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How to Create Water Effects in Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating

Today, we will be looking at how to create a water effect in Photoshop! We will be creating a total of three different water effects, including water drips, splashes, and a split water line effect. Layer modes will be doing most of the heavy lifting in this realistic water Photoshop tutorial, so let's get started! 

But first, are you looking for fast, realistic water Photoshop actions? Try one of the hundreds of water effect Photoshop actions and add-ons over on Envato Elements!

Water effect Photoshop ActionWater effect Photoshop ActionWater effect Photoshop Action

Do you prefer video tutorials to learn new skills? You can watch how to create a water effect in Photoshop following this new video from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You'll Learn in This Water Effect Photoshop Tutorial

  • How to make realistic water in Photoshop
  • How to create a water dripping effect in Photoshop
  • How to create a dripping water effect in Photoshop
  • How to create a water effect in Photoshop

What You'll Need

To complete this project, you will need the following resources:

1. How to Make Realistic Water in Photoshop

Let's start things off by creating a split water effect, where part of the "camera" would be underwater and the other half above water.

Step 1

Create your canvas in any size, portrait or landscape. You'll be able to apply these same techniques to accommodate any canvas size.

Lay down some color (#425847) using a Solid Color fill layer. In the end, this color won't matter.

Now, we can place our water surface image over the color layer.

Make sure it's a right-click > Smart Object, so we can resize without worrying about unwanted blurriness.

We want to make sure the water stretches across the whole width of the canvas, regardless of the size. Typically, you'd want to avoid stretching a photo past its original width, but due to the nature of water, we can push it pretty far in this case without it looking distorted.

place water image place water image place water image

Step 2

Next, let's add a Layer Mask to the water surface layer and use a semi-hard round Brush to mask the sky. A 90% Hardness will give you a slightly soft, smooth edge for the sky.

Use a medium-soft round Brush to mask out the image's original ground. We only want the surface of the water and the waterline.

extract water image extract water image extract water image

Step 3

Let's finish up the water surface for now by adding an Image > Adjustments > Brightness Contrast, setting it to -60 Brightness and 45 Contrast.

darken surface of the water darken surface of the water darken surface of the water

Step 4

Now, let's drop in our sky below the water surface layer. When choosing a sky image, try to keep the mood of the water in mind. This includes both color and movement. If it's stormy, then the water would likely be choppy.

Add a Layer Mask and mask any excess portion of the sky that may be peeking out of the bottom of the water.

Also, adding a Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur of around a 55px Blur can help the water remain focused.

place sky place sky place sky

Step 5

Let's drop in an image of some foliage below both the water surface and sky layer.

When choosing your image, focus more on lighting and general shapes rather than what the image actually is. That's because we're going to add another Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur of around a 55px Blur to the plants, which will obscure any more minor details and leave just their silhouette.

place greenery place greenery place greenery

Step 6

Now we're going to obscure them even more. First, go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast, setting it to -70 Brightness and 67 Contrast.

Next, let's create a Color Lookup adjustment layer set to MoonLight, with a layer mode of Darken and a 42% Opacity.

Double-click the Color Lookup layer and use the left half of the right Blend-If toggles to remove the adjustment from the image's highlights.

And lastly, mask out the Color Lookup layer from the sky.

blend if settings blend if settings blend if settings
blend if results blend if results blend if results

Step 7

We can finish coloring our water with a Color Fill layer set to a yellow-green #73742f color and a layer mode of Multiply.

Copy the layer mask from the Color Lookup layer onto the Color Fill layer, masking the Color Fill layer from the sky.

darken water darken water darken water

Step 8

Let's tie everything together by adding some lighting to the water and sky. For our brush color, we will be using a pale golden orange #ffe6bb color. We'll be using different sizes of a soft round brush for our brush shape, set to a Flow of 25% or less.

First, add a New Layer set to Overlay, placed right above the yellow-green Color Fill layer. We can use this layer to brighten the bottom portion of the water and the skyline.

Next, add two New Layers clipped into the water surface, one set to Screen and the other to Overlay. Again, use these layers to bring some light onto the surface of the water.

add lighting to water effect add lighting to water effect add lighting to water effect

Step 9

And finally, let's add some water light reflections coming from the surface onto the lower portion of the water.

Take a water texture, and then use Image > Adjustments to turn it to Black & White and set the Brightness/Contrast to -14 and 100

Next, let's add a Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur set to 20 Radius.

Lastly, we can change the layer mode to Color Dodge, set the Opacity to around 75%, and place the texture right above the yellow-green Color Fill layer.

Go ahead and size it so that it's covering everything you want it to cover. Also, mask out any areas that may be leaking onto the sky or are maybe too bright.

And that's it! When placing a subject, use layer masks to split them where the water line is hitting them. Copy all of the layers and effects from the bottom portion of water onto the bottom half of the subject. You can also add other details like bubbles!

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split water effect in photoshop split water effect in photoshop split water effect in photoshop

2. How to Create a Water Splash Effect in Photoshop

Now, on to creating splash water effects in Photoshop! The best thing about this trick is that layer modes are going to do all the heavy lifting.

Step 1

First, let's drop a group of water splashes onto our canvas, making sure they are a Right-click > Smart Object. We want to make sure the splashes are at their full resolution when imported as a Smart Object. Photoshop should be set to do this by default.

place water splashes place water splashes place water splashes

Step 2

Now, let's use the Lasso tool to grab a rough selection around one of the splashes that we like the shape of.

Then add a Layer Mask.

extract water splash extract water splash extract water splash

Step 3

Duplicate the water splash layer, Delete the Layer Mask, and select and mask a new splash. Do this to all the splashes you think you may want to use. The more, the better!

extract multiple water splash  extract multiple water splash  extract multiple water splash

Step 4

Select each splash and Right-click > Convert to Smart Object once more and set all of the splash layers to Screen.

All of these splashes are copies of the original smart object and are never rasterized. That means they can be sized up or down, and shaped without worrying about any blurriness. And that's precisely what we want to do next.

Place the water splashes around the object, being mindful of the object's shape and the shape of the water. Try to follow the curves, and use layer masks to remove any unwanted water drops from the water splash layers.

Feel free to duplicate the splashes as long as you use a combination of layer masks, transforming and warping so that there are no notable duplicate details in the water drops.

how to create a water splash effect how to create a water splash effect how to create a water splash effect

3. How to Create a Water Dripping Effect in Photoshop

Finally, let's look at how to create a water dripping effect in Photoshop!

Step 1

Let's create a hard wet edge Brush using the following brush settings. Make sure and Save the brush, so you don't have to keep recreating it:

water brush settings water brush settings water brush settings

Step 2

Next, create a New Layer set to Overlay at 20% Opacity.

Set your foreground color to black. We're going to paint lines where we think our water drips will be flowing.

This doesn't have to be exact or perfect. You can always come back later and erase what you don't end up needing.

dripping effect- water filter photoshop tutorialdripping effect- water filter photoshop tutorialdripping effect- water filter photoshop tutorial

Step 3

Now, we can create a New Layer above the last layer.

Let's change our Foreground Color to white, our brush's Flow to 100%, and in Brush Settings, set the Size Jitter to 100%.

Slowly paint in tiny lines of white water reflections. Use the Eraser to taper the highlights, making sure they are not too bright or harsh. Lower the layer's Opacity if the highlights are too bright.

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Step 4

Let's use a soft round Eraser brush to remove any of the black lines we painted earlier that are too dark, too harsh, or weren't used to paint highlights on.

You can also lower the layer's Opacity to 10% or less to give the drops a subtle shadow without making them look too dark.

And finally, create some falling water splashes using the same method as earlier. You can always add more or fewer water drops later on, or you can skip this step altogether.

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You're Done! 

That is how to make water in Photoshop! Creating realistic water is all about the lighting and highlights, so make sure they are bright, but not so bright that they look too sharp. Remember, water is clear, and what you're actually seeing is the reflection of light and color in the water. Avoid making water too bright, or it'll start to look milky!

How to Create Water Effects in PhotoshopHow to Create Water Effects in PhotoshopHow to Create Water Effects in Photoshop

Top 5 Water Effect Photoshop Actions and Add-Ons 

Need to create a water effect fast? Try one of these five water filter Photoshop actions and add-ons from Envato Elements!

Water Photoshop Action (ATN)

Water Photoshop ActionWater Photoshop ActionWater Photoshop Action

Wondering how to make water Photoshop effects ultra fast? Well, this water Photoshop action is the answer! Add a level of surreal to any image with just a click of a button.  

Water Ripples Text Effect (PSD)

Water Ripples Text EffectWater Ripples Text EffectWater Ripples Text Effect

If you are looking for a water filter Photoshop text effect, then look no further than the Water Ripples text add-on. It's incredibly easy to use—just add your own text and it will instantly update with a slick water reflection effect. 

Water Photoshop Action (ATN)

Water Photoshop ActionWater Photoshop ActionWater Photoshop Action

You won't lose out on any watery details if you use this action! This water filter Photoshop action creates dynamic water splashes, perfect for enhancing actions and sport poses. 

Underwater Photoshop Action CS3+ (ATN)

Underwater Photoshop Action CS3+Underwater Photoshop Action CS3+Underwater Photoshop Action CS3+

Create dreamy underwater scenes with this underwater Photoshop action for Photoshop CS3 or higher! Just choose your subject and press play. 

45 Water Ripple Photoshop Brushes (ABR)

45 Water Ripple Photoshop Brushes45 Water Ripple Photoshop Brushes45 Water Ripple Photoshop Brushes

This water ripple Photoshop brush pack contains a whopping 45 brushes in total, so you will never have to worry about repeating the same water ripple over and over again. 

Explore More Cool Photoshop Tutorials

I hope you liked this water effect Photoshop tutorial. We learned how to create a water effect in Photoshop following different methods and styles. Would you like to learn even more cool Photoshop techniques? Here are some top tutorials for you:

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