Photo Tip of the Month: How To Create Antique Photos With Sloppy Borders

Dia de los Muertos Doll Woman

Dia de los Muertos Doll Woman. This was shot with a Nikon D90 and 18-200mm VR lens. I then created an antique appearance with sloppy borders. Want to know how? Read on, my friend, read on!

There are some times when you want to create a timeless, vintage look.  I love the aesthetics and how it can create more emotion in a photograph.  I also love the whole idea of taking my time, getting a good strong sharp image with great lighting, and then completely screwing it up!!!

I’ve used this antique look for photos of Dia de los Muertos, pictured here and in the Featured Photo, and for photos of Civil War reenactments and postcards for assignment.  There’s several ways to do this, and some photo editing programs can do this for you automatically.  I’ll describe it using Photoshop CS4, but you can do this in other versions of Photoshop, Elements, or other photo editing programs.

But before you begin, you need to either scan or download some antique paper.  If you can’t scan the paper, you’ll need to do a Google search on “antique paper” or “old paper”.  You can put “Photoshop” or “texture” in your search if it helps, and then download it.  One source is

Now we’re ready to start screwing up your photo.  In Photoshop, open your photo.  We’re going to desaturate its color first.  I like using Image >  Adjustments > Black and White so I can control accentuate the black and white image further.  You can also simply use your Hue/Saturation function.

After this, I like to add a little bit of noise to the image.  While this step is not absolutely necessary, it adds a little more realism.  Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and add noise as you prefer.  I often add somewhere between 8-12 percent.  I also like to boost the contrast (Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast) and sometime darken the photo.  This is because the act of adding the antique paper tends to lighten the image a bit, and as well, boosting the contrast allows your image to punch through the antique paper a bit more.  You’ll see.

Now, open your antique or old paper that you downloaded.  What I do is resize the paper to make sure that it matches the photo.  However, you don’t have to do this because Photoshop will resize it for you, although it will be “edited” and you might not get all the edge textures.  Select Control-A to select the entire antique paper image, then Control-C to copy it.  If you’re on a Mac, it’d be Command-A and then Command-C.  Click on your desaturated photo, and hit Control-V (Command-V) to paste your image on top.  Done!

But, oh wait….you can’t see your image anymore, just the paper!  No problem.  Go over to Layers Menu, which typically defaults to the right side of your monitor.  There’s a pulldown menu which will have defaulted to “Normal“.  Change that to “Overlay“.  You should be able to see both your image and the antique paper magically melded together.  Nice.  I almost always keep this as 100% opacity.  If I don’t like how it looks exactly, I’ll go and lighten or darken the image or alter the contrast.

I’m going to tell you the easy way to do sloppy borders first.  Pay for it.  Yes, pay for it.  The time you save is worth it.  I was doing this by hand for the longest time, but with the time involved, it’s just not worth it when you can pay $40 and have it done effortlessly and quickly.  Go to James Cook Photography and follow the directions for buying and installing.  What you are downloading is a script, which is a method of automating tasks in Photoshop, and a series of sloppy borders.  If this does not work for you, fret not, you can either find scripts for your photo editing program or do this by hand (more on this later).

And just as a disclaimer, I don’t know James Cook, I get no kickback from him, I am not dating his daughter, any of that.  I am simply mentioning this because it’s easy to install, works efficiently, looks great, is relatively cheap, and gives you numerous border options.  It works on CS2 through CS4, and there’s another one for CS5 as of this writing.

Using the James Cook Sloppy Borders is easy in Photoshop.  Go to File > Scripts > JcpSLOPPY.  This will produce a pop-up window.  Follow the easy directions.   I like “Sloppy Borders 2”.  The script automatically flattens your image.  If you don’t want that, go back through two layers of undo and the layers will reappear.  Bang.  Done.

This is the way I did sloppy borders before using the James Cook Photography script.  It’s time-consuming, but you have a lot of control over your image.  But first, you’ll either have to scan some sloppy borders or search around for one.  “Sloppy border image” are good keywords for your search.  If possible, look for ones in which the middle is transparent so it doesn’t affect the color of your image.  There’s a number of free ones available, and you may want to download several to try them out.  Deviant Art has some good ones that are PSD files that are transparent in the middle so you don’t have to create that yourself.  If that link doesn’t work, try Design Resource Box 

After you download the sloppy border image, open it in Photoshop.  You’ll probably need to resize it slightly larger than your desaturated image for this to work.  Select Control-A to select the the sloppy border image, then Control-C to copy it.  If you’re on a Mac, it’d be Command-A and then Command-C.  Then, click on your desaturated photo, and hit Control-V (Command-V) to paste the sloppy border on top.

Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky or good at guessing how large the sloppy border should be, you may have to resize your border several times.  Eventually, you’ll get a size that seems to work for the majority of your photos.  You can save this as a template if you wish.

When you paste border on top of your image, you may jiggle the border around.  You can do this by using the Move Tool, which is the icon with the four arrows criss-crossed like a cross on the left side, and adjusting the canvas size (Images > Canvas Size).  You can always crop later, but this gives you a little wiggle room if you need to adjust the sloppy border without it “disappearing” off the canvas.   Now it’s just a matter of massaging this until you like it.  When you’re satisfied, either save this as a PSD file (this is larger because you are saving all your layers, but you can go back later and adjust it more if you wish).  Or you can get rid of the layers by flattening (Layer > Flatten Image).  You can also Save For Web, which will automatically flatten it for you.

Obviously, you can make your photo look antique or have sloppy borders alone, not both.  But you’ve just gotten two tutorials for the price of one.  And considering that the price is free, you’ve really lucked out today.


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