I'm helping out in creating an ARG game. For this game I'll need to create pictures of ancient pentagrams and illustrations that look like they are a result of a very bad scan of medieval hand drawn pictures cleaned up.

To show a few examples:


  • Lines are not completely straight, somewhat dodgy.
  • Parts of the lines are faint or completely missing.

enter image description here

  • The quality of the whole thing is horrible.

What I currently have:

enter image description here

  • The thing is sketched up in paint as you can see. The next one is a little better.

enter image description here

  • The font is crappy and not archaic. I might need a proper font.
  • The lines are too clean.
  • The picture is too clean in generaly.

My questions are

  • How to achieve an effect that makes the lines dodgy and faint?
  • What font should I use that resembles the one in the first example picture?
  • 3
    Do you have a question?
    – Ryan
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:05
  • I would not use Photoshop to create similar images. Illustrator or Inkscape are better options.... And I second Ryan... what's the question?
    – Scott
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:05
  • The second picture from "what I currently have" is created in illustrator, but I'm not really familiar with it's tooling. I have updated my posts to include actual questions. Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:14
  • No disrespect, but probably you should hire a designer rather than waste time on trying to do that yourself. By the time you have some decent graphics the game will be outdated.
    – Rafael
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:39
  • The first image is hand-drawn. Have you tried that? Draw it scan it, trace it to create vectors. One way to fake the look is to enlarge; blur; reduce. The poor-ink-transfer look can be easily achieved by applying a layer mask.
    – Yorik
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:39

3 Answers 3


Here's one way to simulate a bad scan of an old document. I'm using the GIMP here, but you should be able to do all these steps in Photoshop too.

Step 1: Start with a suitable-looking picture.

Step 1 of making a fake scanned grimoire in GIMP

If you're trying to emulate an old hand-written document, remember not to be too precise. Hand-position lines, vary the font size (and/or use several fonts), rotate or stretch individual letters, maybe even apply a slight perspective transform to whole paragraphs of text to make the lines slant a little. The picture above is just a quick test.

Step 2: Make some noise.

Step 2 of making a fake scanned grimoire in GIMP: make some noise

Make a new layer and fill it with some procedural noise. Here I have a mixture of low-frequency noise (generated with the Render → Solid Noise filter) to simulate a non-flat paper surface, and high-frequency noise (generated with Noise → RGB Noise) to simulate paper grain and scratches. In hindsight, I probably should've made the low-frequency noise even lower in frequency, but this is good enough for a quick demo.

Step 3: Blend the drawing with the noise.

Step 3 of making a fake scanned grimoire in GIMP: blend drawing with noise

Here, I just set the noise layer's opacity to 50%, and flattened the entire image for the next step.

Step 4: Blur everything a little.

Step 4 of making a fake scanned grimoire in GIMP: blur everything

It might not be obvious from the final result, but this is actually the crucial step to making the scan look realistically bad. Basically, we're blurring the image to simulate the imperfect optics in the scanner. Here, I've applied Gaussian blur with a radius of 2.0 pixels, but you may want to play with the radius to fine-tune the results.

Step 5: Adjust levels.

Step 5 of making a fake scanned grimoire in GIMP: adjust levels

Just open the Levels tool, pull down the white level until the background looks mostly white, and then raise the black level until the text and lines look mostly black. (This is pretty much exactly what scanners do in text mode.) Voilá, one bad scan ready to go!

You may also want to consider applying some Unsharp Masking after the blur; combined with the Levels adjustment, this will create a distinctive effect where faint lines vanish near thicker lines. (It also undoes some of the effect of the blurring, so you may want to use a bit more blur to compensate.) I didn't do it here, because the result looked good enough without it, but it is a feature often seen e.g. in old photocopied documents.

  • +1 I'd have to give it one more plus if there was some flax or slack added.
    – Yorik
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:16
  • +1 for showing Gimp is easily up to the task of doing this just as fast as Illustrator, and I personally find this design to appear at least as realistic as wasting a bunch of paper scanning copies of scans.
    – phyrfox
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 20:22
  • From a signal-processing perspective, this is very close to simulating the actual process by which poor scanners introduce errors. Though the first image given in the question doesn’t appear to be due to poor digital scans, but rather due to issues with a physical printing press.
    – KRyan
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 15:30
  • I've had very good results with this. This is one of the cases where I would gladly accept more than one answers. Take my upvote though. Commented May 31, 2015 at 19:22

I'd use Illustrator for this. Creating the paths, setting the type, etc is all just easier in Illustrator than it is in Photoshop.

Just create your base shapes, combine them. Use Object > Expand to turn the strokes into shapes, then use Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen to add some life to the straight shapes. And finally, if you want, add an Opacity Mask, (1), (2), to create some drop out areas.

enter image description here
Right-click/Control-Click and choose "open image in new tab/window" to see it larger.

As for what font, well, it's a serif font. Which one is kind of your choice. Sticking with a humanist serif would probably be more in tone with the sample - things like Garamond, Goudy, etc.

  • 2
    I'd actually go with a distressed font to build on (a lot less work that way); IM Fell Pro would probably be a decent stepping-off point (it's a distressed old-style Palatino). Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:54
  • Any font would work if it's set before applying the opacity mask. the mask will distress the type as well. But a distressed font would also work.
    – Scott
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:54
  • Let's face it; hand-distressing all of the letters in a sharp-cut face is a LOT more work that changing a couple of letters in an overpressed (as in literally used beyond its best-before date) font. Starting with something that's designed to look new is just making the job a crapload harder and time-consuming for no good reason. That's irresponsible, both as a contractor/businessperson and as a suggestion for somebody else. Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:59
  • 2
    Uhm.. are you familiar with Opacity Masks and how they work? I've added type to the image above -- just standard ITC Stone Informal. It takes no extra work at all. And as I posted, You can use a distressed font if you prefer. The implication that my suggestions are "irresponsible" is frankly, laughable. Post your own answer Stan.
    – Scott
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 18:43
  • Results are surprisingly good after some tweaking. Thank you very much! Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:36

that look like they are a result of a very bad scan

There's your answer.

Design your mark, then take it down to Kinkos. Find the crappiest photocopier, and make a copy. Then make a copy of the copy. Then maybe crumple/uncrumple the copy and make a copy of that. Continue until it looks the way you like it.

Then scan that back in.

  • 2
    this, so very much.
    – Ryan
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:16
  • This is something I have considered and I will possibly try for some images. Thank you. Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:35
  • Neat idea. Only problem is that it's a hassle if you want to change it later, while svg paths and effects are easy.
    – wchargin
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 3:32
  • Some people have made an entire career with this technique: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Chantry
    – DA01
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 4:17
  • 2
    Yes, but... environmentally unfriendly. Why not just simulate the scans by efaxing it back and forth to yourself over and over again until you get the desired results? Make sure you use a low-quality fax setting.
    – phyrfox
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 20:24

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