Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie

I have been working with natural media more recently, and as a result, I have been learning how to bring my natural work onto the digital drawing board. I have shown a few people my “watercolor” technique and it has proven to be wildly popular amongst my peers. It’s not very hard to accomplish, so I figured I’d take a few minutes to share it with you good folk!
For this tutorial I will assume that you have a basic working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop. Everything here should be backwards compatible back to 7.0 at the very least. Without further delay, I present information for you to be having:
By the end of this writing you should be able to achieve a halftone watercolor effect similar to what I have achieved with this:
watercolor effect tutorial

Making The Drips and Splatters

Before we can do anything in Photoshop, we have to have some splatters and washes and drips. I don’t actually use watercolor paints, I make an ink wash. You could just as easily search free stock images such as those at The Stock Exchange, but I prefer to make them myself. If you’d rather not wait for paint to dry, you can snag the free high quality textures at the bottom of the post. It lends greater flexibility to my technique, and a more accurate delivery of the effects. Here are the supplies that I use, your mileage may vary:
Ink Wash Supplies
supplies Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie
The supplies pictured are as follows:
  • A standard Wash Brush used for painting
  • A Canson acrylic sketch pad (185LB Cold Press Paper)
  • Dr. PH Martin’s Bombay Black India Ink
  • a Sauce Cup (be sure that the owner of the sauce cup is okay with ink being put in it..long story…)
Obviously, the supplies you use are up to you. This is just what I have had the greatest success with.
I fill my sauce cup about 1/3 of the way up with water, then I add approximately 3 drops of black ink. You may have to figure out what works best for you, but this mix has worked well for me in the past. Note: I use black ink because the contrast allows for a reasonable file quality even with my cheap scanner.

At this point I lay some paper towels on a counter, hold the paper up with one hand, and proceed to make a mess. There’s really no wrong way with this effect. The sloppier the better. I usually try to stay generally true to whatever shape I’m working with, but keep in mind that the imperfections are what makes it interesting. Also, once I get the drips and wash the way I’d like I lay the paper flat and splatter some of the mix on it. It’s fun - make a mess!
Here’s a video tutorial so you can see exactly how it was done.

Okay, I have made a mess. Now what?
At this point you’ll need to scan your wash into the computer, or take a high quality picture of it to transfer to your computer. Save it somewhere you can find it and open it up in photoshop. I try to scan at nothing less than 300DPI, but it’s not really that important. As long as the file is big enough to resize without getting terribly pixelated, you should be okay. Here’s mine:
splatter-sample Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie
This is my splatter image.
I have already opened up the file that contains the linework for my Mermaze design.
Press Ctrl+A to “select all” on your ink wash file, then click the window with your other artwork and Ctrl+V to paste it into the image.
Resize, rotate, and move your wash to where you want it in the final output. I have placed it behind my lines, personal preference. Here’s where I’ve arrived:
watercolor-placement Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie
Once you are happy with size and placement, you’ll want to be sure that you have the wash layer selected in your laters pallet, then Ctrl+A to select all and Ctrl+X to cut the image.

Making The Halftone

Press Ctrl+N to make a new document, be sure the background is set to white or transparent, and click okay to make the new document. Press Ctrl+V to paste your wash into the new document. Once you have this done, we will prepare the wash to be made into a halftone.
Press D to reset your foreground and background colors. Then click the “Image” menu and select Adjustments>Gradient map. The gradient map dialog will pop up, and you should notice your wash become slightly more black and white.
Click the gradient picture on the dialog so that the Gradient Adjustment Dialog pops up. You will need to move the white tab in towards the middle until you are sure that the white background on your wash is absolutely white. Then you’ll need to adjust the black tab until your wash is as dark as you feel it should be.. Mine looks something like this:
gradient-map Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie
I have placed red arrows pointing to where I have my black and white tabs set. This step is important because if your background is anything other than absolutely white, the halftone will have little dots placed all over it in an attempt to make it look off-white. It will not be attractive. Hit “OK” on both of the dialogs when you are finished setting the tabs.
Tip: A good way to be sure your background is pure white is to click your foreground color so that the color selector comes up, click the background of your image with the eyedropper tool, and make sure the hex code is “FFFFFF”.
Now that your background is white, and everything looks good, it’s time to make the halftone. In the “Image” menu select Mode>Grayscale. Press OK on any questions that pop up about flattening layers, or losing color information.
Now you will open the “Image” menu again and select Mode>Bitmap. When the first Dialog pops up, be sure the Method is set to Halftone Screen:
halftone-screen Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie
When you press OK a second Dialog will pop up. You may want to play with these settings a bit but the important parts to note here are: Halftone type should be “Round” and never set “Lines Per Inch” or “Angle” higher than 45 if you are setting this design up to be screen printed. Any higher and the printer could encounter problems. If at all possible, it’s best to contact the printer first and ask them.
Once that is done hit “OK” and your splatter should now be a halftone. From the “Image” menu select Mode>GrayScale once again. Using the magic wand tool select the white background of your ink wash. Press Ctrl+i to invert your selection. Press Ctrl+X to cut the selection, Select the window with the design you want the watercolor placed in, and press Ctrl+V to paste it in. You will probably need to move your halftone into position.
Finally from the “Layer” menu select Layer Style>Color overlay and pick a color you would like your halftone to be. That’s all of it. Here’s what mine looked like:
final-splatter Impressive Watercolor Splatter Effect Tutorial & Freebie
That’s all for this tutorial. I’ll have more soon!

Free Ink Wash Splatters

I have a file with some high resolution splatters for you to try out. The image below is a sample of some of the washes, drips, and splatters in the package. They’re all really hi-res, so you’ll be able to get a lot of mileage out of them. Click the link below the image to download the file:
watercolor freebie