Make a photo into a ‘watercolor’ painting

Creative Effects with Photoshop – How to make an image into a watercolor “painting”

Photoshop is an amazingly powerful, versatile tool.  There are tutorials all over the web (and right from Adobe.com) to help you do all sorts of things.  I find the hardest part is figuring out exactly *what* I want to do.  Once I have that knowledge, I can take a class through Creative Live or find tutorials with a basic Google or YouTube search.  Warning: millage may vary on tutorial uses as they are not all created equally.  I will endeavor to make this clear and concise.

Original photo image ready to be made into a watercolor

Original photo image ready to be made into a watercolor.  Make sure you fully edit your photo *before* you do the watercolor process.

Here is the image that I’ll be adjusting into a watercolor “painting.”  Open the image of your choice in Photoshop.  I now use Photoshop CC.  This is a great upgrade from CS4 that I had, but one of my go-to features seemed to be missing.  For this process, I use some “artistic” filters. Those used to be available in the regular Filter menu drop-down – but no longer.  The easiest way to access them if you’re going to use them more than once is to go into the Edit menu (in Windows, Photoshop menu on Macs), select Preferences, then select Plug-Ins.

Use the Edit menu (in Windows) to get your Artistic filters back into place in Photoshop CC

Use the Edit menu (in Windows) to get your Artistic filters back into place in Photoshop CC

Then you just need to check the “Show all Filter Gallery Groups and Names” and click OK.  Now you can go back to the Filter menu and the handy-dandy Artistic filters are “back.”  On to creating that watercolor!

Final step in reintroducing Artistic filters back into Photoshop CC

Final step for reintroducing Artistic filters back into Photoshop CC Filter menu

Step one: Ctrl-J three times to open 3 duplicate layers.  Click the eyeball “off” of all but for Background and Layer 1 and select select Layer 1 by clicking on it.  The selected layer will be highlighted in blue.  Photoshop will only edit an active (selected) layer.

You layer panel will show each layer that can be made visible or hidden by clicking on the eyeball next to that layer. Blending modes, opacity, and fill are also easily adjusted here.

You layer panel will show each layer that can be made visible or hidden by clicking on the eyeball next to that layer. Blending modes, opacity, and fill are also easily adjusted here.

Layer 1 eyeball is circled in green, the unselected eyeballs for layer 1 copy and layer 1 copy 2 are circles in blue.  The Blending Mode drop down menu is in red.  Notice layer 1 is highlighted in blue.  This means that layer is selected.  Just click on a layer to select it. Shift-Click to select more than one layer – but you don’t need that for this process.

Step 2:  Go to the filter menu and select Artistic then select Cutout.  I set all the sliders to their maximum range, so Number of Levels is 8, Edge Simplicity is 0, and Edge Fidelity is 3.  Then click OK.  Now set the Blending Mode for Layer 1 to Luminosity.  This is what my image looks like at this point.

Image with background and layer 1 visible after the first artistic filter is applied and blending mode changed to luminosity.

Image with background and layer 1 visible after the first artistic filter is applied and blending mode changed to luminosity.

Step 3: Click on the eyeball and select the Layer 1 copy.  Select this layer, then go back to the Filter menu and choose Artistic then select Dry Brush.  Set your Brush Size to 10, Brush Detail to 10, and Texture to 3.  Then click OK.  Now set the Blending Mode for Layer 1 copy to Screen.  Here’s my image at this point.

Image with background, layer 1, and layer 2 visible after the second artistic filter is applied and blending mode changed to screen.

Image with background, layer 1, and layer 2 visible after the second artistic filter is applied and blending mode changed to screen.

Step 4: Click on the eyeball on Layer 1 copy 2 (this should be the top layer). Select this layer, then go back to the Filter menu.  This time, select Noise and choose Median.  Set the radius to 12 pixels and click OK.  Now set the Blending Mode for this layer to Soft Light.

Final watercolor image

Final watercolor image

You have your finished image!  This is a technique, not a rule.  Try changing around some of the sliders to see if you like a different look.  Remember Photoshop will save the last settings you had on your filters so this process is easy to replicate on many images.  Just one note of caution: do all editing on the image before you begin this process.  The final image will be much cleaner and the editing is easier when done first.  If you see something you missed after the conversion process, you can flatten the layers and try to edit.  However, this process is so quick it’s best to go back to the start and edit there then do the process again.  You don’t even have to turn the eyeballs on and off – it just helps the first few times you do this to see your progress.  You do always have to select the layer on which you’re working.

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