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How to Create Realistic Watercolor Photoshop Brushes From Scratch

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, we will create realistic watercolor brushes for Photoshop from scanned paper using watercolor strokes and washes.

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

I created a Creative Masking Kit with more than 100 brushes with the same method for my GraphicRiver portfolio.


Prefer to use Adobe Illustrator? Try this article instead:

Tutorial Assets

You will need the following in order to complete this tutorial:

  • a sheet of watercolor paper
  • any medium-sized brush
  • a small jar with water
  • any set of watercolor paints
  • a scanner that has the ability to scan A4-size paper

1. How to Create the Strokes on Watercolor Paper

Step 1

Prepare your brush, paper, and paints, and then pour the water into the jar.

Preparing instruments

Step 2

Put a small amount of water on the paper with your brush.

Creating water wash on the paper

Step 3

Start adding paint to the water on the paper using the edge of your brush.

Adding paints to water

Step 4

Continue to add paint until your stroke looks like the picture below.

Finishing first brush

Step 5

Now let's create a second watercolor stroke. Draw a long stroke with one horizontal movement.

Creating second watercolor stroke

Step 6

To create the last one, use sharp movements by holding the brush by the tip.

Creating the last watercolor brush

Step 7

Now we need to wait a while for it all to dry.

Drying watercolor brushes

2. How to Scan the Paper

Step 1

We need to prepare the scanner glass to avoid stains or unwanted elements on your brushes. You can use a wet wipe to clean the glass.

Preparing scanner glass

Step 2

Once you have cleaned the scanner glass, put your paper on the scanner.

Putting paper into the scanner

Step 3

Set the following settings in your scanner preferences: A4 paper size, 300 dpi. Then start scanning. The color of our scanned paper can be different from the color of our strokes, but it is much more important for us to preserve the structure.

Scanning the paper

3. How to Create the Strokes on Watercolor Paper

Step 1

Use Control-N to create a new document and use the following settings: 1500 x 1000 px; 300 dpi.

Creating new document

Step 2

Go to File > Place and put your scanned paper into the document.

Placing the scanned document

Step 3

Resize your scanned paper to the borders of the document, so one of the brushes will be placed in the center, and click Enter.

Resizing the paper

Step 4

Select your layer and use the Shift-Control-Alt-B key combination and set the following settings: Reds: 40%; Yellows: 60%; Greens: 40%; Cyans: -25%; Blues: -25%; Magentas: 80%.

Adding blackwhite effect to the layer

Step 5

Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and use the following settings: Brightness: 35; Contrast: 25.

Changing brightnesscontrast of the layer

Step 6

Right-click on the layer and then select Duplicate Layer.

Creating Duplicate of the layer

Step 7

Create two more duplicates of your layer using Right-click > Duplicate.

Creating Duplicates of the layer

Step 8

Make all scan layers as Invisible except the first.

Making layers invisible

Step 9

Select your first layer, go to Select > Color Range, and click on the white area on your image. Click OK.

Selecting colors

Step 10

Now the white background of your image is selected. Delete it using the Delete button.

Deleting background of your layer

Step 11

Then click on any part of your document to Deselect the previous selection and select your stroke using the Lasso Tool.

Selection your brush

Step 12

Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset, select any name you want to use for your brush, and hit the OK button.

Creating first brush

Step 13

Our first brush is almost ready to use. Select Brush Instrument and then select your watercolor stoke. After that, hit the Brush Settings icon.

Opening brush settings

Step 14

Put ticks on Shape Dynamics, Color Dynamics, and Transfer.

Setting parameters of the brush

Step 15

Go to the Shape Dynamics panel and set Size Jitter to 90% and Angle Jitter to 50%.

Setting size and angle jitters

Step 16

Go to the Transfer panel and set Opacity Jitter to 25%.

Setting opacity Jitter

Now our brush will create realistic-looking washes:

Step 17

Now we need to cut the second stroke from the background as we did before, and after that go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and create Watercolor Brush 02.

Creating Watercolor Brush 02

Step 18

Open the brush settings and go to Dual Brush and then select your first brush. Set Mode to MultiplySize to 450 pxSpacing to 72%.

Setting parameters for second brush

This way, we can combine the brushes and add grunge scrapes to our brush texture.

Step 19

Now we need to cut the second stroke from the background as we did before, and after that go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and create Watercolor Brush 03.

Creating third brush

Step 20

Open the brush settings and go to Shape Dynamics, and set Size Jitter to 100% and Angle Jitter to 75%.

Setting size and angle jitters parameters

With these brush settings, we can create ink splashes.

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

Using these methods, we can create different types of watercolor brushes for Photoshop using a scanner, watercolor paper, and paints.

You can find a huge range of awesome watercolor effects for Photoshop in this excellent article:

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial! Feel free to contact me for any help with the tutorial. You can also check my Creative Masking Kit in my portfolio on GraphicRiver.

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