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Adobe Photoshop Tutorial on Watercolor Effect

Updated on July 13, 2016

Indeed, Adobe Photoshop can do almost everything! It can let you create magnificent photos, artworks and etc. It can even imitate the appearance of an actual painting. In this article, we will explore how to do watercolor digital artworks using the built-in brushes as well as downloaded brushes.

Watercolor Painting Using Photoshop

To create an artwork that would appear to have been painted using watercolor, you will need to know some basic things in Photoshop such as locating the built-in brushes, downloading and installing watercolor brushes, using the brushes, tweaking opacity, and creating the artwork.

The Wet Sponge Brush is the one with a number 55 below the circle.
The Wet Sponge Brush is the one with a number 55 below the circle.

Locating the Built-In Brush

Adobe Photoshop has a good amount of built-in brushes you could work with. You may try experimenting on each brush to gain idea on how you could work on them. Since we are trying to achieve a watercolor look on your artwork, we will use the Wet Sponge brush.

It's the one with a round shape and a number 55 below it. See the photo on the right to locate the brushes.

If you cannot find this brush, you may need to reset your brushes (this means that you will load the simple brushes containing the wet sponge), Click on the button that looks like a "play button" (in the photo, it's the one below the Flow: 100%). After that, click on "Reset Brushes". You have three options afterwards. The first one is the Okay button, which means that all the brushes on your brushes palette will be replaced with the simple brushes. The next one is the Cancel Button, which means you no longer want to load the brushes. The last one is the Append Button, which means that you will just add the simple brushes in your palette.

Using the Wet Sponge Brush

The truth is there's no certain rule on how to use this brush. All you have to do is use it as if you are painting in real life. However, here are some of the things you may consider to get your desired outcome:

  1. Opacity
  2. Variations in Colors (Shadows, Lighting, Etc)
  3. Using the Eraser Tool (with less than 100% opacity)

Different opacity will produce different effects and appeal.
Different opacity will produce different effects and appeal.


This may represent the thickness of the paint and the pressure you give to the brush. Hence, you need to experiment on the opacity of the brush to achieve your desired output. Here are my suggestions:

  • 75 - 100% Opacity - Use this to construct the base or the plain form of the object you want to paint. This is usually the object without the effects (lighting, shadows, dimensions). So if you are trying to paint an orange, use this brush to first paint a circle form.
  • 50 - 74% Opacity - Use this for objects that need less color and paint weight.
  • 25 - 49% Opacity - Use this to add effects to your objects.
  • 1 - 24% Opacity - Use this if you just want to have minimal amount of color on some areas. This is usually used to paint the skies where the color is much lighter.

Of course, it's still up to you how you would use different opacity for your artworks.

Note: The Wet Sponge Brush overlaps, meaning if some portion is already painted over, and the brush passes over it again, the color will be much darker. That's why it is as if you are really painting in real life!

Applying variations in color to the orange fruit
Applying variations in color to the orange fruit

Variations in Color

To make your work more realistic you need to add some affects such as lighting, contrast,etc. This can be done by adding variations in the color you're using. For example, going back to the orange example, you may choose to pick red (adjust the opacity), and paint some areas to add some cool effects. See the photo on the right. I've used all these things to come up with this image. (I know it's not magnificently done, but at least you get the idea.)

This can also be done to add shadows on your objects. You may choose black (or darker shade of the object), and paint the area where the shadow is applicable.

Using the Eraser Tool

Since we talked about the shadow, let's talk about adding some lighting. Remember, that when painting we usually include the lighting (and determine the direction of its source).

It's very easy. You just erase portions of the object. You may opt to choose higher opacity if you really want a clear portion (this may be the area where the light hits the object), and decrease the opacity as you go far away from the direct hit of light.

It's also fun to explore this tool, you will be amazed by the power of the eraser tool in this! Also, you may want to consider using other tools too. Just keep on experimenting, and I'm sure you'll end up with a nicer artwork. For me, I consider using smudge tool on parts where the overlapping colors are unnecessary. This eliminates the unnecessary overlaps.

Here are some of the brushes that I've downloaded in DeviantArt:

Downloading and Installing Brushes

To add some finishing touches and flourishes to your work, you might want to consider downloading brushes online.

Installing Brushes

  1. Download the brush (this file has an extension of .abr)
  2. Put it in this folder: C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS4\Presets\Brushes (the drive may depend on where you installed the photo editing software)
  3. Close the Adobe Photoshop Software if it is opened, and then re-open.
  4. Load the brush the same way we loaded the simple brushes

Ending Remarks

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tutorial and found it very informative. There are a lot of ways in which you can mimic the style of watercolor painting. This is just one of the basic ways to do it.

Adobe Photoshop Related Hubs

Introduction to Adobe Photoshop Actions - learn the definition and basics of Photoshop Actions or actions.

A Detailed Guide on How to Edit Photos Using Photoshop Actions - learn to apply Photoshop Actions on your photos through a step-by-step tutorial

Questions and Feedback

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    • yougotme profile imageAUTHOR

      Renz Kristofer Cheng 

      7 years ago from Manila

      Thanks Letitialicious! Actually, it was unintentional when I came across the brush. But, it was a good thing because I was able to use it in one of my school projects. :)

    • Letitialicious profile image


      7 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      I love this, I've been meaning to get Adobe Photoshop, but I didn't know you could do watercolor effects with it. Voted up and bookmarked!


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