How to Create a Watercolor Effect in Photoshop

December 28

12 min. to read

Watercolor is a special painting technique in which paints are applied to wet paper, and this creates the effect of blurred strokes and lightness of composition. This can be achieved not only with real painting but also in Photoshop.

Watercolor drawings retain their popularity to this day. No wonder, because this effect gives the image a lightness, tenderness, and even a bit of mystery. To make your picture look like a real work of art, you don't have to get behind the easel. You can easily achieve the desired result with the help of computer software. Today's article is about how to make a photo look like a watercolor in Photoshop. By following our guide you will be able to realize your ideas and create a unique picture. Just six simple steps and you'll be pleasantly surprised with the result!

Creating a stunning result in 6 steps

Want to achieve a cool effect quickly and easily? Here are the instructions for creating a watercolor painting in Photoshop that will help you.

1. Choose an image to work with

You can use both your own photo and any other image, for example, downloaded from photo stock. Do not worry about what is captured in the picture. Whether it's a pastel still life or a vivid country landscape, or a portrait, everything is fine for creating water coloring in Photoshop. Just open this application and use the selected image.

2. Using the texture of the paper

What is the first thing to think about when creating a watercolor effect? Well, our image is digital and we need to make it look like it's been painted on canvas or paper. To do that, we need to load a watercolor paper texture, and then add it on top of our image layer. You can do it like this:

  • Select File, then Place Embedded and add the texture.

  • Blend it with the image using the Multiply function.

Done! You're ready for step 3.

3. Moving on to creating an effect

So, we get to the most essential part of our guide on how to make watercolor in Photoshop. The next necessary and very important step is to convert the image to a Smart Object. Let's do this as follows:

  • Right-click on the image.

  • Select Convert to Smart Object in the opened list of actions.

Great, now your task is just to follow the instructions. Use the filter menu, then the filter gallery, select the Dry Brush tool, and set the settings as follows:

  • Brush Size - 10;

  • Brush Detail - 10;

  • Texture - 1.

The next point is the Filter Gallery. Select the CutOut filter and set the following parameters:

  • Number of Levels - 8;

  • Edge Simplicity - 0;

  • Edge Fidelity - 1.

Now go to Filter, then Blur, and choose Smart Blur. Use these settings:

  • Radius - 5.0;

  • Threshold - 100.0;

  • Quality - High;

  • Mode - Normal.

And finally, the last point of the third step of our watercolor Photoshop tutorial. Go to the Filter menu, Stylize, then Find Edges. The result may seem strange to you, but don't worry. Just edit the Smart Blur & Find Edges. This way, you'll bring back the detailed effect of the picture. There are two parameters you need to edit - the opacity of the filter, and the blending mode.

4. Applying Filters to Achieve the Desired Effect

To edit filters, double-click the icon next to Smart Blur. The Blending mode should be changed to Screen and the Opacity should be reduced to 50%. We do this to make the image look not too smooth and slightly lightened. 

Once you're done with this task, go to the Find Edges Filter menu and change the blending mode to Multiply. The opacity should be reduced to 62%.

The result of our work is already obvious, isn't it? But do not stop, let's move on to the next step.

5. Almost there

To achieve the watercolor effect in Photoshop, you need to follow two steps. First, hide the picture and then reveal it on the layer mask with brush strokes. You can do it the following way:

  • Click on the Add Layer Mask icon;

  • Use the CTRL + I key combination. That way you will hide the image and the color of the layer mask will change to black.

6. Use watercolor brushes

To make your image look really like a painting, you need brushes, of course. Download a watercolor kit and start experimenting. Choose one of the brushes you like best, then switch to a white color in the toolbar, and start painting the picture to reveal it. Important point: don't forget to choose a layer mask. 

Great! We have achieved the Photoshop watercolor effect. But, as we have already seen, this process takes some time. Now we offer you the Top 7 best effects that will help you significantly reduce the time of working with the image.

Top 7 impressive watercolor actions and effects

Making a watercolor effect is a very exciting activity, but one that takes time and practice. If you're not ready to create on your own yet, or if you want to be inspired by the work of real masters, we suggest you check out this list of effects.

Classic Watercolor Photoshop Action

This effect is a real find. All you have to do is just brush the image, it couldn't be easier. Incredibly juicy and vibrant watercolor with a high level of detail and stunning texture. After applying the effect you will truly believe that this is a real painting that the artist painted on canvas, so well you can see every brush stroke, every drop, and pencil line.

Multipurpose Watercolor Photoshop Action

Want to customize the effect completely to your personal needs? This is literally created to do that! You have 20 unique styles at your disposal with a high level of detail, in just a couple of clicks, you'll get a stunning effect! This action allows you to create a real work of art. Edit any graphic element, and enjoy both the process and the incredible result!

Watercolor Magic Photoshop Effect

Do you like hand-painted watercolor? This Photoshop action will create real magic with your images. You have a huge choice of styles and patterns, as well as brushes and vectors. With a few clicks, you'll turn an image into a real masterpiece! f you've been looking for a simple but effective way how to create a watercolor effect in Photoshop, this is exactly what you need.

Aquarelleum Watercolor Photoshop Action

This effect is just made for images of cities and architecture. Both pencil and watercolor sketches are available to you. Each effect in this set is fully editable, so you can adjust this watercolor filter in Photoshop in the most appropriate way. As a result, you get professional-quality images.

Simple Watercolor Photoshop Effect

For users working in the design industry or just interior photo lovers, this effect will be indispensable. The subtle, muted tones give a minimalist look to the images, making them very stylish and eye-catching. This Photoshop watercolor filter will help you easily achieve the desired result.

Portrait Painting Photoshop Action

Easily turn portrait photos into stunning watercolor paintings! This effect is very flexible to use because it is fully editable. You'll be able to achieve the desired look in every picture. If you want to turn the model in a photo into a cartoon character, you can also do that.

Iconic Watercolor Photoshop Action

This effect is really multi-functional. All layers are completely under your control, which allows you to modify and customize every detail of the image. You have a complete tool for creating posters and flyers, advertising campaigns, and much more. With this effect, your artwork will be amazing!

Creating Watercolor Effect in Luminar

Luminar Neo is a multifunctional application with unique AI tools. You can easily create a watercolor-painted picture effect. Add the desired textures, mix them, and use brushes - all the necessary tools are at your disposal! Moreover, just like Photoshop, you can download various presets and watercolor effects and experiment with them. This software is available for Windows and macOS users. Try all the features of Luminar Neo and see how easy and enjoyable the editing process can be!

Final Thoughts

The effect of watercolors in Photoshop is not just a way to realize your creative potential. You can use it to make a unique photo composition for a website, a poster for an advertisement, or a sketch for your portfolio. In fact, there are a lot of variants. The main thing is not just to follow the instructions, but to experiment, find new watercolor effects and be inspired by them, and create something of your own. We wish you success with it.