FCP X: Create an Old-Time, Sepia Effect

Posted on by Larry

Logo-FCPX.jpgAs paper ages it turns an interesting brown color, which we call “sepia.” Many times, we want to take modern images and make them look older.

This is technique that you can use for either stills and moving video.



Here’s our starting picture. Remember what this original image looks like. We’re gonna make it look a WHOLE lot older…!

Open the Effects Browser and search for Sepia.

When you apply the Sepia effect to a clip, it looks like this. Its OK – if you are being charitable – but too much background color leaks through. In other words, this looks like a shot with bad color.

There’s a much better way to create this effect.


What the Sepia effect does is colorize the darker portions of an image without changing the brighter portions. This means that it isn’t changing any of the existing colors, simply overlaying everything with a brown color. That tends to create a bad-looking effect.

Instead, we need to remove all the existing colors, then add the sepia effect. So, in the Effects Browser, search for the “Black & White” effect.

Apply it to the clip. Notice that all the color is now gone.

Now add the Sepia effect to the clip. (In the Inspector, the Sepia effect will be below the Black & White effect.)

Adjust the Wash setting, in the Sepia effect, which brightens the shadows.

This is the same image with Wash set to about 45%.


To make the image look even older – or like its barely survived a fist-fight with barbed wire – add the Aged Film effect.

I tend to reduce the Amount of the filter closer to 50%, then add more dust and scratches. These settings are purely personal preference.

Here’s the result after adding the Aged Film effect.

John, in the comments below, reminds me that I should have added a vignette filter, which darkens and blurs the edges and corners.  So, here’s a vignette with all settings at default.

This, then, is the final effect, with four filters applied:

Makes me feel like this was shot back in the 1880’s. Ah, the good old days…

Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to FCP X: Create an Old-Time, Sepia Effect

  1. John Preston says:

    If you really want it to look like the 1880’s add a vignette to that. Jus sayin’

  2. Mark Suszko says:

    Please excuse the nerdiness this early in the morning, but I wanted to clarify something: Sepia is not a normal aging process of regular paper: paper we write or print on goes yellow with age, sure, based on the chemicals in the paper, but sepiatone is not the same thing.

    Sepiatone on photographs was a deliberate process imposed on the black and white silver halide photographic print when it was fresh, as a way to enhance the contrast, halt further reactions, and preserve it chemically from fading or turning all black over time. The tint created by this process could vary, depending on the specific chemistry, so you can see green and blue-toned and 2-toned versions in some rare photos as well as the more common reddish ones.

    So Larry’s method of first making the image black and white more closely imitates the real sepiatone process.

    Before you apply the sepia effect, you may want to play with the high, mid, and low “curves” of that B&W shot, to help bring out the right amount of detail once the sepia is added. One more trick to “sell” the idea that the shot is really vintage, instead of the scratched film effect, would be to use a vignette and a matte around the subject, with a defocusing or Gaussian blur effect on the background, to make the shot look like the depth of field is really narrow, because that was a side effect of the early lenses and exposure settings/film performance.

    Now THAT’s super-nerdy! 🙂

    • Larry says:


      LOVE nerdy – and thanks to you and John, I’ve updated the article with a vignette which both darkens and blurs.


  3. Pat Paquette says:

    Larry, I could have used this article for a music video I was editing two weeks ago! The client shot the footage on a bright sunny day. He knew it didn’t fit the mood of the song (opera) and suggested black and white. The B&W preset stripped the life out of the story, so I suggested sepia. The client was thrilled with that idea. Well, then I discovered what you point out here, only in the end, the sepia was just too brassy and fake-looking.

    My solution was to start with the faded sun effect at 75 percent, add B&W, add another faded sun so that I could match the clips, because there was a huge variation (I suspect he didn’t white balance every time he changed lighting conditions). AND, of course I put a vignette on it. 🙂 The overall effect is more saturated than B&W, but less brassy than sepia. I also tried the aged film effect, but the client didn’t like Here is the video (wish I could show you the “before,” but I don’t own the rights).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.