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How to Tea Stain Paper for That Vintage Look

Tea-staining paper is a useful crafting technique for making paper appear older than it actually is. Tea-staining can be used to make several different types of paper appear antiquated and distressed, giving this “aged paper” a distinctive yellowed look. This process is thought to originate in ancient Asia, though the original origins of the craft are unclear. 

Paper is stained with tea by brewing tea and brushing the paper down using a soft sponge brush. After staining, tea-stained paper is dried on a rack before using it for journaling or other purposes. Tea-staining paper helps give it a vintage look.  

Whether you’re trying to tea-stain paper for scrapbooking, paper craft projects, junk journals, or gift-wrapping, tea dying is a simple way to make your paper look special and give it a aged look. If you want to make your new white paper look like old parchment, keep reading this blog post. 

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Supplies for Tea Staining Paper

There are only a few supplies you need for tea staining paper. Here are the things you should get together for your staining project: 

  • Black tea bags: Black tea bags are the best type of tea for tea-staining projects. Tea bags are better than loose-leaf tea because it’s easier to clean up after the crafting project afterwards. Ground matcha tea can also be used to create a green stain for paper crafts. Once you’ve experimented with bags of black tea, you can branch out into other types of tea like green tea and herb tea like hibiscus for other amazing colors.
  • Sponge brushes: A crafting sponge brush is perfect for brushing tea stain evenly across your papers for a smooth and natural-looking finish. Sponge brushes are also gentle on the surface of more delicate paper. This way the brushes don’t cause a rubbed look to the paper surface once it’s wet.
  • Rimmed baking tray: A rimmed baking sheet is the best tray for drying your tea-stained paper once it’s done being stained. A baking sheet also acts as a convenient flat surface, and keeps any liquid tea water from running off where you don’t want it. If you accidentally spill tea on your rug, check out this post on how to clean tea stains from carpet. 😉
  • Paper: Many types of paper can be stained with tea, from copier paper to sheet music. It’s easier to see a true tea shade when you tea-stain on paper that is already bleached white, but it can lend a stained appearance to colored paper too if it’s light enough.  Watercolor paper is made to be absorbent so it works well. Experiment with thinner papers, card stock, old papers, and even junk journals. Paper made from natural fibers without any shiny finishes works best to absorb the dye.
  • Oven: You can tea-stain paper more quickly if you do it in an oven since you can do a few pages every five or six minutes, but if you don’t have an oven available tea-stained papers can be air-dried. 
  • Paper towels: Towels are useful for blotting up extra tea so you get the antique look you want.

As long as you have these basic supplies, you can get going with your tea-staining paper crafts. Gathering up your supplies ahead of time makes it easier to get going once you’re ready to start.  

how to tea dye paper

How to Dye Paper With Tea

The process of aging paper using tea stains is fairly straightforward. Follow this process to age paper using tea: 

  • To start, brew yourself a batch of tea. The tea stain will become darker the longer you steep the tea bags in hot water.
  • Crumple up your paper. You can skip this step if you want your tea stain to have a smoother look, but crumpling the paper can help give the tea stain a little more texture once you apply it over the creases.
  • Add the tea stain. This can be done in a few different ways. You can either pour the tea over the sheet of paper on the cookie sheet, use the sponge brush to brush the tea stain onto the paper, or use the tea bags themselves to dab the tea onto the paper.
  • Allow the tea-stained paper to dry. Dry the stained paper on low heat in the oven (200F) for 5-6 minutes, or alternately allow the paper to dry on a drying rack for at last 45 minutes per page or until completely dry. Air drying paper outdoors works well too. Just keep out of direct sunlight because you don’t want to bleach out your newly dyed paper.

And that’s it! Once the tea-stained paper has dried completely, it should be ready for use in any craft you like. 

What Paper Is Best for Tea Staining? 

Any white paper can be easily stained with tea, but the type of paper that probably takes up tea stains most easily is watercolor paper. Since this paper is designed to soak up water-based paints, it’s the perfect scrapbooking paper for tea stains. 

Paper that is not a good choice for tea staining is any paper that has been treated with a glossy topcoat, such as photograph paper. Types of paper with a shiny appearance typically have protection against liquids, so it’ll be difficult to get any kind of water-based dye or stain to soak into the paper’s surface. 

Do You Tea Stain Paper Before or After Writing on It?

It’s best if you’re tea-staining paper that you put whatever writing you’re going to put on the paper before you stain it and allow the writing to dry completely. 

If you add ink-based writing to the paper after the paper has been tea-stained, this may cause the ink to blotch and run. Anything you write on tea-stained paper after the fact will appear messy, which will ruin any calligraphy you’re trying to do. 

Does Tea-Stained Paper Mold? 

One concern that some people may have about tea-staining paper is whether or not adding moisture to the paper will cause it to mold over time. The good news is that since brewed tea is generally antifungal and tea can kill bacteria, it shouldn’t grow any mold in the paper once it’s dried. 

Tips for Tea-Dyeing Paper

Tea-staining paper is an easy paper craft even for beginners, and the acidic nature of tea means that it naturally helps preserve papers for archival. However, here are a few additional tips for getting the most out of your tea-staining project: 

  • Add turmeric. Adding a teaspoon or two of turmeric to your tea-staining solution will give your tea stain a deeper yellow tone and will add to the richness of the paper’s color. 
  • Use tea grounds. You can add tea grounds and even coffee grounds to your tea-staining project to give your tea stain an uneven, splashed look that will make your paper look as if it’s been exposed to the elements outdoors. This is a great option for distressing papers to act as period props, like pirate maps or ancient documents.
  • Add calligraphy. Just staining your paper with tea will give it an elegant aesthetic, but you can accentuate it even further by adding beautiful calligraphy or illustrations to your tea-stained paper. This gives your scrapbook or journal a finished and artistic look. 

The look of your tea stain will change depending on what kind of paper project you’re working on. By following the advice above, you can end up with a tea stain that looks good enough to be considered professional. 

What Else Can You Use to Naturally Dye Paper?

You may find that once you start using natural dyes, you can’t stop. You can also tea dye fabric for an aged look. I’ve tea dyed muslin and used it as a quilt backing and the result was fantastic.

Here are some things to try for more natural dyeing colors:

  • Coffee dye from grounds or brewed coffee: brown
  • Onion skins: orange
  • Avocado skin and pits: pink
  • Red cabbage: purple
  • Turmeric: yellow and orange
  • Beets: red
  • Blueberries and blackberries: blue
  • Spinach: green

Tea Staining Paper Adds Vintage Flair

Whether you’re working on an antiqued scrapbook or you just want to add a little character to your daily journal, tea dyeing paper is an easy way to make your writing look like something out of the past.  I also have simple instructions on how to tea dye fabric.

You can dye paper with so many other household items – it can even be a good way to reuse coffee grounds instead of just throwing them out.

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