How to Tear Paper for Textured Edges

Give your craft projects an interesting look

Torn paper

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Whether you're rubber stamping, scrapbooking, or making cards, 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 to make it look purposeful rather than haphazard. These tips will make your finished project look great and help you get consistent results from your paper tears.

Tearing Different Types of Paper

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, but when you tear paper, a soft textured edge is revealed.

Because of the different ways the fibers are pressed in various papers, you will get different effects as you switch from one paper type 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, which may be different or the same as the exterior. 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 before you commit to using it in your project.

How to Tear Paper

Experimenting with these techniques, along with the different types of paper mentioned above, can help you control how your paper tear turns out.

Practice Your Tears

Take some scrap 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 principles 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 organic nature of the technique.

When you're tearing 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 irregularities without spoiling the image.

Use a Water Guide

If you need your tear to be neat and precise, paint a line of water along the piece of paper where you want it to be torn. Let the water sit for a couple of minutes to sink into the fibers and then tear along the wet strip. The tear will follow the water-soaked line, 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.