Transform Photo into Watercolor Painting



There are plenty of great stock images to choose from Night Fate Stock of deviantArt. I’m using one of them for this tutorial.

Download Scenery image.

All rights of these resources belong to their respective owners.


Step 1 – Applying Smart Blur

Create a new document with size 750×550 pixels. Open up the Scenery image, drag into the document and resize it so it fits nicely. Rename this layer as Landscape.

Duplicate Landscape layer. Rename the new layer as Blur Landscape.

Go to Filter > Blur > Smart Blur. Set the Radius to 10 and Threshold to 30.


Step 2a – Applying Glowing Edges

Duplicate the Landscape layer again. Rename the new layer as Outlines. Drag the Outlines layer to be above Blur Landscape layer.

Go to Filter > Stylize > Glowing Edges. Set the Edge Width to 1, Edge Brightness to 12 and Smoothness to 15.

Go to Image > Adjustments > Invert. Then follow by Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.


Step 2b – Applying Glowing Edges

Set the Blend Mode of Outlines layer to Multiply.

Set the Opacity of this layer to 80.


Step 3 – Create Painting Layer

Duplicate the Blur Landscape layer. Rename this new layer as Painting.

Select the Painting layer and go to Image > Adjustments > Invert. Set the Blend Mode to Color Dodge.


Step 4 – Paint with Dry Brush

Set the foreground color to #000000.

Select the Brush tool and open up the presets. Choose Dry Brush. Set the Opacity of this brush to 10%.

Paint briefly over the Painting layer and you will get the effect shown on the left.


Step 5a – Applying Watercolor Effect

Select the Brush tool and open up the presets again. Click on the right pointing arrow and load Wet Media Brushes. Choose Watercolor Textured Surface Brush. Set the Opacity of this brush to 50%. Reduce the brush size to 15pt.

Zoom in and paint the water well on the Painting layer. Use short, random strokes that follow the shape of the water well.


Step 5b – Applying Watercolor Effect

Increase the size of the brush to 100pt.

Use long strokes this time for the sky. Gradually build up the depth of color by painting over certain areas more than once.

To give an impression of real watercolor, it will be good to leave small areas of white here and there.


Step 5c – Applying Watercolor Effect

Repeat the same method on Step 5b for the grasses.


Step 5d – Applying Watercolor Effect

Reduce the brush size to 30pt.

Same thing here, paint short vertical strokes of grasses on the Painting layer.


Step 6 – Apply Watercolor Filter

Duplicate the original Landscape layer. Rename this new layer as Details. Rearrange this Details layer to be the top-most layer.

Go to Filter > Artistics > Watercolor. Set the Brush Details to 12, Shadow Intensity to 0, Texture to 3.

Set the Blend Mode of this layer to Luminosity and Opacity to 25%.



And we’re done! Hope you enjoy this tutorial!

I enhanced the depth and colors of the painting further with a Levels Adjustment Layer. The settings are 9, 1.07, 203.

Click here to view the final image.


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108 Comments | Write a Comment

  1. vids says:

    Wonderful tutorial. It really made a water color illustration so easy. Thanks so much.

  2. Kathleen says:

    This tutorial is really one of the best! Until now I already used it several times and the results are always just perfect! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Paige says:

    This was VERY good! So easy and very helpful!
    thank you so much

  4. Judy says:

    Really neat tutorial! I was looking for something to do to my photos…Cool stuff! I could see where a novice might get lost on this, but it’s still really well done and I think the results turn out good. Thanks for posting this! 🙂

  5. 4nature says:

    Hi! This was a great tutorial. I bought some art in which the artist layered acrylic paint by hand over an actual photograph. Does anyone have any resources to teach me how to do that? Thanks.

  6. Cillvea says:

    :\ I really like all the effects of all your tutorials, but I can never get to then end of them, I always get halfway through & I set stuck on a step that isn’t explained well. In this case it was step 4.

    I’m not a noob in CS4 or anything but I do need more spesific details.

    I went over the paint layer with the white drymedia brush & nothing happened, at least nothing I could see.

    • OP says:

      Hi, i agree with you – i was stuck at step 4 because it was unclear to me where the dry brush was and which one exactly to use. I had to adapt and figure out something myself.

      otherwise, great tutorial, thanks!

    • Jontyking says:

      Yup I know what you mean. Took me a min to figure out but all you have to do is open the brushes palette as expected and choose ‘reset brushes’ and then ‘ok’ and the dry brush (size 39) will be there.

      Thanks for a great tutorial btw Johnson. I’ve been looking for a good watercolour tut and this is the best I’ve seen.

    • Oscarphone says:

      Not to scold or anything, but when people do try these tutorials, the expectation is that you know how to operate Photoshop at a certain level. If you don’t know where “Dry Brush” is or some other basic features, you can always consult your application documenmtation. If you do look for the answer in that manner (in this case “Dry Brush”) you will get to know Photoshop.

      That said, this is a good tutorial that leaves the Photoshop artist room to create.

    • mark says:

      I am also completely stuck on step 4. I have reset my brushes, I can not for the life of me find “Dry Brush”. Is this the same as Dry Media Brush? I selected this, but I can not find the dry brush 39. I selected a similar brush but it is only adding white to image, not revealing any color. Please help. Thanks.

    • mark says:

      I eventually found the 39 brush, even though I never see the term “Dry Brush” anywhere. Maybe there is something wrong with my setup (and those of others) because for the later step where you tell us to choose the Watercolor Texture Surface Brush, I never see the name of that one either. Where are these names supposed to be by the way? I wonder if I have a setting turned off…

    • Aaron Chua says:

      Hey mark,

      Thanks for figuring out your problem and sharing it here. I am sure others will benefit from your solution!

  7. ismolbil says:

    thank you johnson! this tutorial made my day!

  8. Bing says:

    Freaking cool! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Ramesh Venkatesan says:

    Hi Buddy

    looks very cool…. great and simple techniques to follow

    easy to learn evev if u r not an artist… good keep it up

  10. it was amazing…had a great time learning this! and i was so surprised by the result…this is definitely many times better than just using the filter in photoshop!

  11. Michael says:

    I can’t imagine how unique it was! Want to try doing this one.

  12. Da Wei says:

    Great tutorial, i wonder if I can do the same in gimp, since not everyone has a copy of PS, will go find out.

    By the way, wanted to watch the video, how come it is removed

  13. Joel Leitson says:

    Great tutorial, 1st class.

  14. Juan says:

    This is a really great tutorial because its fast and easy but at the same time gives you a great deal of control as to how you want your final image to look.

    You can really take advantage of your wacom tablet with this method!


  15. Les says:

    I have tried many progs and techniques to get a realistic watercolour effect I like – and failed. Now, your tut has sorted that! Great. I’m really pleased with my rushed results – can only improve with more care/time spent. Thaanks!

  16. zhell says:


    i love it so much….
    i want to create something like thiz…
    Realistic! two thumbs up!

  17. amie says:

    thx so much for the tutorial..i tried on hayden panettiere pic & here’s the result:

    thanks so very much for ur tutorial! :))

  18. Morten says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks!

  19. George Metcalf says:

    Hi Johnson, I like your tutorial very much,but i keep getting lost, as i am a complete novice, is there any where i can find a complete step by step of this procedure? Many thanks. George

  20. Jason Marti says:

    Hey great tutorial–short sweet and to the point. Cool effects. Have you ever tried painting with Corel Painter? What do you think?

  21. Johnson Koh says:

    Hi Barbara, yes I remember you 😀 I have not tried this method on animals before. But I think it will still work well on close-up facial shots for the animals.

    This is because many details are removed after applying the effect. So may not be very ideal for photos with animals in smaller size. Hope these are useful for you.

  22. Hi Johnson, don’t know if you remember me but a few weeks ago I tried this method on an old barn and it worked beautiful. My question is, have you ever tried this method on other photo’s like animals(dog or cat) I didn’t know if you had or you have a another method for animals. Would you give me any tips? You seem to have so much knowledge in watercolor, thought I would ask you instead of searching hundreds of methods, know what I mean???
    Your help would be greatly appreciated.

  23. jean says:

    thanks for letting me make a video of this tutorial! 🙂
    here’s the link:

    more power to you!

  24. Johnson Koh says:

    Thanks Jean! Possible to pass me a link of the video after you are done? I can embed it here for others to view too! 😉

  25. jean says:

    nice tutorial! i love it!
    btw, can i make a video of this tutorial? i’ll link u back. 🙂

  26. Johnson Koh says:

    Hi Barbara, you have a beautiful gallery I must say 😀 I saw the image of the old barn you’ve made. That’s a great work!

  27. Barbara says:

    This is one of the best Watercolor Painting Tutiorals I have ever come across, have tried many, not always good results.
    Had a photo of an old barn taken in Mandarin Florida built in 1876 used this technique, and in my opinion turned out beautiful. If you like you can go to the website provided to view in my galleries.
    Thank you for your time to put this together and for other’s to use it.

  28. prashant says:

    Gorgeous superb thank you i was searched this one and finally u given me

  29. Amit says:

    I like a lot! Thank You

  30. Hey, I found these tutorials to be very good and the bonus items are worth their weight in gold. It is not my site but soemone I know. Chgeck it out for yourself and see. Go to:

  31. Johnson Koh says:

    @Chris: Thanks for the info 😀 I do encounter similar problems like Emil. And what I did was to restart Photoshop 🙁

    @Ladynoe: Thanks for your compliment! Just went to check out your portfolio. It’s beautiful! 😀

  32. Ladynoe says:

    this is the most interesting tutorial i ever found. it looks very realistic. thank you Johnson

  33. Chris says:

    Perfect – fantastic. This has really helped bring to life a concept I’ve had – it’s gold to find tutorials that allow you to take good source photography and turn it into painterly styles. And this one provides so many places to personalize and get expressive with it. Thank-you very very much!

    @emil: not sure if this helps, but the minute you have a few layers going, and a few different blend modes, a complex brush and a few filters, the load on your processor and RAM gets pretty heavy. I’ve had tutorials go belly-up just because my processor couldn’t take it. Lowering the overall dimensions of the image helps. Also, check your Image>>Mode: it needs to be 8-bit RGB (not 16bit) for many of the filters to work.

  34. Emil keikz says:

    I tried to do this tutorial. I couldn’t even complete the First stage. Photoshop won’t allow me to do a Smart Blur or Glowing Edges.

    Any suggestions to what can help?

    • Elisa says:

      You probably work under CMYK mode.
      Go to Image>Mode and chose RGB, and you’ll be fine.

  35. Art says:

    Superb very nice and easy to follow.

  36. CgBaran Tuts says:

    Nice effect thanks

  37. Maicon says:

    I like a lot! Thank you for share your knowledge.

  38. Johnson Koh says:

    Hi yen, Thanks! I have been trying hard 😀

  39. yen says:

    Hi~ thanks so much for sharing tis tutorial!!!
    it was amazing…had a great time learning this!
    and i was so surprised by the result…this is definitely many times better than just using the filter in photoshop!

  40. tiffany says:

    so basically I love this tut and its the only one I can do without someone sitting beside me explaining the whole thing.

  41. jacketfulofdanger says:

    ingenious!! the watrercolour effect is really realistic! nice job 🙂

  42. Kaká says:

    very good.

    thanks! 😉

  43. Johnson says:

    Hi Wick, I’m serious. You have done a fantastic job!!! 😀

  44. Wick says:

    This tutorial is amazing! I’ve created something myself if you’re interested in seeing it 🙂

    Visit my website and you’ll see it – bottom right.
    Alternatively, just follow this link:

  45. bumblebee says:

    I love it! Very helpful. Thanks!

  46. sadhu says:

    this is interesting, i like ^^

  47. I know what to put on my wall now anything i can make in photoshop that is. Very usefull tutorial for someone with the idea im talkin about 🙂

  48. Johnson says:

    Thanks a lot guys!

  49. Jinny says:


  50. erKan says:

    Good job..Thanks..

  51. Mojito says:

    Very useful, and properly explained. Thnx!

  52. I see Your back – very good tutorial :))))

  53. Johnson says:

    Hi Joyce, clearing off the white background is correct. What Step 4 does is to reveal the a faded lower layer.

    Perhaps you can provide me with a screenshot of what you have got?

  54. Joyce says:

    I got stuck on step 4, when I tried to paint well – it had no color – just cleared off what was already there. What did I do wrong? This is my first attempt at watercoloring.

  55. Johnson says:

    Thanks so much guys!

  56. Kavonne says:

    This is the best watercolor effect tutorial that I’ve seen!

    Great job. Thanks!

  57. Telf says:

    Nice man!

    This could well come in handy! Good tutorial

  58. Łukasz says:

    Wspaniałay tutorial.Wielkie dzięki.

  59. maxart says:

    Автору респект! Написано красиво!

  60. psychokitty says:

    beautiful tutorial- I tried it and it’s a great technique- thanks!

  61. yiyo says:

    please video tutorial this

  62. hiflyer says:

    Fantastic effect! Definitely one of the best “artistic”-tutorials I’ve seen in a while! Thanks

  63. Eve says:

    This something different. I like the use of watercolor brush. Very realistic. Thanks.

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