Introduction: Watercolor Picture

Hi everyone!

In this tutorial I will show you how to turn a photo into an awesome watercolor image using photoshop.

You will need:

1. Photoshop

2. A favorite photo

3. Watercolor brushes

Step 1: Image Setup

Firstly you will need to open the image in photoshop.

Your next step will be to duplicate the background layer. You will need the original background layer untouched for future use. You can either do this by going Layer > Duplicate Layer or dragging the thumbnail of the image in the layer window down into the 'create a new layer' button. Once you have duplicated the background, hide the image from sight by clicking on the eye icon beside the image's thumbnail in the layer window.

Then you will create a new blank layer. This can either be done by going Layer > New > Layer or clicking on the 'create a new layer' icon in the layer window.

*I use a Mac, so my hotkey commands will use the command button. For those of you on Windows, whenever I say hit command+(whatever button) you will use control instead of command.

Step 2: Getting Started

Now some of you might want to use only part of the picture without the background (for those who don't just skip this part of the step). If so you will need to isolate the part of the image you would like to use and delete the rest. I find the easiest way to do this (though I will warn you this tool is not the best at isolating fine details like flyaway hairs) is to use the 'Quick Selection' tool.

  1. Draw the selection tool over the part of the image you would like to isolate. This tool is pretty good at what it does, but sometimes it messes up and starts selecting parts that you don't want. If that happens just press the alt key while you use the tool and it will deselect those areas.
  2. Once you have isolated your image, hit command+shift+i, which will inverse the selection. Now you can just hit delete and voila, your image is isolated.
  3. You will now want to keep this layer for future use, so duplicate the layer.

The next step is to apply the threshold adjustment. Make sure you have the duplicated layer selected then click the threshold icon in the adjustment window or go Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Threshold. If you go this route make sure the 'Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask' option is checked. The threshold layer should be inset and have a little arrow pointing down to the duplicate layer.

  • Drag the slider in the threshold window to the left so that only the darkest parts of the image show as black. Don't go too far, you want enough black to work with. Once you are satisfied, hit command+e. This will merge the threshold layer with the duplicate layer.

Step 3: Adding the Watercolor

Now comes the fun, but sometimes labor intensive, part. First you will select the empty layer (go ahead and name it watercolor or something if you want) you made in the beginning.

Next select the brush button (or hit its hotkey, the B button, on your keyboard). Change the brush type to one of the watercolor brushes (you will probably want a decent size selection here). You may need to increase or decrease the size of the brush depending on how big your image is.

  • Tip: You don't need to paint over the whole image, just focus on the black areas from the threshold layer below.
  • Change the color to something you like then click the brush on the image. If the color comes out light (some watercolor brushes are somewhat see-through) you can double/triple/whatever click in the same spot to brighten the color.
  • Cycle through colors and brushes. If you feel the brushes are too repetitive, change the size and orientation of the brush in the brush window (F5, Window > Brush). If you are a one brush show, you can go into the shape dynamics section and up the size jitter and angle jitter of the brush and then click away! Just make sure to change colors constantly throughout.

Step 4: Work the Magic

Now if you are new to or somewhat unfamiliar to photoshop, the next bit may be a bit tricky. We will be applying the black and white image of the duplicate layer below as a vector mask to the watercolor layer.

  1. Once you are satisfied with you watercolor layer (don't worry you can always go back and edit it later) select the duplicate layer.
  2. You will want a selection of the layer. To do that, just hit command+a. Then you will copy it (command+c).
  3. Select the watercolor layer, then hit the little vector mask icon at the bottom of the layer window. Now you will need to paste the black and white image to the vector mask. To do so, alt+click the vector mask. The watercolors will disappear and the screen will go white. Do not fear, your hard work is safe.
  4. Now paste the black and white image (command+v, or shift+command+v if you are working with an isolated image and need it pasted in the same place).
  5. Looking good! Just one more step before you leave the vector mask. You will need to invert the black and white image (command+i or Image > Adjustments > Invert).
  6. Now that you have done that, click on the watercolor thumbnail in the layers window. Now the watercolor you put down should be limited to just the black areas of the black and white threshold layer.
  7. Neat, huh? The final part of this step will be to hide the black and white layer.

Step 5: Adding Depth

Now we will do this process again two more times. Duplicate the untouched background layer (or the untouched isolated image layer) again. This layer should appear below the first watercolor layer. If it didn't, move it below. This time before you apply the threshold layer you will apply a 'brightness and contrast' adjustment layer.

  1. Slide the brightness slider to the right to lighten the image while bringing the contrast down a bit. (Remember not too much, we will be doing this process again)
  2. Now merge the two layers (command+e) and then apply a threshold adjustment. This time you can leave the slider where it is or slide it a bit to the right. You will be wanting more black than you worked with the last time. Once you are satisfied, merge the threshold layer down.
  3. Create a new blank layer. Now repeat the last few steps:

  • Add the watercolor brush to the empty layer. Once satisfied, copy the new black and white layer and paste it into a vector mask of new watercolor layer. Invert the vector mask, then go click the watercolor thumbnail. To make this layer stand apart from the first, bring down the opacity slider in the top right corner of the layer window.

Repeat this step once more. When you apply the threshold adjustment, you will slide it even farther right to give you more black area to work with. When you are finished applying the vector mask, lessen the opacity of this layer even more than the last.

After you hide the black and white threshold layers, add a final layer. This one will be a fill layer that you will fill with a white color. First select the background image (this way the layer will appear right above it but behind the watercolor layers.

To do you will go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color. Hit okay when the options box pops up and then next the color box will appear. Choose white then hit enter.

Step 6: Finished!

Your result should look similar to the one above.

Feel free to go back and experiment with various aspects. Play with the opacities. Add some more watercolor strokes. Notice how mine is a bit grainy? If you don't like that all you need to do is go into the vector masks of the watercolor layers (remember to alt+click) then apply a gaussian blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur).

Want to turn it into a birthday card? Check out this tutorial!

Step 7:

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