Transform a Picture into a Watercolor Painting using Photoshop CS5

In this article, we will learn how to transform a picture or a photograph to look like a watercolor painting using Photoshop CS5, in easy steps.

We have created the watercolor effect by using duplicate layers, adding filters and blending modes.

Original Picture

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Picture after the Watercolor Effect

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Launch Photoshop and open the picture you can to convert to a watercolor painting. In this example I am using a picture provided by Microsoft in their Windows gallery, called ‘Autumn Leaves’.

The Layers Palette shows only one layer – ‘Background’ layer. This layer is where our picture is placed.

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To create the desired effect, we will require 3 layers with the background picture. To create three copies of the ‘Background layer’ either right click on the ‘Background layer’ and choose ‘Duplicate’ or key in the shortcut – ‘Ctrl + J’. To create three duplicate layers, follow the same procedure thrice or hit ‘Ctrl + J’ thrice.

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The small ‘eyeball’ icons that you see before each layer, denote the visibility of the layer. For our next step, we do not want the top two layers to be visible. So turn off their visibility by just clicking on the eyeball icons next to those layers.

Then click on the layer named ‘Layer 1’ to select it. To rename the layer, double click the text ‘Layer 1’. Type in ‘Cutout effect’ in the box and hit enter. Then go to the Filter menu > choose Artistic >Cutout…

In the Cutout window that is prompted, set the ‘Number of Levels’ to 5, ‘Edge Simplicity’ to 4 and ‘Edge Fidelity’ to 2 and click ‘Ok’. In the Layers Palette, set the ‘Blend mode’ for the ‘Cutout effect’ layer to ‘Luminosity’. The image will now look like:

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Now select the ‘Layer 1 copy’ layer from the Layers Palette and click on the small box (earlier where the eyeball icon was visible), to make the layer visible. Then double click on the text ‘ Layer 1 copy’ and rename the layer to ‘Watercolor effect’. Then go to the Filter menu > choose Artistic > Watercolor…

In the Watercolor window, set the ‘Brush Detail’ to 14, ‘Shadow Intensity’ to 0 and’ Texture’ to 1 and click ‘Ok’. Then set the ‘Blend mode’ for the ‘Watercolor effect’ layer to ‘Screen’. The image will now look like:

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Lastly select the ‘Layer 1 copy 2’ and click on the small box (earlier where the eyeball icon was visible), to make the layer visible. Double click on the text ‘ Layer 1 copy 2’ and rename the layer to ‘Dry Brush effect’. Then go to the Filter menu > choose Artistic >Dry Brush…

In the ‘Dry Brush’ window that is prompted, set the ‘Brush Size’ to 10, ‘Shadow Brush Detail’ to 10 and ‘Texture’ to 2 and click ‘Ok’. Then set the ‘Blend mode’ for the ‘Dry Brush effect’ to ‘Soft Light’.

This is it, our final watercolor painting.

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NOTE: You may need to adjust Brightness and Contrast depending upon your picture or photograph. But broadly, this will do all the wonders.

Filed Under: Adobe Photoshop

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About the Author: Minal is a freelance web and graphics designer. She specializes in designing Logos, Stationery, Graphics and Icons as well as website templates using graphical tools like Photoshop, Illustrator and Expression Web. Twitter @saffronstroke

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  1. fantasiox says:

    Well, I actually don´t see the different between the standard Filters in Photoshop. If you have added a canson paper texture, and make it multiply with the below layer, flatten all and go partially over it with the protocol tool, it would eventually look like watercolor, but this way it looks just generic.

    Try the cloning tool from Corel painter, it still looks generic, but not so generated like this.

    • Minal says:

      Thank you for your suggestion. There are possibly plenty of methods to get the watercolor effect, this is just one. I will try what you have suggested.

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