WATER COLOR FOR PHOTOSHOP is a free set of brushes designed to emulate the feeling of painting with water color.

Tjeck out the video to the right - it's in HD and everything! It should give you an idea of the brushes characteristica.

Download the brushes here:

To use my brushes, the file Water color CS6.tpl will need to be copied to Photoshop's Tool Presets directory. In my case it is here:

C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS6 (64 Bit)\Presets\Tools

(Users of Photoshop CS4 and CS5 should copy the file Water Color CS4.tpl instead. Note that this one doesn't include my WATER brushes, since they requires the Mixer Brush tool)

In Photoshop, open the Tool Presets palette by selecting Window > Tool Presets

To the right of this text you can see is the Tool Presets palette. Notice where the arrow points at: Click there and select "Replace Tool Presets" - then choose the file called Water color.tpl

The brush preset window should now contain the Water Color Brushes. You will have to uncheck the 'Current Tool Only' checkmark at the button of the Tool Presets palette. (My brushes uses a lot of different tools, and you will want to see them all)


I have sorted the brush presets into a few categories: TIME TRAVEL MASK, WATER, COLOR PENCIL, DRY BRUSH, EFFECTS, LIFTING OFF, WET GLAZE and WET-IN-WET. I have tried to base the categories on water color concepts.

The brushes with (bp) in their name reacts to the angle of your drawing pen. (bp = brush projection)

Lets run through the categories:

TIME TRAVEL MASK might be a bit confusing ... but this brush category is used to mask away part of the paint after it has been applied to the canvas. Before you apply the color that you might want to mask away in the future, you opens the history palette and clicks the history brush icon. Then continue drawing. When you later want to mask away back in time to that state, you can simply use one of the time travel mask brushes. (You can get the same effect with layers, but it's good for showing off.)

WATER are pure water brushes: They don't adds pigment, instead they just diffuses the drawing in different ways.

COLOR PENCIL are tiny brushes used for adding details. They are meant to emulate water color pencils.

DRY BRUSH are used for flat coloring. They are pressure sensitive, so experiment. If your flats ends up with white holes in them, you can use water brushes to even it out.

EFFECTS are brushes which applies extreme effects to the image.

GRADIENT is a brush with a gradient tip.

LIFTING OFF is a bit like erasers. They changes the foreground color to white and uses the Screen blending mode. To avoid loosing your painting color, let the Tool Palette's background color be white, and switch between foreground and background with 'X'.

WET GLAZE uses wet edge to add a rim of dried pigment at the edge of the stroke, like a WET stroke that has slowly dried out. This effect causes the brushes to be rather weak, thus the name GLAZE.

WET-IN-WET is a simple, soft brush.

Color Mixing

Do you know how to use Photoshops color palette to mix colors? Even if you do, please read on! You'll need a slightly different understanding of the HSB values when mixing colors for digital water coloring.

In the following, remember that we are in a water color world of pigment and water. Okay, this is the way you should think of HSB:

  • HUE: this determines what color pigment you use.
  • SATURATION: lowering the saturation is akin to adding water – so if you want to create a glazing, try setting saturation down to 35 % or so.
  • BRIGHTNESS: Lowering the brightness is akin to adding black pigment.

See the illustration to the right - this is what you're supposed to visualize. This is not an attempt to stupify your understanding of HSB, by making a real-world analog. This way of thinking is actually how your colors will behave.

Let's take a closer look at Hue, Saturation and Brightness - or in this case: Color pigments, water and black pigments.

Color pigments

You select which color pigment to use by adjusting the HUE slider. Note that some hues are naturally darker than others: The two colors to the right have the exact same Saturation and brightness, yet the blue color is obviously the dark one.

Be aware that the hue don't stay the same: When you creates successive brush strokes in Multiply mode, bright hues (yellow, cyan, magenta) will burn towards the nearest dark hue (red, green, blue)


For instance, a slight blueish cyan (HUE: 190) will burn toward blue (HUE: 240). But a slight greenish cyan (HUE: 170) will burn toward green (HUE: 140)

See some examples in the video to the right. (no speak, mind, the words are in the text)

The closer the hue is to the bright hue (yellow, cyan, magenta), the less prominent is the hue burn. If it is exactly on spot, there is no hue change at all. The burn uses saturation; if saturation is lowered, there is less hue change, while the darkening of the image stays the same.

This is not something that is specific to Photoshop – color pigments behave the same way out in the analog world.


To get the effect of adding more water to your brush stroke, simply lower the SATURATION. This is useful for light pastel colors, or when you want to build op your coloring using multiple strokes.

But note that multiple strokes will not only change the hue (see above), but also darken the color (see below)

Black Pigment

The amount of black pigment is controlled by the Brightness slider. What's more, each successive brush stroke will ad even more dark pigments to the canvas, moving your color towards black.

In the physical world, even the most expensive pigment has a tiny bit of polution, making it a bit darker. Digital colors are perfect; a little too perfect. It is possible to set the brightness to 100 %, creating an unnatural color that never darkens, no matter the number of successive strokes. To avoid this, I will advice you to always keep it below brightness 95 % to archive colors that will darken with overlapping strokes. Take a look at the movie to the right, which demonstrates the extreme difference between 100 % and 95 % brightness.

Color Swatches

I think a good color palette is more inspirering than adjusting HSB all the time. The swatches you need depends on what you want to draw. Get yourself a good collection of swatches, so you have something to chose from. If you aims to create a really ambitious drawing, you might want to create a special set of swatches especially for that project.

I have included a number of my own swatches in the download, in the 'Color Swatches' subfolder. You can also find swatches at various places on the internet. I recommends the ones that are based on natural medias. There is some content here.

Paper Texture

The paper texture don't normally has much effect on a water color painting. The exceptions are extremely dry brushes which just strikes the surface, and pools of liquid which dries up in the cracks. (The latter instance should have the texture inverted). The texture will very easily spoil the brush' characteristic. Use carefully. I mostly turn it off, also because I want the speed. Also, some of my brushes react differently to texture.

If you want to use texture, I have constructed a very nice high-resolution one called paper 300 ppi which can be found in the file Depth map.pat

That file also contains a texture called pre-rendered paper texture, which you can place behind your drawing layer. Just remember to keep the two textures at the same scale, otherwise they won't match.

  • Scale: 50 %
  • Brightness: 0
  • Contrast: 0
  • [v] Invert
  • [v] Texture Each Clip
  • Mode: Liniar Burn (somewhat soft)
  • Depth: about 6 - 30 % ... adjust it so the effect is almost invisible
  • Minimum Depth: 50 %
  • Dept jitter: 0 %
  • Control: Off / pen pressure (I honestly can't tell the difference.)

To make all the brushes share the texture settings, click on the padlock icon.

There is also some great build-in textures in Photoshop CS6. In Photoshops pattern directory, you really want to check the following:

  • Artist Surfaces.pat
  • Artists Brushes Canvas.pat
  • Erodible Textures.pat

Tips & Tricks

  • All the brush tips are at high resolution, so don't be afraid of scaling them up.
  • If you want to draw on a tinted paper, but don't like having it permanent, draw on a layer above, 100 % white, Mode: Multiply
  • For inspiration, check out some books on water color.
  • Water color are good for colorizing lineart, either pencil or ink.
  • Some water colors pigment are actually somewhat opaque. To paint with pigment that covers insteads of doing that substractive blending thingie, change the brushes Blending Mode from 'Multiply' to 'Normal'. Use low saturation, because such pigment would not cover the underlying surface totally.
  • Have some extra space at the left side of your image, reserved for color mixing. You might have a new window open which is zoomed in on this: 'Window>Arrange>New Window for [your-document-name]' ... then toogle between them with Ctrl-Tab.
  • I once had to colorize a ink drawing with these brushes. Accidently, I started to colorized on the same layer as the ink lineart. Funny enough, this made it feel like colorizing a physical drawing: The liftoff would also erase the lineart, and water would smudge it. Its worth trying out.
  • Use Shift-Ctrl-F to fade the last brush stroke.

Mechanics of Water Color

Photoshop isn't naturally designed for watercolor painting, so it takes a few hacks to get a bit of watercolor feel in a piece of software that isn't cut for it. One necessary hack is to always paint on a layer filled with 100 % pure white. This is necessary because some ”liquid” effects goes wrong on a transparent layer.

In order to have overlapping strokes behave somewhat like physical media, I have set most of the brushes to the Multiply blending mode.

I have created a few erasers (called "LIFTING OFF") which will paint with white using the screen blending mode. You can also chose to paint with a color if you want to colorize while erasing.

In other words:

  • Multiply: adding pigment (subtractive)
  • Screen: Erasing pigment (addictive)

By the way, this site went online in april 2013, and the brushes were designed for Photoshop CS6. Later, support for CS4 was added.

Digital VS. Analog

Analog water color gives the artist the taxtile feedback of interacting with the physical world. Digital water color is, after all, just an imitation of the real thing. Also, when you use analog water color there is no limitations, while in digital painting you are limited by the software: The tool preset designer might have included a wax brush, but what if you wanted apply the wax in a more controlled manner? In that case you would have to use several hours to create and scan graphic and fiddling with brush controls in order to maybe enabling you to archive the desired effect. With analog medias, you could just do it. Analog water color will impress people the most: They regards digital painting as some kind of imitation, which it is. Even though they know nothing about the analog water color medium, they do know that certain rules of physics do apply, which the artist has to work within. People have a certain fascination with art created in the physical world, with real pigment on a real piece of paper. Even if they just look at a reproduction of it on the internet.

On the other hand, digital water color are much more spontanious. You can afford to make mistakes, you can pick up colors, you can work wet-in-wet in any areas of your drawing, you don't have to clean your brushes, the paper and the paint don't cost a thing and you won't have to wait for the paint to dry, or hurry to get the wet-in-wet done before it dries up. The digital imitation of the media surpasses the original in most regards, not just making the proces more "effective" but enabling the artist to focus on his art instead of dueling with a bothersome media. As mentioned, anolog water color impress people the most. This is well-deserved, because the analog workflow is much more slow, tedious and cucumbersome than its digital counterparts.

Strange New World

My digital drawings has always been crippled by technology - the time I should have spent on being creative was often wasted on learning new software, or searching for smart ways to make a photo look almost but not at all like a drawing. Also, it is far too easy to trace on the computer. I took my experience on how to normally handle software - logically and controlled - and applied it to drawing and painting. The result was a process that was more design than painting. I have spent far too much time trying to find some golden shortcut to get the art done 'effectively', instead of just grabbing my Wacom and getting on with it.

One day I discovered Alchemy - a drawing program that is designed specifically to take control away from the user. While the program is vector based and have a completely digital expression, the chaotic nature of it resembles that of physical medias.

The physical world has its own rules that you have to addapt to. You cannot erase ink, pencils can't draw on glass, Etc. My water color brushes are meant to have the same wild nature as physical medias. The artist might steer them in the right direction, but he cannot make them go against their nature. I have tried to preserve the raw analog experience in the digital medium.

Software are evolving and are becoming more and more intuitive. You can drag'n drop the tabs in Firefox, and Photoshop has HUD color selection and allows you to rotate the canvas. However, I think the computer still hasn't reached its full potential as a tool for artists. Just you wait.


Thanks for reading!

kasperhviid (æ) gmail.com