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Design

How to Make Watercolor Effects in Photoshop Quickly With Actions

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you will learn how to create an amazing watercolor effect. I will explain everything in so much detail that everyone can create it, even those who have just opened Photoshop for the first time. 

The effect shown above is the one I will show you how to create in this tutorial. If you would like to create the even more advanced watercolor effects shown below, using just a single click and in only a few minutes, then check out my TechnicalArt 2 Photoshop Action.

Action final results

What You'll Need

To recreate the design above, you will need the following resources:

1. Let's Get Started

First, open the photo that you want to work with. To open your photo, go to File > Open, choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started, just check a couple of things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode, 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. For best results, your photo size should be 2000–4000 px wide/high. To check this, go to Image > Image Size.
  3. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
Checking image size and mode

2. How to Create the Brushes

Step 1

In this section, we are going to create the five watercolor brushes we'll need. You can either download the textures from the attachment and follow the process, or you can go to Ivan's tutorial to learn how to create your own watercolor textures, or you can download my TechnicalArt 2 Photoshop Action and get over 60 high-quality and resolution watercolor brushes (in this case you can skip this whole section).

Step 2

If you've followed the first option and downloaded the textures, then open the first texture scan in Photoshop. Go to Edit > Define Brush to define this texture as a brush, and name it Temp_Brush_1.

Defining brush

Step 3

Open the second texture scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this texture as a brush, and name it Temp_Brush_2.

Defining brush

Step 4

Now open the third texture scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this texture as a brush, and name it Temp_Brush_3.

Defining brush

Step 5

Now open the fourth texture scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this texture as a brush, and name it Temp_Brush_4.

Defining brush

Step 6

Now open the last texture scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this texture as a brush, and name it Temp_Brush_5.

Defining brush

Step 7

Now that we have defined our brushes, we need to adjust their settings and then define them again as new brushes. Press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp_Brush_1 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and, in the Brush window, use the settings below:

Adjusting brush settings

Step 8

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Watercolor_Brush_1.

Defining new brush

Step 9

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp_Brush 2 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and in the Brush window use the settings below:

Adjusting brush settings

Step 10

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Watercolor_Brush_2.

Defining new brush

Step 11

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp_Brush_3 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and in the Brush window use the settings below:

Adjusting brush settings

Step 12

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Watercolor_Brush_3.

Defining new brush

Step 13

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp_Brush_4 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and in the Brush window use the settings below:

Adjusting brush settings

Step 14

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Watercolor_Brush_4.

Defining new brush

Step 15

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp_Brush_5 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and in the Brush window use the settings below:

Adjusting brush settings

Step 16

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Watercolor_Brush_5.

Defining new brush

3. How to Create the Background

Step 1

In this section, we are going to create the background. Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color to create a new solid color fill layer, name it Background color, and choose the color #e5e5e5.

Creating new solid color fill layer

Step 2

Now Right-click on this layer, choose Blending Options, check Gradient Overlay, and use the settings below:

Adding layer style

4. How to Create the Sketch

Step 1

In this step we are going to create the sketch. Select the Background layer and press Control-J on your keyboard to duplicate it. Then, drag this layer to the top of the layers in the Layers panel.

Duplicating layer

Step 2

Now press Control-Shift-U on your keyboard to desaturate this layer. Then, go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Stylize > Glowing Edges and set the Edge Width to 1, Edge Brightness to 20, and Smoothness to 15.

Adding glowing edges filter

Step 3

Press Control-I on your keyboard to invert this layer. Then, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and set the Amount to 500%, Radius to 1 px, and Threshold to 0 levels.

Adding unsharp mask filter

Step 4

Change the Blending Mode of this layer to Multiply and set the Opacity to 47%. Then, name this layer Sketch.

Changing blending mode and opacity

5. How to Create the Watercolor Painting

Step 1

In this section we are going to create the watercolor painting. Go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer and name it Temp_1.

Creating new layer

Step 2

Now set the foreground color to #000000, choose the Brush Tool (B), and pick the Watercolor_Brush_1 brush. Then, adjust the Diameter of the brush as you like, and brush as shown below:

Brushing into layer

Step 3

Control-click on this layer thumbnail to make a selection of this layer. Then, hide this layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J on your keyboard to create a new layer using the selection. After that, drag this new layer just below the Temp_1 layer in the Layers panel.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 4

Now change the Opacity of this layer to 56% and name it WP_1.

Changing opacity

Step 5

Go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer and name it Temp_2.

Creating new layer

Step 6

Now set the foreground color to #000000, choose the Brush Tool (B), and pick the Watercolor_Brush_2 brush. Then, adjust the Diameter of the brush as you like, and brush as shown below:

Brushing into layer

Step 7

Control-click on this layer thumbnail to make a selection of this layer. Then, hide this layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J on your keyboard to create a new layer using the selection. After that, drag this new layer just below the WP_1 layer in the Layers panel.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 8

Now change the Opacity of this layer to 40% and name it WP_2.

Changing opacity

Step 9

Select the WP_1 layer, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Temp_3.

Creating new layer

Step 10

Now set the foreground color to #000000, choose the Brush Tool (B), and pick the Watercolor_Brush_3 brush. Then, adjust the Diameter of the brush as you like, and brush as shown below:

Brushing into layer

Step 11

Control-click on this layer thumbnail to make a selection of this layer. Then, hide this layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J on your keyboard to create a new layer using the selection. After that, drag this new layer just below the WP_2 layer in the Layers panel.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 12

Now change the Opacity of this layer to 62% and name it WP_3.

Changing opacity

Step 13

Select the WP_1 layer, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Temp_4.

Creating new layer

Step 14

Now set the foreground color to #000000, choose the Brush Tool (B), and pick the Watercolor_Brush_4 brush. Then, adjust the Diameter of the brush as you like, and brush as shown below:

Brushing into layer

Step 15

Control-click on this layer thumbnail to make a selection of this layer. Then, hide this layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J on your keyboard to create a new layer using the selection. After that, drag this new layer just below the WP_3 layer in the Layers panel.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 16

Now name this layer WP_4.

Changing layer name

Step 17

Select the WP_1 layer, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Temp_5.

Creating new layer

Step 18

Now set the foreground color to #000000, choose the Brush Tool (B), and pick the Watercolor_Brush_5 brush. Then, adjust the Diameter of the brush as you like, and brush as shown below:

Brushing into layer

Step 19

Control-click on this layer thumbnail to make a selection of this layer. Then, hide this layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J on your keyboard to create a new layer using the selection. After that, drag this new layer just below the WP_4 layer in the Layers panel.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 20

Now name this layer WP_5.

Changing layer name

Step 21

Select the Temp_1 layer and Shift-click on the Temp_5 layer to select all layers between. Then, Right-click on any of the selected layers and choose Delete Layers.

Deleting layers

Step 22

Now select the WP_1 layer, go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Artistic > Watercolor, and set the Brush Detail to 14, Shadow Intensity to 0, and Texture to 1.

Adding watercolor filter

Step 23

Now repeat the previous step to apply the same filter to the remaining watercolor layers.

Adding watercolor filter

Step 24

Select the WP_1 layer and Shift-click on the WP_5 layer to select all layers between. Then, go to Layer > New > Group from Layers to create a new group from the selected layers and name it Watercolor Painting.

Creating new group from layers

6. How to Create the Texture

Step 1

In this step we are going to create the texture. Go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer and name it Texture.

Creating new layer

Step 2

Now go to Edit > Fill and set Contents to 50% Gray, Mode to Normal, and Opacity to 100%.

Filling layer

Step 3

Go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Texture > Texturizer and set the Texture to Canvas, Scaling to 200%, Relief to 4, and Light to Top as shown below:

Adding texturizer filter

Step 4

Now change the Blending Mode of this layer to Soft Light.

Changing blending mode

7. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

In this section, we are going to make final adjustments to the design. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves to create a new curves adjustment layer and name it Color_Look_1.

Creating new curves adjustment layer

Step 2

Now Double-click on this layer thumbnail and in the Properties panel enter the settings below:

Adjusting curves

Step 3

Change the Opacity of this layer to 46%.

Changing opacity

Step 4

Now select the Texture layer, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map to create a new gradient map adjustment layer, and name it Color_Look_2.

Creating new gradient map adjustment layer

Step 5

Double-click on this layer thumbnail, and then in the Properties panel, click on the gradient to open up the Gradient Editor panel and enter the settings below:

Adjusting gradient map
The left color stop has color 290a59, and the right color stop has color ff7c00.

Step 6

Now change the Blending Mode of this layer to Soft Light and set the Opacity to 33%.

Changing blending mode and opacity

Step 7

Select the Color_Look_1 layer and press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches. Then, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map to create a new gradient map adjustment layer and name it Overall Contrast.

Creating new gradient map adjustment layer

Step 8

Now change the Blending Mode of this layer to Soft Light and set the Opacity to 37%.

Changing blending mode and opacity

Step 9

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance to create a new vibrance adjustment layer and name it Overall Vibrance/Saturation.

Creating new vibrance adjustment layer

Step 10

Now Double-click on this layer thumbnail and in the Properties panel set the Vibrance to +33 and Saturation to +19.

Adjusting vibrance and saturation

Step 11

Now press Control-Alt-Shift-E on your keyboard to make a screenshot, and then press Control-Shift-U to desaturate this layer. Then, go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the Radius to 2 px.

Adding high pass filter

Step 12

Change the Blending Mode of this layer to Hard Light and name it Overall Sharpening.

Changing blending mode

You Made It!

Congratulations, you have succeeded! Here is our final result:

Final result

If you would like to create the even more advanced watercolor effects shown below, using just a single click and in only a few minutes, then check out my TechnicalArt 2 Photoshop Action.

The action works so you simply brush over your photo with a color and just play the action. The action will do everything for you, giving you fully layered and customizable results. There are also over 60 high-quality watercolor brushes included with the action that you can use to build the designs even further. The action will also create four textures (watercolor, canvas, paper, and halftone) and 25 preset color looks that you can choose from.

The action comes with a detailed video tutorial that demonstrates how to use the action and customize the results to get the most out of the effect.

Action final results

If you like watercolor photo effects, don't forget to check out my Aquarelle Photoshop Action.

Using this action you can transform your photos into professional aquarelle artworks with no work at all! You just brush over your photo and play the action. The action will do all the work for you in just a couple of minutes, leaving you fully layered and customizable results.

The action is also made so that every time you run the action you will get a unique result, even if you use the same brushed area. The action will always create unique variations in the watercolor textures, so you can create an unlimited number of results! The action also creates 50 preset color looks that you can choose from.

The action comes with a detailed video tutorial that demonstrates how to use the action and customize the results to get the most out of the effect.

Action final results
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