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How to Make Your Own Watercolor Brushes in Adobe Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Photoshop Brushes from Scratch.
Create Custom Coffee Ring Brushes in Adobe Photoshop
How to Create a Custom Smoke Brush in Adobe Photoshop
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Creating custom watercolor brushes is as easy as dripping ink or watercolor paint onto paper. You will have custom, ready-to-paint brushes in no time thanks to this simple tutorial. Download the attached watercolor scans and follow the steps below to create your own set of drippy, splashy, and splattered brushes.

1. Editing Scanned Images

Step 1

For starters, if you'd like to make your own watercolor or ink splashes to use in this tutorial, it's a simple process. 

Grab thick watercolor paper or card stock, a soft paint brush, and a small watercolor set. Dribble, drop, splash, and smear watercolor or ink onto the paper. Wait for it to dry, and scan the paper into your computer. 

If your paper is too large to fit your scanner bed, cut the paper down (as I did), since you want to make sure you can get the paper itself to be as white as possible, making your watercolor stand out.

If you'd rather use my watercolor images, download the Watercolor Scans zip file attached to this tutorial.

Open the file labeled Watercolor Scan 3 in Adobe Photoshop. Go to Image > Image Rotation > 90° Clockwise to rotate the file. Hit Auto Tone under Image.

Choose your watercolor file

Step 2

Use the Crop Tool (C) to isolate the paper on the left of the image. Grab the Lasso Tool (L) to select your chosen watercolor splatter, and Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) it into a New Document.

Isolate your chosen watercolor splash

Step 3

Adjust the Levels (Control-L) so the right slider is moved a bit to the left (241) and the middle slider a bit to the right (0.74). You want the watercolor splatter to be darker and the background to be whiter.

Adjust the levels of your image

Step 4

At this point my watercolor splatter is ready to become a custom brush.

Ready to be turned into a brush

2. Creating Custom Brushes

Step 1

Select your watercolor splash and under Edit hit Define Brush Preset. Give your new brush a name and hit OK.

Define a new brush setting

Step 2

Use the Lasso Tool to select a smaller portion of the watercolor design, and define this as a brush too.

Select smaller portions of the image for smaller brushes

Step 3

Now, use the Brush Tool (B) to select your newly-made brushes in the Brush Presets panel and use them within a new document. Change the Foreground ColorOpacity, or Flow of the brush so each splatter looks different.

Play with your new watercolor brush

3. Using the Watercolor Brushes

Step 1

Using the other scanned pieces from the ZIP file attached to this tutorial, create other brushes from the watercolor splatter in each image. Layer instances of each brush onto each other either for more pigmented versions of the brush or to mix colors. 

When used with a pressure-sensitive tablet, the brush creates a fantastic watercolor-style texture, depending on the settings used in the Brushes panel. 

Painting with the new brushes

Step 2

Finally, a quick look at how two different shapes create different styles of brushes. The shape on the right creates a large, blocky splatter, which is great for covering large areas. Below the first image, you'll see the shape from the upper left, which is wispier than the first, and creates lighter streaks of color. It's just a tiny example of how each shape in the scanned images attached to this tutorial will change the look of your brushes as you paint with them.

Different splash shapes create different brush styles

Enjoy Your New Brushes!

Create a splatter background. Paint a digital watercolor piece. Create new textures from the brushes to be used in photo manipulations. The use of your new custom brushes is entirely up to you. Share your creations in the comment section below. 

For more tutorials on creating custom Photoshop brushes, check out these links:

Create a colorful background from watercolor brushes
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