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Transform Photos into Watercolors with a Free Photoshop Action

By Charles Purdy

Digital photographs and traditional watercolor paintings might seem to have little in common: one is composed of rigid pixels; the other is created through fluid freedom. But we have a Photoshop action that turns that notion on its head.

The Watercolor Artist action set for Adobe Photoshop brings the two opposites together to produce one harmoniously beautiful result. Designed exclusively for Adobe Create by Nuwan Panditha (also known as BlackNull), the free action is easy to install and run, and the files it creates are easy to customize.

We encourage you to use the action in both personal and commercial projects—and please tag @AdobeCreate so we can admire it! However, please don’t redistribute the action.

<<< Download the Watercolor Artist Action Set and Guide >>>

HOW TO INSTALL THE ACTION AND PREP IMAGES

  1. After you download the compressed folder “Watercolor Artist Action Set from Adobe Create Magazine,” extract it anywhere on your hard drive.
  2. Open Photoshop’s Actions panel (Window > Actions). From the Actions panel, select Load Action and select Watercolor Artist - Actions from the downloaded folder.
  3. To install the brushes and patterns, go to Edit > Presets > Presets Manager. In the Presets Manager panel, select Brushes as the Preset Type, click Load, and select the Watercolor Artist – Brushes file from the downloaded folder.
  4. Still in the Presets Manager panel, change the Preset Type to Patterns and load the Watercolor Artist - Patterns file from the downloaded folder.
  5. Open an image to work with, and then go to the Brush Settings panel (Windows > Brush Settings). Open the menu icon at the top-right corner, and select Reset All Locked Settings.
  6. Select the Brush tool and make sure that brush Opacity and Fill (in the top option bar) are set to 100%.

Ideally, your image’s width and height parameters will be between 2,000 and 5,000 pixels, and there will be a balance of shadows, midtones, and highlights. You can quickly balance the brightness of the image before playing the action, using a Levels adjustment layer (Ctrl-L on Windows, command-L on Mac).

HOW TO RUN THE ACTION AND CUSTOMIZE THE RESULTS

  1. Open the Photoshop Actions panel and look for the Watercolor Artist folder. Select the first action, called SETUP, and click the Play button at the bottom of the Actions panel.
  2. The first action created a new layer called focus. Select that layer in the Layers panel and draw a focus area on the image—that’s the area where the watercolor effect will be concentrated. There’s a lot of room for experimentation at this point. You can use the Brush, Lasso, Pen, or Wand tool, and your focus area can be simple or complex. See the dos and don’ts below.
  3. You should now have two layers in your Photoshop file: your original photo as the bottom layer, and the focus layer with the drawn area.
  4. Open the Actions panel, select the WATERCOLOR ARTIST action, and click Play. Playback time can vary; for a 3,000-pixel image, it should be under three minutes.

Focus Area Dos:

  • Do include some detail.
  • Do have a fairly uniform fill, with few or no holes in its coverage.

Focus area Don’ts:

  • Don't cover a part of the image that’s almost completely black or white.
  • Don’t cover the entire image

When the Render Completed message appears, you can move onto customizing the results.

The “Watercolor Artist Action Set Guide” PDF contains all the customization information that is in the video. 

We look forward to seeing what you create with the action. Tag @adobecreate on Twitter or Instagram when you share your images!