How to Tear Paper to Give Textured Edges

Give your craft projects an interesting look

Torn paper

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Torn paper edges add an interesting texture to a variety of paper projects. Whether you're rubber stamping, scrapbooking, making cards, or working with any other paper craft, a torn paper effect can add visual interest to your project.

While it may seem like tearing paper is simple and straightforward, there are some techniques and tricks you'll want to learn. These can make your finished project look great and help you get consistent results out of your tears.

Uses for Torn Paper Edges

Giving your paper project a torn edge adds appeal and interest. It is useful when you want to mimic an old piece of paper, similar to a treasure map or hand-written document. It can be used as a frame for a photograph or stamp. It can also be used on its own for handmade cards and gift tags.

Tearing paper is a quick way to produce great looking results. For instance, you can stamp an image onto a sheet of paper and tear it out. Apply this to a piece of cardstock and you instantly have a really neat, layered look. Best of all, the finished effect belies the simplicity of the technique.

Many people also like the organic, natural feel of torn paper. While it's great for a handmade or vintage look, it can also complement more contemporary, sleek finishes.

Tearing Various Papers

Paper is made from wood fibers that are tightly compacted together. The finer the wood fibers, the smoother and more compact the paper. These tiny fibers are not evident when the paper is cut with scissors or a blade, however. When you tear paper, a soft textured edge is revealed.

Due to the various ways that the fibers are pressed in various papers, you will get different effects as you switch from one paper to another. Your tears in cardstock will have a different texture than they will on construction paper, rice paper, or watercolor paper.

Torn edges often reveal an inner color of the paper's core. For many papers, it will be the same color as the paper, though there may be slight changes in intensity. Patterned or printed papers are likely to have a different colored core and this can offer plenty of opportunity for innovative designs.

The best thing you can do is to experiment with the different types of paper you have. Practice with scraps and see what each reveals. It will likely inspire your design going forward in the project.

How to Tear Paper

Tearing paper is not a science, but there are some interesting things that you can observe about your approach to it. Playing with these can help you control how your tear appears on the final project so you're more likely to get the results you're after.

Take some scrap or scratch paper and make a tear. Chances are that if you are right-handed, your right hand pulled the paper towards you; if you are left-handed your left hand did the same. Your dominant hand tends to "lead" the direction of the tear to either the left or right.

Practice tearing the paper, gently pulling it in one direction or another to reveal a different textured edge or to change direction. You might find that tearing against the paper fibers gives you more texture or that tearing it slower gives you a cleaner look.

Different papers will tear in varying ways, however, the principals stay largely the same. Handmade papers often have coarse paper fibers, giving a more unusual and textured torn edge, for instance. The individual nuances of each piece of paper lend to the individual nature of the technique.

When you're tearing a frame around an image, drawing, or stamp, be sure to leave yourself plenty of extra space. This will allow you to go back and even up any wobbles or irregularities without spoiling the image.

Use a Water Guide

This trick is very helpful and it works wonders for guiding your tear into a more precise shape.

Paint a line of water along the piece of paper where you want it to be torn. Leave it for a couple of minutes to sink into the fibers and then tear along the wet strip. The tear will follow the water-soaked paper, almost like magic.

Accent the Edges

You can emphasize the texture of your torn paper edge to add even more dimension to the paper. It's as easy as dabbing ink or chalk along the edge. You can also use watercolors for a more vintage, found-paper look. Experiment with these before trying it on your project to get a feel for it.