How to Add a Color Wash Effect in Photoshop

Watercolor paintings are a popular art style that many artists try to incorporate into their designs. This is a great way to add texture and depth to an otherwise flat design, but it can be difficult to produce in a realistic way in a digital setting. However, adding a color wash effect in Photoshop just might do the trick.

In Photoshop, a color wash effect can be added to a painting or photo with the combined use of various filters, brushes, and textures. This can create the desired watercolor look on a digital painting or even a high-quality photograph.

Certain effects can elevate your photo to the next level. Keep reading to learn more about adding a color wash in Photoshop, so you can create that aesthetic, hand-painted appearance without the need for physical paints or watercolor skills.

How to Add a Color Wash Effect in Photoshop

A color wash is a technique used in painting to create a watercolor appearance with the use of thinned paint and glazes. Various colors are applied over the painted image with long strokes to add texture and create a translucent feel.

When creating digital art, a color wash effect can be applied to your image to create the same look. This can be done in various ways, and can even be applied to photos to turn them into a hand-painted piece.

Open Your Photo as a Smart Object

Start by opening your file in Adobe Photoshop. This effect can be applied to virtually any photo, so there is no need to be careful about which one you pick.

Next, create a duplicate of the background layer. This can be done by pressing Crtl/Command + J, or dragging the layer to the Create a New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

From here, you’ll right-click the duplicate layer and select Conver to Smart Object from the pop-up menu. As a Smart Object, you will be able to preservice the original characteristics of the image, allowing you to make nondestructive edits to the layer.

Apply Filters From the Filters Gallery

From the menu bar at the top, Click Filter and select Filter Gallery. This will open up a new window with the selection of special effects filters. Click the drop-down arrow for the Artistic Filter folder and select Dry Brush. Then click OK.

Next, open up the Filters Gallery again. This time, however, you will apply the Cutout Filter.

Finally, you’ll want to add a blur to the image. From the Filter menu, find Blur and select Smart Blur. A new window will open, allowing you to set the radius and threshold of the blur effect. Once those are set, click OK.

Once your filters are applied, you will see them show up on your Layers Panel under the selected layer. If you need to make any adjustments to the filter, simply double-click the filter and the options menu will pop up.

Create a Finished Look With Watercolor Brushes

Your photo should now have somewhat of a watercolor effect with the filters you’ve applied. However, if you would like the brushstrokes added for more realism, there are a few more steps to follow.

Start by creating a new layer and changing the blending mode to multiply. This can either be a blank, white layer, or you can use a texture layer that more resembles paper. The layer should be above the duplicate image layer.

Now, select the image layer and apply a mask. Fill the mask layer with black, then select your brush tool. By right-clicking anywhere on the canvas, the brushes options should pop up. Select your preferred watercolor brush, and set the color to white.

Now, you can begin clicking around the canvas to bring the image back into view. You may want to use a few different watercolor brushes during this process to avoid any repeating patterns.

What Are the Best Brushes for Color Washing?

If you don’t have any watercolor brushes, you’re going to have somewhat of a hard time getting that bleeding edges look on your photo. While a color wash effect can certainly be applied without watercolor brushes, your photo will lack the realism seen in real paintings.

Here are some watercolor brushes you may want to consider if you will be using this technique often:

Using a variety of brushes will give you the most realistic look and help you avoid repetition in your edits.

Final Thoughts

Color washing can create a beautiful aesthetic for any design. Whether you’re working on logos, brochures, or web graphics, you should now be equipped with the skills to create that watercolor look in Photoshop.