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Design an Artistic Watercolor T-Shirt Design

Design an Artistic Watercolor T-Shirt Design

Resources Used In This Tutorial

Final Image

Here is a preview of the image that we are going to be creating:

Step 1

Start by creating a new document (600X650px).

Download the watercolor brush set from the resources for this tutorial. Create a new layer called ‘watercolor main shape’.

Apply several of the brushes to this layer, using a black paintbrush. You want to overlap the brushes and build them up until you have one large watercolor shape:

Step 2

Now apply a color overlay blending option:

Color Overlay Settings:

Blend Mode: Normal
Color: c0c8d4
Opacity: 100%

Step 3

Now create a new layer called ‘watercolor darker areas’.

Apply several black watercolor brushes over your main area. Then change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ and reduce it’s opacity to around 30%. This should create a nice visual variation and help build up your composition:

Step 4

Now layer up several more of these ‘watercolor darker areas’, applying a variation of dark watercolor brush strokes.

Then repeat this step, applying lighter layers using a white watercolor brush (again, make these layer’s blend mode’s ‘overlay’ and use around 20-30% opacity).

The thumbnails below show how your watercolor area is building up using these layers, gradually getting more complex and detailed:

Step 5

Now go to layer>merge visible to merge all of your watercolor layers into a single layer. Select your entire canvas and hit ‘copy’. Then in your history palette undo the merging process, but hide your original watercolor layers (this is just so that you can keep them for future reference if needed).

Paste in your copied/merged layer, and call this layer ‘watercolor merged’.

The watercolor effect is looking a little intense, so reduce this layer’s opacity to 60%.

Step 6

Now go to filter>convert for smart filters. This will allow you to apply filters in a non-destructive way (which if you’re a regular reader of PSDFAN you’ll know is very important!).

Go to filter>sharpen>unsharp mask. This will allow us to tweak our watercolor image and add a little more clarity and definition.

Unsharp Mask:

Amount: 100%
Radius: 7.0 pixels
Threshold: 10 levels

Step 7

Now open up your cat photo in a new document. Usually this type of image would be quite tricky to extract from it’s background. However, in this case the cat is against a totally blue background. For this image we’ll use the color range extract option!

Go to select>color range.

Using your eye dropper tool click on your blue background (you will see this area become white in the color range preview box (this demonstrates your selection). Choose 178 Fuzziness to try and get the best selection and eliminate stray areas of background.

Hit ‘ok’. You will see that your blue background has become selected. Clearly we want our cat selected, not our background, so simply go to select>inverse. Your cat will now be selected, and you can copy/paste it into your original document:

Step 8

Now create a black circle layer beneath your cat layer. Call this layer ‘circle behind cat’ (I know… original right? ;) )

Then select your cat layer and go to layer>create clipping mask. The cat will clip to fit within your circle shape. This means that the bottom of your cat will transform from a boring flat edge, to an attractive curve:

Step 9

Change your circle layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’.

Then duplicate this layer twice. With the middle layer, go to edit>transform>scale. In your scale options, enlarge the width and height to 110%.

With the bottom circle layer enlarge the width/height to 120%.

Step 10

Now we want to create a cool effect with these circles.

Apply a layer mask to the bottom 2 layers. Drag up a black to transparent linear gradient from the bottom of each circle. This will mask off the bottoms of your circles, but leave the tops in tact.

The image below shows the position of your layer masks within your layer’s palette:

Step 11

You’ll notice that the cat isn’t blended with the rest of the composition yet.

To fix this apply a hue/saturation, color balance and levels adjustment layer. With each layer be sure to apply a clipping mask, so that your adjustments only effect your underlying cat layer:

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: 0
Saturation: -80
Lightness: 0

Color Balance Adjustment Layer Settings:

Highlights: -9 / -5 / -8
Midtones: -18 / -1 / +16
Shadows: -4 / +9 / +8

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

22 / 1.14 / 236

Step 12

Now create a new layer called ‘sparkles’.

Select one of your watercolor brushes. Then apply the brush settings shown below:

Brush Tip Shape:

Size: 2px
Spacing: 1000%
Color: ffffff


Scatter: 1000% (both axes)
Count: 3
Count Jitter: 100%

Now apply this white brush over your cat’s face:

Step 13

Now apply an outer glow blending option to your ‘sparkles’ layer:

Outer Glow Blending Option:

Blend Mode: Screen
Opacity: 100%
Noise: 0%
Color: b5d3ff
Spread: 0%
Size: 5px

Step 14

Now apply several ‘highlight’ layers.

Drag out two yellow to transparent radial gradients.

Then cyan to transparent gradients.

And finally drag out a white to transparent gradient over the eye of your cat.

With the yellow/cyan layers reduce their opacity to 20% and change their blend mode to ‘overlay’.

Step 15

Now we want to create another light effect.

Create a new layer called ‘line highlight’. First, create a linear gradient ranging from transparent, to white, to transparent.

Your gradient settings should be as follows:

Position: 0%, Transparent
Position: 92%, Transparent
Position: 95%, White
Position: 100%, Transparent

Now drag out your linear gradient tool several times over your canvas.

Now change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ and reduce it’s opacity to 50%. Then apply a layer mask, and mask off the edges of your light lines using a black paintbrush:

Step 16

Now create a final layer called ‘dodge/burn’. Go to edit>fill and fill your your canvas with 50% gray.

Then change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’. Then use a black paintbrush to paint in shadows, and a white brush to add to the highlights. Then change this layer’s opacity to 20%:

Step 17

Finally, download the tshirt vector from the resources for this tutorial. Paste your cat design over the chest:

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

Download Source File for this Tutorial

About the Author:

Tom is the founder of PSDFAN. He loves writing tutorials, learning more about design and interacting with the community. On a more interesting note he can also play guitar hero drunk with his teeth.

Leave a comment


  1. MarkT says:

    Hee hee! :D
    I like this a LOT! Wonderful use of the watercolour brush set – something I’ve been wanting to have a bash at for a while but needed some guidance on. Now I’ve got it!

    I must admit that, if it were me, I’d perhaps have left the cat’s eye without the white highlight. It’s a personal preference, but I really like the detail and contrast you get in his (her?) eyes from the colour re-balance. Just my opinion.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks so much Mark! It was nice to try and produce quite an arty outcome for this tutorial. I hope that you’re able to capture this effect now without any problems. I kind of agree about the eye to be honest, good observation! :)

  2. hannah says:

    Step 9
    Change your circle layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’.

    When I do this step, the cat layer is affected as well. (Its blend mode becomes ‘overlay’ even though I selected only the circle layer.)

    Am I missing something?

  3. Marina says:

    I love the watercolor look on shirts and have worked on a few versions that I would like to have printed. How would I have a watercolor effect printed on a t-shirt? Will silkscreen look too pixelated? I am hoping to get a dozen printed but not too expensive, any advise on printing technique?

  4. Kim says:

    I have a problem on your step 9. when i put it on overlay it goes the same thing on my picture please help :(

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