PSDFan Extra

Stunning Watercolor Effect


The outcome of this tutorial is pretty cool, but along the way a few things didn’t turn out quite how I expected. One of the things to learn from this tutorial is that with some creativity and a few cool Photoshop techniques it doesn’t matter if things don’t go your way, it’s important to learn to adapt with your designs.

Final Image:

Here’s the final image that we’ll be creating:

Step 1:

Open up your background image, I’ve chosen a nice image of some crumpled paper as we’re going to be working with the watercolor medium.

Step 2:

Now I create a new layer and drag a radial gradient from the center of my image to the edge. The gradient is going from 0% opacity to 50% opacity dark brown.

Step 3:

Now I paste an image of a person into the center of my image. To make the image exactly central I go to magnify settings and then right click > fit to screen. When my entire image is displayed I simply paste my photo and it is pasted automatically into the center of my document.

Step 4:

Now I want to get rid of the white background around my photo. I try setting my layer’s mode to ‘multiply’ but it’s not quite good enough, leaving a faint white square around my image. Then I try using the magic wand tool, but the white edges of my photo get selected (the shoes and highlights on the guy’s hands). As a final resort I just cut the image out using the lasso tool:

Step 5:

Go to image > adjustments > brightness/contrast and then increase the brightness and contrast by +25.

Step 6:

Now I download a watercolor brush set from: I create a new layer above my photo layer called ‘watercolor basics’. With opacity set to 35% (the brushes deault), and use the eyedropper tool and grab the color from various parts of my photo. Then I paint over each area very rougly. I tried to use different brushes to help distinguish each area. The outcome should look something like the image below. I’ve left the face area blank for reasons that you will see later in the tutorial.

Step 7:

Watercolor painting is all about layering, so it’s ok that the image looks very rough and unattractive so far… Next I create a layer called ‘watercolor rough darks’. I keep my brushes at 35% opacity as when layered on top of the existing watercolor layer it will darker and build up a nice watercolor effect. I concentrate on the dark parts of each area, and paint over them quite roughly, selecting my brush color using the eyedropper tool. I paint over the shadows of the clothes, shoes, hands, and hair, again leaving the face untouched. The result should look something like the image below, note that the original ‘watercolor basics’ layer, and photo layer have both been hidden to show the effect.

Step 8:

So what’s next? You guessed it! I create a layer called ‘watercolor rough lights’, and repeat the same technique, but painting over the lighter areas of the photo in a rough fashion. The image below shows the result of making all 3 watercolor layers visible: base, rough darks, and rough lights.

Step 9:

Now I create a new layer called ‘watercolor details’. I use the same technique as the previous layers, but use a much smaller brush and brush in details such as the shoe laces and defining lines between his clothes, sharp shadows etc… I also up the brushes opacity to around 60%. The trick here is to not try and be too fiddly, but to use large sweeping brush strokes that show where the original details are, but don’t simply trace over them.

Step 10:

So to recap where we’re are so far, the image below shows the original photo layer hidden, and all watercolor layers in tact. You can see that it still looks quite rough, but we’re really aiming for this kind of rough look, with some shape lines and details thrown in. A good idea is to keep hiding your water color layers and referring back to your original photo.

Step 11:

Now grab your photo layer and move it so that is is above all of your watercolor layers. Set the layer’s blending mode to ‘hard light’.

Step 12:

Now, this is the tricky part. You want to select the eraser tool, using one of the brushes from the watercolor set. Erase away various parts of your photo layer to reveal the watercolor layers underneath. Make sure to keep your face perfectly in tact. The trick here is to use various opacities in your erasing, to try and create subtle transitions between photograph and watercolor. Personally I wanted to keep the hands, face and shoes pretty much in touch, so I didn’t erase those much. However, I erased large parts of the legs and torso. I good idea is to work with the perspectives and layers of the photo. For instance, erase more of the red tshirt than the black top which goes over it. This way it creates the illusion that underneath the black top is a watercolor body. The stage below shows the image after using the eraser brush at 50% opacity. The image below that shows the watercolor layers hidden and the main photo layer after being partially erased.

Step 13:

I realize that my ‘watercolor details’ layer is too bold, and is taking away from some of the other layers. I reduce it’s opacity to around 40%

Step 14:

I don’t really like the hair in my image so far, so grab some more watercolor brushes, create a new layer called ‘hair’ and play around with applying some rough strokes.

Step 15:

I’m pretty happy with how the image is looking, particularly the lower part and the hands. However, the torso and especially the hair still isn’t looking right. I decide to try something a little different. I select some nice large watercolor brushes, up the opacity to 100% and apply large strokes over my image on a new layer called ‘hair new’. Notice how the tops of my large strokes are fitting roughly with where the guy’s hair is.

Step 16:

Now obviously we can’t have these large brush strokes overlapping out image and ruining it. I select my main photo layer, but because I don’t like the hair on it, I use the lasso tool to select the hair above his face and delete it. Then I select around the man using the magic wand tool. Then I go to select > inverse to invert my selection so that the man is selected. I then go back to my ‘hair new’ layer, and hit backspace, deleting the parts of the large brush strokes that overlap my photo. Finally, I move my original ‘hair’ layer above the ‘hair new’ layer, to add a little more definition to the general hair area.

Step 17:

The hair area still isn’t look good though. I like how the large brush strokes seem to be exploding outwards from the man, so decide to have some larger brush strokes seemingly pouring onto him from the top of the document. Remember to apply brush strokes on seperate layers, otherwise the opacities combine and you get an ugly black overlap between brush strokes.

Step 18:

Ok, I’m finally pretty happy with how the watercolor effect is looking. I create a text layer beneath the watercolor layers and photo layer, and create some centrally aligned text. I chose Tahoma, bold, with -100 kerning to replicate our logo. I position the text so that it slightly overlaps with my watercolor image. The transparency of the watercolor allows parts of the text show through, which creates quite a nice effect.

Step 19:

Next I add a quick tagline, and then create a new layer behind my text layers and apply a wash with a large brush at a low opacity.

Step 20:

Finally, to add to the watercolor theme, I select the letters of my ‘PSDFAN’ text using the magic wand tool. I then create a new layer above this one, and with the selection in place paint over the layers using a large white brush, with very low opacity. The brush will only paint inside the selected letters, and consequently a very nice effect is achieved.

And we’re done!

You can see the finished piece below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial, and would love to know your thoughts on it.

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. Nicole says:

    It’s not really all that stunning. Maybe different colors? And the model looks weird.

    • Kalai says:

      So many artists tend to have an alsofneos to their style of tutoring that it seems unintentionally condescending, it’s refreshing to see someone who puts things in laymans terms.I admit I’m already a fan of your artwork and style, but seeing the how makes the finished product even more appreciated.

  2. Andrew says:

    Really nice tutorial I love the effect. The only thing I would change is keeping the bold watercolor brush strokes behind the guy’s head. Otherwise great, I’ve learned a lot.

  3. Tom says:

    @Nicole: Sorry that you didn’t find the tutorial that great. It was really a new effect that I wanted to try out, and admittedly it could have turned out better, but I felt it was important to show my work process anyway. I agree with you that the model looks a little strange though.

    @Andrew: Thanks :) I appreciate the kind words. Point noted about the bold brush strokes, I’ll definitely keep that in mind next time I try something like this.

  4. Erin says:

    That is quite obviously a woman.

    Thanks for the tut.

  5. Tom says:

    @Erin: Yeah, I was a little confused by their gender. I did search for ‘man jumping’ though to find the original photo, so assumed it was a guy. Anyway, I hope that you found the techniques useful!

  6. A fantastic technique and tutorial. It’s Pat! Weird concept, but great technique. Thanx!

  7. Good Tutorial! It was chosen for the main page of
    Please submit all of your future quality tutorials in there.

  8. Randomness says:

    I really liked the watercolor effect tutorial, so I don’t have anything to say about that, but rather how you go about making the tutorial.

    I, like many others who will come across this may be relatively new to Photoshop (hence us looking for tutorials!). So, before you even start you might want to mention in the beginning what level of Photoshop experience you should have (beginner, expert, etc,).

    For example, you have: “Now I create a new layer and drag a radial gradient from the center of my image to the edge. The gradient is going from 0% opacity to 50% opacity dark brown.” In all honesty, I can’t follow that. It might be very easy for some, but I don’t know how to do that yet. Hopefully soon ;)

    And lastly, I would make available the files you use to work on your tutorials. Some people, me included, like to try to make an exact copy of the tutorial we are working on, to see how it compares to the tutorial version. I had no idea where to find the picture of the guy you used.

    I hope my suggestions weren’t overboard!
    Good luck with the new site, I look forward to more tutorials

  9. Tom says:

    @Little Benny m: Thanks! :D

    @Tutorials Room: Thanks for featuring my tutorial! I was actually planning on submitting it to your site anyway, and will definitely submit my future tutorials there.

    @Randomness: Your suggestions were definitely not overboard at all. Seeing as I’m new to this myself it’s fantastic to get such great suggestions from my visitors. I’ll take on board what you’ve said and try to make my future tutorials easier to understand. It’s also a great idea to mention the difficulty level involved right at the start. As for the original files I’m afraid that I probably won’t be making these available for a while, as I’m considering a future membership program. It’s also pretty expensive for me to offer files for download as it would skyrocket my bandwidth usage.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments guys. I hope that you’ll consider subscribing and my next tutorial will be coming soon!

  10. beets says:

    great tutorial Tom – and i’m really enjoying the site so far.. good job!

    couple ideas for you:

    if you want to offer files for download, but don’t want the bandwidth issues, try zipping and uploading to rapidshare. it’s easy and free. :)

    the new hotmail (Windows Live) also offers free filesharing which can be organized into private and/or public folders.

    keep up the great work – like your overall design style a lot. :)

  11. Tom says:

    Thanks Beets, it’s really nice to know that I’m getting some dedicated readers :) I’ll definitely consider the RapidShare option, thanks. I’ll put my all into writing the best tutorials I can from now on :)

  12. Tom says:

    Thanks Kevin, I know PSDTUTS well, but hadn’t actually seen that tutorial before. It is pretty similar I agree, but I hope that you found both useful :)

  13. Samuel says:

    Great tutorial!! Buen tutorial!!

  14. Joshua says:


    on the watercolor hair, the colorful hair, what blending option did you use on the brushes? I can’t seem to get it just right to be black when they blend. I like the tutorial alot, keep them coming.

  15. Vu Nguyen says:

    Perfect tut, thank you :D

  16. Derek says:

    That is amazing!

  17. sid says:

    thanx. its nice :)

  18. Quileutte says:

    stunning piece of artwork…hahha

    keep on posting guys!

  19. oes tsetnoc says:

    great work psdfan. keep posting your wonderful tutorials.

  20. Very nice tutorial!! Amazing technique

  21. Nicole says:

    At step 15, did you use a pen to create the strokes? May I ask which brush settings you used, I can’t get this effect somehow ^^

    • Laga says:

      I just wanna stop before I fisinh watching and say that I love this tutorial. This is my second time watching it and it’s really inspiring to me. I’m mainly a digital artist, but I’ve always wanted to try more traditional media like water color and acrylic inks because of you. It’s a shame i can’t find those FW inks locally, I’d be more eager to buy them. Do you know of any other brands I can look out for?

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