How to Create Realistic Reflections on the Water Surface




Hello everyone! I’m Norpiova!

Welcome to my Clip Studio Paint tutorial. In this tutorial, I will show you how to create realistic reflections on the water surfaces. Without further ado let’s get into it!

I also made video version for this tutorial if you prefer audio-visual format.




Let’s start with a little bit of science! This image is a comparison between the real object and its reflection on water surfaces.

A reflection on water surfaces is not the same as on a man made mirror. Because a reflection on water surfaces is being affected by its surrounding. There are 4 changes that occur in a reflected of an object on water surfaces.


The first one is the level of desaturation (or changes in color purity). That means the color of the reflected image will always be more greyish or washed than the original object.

The second one is the level of darkening (or changes in brightness). Which means the reflected image will always be darker than the original object.

The third one is the level of recoloring (or change in color hue). So the color of the reflected image will change according to its surounding.

The fourth one is the level of distortion (or change in shape). It means the reflected image will deform and blur out, and these changes depend on the cleanliness and the movement of the water surfaces.

For example, a reflection near glacier will be more bluish, a reflection on a dirty brown river will be completely desaturated and recolored.

Another example is a reflection on a fast moving stream that will be blurry, while a reflection on a calm lake in the middle of the day will be so sharp almost looks like a mirror.


I will use this mountain drawing and add a reflection to create a lake. If it’s a painting or drawing that consists of many layers, make sure to merge them all after that. Let’s duplicate first, select the image on layer panel, right click, and Duplicate.

Now we need to merge these layers. With the duplicate layers still being selected, right click on it, and choose Merge Selected Layers. Then bring this layer to the bottom of the layer order but still on top of Paper layer.

Now let’s flip it. Go to Edit menu -> Transform, and Flip vertical. Reposition the image so it looks like mirror reflection.

Duplicate the image once more and activate Clip to layer below feature. By doing this we are limiting the area of work and also having a backup of the original image.


Wave Effect

OK, let’s start with adding the distortion effect on reflected image. The first one is waves effect. To add waves effect go to Filter menu, choose Distort, and click Wave.

Here’s the best settings that I found.

Let me guide you through these settings very quick so if you don’t like my settings you can make one that suits your drawing or painting. First, Shape option, it’s for choosing what kind of shape that we want for the waves effect. Make sure you choose Sine, it gives us a normal smooth curvature wave.


Number of waves option is kind of hard to explain because it interacts with the other parameters in a dynamic way. But in short, always put 1 on this option.


Wavelength defines how long each individual wave is, while Amplitude defines how tall each wave is. To make it easier, always put the lowest number (0.10) for both Wavelength Maximum and Amplitude Maximum.


And now you can play around the Wavelength Minimum and Amplitude Minimum numbers to find the best settings for yourself. Here I use 2.5 for Wavelength Minimum and 1.5 for Amplitude Minimum.


The Vertical and Horizontal ratio is how much wave effects you want to see on each vertical and horizontal direction. To create wave effect for reflection, leave the Vertical ratio at 0 and play around the Horizontal ratio.


For Undefined Areas choose Wrap Around and stay away from regenerate button this time. Click OK to apply the effect.

With that adjustment, now we have a distorted image that looks like reflection on water surfaces. But this effect is not perfect because in real life if the object’s reflection is getting further, the wave effect will become smaller and less visible. So the middle area should have smaller wave effect and the tree trunks’ reflection should stay straight because the wave effect is completely not visible.

We have created one pretty big wave effect, now we need to make one more wave effect but this time it’s smaller. Let’s duplicate the original reflection, and activate Clip to layer below. Then Hide for a moment the big wave reflection layer so we can see the preview.



Then go to Filter menu, choose Distort, and click Waves.



This is the setting for smaller waves effect.

The difference between the previous setting is only the Wavelength Minimum.

Now let’s create a mask to manipulate this waves effect, from bigger to smaller to completely disappear. To do that, unhide the big waves effect first.

Now add masking by clicking Create Layer Mask icon.

Then pick Default Soft Eraser.

Start removing the top part and the middle part of the reflection, and do it gently.

Do the same steps for the smaller wave. Remove the top part of the reflection.

Here’s the result.

Blur Effect

A reflection on water surfaces is always blurry. In this process, we will use 2 kind of blur effects, motion blur and gaussian blur. Let’s add motion blur effect first. Go to Filter menu, choose Blur, and click Motion blur.

For the angle use 90 degrees angle so the blur effect will be in a vertical direction. For Direction choose both direction and for Mode choose smooth.


For the strenght my suggestion is between 2 and 10. Here I use 3. You can play around the number that matches your drawing or painting. Don’t forget to check the preview box so you can see how the effect looks in real time.

Now let’s add gaussian blur. Go to Filter menu, choose Blur, and click Gaussian blur.

For the strenght my suggestion is between 2 and 10. Here I use 6.

Repeat the process for the small wave effect layer. Here’s the result.



Now we need to adjust the level of desaturation, darkening, and recoloring. A reflection on water surface is always a bit desaturated and darker than the original object. So let’s do some adjusments. Right click on the reflection layer, choose New Correction Layer, and click Hue/Saturation/Luminosity.

Put a minus value on Saturation to desaturate, and put a minus value as well on Luminosity to darken the image . Here I put -5 for Saturation and -10 for Luminosity. Again, you can play around the numbers to match your background’s atmosphere.

This is the result.


Gradient Map

Next, I want to recolor the reflection. Let’s add one more adjustment. Right click on layer panel, choose New Correction Layer , and click Gradient Map.

I want to make it more bluish. So in Gradient set option, choose Sky, and pick Blue Sky Gradient. Then Click OK.

Because this effect is too strong I turn down the layer’s opacity to 15.


Perlin Noise Effect

Now we have a realistic looking reflection, but something is missing. Yup, it’s the waves!

Now we need to add the water waves. Don’t worry! We will not draw it manually. With my original technique we can use Clip Studio Paint’s filter menu to generate a shape that resembles water waves.

First, create a new canvas. I use 4K resolution canvas (3840 x 2160) with 300 dpi to make sure the waves that I create will not get pixalated along the process.

Now go to Filter menu, choose Render, and click Perlin Noise.

This is the setting that I use.

There’s nothing special about the Perlin Noise filter settings, make sure all parameters stay the same as my settings.

Except probably the scale, if you use smaller canvas just find and make sure to get a small noise just like mine.

Now we got a nice noise effect.

Artistic Effect

Next step, go to Filter menu again, choose Effect, and click Artistic.

This is the setting that I use.

With that setting the noise has turned into a unique labyrinth pattern or a noodle shape pattern or whatever you want to call it.

Adjusting The Pattern

Now we need to adjust this shape so it will look alike water waves. We will utilise Perspective alongside Scale/rotate tool. First, go to Edit menu, choose Transform, and click Perspective.

Adjust the perspective until the pattern has depth effect. So the closer shapes are bigger and the further shapes are smaller. You may want to zoom out to adjust this perspective easily. Then click OK.

Next, we need to stretch it. But first pick Selection Area tool, choose any selection shape, and select the whole canvas. By selecting only the visible pattern on the canvas with Selection Area tool you don’t need to zoom out to stretch it since the original pattern is already bigger than the canvas after we apply the perspective adjustment previously.


If we don’t use selection, we need to zoom out, like really really zoom out to rescale it.

So after selecting the whole canvas, click scale/rotation icon and stretch it horizontally. To make it stretch in both direction, to the left and the right side, make sure to hold ALT button. Click OK once you satisfy with the result.


Now it’s time to copy this wave pattern onto the reflection. Don’t forget to select the visible wave, and press Ctrl C to copy that.

Back to our drawing, and press Ctrl V to paste it. Make sure you place the waves layer on top of the adjusment layer of the reflection.

Reposition and re-scale like previous steps by using Scale/rotate tool so it matches the perspective of the original drawing. Here I stretch it again horizontally, and squash it vertically a little bit.

To blend the waves pattern onto the reflection, change the waves pattern layer mode from Normal to Multiply.

Now go to Layer Property panel, on Effect tab, activate Color Layer feature to change the color of the waves pattern.

If somehow you can’t find Effect tab or Layer Property panel, go to Window menu and make sure to check Layer Property option.

Still on Effect tab of the Layer Property panel, click on the plus icon to show the sub color option.


For the Layer Color, pick a color that similar to the color of your sky. I use light blue color here. For the Sub Color, it depends on the water condition of your drawing. If you want a calmer water surface that resembles small waves, pick brighter color or white.


If you want a dynamic water surface that resembles moving waves, pick darker color.

But if you are drawing a brown dirty water then chose medium brown color. And so on. we have realistic reflection on a water surface!


For final steps I will tweak and redraw the reflection so it looks more realistic. I want to blend some parts of the reflection to reshape it based on the curvature of the waves.


For this final step, let’s pick Blend tool, and this is my settings.

Now start blending some parts of the reflection.

Here is the final result! As you can see guys, it’s even more realistic than before!


As I said couple of times in this video, you can use my tutorial as a foundation to find the best process and settings for your own works.


For example, do you guys know this type of background? Yes it’s been used many many times in a lof of anime.

For this type of reflection, you only use blur effect and little bit color adjustment. No waves and waves effect. Because the reflection on this background is supposed to create calm and peaceful atmosphere. Which means there should be no waves there.

Ok, I think that’s all. I hope my tutorial is useful and see you in the next tutorial.



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