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2,812 Tutorials

How to create watercolour effects

Digital painting in Adobe Photoshop Elements and Illustrator

Watercolour is one of the most popular forms of painting - mistakes can be easily corrected and you needn't be particularly precise in your strokes. This somewhat impressionistic medium is ideal for a first foray into digital painting.

Watercolour is one of the most popular forms of painting, and it's not hard to see why. It's a very forgiving medium that allows mistakes to be easily corrected. It can also be used to great effect without you having to be particularly precise in your strokes. For these reasons, this somewhat impressionistic medium is ideal for a first foray into digital painting.

Watercolour techniques are ideal for blending and melding images. In the following workshop, we'll be combining the fluid lines and soft strokes of a watercolour brush with the precision and detail of a digital photo.

It's perfectly possible to use the effects tools found in a photo editor to emulate a painting - many can roughly reproduce a Van Gogh or a Lichtenstein from a digital image. But we want to combine a photo with our own brushstrokes and produce a sophisticated composite image.

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We've scanned in some treated art papers and taken a portrait photo. However, you could just as easily do it all digitally. Similarly, we've used a combination of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Illustrator, but it's possible to apply brush effects from within your photo editor. Even free apps such as The Gimp and Microsoft Paint have basic brush-overlay tools, while CorelDraw or Painter are ideal low-cost alternatives to Adobe Illustrator.

To create the basic image you'll need some cold press art paper, some watercolour paints and a scanner. If you don't have a scanner, you can use a digital camera to shoot the texture effect you want to apply to the original photo.

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For most of this tutorial we've used Adobe Photoshop Elements, but the effects can just as easily be applied using CorelDraw, Painter or Adobe Illustrator. We'll use the latter application later in this tutorial.

Assemble your materials: It's easy to create a texture for use in Illustrator and Photoshop Elements. The watercolour splash used here can be made easily and affordably with a few simple foam brushes and watercolour pens. We've used cold press paper and then photographed the results.

Assemble your materials

Create the texture: Watercolour splashes can be made in layers. You can try wet-on-dry methods, using a blow-dryer to speed up drying time before adding another colour. There's no need to try and control where the water settles. When you're happy with the result, take a photo of it or scan it into the computer.

Create the texture

Go digital: Open the portrait photo you wish to work with in Photoshop Elements and set the image size to 800x1,200 at 300dpi. Press Ctrl, J to duplicate the layer. Set the blending mode to Overlay. Although this extra layer isn't strictly necessary, it will make exploring the blending modes easier.

Go digital

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