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Vintage papers are the backbone of any junk journal (digital or physical!) but finding good images to use can be tricky. This is especially true if you prefer using REAL vintage images (like I do) instead of paper made to look old. The extra authenticity of a real old paper in a digital collage or junk journal page just gives the whole piece an extra bit of oomph.
But where to find these fantastic, real, truly vintage digital papers?
From easiest to most difficult:
1. Buy some from my shop
I’ve already curated some excellent real old book papers and put them into picture packs on my Etsy store. If you don’t have time to go looking for some yourself, or just want an already-prepared selection of images to use, this can be a good way to go. 😉
2. Check free online image websites
There’s some good options on the free image websites like Pixabay or Pexel. Try searching using keywords like “vintage paper,” “background paper” or “vintage letter.”
Here’s a list of the best websites for free images for digital collages, if you need somewhere to get started.
The downside to this is a) a lot of the vintage paper options don’t look properly vintage, b) there’s not a ton of options (so you’ll end up using the same few papers as everybody else) and c) the image quality is sometimes lower than you should be using for digital artwork.
3. Go hunting on digital archives
This is the most time-confusing method, but it does lead to some really excellent finds.
Websites like the Library of Congress, Archive.org or Hathi Trust have millions of scanned book pages ready to use, if you know how to find them.
The trick is to not just search for “old book pages”– some good images might show up in the results, but you’ll get BETTER ones if you go a slightly different route.
First, pick a BOOK keyword to search.
Keywords like astronomy, botany, fairy tales, fashion catalogs, music sheets, and crafting books tend to have either good illustrations, interesting end pages, or worn-out book pages that can be good for junk journals. Pick one keyword to search and see what shows up!
Second, restrict your search results to a specific time period.
By which I mean filter the results to books published within a certain time period. Which period you filter for will depend on what kind of images you want.
Older books will have more damaged pages (and thus more unique textures and colors), while newer ones have better marbled end pages (due to being rebound by the library that bought them). Books from the early 20th century will have more vibrant color illustrations, while books from the 18th century will have more pastel colored ones.
Try searching for different decades to see what you like best! My own favorites tend to be from the late 1800s-1950s.
If you need help figuring out how to use filters on the Library of Congress, I’ve written a how-to post explaining how to do it. The filters on Archive.org and Hathi Trust work similarly.
Third, start checking book titles, one by one.
This is the most time-consuming part. You’ve gotta open and check dozens of scanned books to see what’s in there, and if there are any good pages to save. If you just want damaged and worn out paper then that can go pretty quick. However, if you’re looking for specific illustrations or marbled end pages, it can take much longer.
Be sure to double-check different versions of the same title. Sometimes multiple archives will scan their own copies of the same book, and often one or the other will have a better image selection.
Fourth, download IMAGES of the scanned pages.
You don’t need to download the entire book file, just the pages you specifically want. Be sure to select the highest quality image available to insure a high quality piece of art.
And there you go! Free images of old book pages, just waiting to be downloaded and used in a collage somewhere.
4. Buy vintage books and scan them yourself
This is always an option, especially if you already have a collection of old books or have access to thrift stores with lots of them available. It also requires the most equipment, as you’ll need a good scanner and a computer to process the scanned images, at the minimum.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing this as a first-time user as there’s a large learning curve, but it’s certainly a good tool to keep in your art arsenal.
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