Tutorial: Easily Create an Artistic Watercolor Painting in Photoshop

Tutorial: Easily Create an Artistic Watercolor Painting in Photoshop

Watercolor effects have long been a popular style among designers. While many of techniques involve building the watercolor strokes from scratch, in this tutorial we'll use existing watercolor textures and some simple image combination to show you how to quickly turn almost any image into an artistic watercolor painting.

Step 1: Choose a primary image

The first step is to find an image that is both striking and easy to work with for the main subject of your design. Already isolated images will be the easiest, solid color backgrounds in the middle, and images that have to be extracted from the background will be the hardest. I chose to go with the below image from BigStockPhoto:
ballet dancers

Step 2: Use Photoshop brush presets to easily isolate the subject

Skip this step if your image is already isolated. The dancers I found are on a solid white background, so I used a simple trick to isolate them without needing to outline/select the whole image. Since Photoshop brushes are defined using lumosity (dark colors are the brush and white is transparent) you can create a new brush preset of your subject and “paint” that onto a new layer. This allows you to isolate subjects from white colored backgrounds very easily:
create a photoshop brush preset

Step 3: Find watercolor textures

To use this technique we’ll need watercolor textures for both the background and the primary subject. This is a fairly important step of the process: the images you find here will significantly impact the style of your end result. I decided to go with the following set from Medialoot:

25 Handmade Watercolor Textures

watercolor textures

From here we need to pick an image for the background, adjust positioning, opacity, and blend mode:
watercolor textures adjust opacity

The results:
watercolor textures

Step 4: Add more background texture

I wasn’t completely satisfied with just the above image for the background of this painting, so I used our free seamless rice-paper textures to add a little canvas feel to the image:
repeating rice-paper texture

And the outcome:
repeating rice-paper texture

Step 5: Find a texture/image for the subject

I used a different texture from the same watercolor resource as the background, but picked one that was a different color and a little darker:
dark watercolor brush for subject

Step 6: Place the isolated subject in white

To do this create a new layer with no fill, then use the brush preset from earlier in the tutorial to paint the subject onto the new layer. Make sure brush opacity is set to 100%.
repeating rice-paper texture

Combine the texture and the subject using a clipping mask

This is where the magic starts to happen. Make sure your watercolor image is above the main subject in the layer pallette, and then right click on the watercolor layer and select “Create Clipping Mask”.

create clipping mask with watercolor and dancers

And the result:
result of clipping mask with watercolor and dancers

From here I wanted to make the watercoloring a little bit different. You can get creative by using multiple watercolor images and changing their positions above the clipping mask. Here’s where I ended up after a little tweaking:
adjusted clippiung mask and watercolor paintings

Step 7: Add brush effects/customize the subject

Once you have the clipping mask set you can add as much to the mask (the dancers or main subject) as you want and the watercolor texture will show through. To do this simply paint with a white brush on your main layer:
additional paint strokes
I wanted to tie the dancers into the background a bit so I added a few strokes along the bottom right corner.

Step 8: Close watercolor strokes using an inner shadow

This is a subtle change but I think it adds to the overall impression. You can make the watercolor appear to be a bit more authentic by replicating the “darkened edges” that is present in most painted watercolor. To do this I used an inner-shadow effect to give the edges a slightly darkened look:

inner-shadow effect to darken edges of painting

Final Results

What do you guys think?
Aartistic watercolor painting of dancers

Linked Resources

For those of you who want to try this with the same resources, I used two premium resources from Medialoot and BigStockPhoto and one freebie from Medialoot. Similar designs can probably be found as freebies if you need something for non-commercial purposes.


Sign up for more

Free premium quality resources and design files

Web and graphic design tutorials and quick tips

Industry related articles and trend discussions


  • Reply »


    Nice effect. I like the inner shadow touch too.

    Jun 4, 2014 at 6:46 am
  • Reply »
    rhidona pratama

    rhidona pratama

    Good tutorial.
    thanks u so much.

    Jul 13, 2015 at 12:26 am

Leave a comment

Sign up to our Newsletter

Get site updates, freebies, and MediaLoot news.

Contact Us

Suggest a resource


Attribution for free resources must be provided in conjunction any time the freebie is used, on the same page where the resource appears on your design. Or, you can purchase a premium version of the free resource.

See all