Articles, Blog

Photoshop Tutorial: How to Make a Beautiful, Watercolor Portrait from a Photo

January 20, 2020

Hi. This is Marty from Blue Lightning TV. I’m going to show you how to create
beautiful, watercolor portraits from photos using your own brush strokes.
Because they’re your own brush strokes, it allows you to create your own subtle nuances.
Open a photo you’d like to use. Since every photo has its own unique characteristics, such as lighting, brightness, contrast and color,
the results of the watercolor effect will vary. If the subject has very light skin,
it may be necessary to darken the mid-tones. You can achieve this by pressing Ctrl + L on Windows or Cmd + L on a Mac to open your Levels window. Slide the Input mid-tones to the right. I’d also recommend using a photo that
doesn’t have a dark background If it does, just lighten it. Its size and
resolution will ultimately determine the setting amounts for the filters and brushes. This photo is 1550 by 870 pixels with a resolution up to 150 pixels per inch. Unlock the background by holding down Alt on Windows or Option on a Mac as you click on the lock. We’ll name it “Base”. Make a copy of it by pressing Ctrl or Cmd + J. Name it “Smart Blur”. Go to Filter, Blur and Smart Blur. For the size and resolution of this photo, I’ll make the Radius: 10… the Threshold: 20… the Quality is High and the Mode is Normal. Depending on the size and resolution of your photo, you may want to adjust the amounts for the Radius and Threshold to get a similar result as this.
Click on the thumbnail of the Base to make it active and make a copy of it. Drag it to the top and name it “Pencil Lines”. Go to Filter and Filter Gallery. Open the “Stylize” folder. In it, you’ll find “Glowing Edges”.
If you have an early version of Photoshop, go to Filter, Stylize and Glowing Edges. Make the Edge Width: 1… the Edge Brightness between 14 and 17 and the Smoothness: 15. Then. click OK. Invert the image by pressing Ctrl or Cmd + I. Then, remove the color by pressing Ctrl or Cmd + Shift + U. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Make the Smart Blur layer active and make a copy of it. We’ll name it “Brush”. Invert the layer and change its Blend Mode to Color Dodge. Open your Brush Tool and press “d” on your keyboard to make
your foreground and background colors black and white. respectively. Click the arrow next to the brush size and click the gear icon to open your list of brush presets. Click “Reset Brushes” and click OK to replace the current brushes with the default brushes. Click back on the gear icon and choose “Small List”. Scroll down and click “Dry Brush”. Reduce its opacity to 10%. To increase the size of your brush, press the right bracket key on your keyboard. I increased to 200 pixels. Now, brush across your image. Open your gear icon again and click “Wet Media Brushes”. Click OK and choose “Watercolor Textured Surface”. Press Enter or Return to close the Brush panel and increase your brush size. I made mine 300 pixels. Now, selectively brush over areas of your image.
It’s okay to leave lighter areas untouched. I’ll make my brush smaller by pressing the Left bracket key. Continue to brush over your image to bring out contrast and color. If you want to lighten or remove some pencil lines, make the Pencil Line layer active and click the Layer Mask icon to make a layer mask next to it. Increase the opacity to 80% and lightly brush over the pencil lines you’d like to lighten or remove. Next, we’ll darken the Input levels of the
brushstrokes, but leave the pencil lines as is. To do this, hide the Pencil Lines and make the Brush layer active. Press Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E on Windows or Cmd + Shift + Option + E on a Mac
to make a composite snapshot of your image. Press Ctrl or Cmd + L to open your Levels window and then drag the Input darks to the right
until it’s at the point where the histogram starts to rise. Make the Pencil Lines visible and go to Filter and Filter gallery. Open the Texture folder and click “Texturizer”. Choose “Sandstone”. The Scaling is 100%… the Relief is 2 or 3 and the Light is from the Top. Then, click OK. This is Marty from Blue Lightning TV.
Thanks for watching!


  • Reply Qi Wang September 18, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Thanks!!!!!Very helpful!

  • Reply shipra jalan October 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    HELLO you used to have a tutorial in which you used cutout filter to make portraits … please can you put it up again!!

  • Reply elbeers50 October 26, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    thanks for tutoring

  • Reply S Debs November 1, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Great tutorial.

  • Reply Igor Rabinovich November 1, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Great technique, amazing tutorial,
    Thanks a lot ! 

  • Reply carolinegrace November 6, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Excellent tutorial. Brilliant! Thank you!!

  • Reply Jordan Greene November 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    When I try to erase the pencil lines, nothing happens… not sure what I have done wrong.  I have followed every direction.  I made the mask for the pencil line layer and changed the brush opacity to 80%, but when I brush across them, they do not change at all.  Thanks for this tutorial, btw, I LOVE it!

  • Reply Jordan Greene November 6, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I am using Photoshop Elements, so it is a bit different… not sure what I should be lowering the opacity on…

  • Reply Roy Verge November 26, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    That's great,
     I made a watercolor drawing of my little daughter,
     and this is the best I've made so far, so soft and fine.
     Thank you so much for this excellent lesson..

  • Reply Danish Maheshwari December 9, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Brilliant tutorial I learnt a lot thanks 🙂

  • Reply KameKroten December 14, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for this video 🙂
    I can make amazing edit on my turtle

  • Reply Nadine Gigl December 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Hey Marti,
    when I make the Color Dodge step my picture is completly white.
    What made I wrong? I also can't do the next step with the brush, the programm says Could not use history brush because the history state..
    Maybe you can help me.
    Thanks in advance!

  • Reply kritika laddha December 22, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    love it !! you are amazing !!! thanks a ton 🙂

  • Reply Freddy Foto December 31, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Best Tutorials on the WEB, clear and understanding and really in detail, thanks for Your great work, Freddy

  • Reply yinelbabe January 11, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    super duper useful!!!!!!tq so much appreciated love ya!!!

  • Reply Bob Frazier January 20, 2015 at 1:42 am

    I tested a number of tutorials on converting a photo to a watercolor… this one does the best job. Thank you Marty.

    Now, if one's intention is to ultimately going to output this to wide format watercolor paper, do I use the sandstone texture or skip that step or????

  • Reply Joe Arrigo February 6, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    My experience is the same as Jordon Greene…the pencil lines will not diminish or disappear. Followed the tutorial precisely. Will try what coralnona and krtika did. Thanks.

  • Reply Joe Arrigo February 7, 2015 at 3:46 am

    Tried several times, but cannot diminish pencil lines…the function doesn't work. Also cannot get a beautiful result anywhere near what Marty gets.

  • Reply Yeba S. February 7, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    this is so cool… thank you 🙂

  • Reply Reuben Dunn February 13, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Does the resolution have to be 72, or can l do it at 300, as l want to print out larger.

    I have had several compliments on what l have done, using your tutorials.

    Many thanks.

  • Reply Chandrakant Sawant February 20, 2015 at 6:59 am


  • Reply cmikats 1966 April 14, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you for the lesson, I love my watercolor. You'll probably be hearing a lot from me because I'm working all your tutorials, i appreciate your teaching me. 🙂

  • Reply jason starek April 24, 2015 at 12:09 am

    My head is spinning….. I have had to rewind this thing at least 25 times.

  • Reply Jeff Kingston April 27, 2015 at 10:29 am

    I think you should change your intro music, great tutorials, but the music is kind of off putting as soon as i hear it.

  • Reply Fred Burguet May 2, 2015 at 6:21 am

    Simple, efficace. Les explications sont claires. 😉

  • Reply Victoria Sindt May 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Hi, I tried your technique on a picture and it worked beautifully. Then I went ahead and tried another one, following your steps exactly. But when I select the watercolour brush and brush over the picture, nothing happens. The picture just stays the same. Then I tried again with the first picture and it won't work there anymor either. Do you have any tips for me? I have tried at least ten times, it just won't work anymore..

  • Reply Che Givara June 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    i think u are Perfectly and nice tutor

  • Reply Lautaro Grande June 9, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Great tutorial! Thanks!!!

  • Reply Farhad Kazemi Khosroshahi July 14, 2015 at 5:53 pm


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  • Reply Taenin Goh September 27, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Excellent this video.
    can I askes a question , why i cant select (glowing edge ) when in pencil line layer?
    can this solve this problems?

  • Reply Rafaik Ishak September 29, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    what photoshop you use? cs5?

  • Reply GoddessProductions October 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    gonna try this!

  • Reply Krystal McGlynn October 6, 2015 at 7:45 am

    When I get to dry brush it doesn't pick up color other than skin tone? Anyway I can fix this?

  • Reply Daniela Argandoña October 9, 2015 at 4:28 am

    THANK YOU!!! for an amazing tutorial ! I loved it, I am just learning how to use Photoshop. I wonder, if I would like to give the photo a colored background, how would that be done? Best wishes from Uruguay.

  • Reply dandan October 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you very much!

  • Reply essam Faraj October 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

    really amazing

  • Reply Marissa Vasquez October 28, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    thank you so much for this tutorial I am a beginner and I was able to do this please keep doing an amazing job so glad I subscribed

  • Reply Pepprina Malt November 27, 2015 at 11:18 am

    That's beautiful. Thank you Marty.

  • Reply Emmanuel .B November 28, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Thank you so much Marty. I want to know your honest opinion on my water color landscapes based on this tutorial, on twitter. My username is Emmanuel @ ebuz1234

  • Reply Mariano de Miguel December 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Really good tutorial. Can you recommend a tutorial that can make a model photo into a 1950's pinup illustration look?

  • Reply el ehr January 19, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Hi thanks its really works for me…. Perfect

  • Reply Karin Poore January 30, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Great, clear TUT

  • Reply Kelvin Wilson February 21, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Excellent tutorial – that is truly worth 161,092 like. Thank you sharing your time making it for us mugwumps.

  • Reply Pushpa Jay February 23, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Many Thanks for nice tutorial.

  • Reply Ironica March 19, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Really great tutorial, mate. Very easy to follow and great to use! Subscribing!

  • Reply Elvin Eka April 12, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    To anyone who have difficulties during fading out Pencil Lines in Masked Layer, try Eraser Tool & change the Opacity to 50% instead of Brush Tool . I got this from Michael Crowe on comments below (Thank you!)

    Anyway, this is a very good video to learn. Kudos!

  • Reply daC0t April 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks Marty, keep it coming ..also I'd like a tutorial on making vector portaits out of pictures

  • Reply B.O.P April 18, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    thank you so much

  • Reply Frankie Condo May 7, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    which PS CC do you use. I have CC5 and don't see the gear you reference. Does the arrow achieve the same result

  • Reply Ramesh Thakkar May 11, 2016 at 10:41 am


  • Reply Sophie van den Berg May 19, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Hi there, Thanks for the great tutorial! I've been working this technique on a few images now, successfully, but now I'm facing a problem. When I turn on the Colour Dodge, some parts of the image become fluorescent yellow instead of just black/white. Do you have any idea what the solution might be? Kinda lost… Thanks in advance!

  • Reply Alexandra Estrella May 25, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you, now I have a pretty watercolor portrait of my daughter <3

  • Reply marcel braga May 30, 2016 at 5:02 am


  • Reply Pennyloafer June 15, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Brilliant. Thank you so much!

  • Reply martin petho June 25, 2016 at 11:42 am

    I've been following your video. but when I get to the bush tool it says Could not use the history brush because the current bit depth does not match that of the history state.   I'm on 8 bit as you help before  thanks for  your videos help me well.  martin

  • Reply Pilar Barnig June 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for this effective tutorial. I was able to make one out of my favorite photo and it went well. I will definitely refer to this video just in case I forget the instructions. Bless you! ♥

  • Reply osama mhmoud July 18, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    really fantastic

  • Reply Nida Al Khalil July 23, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Thank you blue lighting 💐

  • Reply Barry S August 12, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks again, Marty !!!

  • Reply R BB August 16, 2016 at 8:42 am

    I have Photoshop CS6 v13 and can't find "glowing edges." Any suggestions?

  • Reply Calorista September 1, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    I always come back for this tutorial!

  • Reply Stephanie Barros September 23, 2016 at 2:17 am

    this is a REAL tutorial. thanks

  • Reply Matgi Prats October 17, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Entiendo muy poco Ingles, pero le puedo seguir pues explica bastante bien.. gracias de Mallorca.

  • Reply Nazareth434 October 18, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    one of the best tutorials i've seen on creating htis effect- Nicely done- this could even serve as a base/under painting for different techniques as well such as turning into a chalk drawing, or oil painting- allowing hte 'texture' of base layer to show through top 'oil layer'

  • Reply Crypto Berto October 24, 2016 at 4:53 am

    I dont have wet media brushes on my option. I dont see anything on it. How can I add?

  • Reply TJ C November 14, 2016 at 1:10 am

    The easiest and the best tutorials on creating watercolor effect! Thank you!

  • Reply Duncan Calvin January 31, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Thank you very much! You are so details! love it so much!

  • Reply cherie plumlee February 13, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Thanks so much! Had a wonderful time turning a colorized BW photo into a watercolor effect. C'est bien!

  • Reply Wendy Munro April 25, 2017 at 8:43 am

    fantastic tutorial. I just have one problem though, I have an older version of photoshop and I don't have the watercolour brush texture that you mention. Will any other kind of brush give me the same kind of effect?

  • Reply Photo Intento June 21, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    es tan genial, simple y bonito!!!

  • Reply Sweet.T June 22, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Oh my goodness, thank you for actually speaking in your video! Most videos I'd have to keep going back and forth for each step, but in this case I can listen and work on the edit at the time time 😀

  • Reply Cyndia L July 6, 2017 at 1:50 am


  • Reply Dujuan Robertson July 31, 2017 at 1:43 am

    I second that. Best tutorials on the web. I've learned a lot. Very clear and detailed.

  • Reply FabZ Holocaust Channel August 3, 2017 at 9:05 am

    You are indeed the best , most using stupid actions , where everything is done for them , i prefere your way , to create it myself step by step

  • Reply Heather-Cate Cody August 20, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    I really loved it! Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply Elemare1113 Elemare August 26, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    I am delighted and in awe. This is exactly the kind of instruction I was seeking. Such talent. Many thanks.

  • Reply Maria Clara Sorensen September 14, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Excelente explicación y hermoso trabajo!!!

  • Reply Shania O. Mason September 16, 2017 at 3:20 am

    This is such a clear and concise tutorial, I can't wait to try it out! thanks a ton for sharing <3

  • Reply Ham Bunheng October 15, 2017 at 6:41 am

    thanks for teaching

  • Reply Nancy Ng December 28, 2017 at 2:39 am

    Thanks for this! Easy to follow and it actually taught me something! I appreciate a good tutorial

  • Reply Divine Gi March 6, 2018 at 12:53 am


  • Reply Mahesh daga March 7, 2018 at 7:25 am

    U made work so easy

  • Reply Romeo Mahilum March 18, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    this tutorial was really meant for beginners this so easy and tutored very well Great job! <3

  • Reply Ziadah Zainal Abidin April 24, 2018 at 12:57 am

    Thank you so much for this tutorial. You made my day.

  • Reply Phillip Chan May 25, 2018 at 3:25 am

    Need to update this video for CC 2018

  • Reply SABARUDIN June 18, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    water color textured surface brush ?

  • Reply Deep Bloo June 30, 2018 at 4:15 am

    thank you soo much , an amazing tutorial

  • Reply นพดล ซอกรัมย์ July 16, 2018 at 12:35 pm


  • Reply Nestor K Ikeda July 16, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you, Marty. I haven't seen you since I got some video editing classes at Travel Channel HQ in WDC.

  • Reply Matthew Molchen October 5, 2018 at 8:45 am

    Fantastic tutorial! simple and to the point! with great results! thank you!

  • Reply Tanvir Rahaman October 5, 2018 at 2:46 pm


  • Reply Zk Channel November 5, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Best Tutorials on the youtube

  • Reply eda ramirez February 24, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    The best tutorial…

  • Reply Daniel Graf March 6, 2019 at 11:19 pm

    TKSSSS !

  • Reply aicha aicha April 19, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Amazing tuto Marty, thank you

  • Reply Kristina Chaney May 18, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    This is the best tutorial I have ever tried. I love this. Thank you!

  • Reply Mayur Thakur May 26, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Fantastic! Request you to upload a tutorial on thick acrylic paint effect also.

  • Reply Leanna Timmerman June 29, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Really great!

  • Reply Amanda Franquet October 30, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    I did exactly what you did, but the pencil line softening step isn't working for me.

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