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How to Create a Watercolor Texture in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called Learn Adobe Illustrator.
10 Essential Tips & Tools All Adobe Illustrator Beginners Should Learn
How to Create a Solar System Planets Icon Pack in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Get on trend with watercolor textures in Adobe Illustrator! In this tutorial we'll create our very own watercolor textures with a simple watercolor set, edit our images in Adobe Photoshop, and apply the textures in Adobe Illustrator using two different techniques. 

You can also check out textures or hand-drawn fonts to supplement some of the designs used in this tutorial from Envato Market. Or find out how to make your own watercolor brush in Illustrator:

1. Create the Watercolor Textures

Step 1

Let's begin with the supplies you need or may want to use for creating watercolor textures:

  • Watercolor paints
  • Watercolor paper
  • A soft paint brush
  • Water cup

Personally, I think projects like these don't require the most sophisticated tools. You can create fun watercolor textures from a set of children's art supplies just as well as using Winsor & Newton paints. Below you'll see the supplies I had in my painting toolkit.

Collect materials for watercolor painting

Step 2

Get some water on your brush, dip it into a watercolor pan, and start painting. Play with transparency and saturation. Make big puddles or little cloud areas of color. You really can't go wrong with experimenting with watercolors like this!

Start painting with your watercolors

Step 3

If you paint with a wet brush onto a wet portion of paper, you'll find your watercolor will spread and create fun gradients on your paper. Feel free to dab or blot your watercolors with a paper towel or flick your brush over your paper to make a splatter texture.

Paint onto wet paper or create puddles of color

Step 4

Layer up different degrees of color saturation on your paper, and play with other colors. Let some of your paint dry, and then continue painting until you have areas of color that you like.

Add other colors and shapes into your designs

Step 5

Create as many pages of watercolor textures as you want. When you're satisfied with your color and design choices, let your paper dry fully before moving on to the next section of this tutorial.

Create as many pages of watercolor textures as you want

2. Edit the Textures

Step 1

Scan your textures and import them into Adobe Photoshop. Alternatively, you can snap a photo. Since my scanner is a bit old, it doesn't always do the best job at making sure the paper is as white as I need for this project. Let's edit this further.

Scan and import your watercolort extures

Step 2

To combat the yellowing of the paper, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and carefully adjust the levels of the yellowing around your watercolor splashes. Typically I adjust the gray slider to the left and the white slider to the right a bit.

Adjust the levels of your image

Step 3

Now that your watercolor textures are bright and clean, save your file as a high-resolution JPG, and let's import it into Adobe Illustrator.

Save and import your image into Adobe Ilustrator

3. Make Vectors From the Textures

Step 1

Import your watercolor texture into a new Adobe Illustrator document and open the Image Trace panel. For Mode, select Color, and for Palette, select Full Tone. Hit Preview and wait a bit for your vector to render.

Image Trace to get a vector watercolor texture

Step 2

I've zoomed in on my tracing result so you can see the vector objects a bit better. It's a remarkably easy way of converting real media textures into vector without recreating them in Adobe Illustrator by hand.

A zoomed in version of the watercolor texture

Step 3

You can also limit the amount of detail in your tracing result by choosing Limited (on the left below) for your Palette instead of Full Tone (on the right below). This will give you a more vectored look and a smaller file size.

Expand your watercolor texture and Ungroup it so you can use the Lasso Tool (Q) to select around a section of your texture. Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the texture onto a New Layer in the Layers panel. Hide the other textures so you're only focused on your copied section. Group (Control-G) the texture together.

A comparison between watercolor textures

4. Create a Graphic Style

Step 1

Graphic Styles are fantastic. They allow you to easily apply all sorts of pattern, effects, and the like with a simple click of a button. They go hand-in-hand with Actions for speeding up your process in Adobe Illustrator.

Select your texture group and, in the Pattern Options panel, create a New Pattern. Adjust the Width and Height of the pattern tile boundaries so the texture overlaps itself. In the Appearance panel, set the group's Blending Mode to Multiply. When satisfied with how your pattern overlaps and repeats, hit Done.

Since this is such a complex vector texture, you may find that it takes a while to make the pattern. I tend to knit while my machine catches up to what I'm creating. Safety saves also help with any anxiety over Adobe Illustrator suddenly crashing.

Create a simple pattern

Step 2

You'll find your newly made pattern in the Swatches panel. Apply it to a simple rectangle shape. Open the Graphic Styles panel and, with the rectangle selected, make a New Graphic Style. This allows you to retain anything you set up in the Appearance panel and apply it quickly and easily to any object without having to reapply the pattern and its other attributes. Make sure to save your Graphic Style so you can access it from any document.

Create a graphic style

Step 3

Let's test out some text with the new Graphic Style. Using a fun script font, I've written out one of my favorite phrases courtesy of drag entertainer Alyssa Edwards. You can find similar typefaces in the font section of Envato Market.

Type out some text with the Type Tool (T) and Expand (Object > Expand) your text to Outlines. Apply your newly created Graphic Style. Take note of ways to improve your pattern or style, if any.

Easily apply your graphic style

5. Create a Typographic Design

Step 1

Let's make something a bit more interesting than applying a Graphic Style to a simple font. Sketch out a typographic composition. Consider using script, serif, and sand-serif typefaces as examples of your hand-drawn type.

Alternatively, you can arrange text as you see fit rather than drawing out a separate design. I drew the design seen below in Adobe Photoshop and imported it into my Adobe Illustrator document. Play with a variety of compositions and lettering styles with your quote of choice. If you're not using a graphic tablet, you may want to go with pre-made font faces for this tutorial.

Create some fun typographic compositions

Step 2

On a new layer, use the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) to smoothly redraw your design. Do your best to tighten up your line work and keep curves smooth and straight lines straight.

Carefully draw smooth text designs

Step 3

Vary your line width in your lettering. This is where looking at examples of other lettering and typography will do wonders in helping you decide which portions of each letter should be thick and which should be thin. Experiment with both and see how it changes your design.

Use thick and think lines in your design

Step 4

Continue working around your composition. If you find that your sketch wasn't just right, you can adjust your content now. Alternatively, you can also use a different drawing tool, such as the Pen Tool (P), in order to trace your sketch.

Continue redrawing your text design

Step 5

For larger letter sections, outline the contour first and then fill in each shape. Speed up your process by using the Shaper Tool (Shift-N) to fill in sections. Simply draw a scribble between objects and it will fill in as you can see below.

Use the shaper tool to fill in objects

Step 6

When you've completed your text, delete your sketch layer and select your new text shapes. Unite these shapes in the Pathfinder panel, making sure to expand them into a Compound shape. As we did before, feel free to apply your Graphic Style to your newly created design.

Apply your graphic style to the newly created design

6. Create a Clipping Mask

Step 1

As an alternative method to the Graphic Style, you can Create a Clipping Mask (Control-7) to apply your texture. As we did in preparation for creating the pattern, select a portion of your Image Traced texture with the Lasso Tool and Copy it.

I decided to keep watercolor textures separate in their own documents so my working document wasn't as much of a memory hog on my machine. 

Select your texture

Step 2

Paste your texture into your working document. I've set my fill color of my text to a light gray so both it and the overlapping texture can be easily seen. Set the texture's Blending Mode to Multiply in the Transparency panel.

Overlap your text with your watercolor texture

Step 3

Repeat this process of pasting watercolor texture sections over your text. Feel free to ScaleRotate, and place them in whatever manner you find best.

Overlap your text with various color and textures

Step 4

When satisfied with your texture placement, Group them together over your design. Also make sure that most of your text design is covered in some way with a texture. You don't want whole letters to disappear when we make our Clipping Mask.

Group together your watercolor textures

Step 5

Copy and Paste your text design over your watercolor texture group. Hide your original text design in the Layers panel. Select both and Make a Clipping Mask by hitting Control-7. If you find you'd like to change or add content to your Clipping Mask, simply open the Layers panel and select portions of your group within the Clip Group to rearrange them in your Artboard or even add new textures by dragging them into the group. 

create a clipping mask and adjust its contents

Well Done, You're Through!

Play with watercolor textures in whatever way you see fit. Whether you're creating a Graphic Style or a Clipping Mask, you have options in how you apply your texture as well as other elements such as watercolor splatter or additional wash textures.

Share your designs in the comment section below! Whether you've created every element yourself or have used assets from Envato Market within your poster composition, we want to see them!

The final design
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