Painting Watercolors Digitally


Watercolors are probably my favorite paint mediums to work with. There's something fun painting with light washes of color, gradually building up until you get bold colors. But what if you can't afford a decent watercolor set? This tutorial will show you what you need in order to paint watercolors as close to traditional possible.

Mimicking Real Watercolors

Let's start with brushes. There are a variety of watercolor brushes out there for any shape, size, and budget.
For this example, I used a water brush for my splatters:

Once I scanned the splatters in, I edited them until they feel like watercolor brushes:

Of course, if you don't want to make your own, I recommend this material set:

The round brushes, the round blender, and the grainy texture are my favorites from the set.

Next is the color palette. It can be overwhelming to pick which colors to use, so I recommending starting off with this palette:

Now, you may be asking, "Is the color selection a little too small?" Let me explain:

If you've taken an art class, you're probably familiar with these mixing colors; 6 primary colors, two of each temperature, a green, three earth tones, and a convenient gray. They may not seem like much at first, but once you mix them:

They can become (almost) any color you want!

There are exceptions. If you mix too many colors -especially ones with the same color temperature-together, the results are, well...mud.

Here is a swatch sheet with all the mixing possibilities from the 6 primaries. Some mix better than others:

Of course, if you're working on larger project, such as comics, and need more consistent colors, you'll need to add more premixed colors.

BONUS TIP: If you want to get accurate colors, I recommend picking out the color from watercolor swatches for your palette. Swatches you painted yourself are the best.

Now that you're familiar with what brushes and color palette to use, let's paint a demonstration.


To start off, I prepped, scanned, and cleaned up the lineart:

I'll start with the hood since it is the only piece of the work that's not brown. After making a quick mask:

I proceed to paint a light wash of pthlalo blue on layer one:

From there, it's just a matter of adding opacity and detail:

Once I'm done with the robe, rinse and repeat for everything else:

By the end, I should get this:

Oh, and one more thing: the textures. I overlayed the entire piece with a raw umber fill layer, which sets the overall mood, then applied a granulated texture with the Watercolor paper from the aforementioned material set, set in a soft light:

Of course, you CAN take the extra step and apply a watercolor paper texture on the piece. Just keep in mind that of you print this on smooth print paper, it will be obvious that there's a watercolor paper texture...


Hopefully, you can now paint just like you would traditionally. Now comes the next part: Finding inspiration!

Until next time...



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