to distress or not to distress…


This article was written to assist those individuals new to the concept of distressing. It is my hope, whether you’re a veteran or new stamper, that you’ll find these basic instructions useful for either yourself, a friend, or a customer. Comments, suggestions, and corrections welcome and encouraged.

The cards in the feature photo were made with the Polka Dots and Paisley stamp set on cards custom-cut to be the same size as Cool Caribbean and So Saffron Long Notes available in the new spring mini, available beginning March 1, 2007. (Note: Long Notes have a different fold than those shown here. Long Notes fold on the long side and have rounded corners on the side opposite the fold. See my post on 3/3/07 for an example.) Accent colors include: Chocolate Chip, Taken With Teal, and Very Vanilla.

Do you like the distressed look, but worry that you might ruin a project if you try it? Fear not! Distressing is an easy technique (or collection of techniques) and it can add a lot of texture and dimension to your paper crafting projects. It’s also a great quick-fix to salvage projects you might otherwise toss. What’s fabulous about distressing is that you can make it as subtle or obvious as you desire, and coordinate it with any project.

Getting Started

First, you’ll need some basic tools: a sanding block or file, a sponge, a tearing tool like Stampin’s Up!’s Tearing Edge (optional), and a distressing tool like Stampin’ Up!’s cutter kit). Then choose a dye ink pad (such as a color from Stampin’ Up!’s “Classic” stamp pad line).

Color Choice Makes a Difference

To create an aged look, use a coordinating neutral shade of brown ink. Creamy Caramel is the most versatile and subtle ink color; it’s the shade I use the most. For a more dramatic look, try Chocolate Chip or Basic Black.

trifold-frame-deedee-cu-web.jpgYou can also create a coordinated look with colored distressing by using an ink color from your project palette. The example shown is a subtle DTP color distress using Taken with Teal just on the edge of this coaster. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It all depends on your style preferences.

Distressing Basics


Regardless of the technique or techniques you use, there are a few basic things you can do before using ink. First, you may choose to sand your paper. This is an optional step and works best on patterned paper or white-core paper to expose the colors underneath. The close-up of this band-aid tin shows an example of patterned paper that has been sanded and aged with Creamy Caramel. To create this effect, gently sand closest to the edges first, then make sure to wipe off any loose paper dust from your project and work surface before applying ink (you don’t want those ink pads getting all gunked up).

Tearing has been a popular technique to create a distressed edge on paper. You can either using The Tearing Edge or tear by hand. If tearing by hand, I’ve found that the best method is to guide the tear towards yourself slowly with your fingers moving along and guiding the direction of the tear.

paisley-distressed-edge-web.jpg More recently, the distressing tool in the Cutter Kit has become a popular alternative to tearing. You can apply the distressing tool to the straight, cut edge of cardstock to create a distressed edge. This tool allows you to better control the size and shape of the cardstock, and it offers a more subtle result. Practice on scraps until you get the hang of it. And make sure to dust off loose cardstock dust before applying any ink. Hint: if you find yourself without a distressing tool, you may create a similar effect by running a fingernail down the edge of the cardstock.

Ink Techniquespaisley-corner-022707.jpg

For the softest distressing result, sponge ink gently across the edges of your cardstock (rub sponge on an ink pad to pick up ink first).For more solid coverage, try the direct-to-paper (or DTP) technique by rubbing the ink pad directly on the edge of the paper. (The DTP technique was used on the So Saffron long note shown here.)

As you get more comfortable with the technique of your choice, you can angle the sponge or ink pad to cover more of the front of the paper as well.

Ta-Da! An Overview from Beginning to End
Once you’ve decided on your color palette and you feel comfortable with basic distressing and inking techniques, and you know how dramatic you want the end result to be, it’s time to start distressing. Remember that you’ll want to distress one layer at a time before you assemble your project and all layers should be cut to their finished size before you start. The basic steps are:

1) sand if desired

2) use a tearing edge, distressing tool, or fingernail to distress the edge (repeat step 1 if desired/needed)

3) for a softer look, sponge ink on the edges; for a bolder look, use the DTP method to get more ink on the edges

4) assemble your project and, if desired/needed, distress completed project lightly




  1. Oh, this post (article?) is wonderful! I love the way you wrote up all these helpful tips and tricks! 🙂

  2. Sandy Said:

    I love the distress look and love your article!

  3. DeborahSue Said:

    Wonderful instructions, close up photos and super simple guidance.
    WHEN & WHERE are you opening your store?!
    Thanks for all the helpful tips!

  4. Mel M. M. M. Said:

    Great post! Love how you covered so much about distressing! Hope it’s okay if I link you up? Thanks for the gorgeous inspiration! :O)

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