rough, textured look:

Photoshop Spatter filter applied. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The clouds after applying the Spatter filter.

Step 6: Change The Blend Mode To Overlay And Lower The Opacity

In the top left corner of the Layers panel, you’ll find the Blend Mode option which by default is set to Normal. Change the blend mode to Overlay. This blends the clouds texture in with the light brown color on the layer below it. Directly across from the Blend Mode option is the Opacity option, set to 100%. This controls the transparency of the layer. Lower the opacity value down to around 15% to give the texture a much more subtle appearance in the document:

Photoshop layer blend mode and opacity options. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Change the blend mode to Overlay and lower the opacity to around 15%.

Your image should now look something like this:

Photoshop document, Overlay blend mode, Opacity 15%. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The texture now appears much more subtle.

Step 7: Add Another New Layer

Click once again on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add another new blank layer to the document. It will appear in the Layers panel as Layer 2:

Photoshop New Layer icon in Layers panel. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Add a second new layer.

Step 8: Apply The Clouds Filter Again

Just as we did back in Step 5, apply the Clouds filter to the new layer by going up to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choosing Render, and then choosing Clouds. A different cloud pattern will appear in the document:

Photoshop rendered clouds. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
A new clouds pattern is added to Layer 2.

Step 9: Apply The Cutout Filter

We’ll use this second clouds pattern to add some stains to the paper. Go up to the Filter menu, choose Artistic, and then choose Cutout:

Photoshop Filter > Artistic > Cutout. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Artistic > Cutout.

This again opens Photoshop’s Filter Gallery, but this time with the options for the Cutout filter in the top right corner. Set the Number of Levels to 4, Edge Simplicity to 3 and Edge Fidelity also to 3:

Photoshop Cutout filter options. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Cutout filter options.

Click OK to close out of the Filter Gallery. Photoshop applies the Cutout filter to the clouds pattern, which should now look something like this in your document:

Photoshop cutout filter results. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The clouds after running the Cutout filter.

Step 10: Change The Blend Mode To Overlay And Lower The Opacity

As we did in Step 8, change the blend mode for the layer from Normal to Overlay, then lower the opacity of the layer, this time to somewhere between 10-15% to reduce the intensity of the stains. I’m going to lower my opacity value to 13%:

Photoshop blend mode Overlay, opacity 13%. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Change the blend mode to Overlay and lower the opacity value.

Here’s the document after adding the stains:

Subtle stains appear on the old paper. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The paper texture after adding subtle stains.

Step 11: Merge The Existing Layers Onto A New Layer

Hold down your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key, then with the key still held down, go up to the Layer menu at the top of the screen and choose Merge Visible:

Photoshop merge visible layers command. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Hold down Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and go to Layer > Merge Visible.

Normally, the Merge Visible command would have flattened all of our layers onto the Background layer, but by holding down the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key while selecting the command, we told Photoshop to merge the layers onto a brand new layer above them in the Layers panel (Layer 3):

Photoshop merged visible layers. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The three existing layers have been merged onto a new layer above them.

Step 12: Select The Burn Tool

Select Photoshop’s Burn Tool from the Tools panel, which we’re going to use to darken the paper’s edges. By default, it’s nested behind the Dodge Tool, so click on the Dodge Tool’s icon and hold your mouse button down for a second or two until a fly-out menu appears showing the other tools available in that spot, then select the Burn Tool from the list:

Photoshop Burn Tool. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Burn Tool, by default, is hiding behind the Dodge Tool in the Tools panel.

Step 13: Paint With The Burn Tool To Darken The Edges

Press the letter F on your keyboard to switch to the first of Photoshop’s fullscreen modes, which will make this next step easier (pressing the letter F a couple more times will cycle through the various screen modes and bring you back to the document window later). With the Burn Tool selected, look up in the Options Bar at the top of the screen and make sure the Range option is set to Midtones and Exposure is set to 50% (these are the default settings):

Photoshop Burn Tool options. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The default Burn Tool options in the Options Bar.

Then, with a large, soft-edge brush (the Burn Tool is considered a brush), paint around the edges of the paper to darken (or "burn") them. To change the size of the brush, press the left bracket key ( [ ) on your keyboard to make the brush smaller, or the right bracket key ( ] ) to make it larger. To change the hardness of the brush edges, hold down your Shift key and press the left bracket key to soften them. Press the key a few times to set the brush edge hardness to 0%, which will give you the softest edges possible.

For best results, keep the center of the Burn Tool’s brush cursor in the gray pasteboard area surrounding the paper and only allow the outer edges of the cursor to pass over the paper. Passing over the same area again will darken that area even more. Here, I’m painting over a corner to darken it. Notice how the center of the cursor (the small target symbol) remains in the pasteboard area:

Darkening the paper edges with the Burn Tool in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Keep the center of the brush cursor in the gray pasteboard area as you paint around the edges to darken them.

Use the left and right bracket keys on your keyboard to vary the size of the brush as you paint around the edges to create a more random looking result. If you make a mistake and you’re not happy with how your last brush stroke looks, press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) to undo it, or press Ctrl+Alt+Z (Win) / Command+Option+Z (Mac) repeatedly to undo multiple strokes.

I’ll press the letter F on my keyboard a couple of times to switch back to the document window screen mode, and here’s my image after darkening the edges:

Photoshop burned paper edges with Burn Tool. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The edges after darkening them with the Burn Tool set to different sizes.

Step 14: Add Another New Layer

Click again on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add another new layer, which will appear above Layer 3 in the Layers panel. Photoshop will name it… you guessed it… Layer 4:

Photoshop New Layer icon. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Add another new layer.

Step 15: Fill The New Layer With White

Press Ctrl+Backspace (Win) / Command+Delete (Mac) on your keyboard. This is a quick way to instantly fill a layer with the current Background color, which in our case happens to be white. The document will temporarily appear filled with solid white:

The Photoshop document is filled with white. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The paper texture will temporarily be blocked from view by the solid white on Layer 4.

Step 16: Add Noise

Go up to the Filter menu, choose Noise, then choose Add Noise:

Selecting the Add Noise filter in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

This opens the Add Noise filter’s dialog box. Increase the Amount value to around 120%, although the specific value doesn’t really matter as long as you’re adding lots of noise. Make sure the Gaussian and Monochromatic options are both selected at the bottom of the dialog box:

Photoshop Add Noise filter. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

Click OK to close out of the dialog box. Photoshop will fill the layer with noise:

Photoshop noise. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The image now filled with noise.

Step 17: Change The Blend Mode To Multiply And Lower The Opacity

Finally, to blend the noise in with the paper texture to give it a grainy look, change the blend mode of Layer 4 to Multiply and lower it’s opacity down to around 10%:

Multiply blend mode, Opacity 10%. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Change the blend mode to Multiply and lower the Opacity value to 10%.

And with that, our old paper texture is complete! Here’s the result with the noise now blended in:

Photoshop old paper texture effect. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The final old paper texture.

Step 18: Flatten And Save The Texture

Since we’re done creating the texture and there’s really nothing we can go back and change at this point, let’s simplify things by flattening the file. Go up to the Layer menu and choose Flatten Image:

Photoshop Flatten Image command. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Layer > Flatten Image.

This flattens all the layers onto the Background layer, which will make it easier to use the texture as a background whenever we need it:

Layers flattened onto the Background layer in Photoshop. Image © 2011 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The texture has been flattened onto the Background layer.

With the image flattened, save the file to your computer by going up to the File menu and choosing Save As. Give the file a descriptive name like "Old Paper Texture.PSD" and make sure you set the Format to Photoshop so you’re saving a Photoshop document. This will keep the texture’s image quality intact for later use.

And there we have it! That’s how to create an old paper background texture with Photoshop! Check out our Photo Effects section for more great Photoshop effects tutorials, or see below for other tutorials you may be interested in!

Download our tutorials as print-ready PDFs! Learning Photoshop has never been easier!

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