Linen postcards were printed from 1930 through 1945. They have a unique and appealing look. The thick paper was embossed on the picture side to give the card a “linen” texture, and the cheap inks created vivid colors. You can create this effect using a modern photograph and Photoshop. Here’s an original vintage postcard:
Here’s our final image made to mimic the Colortone look:
A Little History
The vintage postcard above of Colorado National Monument was printed by Curt Teich & Co. (Chicago). They used a color printing technique they called “C.T. Art-Colortone”. Until it closed in 1978, The Teich Company was the world’s largest printer of view and advertising postcards. Vintage linen postcards have become prized by some collectors, and there’s even a book about them (see the link at the end of the tutorial.) The linen postcards usually portrayed landmarks, landscapes, and roadside attractions from photographs, but some were more illustrative. They were printed on a lithography press using color separation. Beginning in the late 1940s, linen postcards fell out of fashion when polychrome printing was invented. However, Curt Teich still used the C.T. Art-Colortone technique on these smooth-surface “French Fold” postcards from 1951, below.
You may use my photograph below for this tutorial. If you want to use one of your own, try to find an image with a variety of color. Click on the image below to download the full-size photograph (309KB).
Step One: Make it Vivid
The Art-Colortone postcards have very strong colors but minimal detail. We’re going to increase the contrast and color saturation with a simple technique.
- Open the picture in Photoshop and press Ctrl+J (Mac: Cmd+J) to copy the image to a new layer.
- Double-click on the words “Layer 1” in the Layers panel, and rename the layer as “Vivid”. Click OK (Go to Window > Layers if the Layers panel is not visible).
- Change the Blend Mode for the Vivid layer to Overlay.
Now the photo is a bit dark. Let’s lighten the mood.
- With the Vivid layer selected, click on the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Select Levels.
- In the Adjustments panel, move the center gray slider (gamma input) to the left ever so slightly. I set mine to 1.20.
Step Two: Simplify It
With cheap inks comes a lack of detail. We need to blur some of the colors while keeping some black edge details. This will result in a slightly watercolor effect.
- Make a copy of all the layers merged together: select the Levels adjustment layer at the top of the stack in the Layers panel, then press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E (Mac: Shift+Cmd+Opt+E).
- Rename this new layer as Merged.
- Right-click on the Merged layer and select Convert to Smart Object. We want to run a filter next without destroying pixels.
- Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to 1.0 and click OK.
- With the Merged layer still selected, click on the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” icon again and select Threshold.
- Set the blend mode for the new adjustment layer to Multiply.
- In the Adjustments panel, move the slider to the until there is only a small amount of black in the grassy areas. I set my slider to 71.
Step Three: Edge Details
There’s still a certain feature lacking: hints of black outline at some of the edges. You can see that effect in this vintage C.T. Art-Colortone postcard:
With a couple more tweaks, we can get that effect too.
- Merge all the layers to a new layer on top again: select the Threshhold adjustment layer at the top of the stack in the Layers panel, then press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E (Mac: Shift+Cmd+Opt+E).
- Rename the new layer as Edges.
- Run the High Pass filter: Filter > Other > High Pass…
- Set the Radius to 3 pixels and click OK.
- Press Ctrl+L (Mac: Cmd+L) to open the Levels adjustment dialog box.
- Move the black slider on the left towards the right until it’s at 81 or so.
- Move the white slider on the right towards the left until it’s at 102 or so. Click OK.
- Set the blend mode for the Edges layer to Multiply.
Notice below how the giraffe’s legs have some hints of black edge now.
Step Four: Texture
Time to get that luscious linen texture.
- Add a new layer at the top of the stack: Shift+Ctrl+N (Mac: Shift+Cmd+N).
- Name the layer Texture and click OK.
- Fill the layer with 50% Gray:
- Edit > Fill.
- From the Use dropdown, select 50% Gray.
- Click OK.
- Filter > Texture > Texturizer…
- For Texture, select Canvas. Set the Scaling to 150% and the Relief to 8.
- Click OK.
- Set the blend mode for the Texture layer to Overlay. Set its Opacity to 75% to soften the effect.
We’re done! Here’s a closeup of the final postcard image.
If you feel the colors are coming on too strong, do the following:
- Click on the Merged layer.
- Add a Levels adjustment layer again.
- Slide the middle (gamma) slider to the left a bit. I set mine to 1.54
Finding Linen Postcards in the Wild
If you are interested in real vintage linen postcards, you can usually find them in small baskets of postcards at antique stores. They can also be purchased online. For a nice coffee table book with these postcards printed in color and categorized by subject matter, check out the book “Linen Postcards” by Mark Werther. If you have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.