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How to Create a Watercolor Background Using Adobe Illustrator

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In this tutorial we will learn how to create watercolor background using a Gradient Mesh, tools of deformation and Blending Modes. The techniques which are described here allow the creation of complex watercolor backgrounds in Adobe Illustrator.

If you don't have the time to learn how to how to make a watercolor background you can always try Envato Elements where you can find a massive collection of watercolor background ideas to choose from. This kit of digital watercolor backgrounds is just one of many examples.

watercolor backgroundwatercolor backgroundwatercolor background

What You'll Learn in This Illustrator Watercolor Background Tutorial

  • How to create a watercolor background starting from a gradient mesh
  • How to build a watercolor background using blending modes
  • How to stylize a watercolor background using brushes

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

1. How to Work With the Gradient Mesh

Step 1

Take the Ellipse Tool (L), hold down the Shift as you click and drag to create a perfect circle, make it 150 px wide, and set the fill color to R=31 G=102 B=158.

ellipse circleellipse circleellipse circle

Step 2

Keep the circle selected and go to Object > Create Gradient Mesh. Set the number of Rows and Columns to 7, keep the Appearance set to Flat and the Highlights to 100%, and then click OK to turn your circle into a mesh.

gradient meshgradient meshgradient mesh

Step 3

Select the Direct Selection Tool (A) or the Lasso Tool (Q), and use it to select the nodes highlighted in the first image. Recolor these selected points to R=0 G=148 B=211, as shown in the second image.

lasso toollasso toollasso tool

Step 4

Continue with the Direct Selection Tool (A) or the Lasso Tool (Q), and use it to select the nodes highlighted in the first image. Recolor these selected points to R=0 G=202 B=234, as shown in the second image.

gradient mesh colorgradient mesh colorgradient mesh color

Step 5

Select the nodes highlighted in the first image and replace the existing colors with white (R=255 G=255 B=255).

gradient mesh editgradient mesh editgradient mesh edit

Step 6

Double click the Wrinkle Tool icon in the toolbar to open the dialog box with the settings of this tool. Set the parameters indicated in the image below and then click OK.

Make circular movements on the object with the help of the Wrinkle Tool to distort the lines of your Gradient Mesh, as shown in the following image.

wrinkle toolwrinkle toolwrinkle tool

Step 7

Continue to distort your entire gradient mesh using the Wrinkle Tool until you end up with something similar to the design from the following image.

Once you're done, move to the Transparency panel (Window > Transparency) and change the Blending Mode of your distorted gradient mesh to Multiply. Now that you have this mesh, let's use it to create the watercolor background in Illustrator.

mesh blend modemesh blend modemesh blend mode

2. How to Create the Watercolor Background in Illustrator

Step 1

Take the Rectangle Tool (M) from your toolbar and create a rectangle that's the size of your artboard. This will serve as the background for your watercolor background.

Fill it with white, make sure that you keep it selected and focus on the control panel. Set the alignment to artboard and then click the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center buttons to easily center your rectangle.

Go to the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and lock this shape to make sure that you will not select or move it by accident as we continue the tutorial. Also, drag your mesh above the rectangle to make it visible.

rectangle backgroundrectangle backgroundrectangle background

Step 2

Pick the Selection Tool (V) and hold down the Alt key as you click and drag your mesh to easily duplicate it. Create multiple copies, resize and rotate them and create something like waves above and below the background, as shown in the following images.

watercolor backgroundwatercolor backgroundwatercolor background

Step 3

Select the created waves and press Control-G to Group them. Move to the Transparency panel and lower the Opacity of this group to 40%. These waves are the background of the composition.

watercolor background opacitywatercolor background opacitywatercolor background opacity

Step 4

Using the same techniques add a bunch of new copies of your mesh and use them to create the middle ground of the composition.

Once you're done, Group (Control-G) these new copies and lower the Opacity of this new group to 70%. The elements of this group shouldn't totally cover up the first group.

watercolor background middlewatercolor background middlewatercolor background middle

Step 5

Now create a new set of copies for the foreground. Group (Control-G) these new copies and again lower the Opacity to 70%. The elements of this group shouldn't cover up the first and the second groups.

watercolor background foregroundwatercolor background foregroundwatercolor background foreground

3. How to Add Brushes

Step 1

Reselect the Ellipse Tool (L), use it to create a 6 px circle and fill it with R=0 G=148 B=211.

circle bluecircle bluecircle blue

Step 2

Drag this circle into the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes) or click the New Brush button, and save it as a Scatter Brush.

Set the parameters as shown in the following image and click OK to save your brush.

scatter brushscatter brushscatter brush

Step 3

Take the Paint Brush Tool (B) from your toolbar, and create some strokes with the help of your scatter brush.

You may lower the opacity of these strokes in the Transparency palette and the size of the brush by changing the thickness of strokes. With these final touches you've finished creating your own watercolor background in Adobe Illustrator.

paint brush toolpaint brush toolpaint brush tool

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how your watercolor background image should look. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects.

Feel free to adjust the final watercolor background and make it your own. You can find some great sources of inspiration at Envato Elements, with interesting watercolor background ideas.

watercolor backgroundwatercolor backgroundwatercolor background

5 Cool Watercolor Backgrounds to Download from Envato Elements

Envato Elements is an excellent resource for watercolor background ideas. Here's a short list of some of the most popular digital watercolor backgrounds that you can find.

Watercolor Backgrounds Kit (JPG, PNG, AI, PSD)

Try this kit and you will get 20 cool watercolor backgrounds. These can be used as background for print or graphic design, as photo or text overlays, or even as watercolor computer wallpaper.

watercolor computer bakgroundwatercolor computer bakgroundwatercolor computer bakground

Watercolor Background Images (JPG, PNG)

Cut the hassle of learning how to create a watercolor background and try this collection of 16 different watercolor backgrounds instead.

watercolor backgroundwatercolor backgroundwatercolor background

Watercolor Backgrounds (JPG)

Are you in a hurry or you simply can't be bothered to learn how to make watercolor background? This small pack of watercolor background images might be the solution for you. Just click and drag the desired watercolor background image inside your document and your work is done.

watercolor background imagewatercolor background imagewatercolor background image

16 Watercolor Gradient Backgrounds (JPG)

Wanna keep it simple? Try one of these 16 watercolor gradient backgrounds to add a subtle watercolor effect for your design or maybe use it as watercolor computer wallpaper.

watercolor gradient  backgroundwatercolor gradient  backgroundwatercolor gradient  background

30 Colorful Watercolor Backgrounds (JPG)

Use any of these colorful watercolor backgrounds to create a bright and vibrant design.

colorful watercolor backgroundcolorful watercolor backgroundcolorful watercolor background

Want to Learn More?

We have loads of tutorials on Envato Tuts+, from beginner to intermediate level. Take a look!

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