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By Seán Duggan |

Use Damage Textures to Create a Vintage Photo Effect in Photoshop


As photographers, we go to great lengths to make our photographs look “perfect.”

But sometimes the presence of obvious imperfections and even traces of physical damage can add intriguing qualities to an image and make it more interesting than a clean, polished version.

I’m going to show you where to find that antique or distressed look—and how to add it to your images for a vintage photo effect.

Purchase texture collections


One of the primary ways to suggest a worn and distressed image is to add a texture to create the look of a damaged surface. The best way to apply this effect is to use photos or scans of actual analog textures.

Texture files can be purchased and downloaded from a variety of online vendors such as Flypaper Textures, which supplies the initial sampler set of textures used in the add-on Adobe Paper Texture Pro panel in Photoshop CC 2014. They have a few interesting antique edge texture packs that include tintype and glass plate textures.

Photograph textures


Another way to acquire textures is to simply take your own photos as you run across them.

Scratched and rusty metal surfaces can work quite well to suggest a damaged old photo, as can cracked and peeling paint, scratched and scuffed plastic surfaces, or damaged paper products.

Other surfaces such as stone, plaster, or wood may also be quite interesting, though these will yield textures that don’t look like what actually happens to the paper surfaces of vintage photos.

You’ll likely need to do some work in Photoshop in order to make these texture photos useful for suggesting an old, damaged photo. Try looking at the grayscale versions of the color channels to see which one best isolates that damage from the background.


In the example above, the blue channel showed the best contrast. I duplicated and further modified the blue channel with Curves to increase the contrast, then I inverted it.


Here you can see the texture created from the blue channel of the scratched metal image used to create a distressed effect. The layer is set to Screen to emphasize the light areas while not showing the darker areas.

Use surface damage from old photos

Another approach that I use quite often to create custom textures for my imaging projects is to take the damage from actual vintage photos.

Antique stores, junk shops, and flea markets are good places to hunt for vintage snapshots that might have a good combination of stains, cracks, ripped edges, and general deterioration and decay that can be put to use to create a custom texture.

Smaller snapshot images with lots of damage are often priced very low; I can pick them up for 25 or 50 cents each. When I’m looking for good damage textures, the fading and deterioration of the print is more important than the content of the photo.


For example, the actual photo in the illustration above didn’t interest me much, but I purchased this small vintage print (for 25 cents) because the creases and stains on the reverse side looked so good. I knew I could use these as a custom texture.


You can see how the texture from the back of that old print was used to add a distressed and vintage look to a modern image by adding it as a layer in Photoshop set to the Multiply blend mode and customizing it with a layer mask.

Combine textures from multiple old photos

Another technique I use is to combine the damaged parts of different prints (or the backs of prints) in order to create a new damage “template” that can be adapted for different projects.


In this example, layer masks and blending modes were used to combine the cracked and deteriorating print emulsion from the image on the left with the stained print back of the center photo to create the custom damage texture seen on the right.

I used my custom texture to create an aged and distressed effect for the surreal composite image of the conductor at the top of this article, which was created from both vintage and contemporary photos.

Taking advantage of the natural aging and damage that can be found on old photos or other paper documents is an excellent way to add distressed texture effects to your photos.

In March, I’ll show you how I create custom damage textures from scratch.

Meanwhile, to learn more about using texture layers, blend modes, and layer masks in Photoshop to create an organic-looking texture effect, watch my lynda.com course Creating Distressed and Vintage Photo Effects with Photoshop.


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