Creating a Water Effect in Photoshop

February 22, 2010 • By

We’re going to create a relatively simple water effect in this tutorial. This will be flowing water ending with a splash.

Step 1

First off, create a new document with a white background and set the canvass size at 500 by 600 px. Increase the resolution of the document to 260 pixels. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and draw a vertical rectangle all the way down to the canvass.

Step 2

Now select the Gradient Tool (G) and on the Gradient Tool Presets or settings, click to edit the gradient. From the left-hand side, these are the colours of the “stops.” 1.#c8d3df 2.#e8edee 3.#c4c9cf 4.#e4e7e9 5.#98999a 6.#c1cad3 7.#f6f7f8. For the Opacity Stops  from the left: 60%; 65%; 50%; 60%.

Step 3

As shown below, drag the Gradient Tool within the Marquee selection.

Step 4

From the left, drag the Gradient Tool across the selection in a slightly diagonal direction.

Step 5

From the right, drag again downwards.

Step 6

Finally, from the left, drag the Gradient Tool diagonally upwards.

Step 7

Go to Filter > Artistic > Plastic Wrap and in the options, set the Highlight Strength to16; Detail to 10; Smoothness to 8. Deselect the Marquee also.

Step 8

Now to add more shine. Go to Filter > Sketch > Bas Relief and make the adjustments below:

The resulting effects:

Step 9

On the menu bar, select Image > Adjustment > Levels (Ctrl+L). Enter these figures for the Input Levels as shown below. The end result is to give one half of the image a faint shade or tone.

Step 10

Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves or press (Ctrl+M) and drag downwards the bottom point of the curve. Or you may enter the Input/Output figures.

The purpose of Curves is to tone just the bottom part of the image.

Step 11

To shape the image, go to Edit > Transform > Warp or hit Ctrl+T. Upon shaping with the Warp, make sure the topmost white part of the image is visible as a long long strip.

Name the layer “flow.”

Step 12

We’ll now add a splash to the streaming flow of water. In a new layer, draw an ‘amoebic’ shape (if you’ll pardon the expression) with the Pen Tool (P) and fill with #e0e0e9.

Step 13

Still on the “splash” layer, go to Filter > Artistic > Plastic Wrap and make the adjustments below. Follow this up with a Bas Relief effect (Filter > Sketch > Bas Relief). Do make sure Light is set to Bottom Left.

The result:

Step 14

Now to create a proper splash-like shape. Go to Filter > Liquify (Shift+Ctrl+X) and select the Forward Warp Tool (W) in the Liquify window.Under the Tool Options, set Brush Size at 11, Density at 50 and Pressure at 60. Now with the Forward Warp Tool, extend edges of the shape in various directions.

Step 15

Select the Bloat Tool (B) and hold down briefly to create bloated portions of the image. the Brush Pressure and Size could be adjusted slightly according to your personal preference. Just don’t make the brush too sensitive by increasing it’s Pressure.

Step 16

Add a Bas Relief effect: Filter > Sketch > Bas Relief.

Step 17

In a new layer, draw a shape with the Rectangle Tool (U) that would form the background. Add a Gradient Overlay Layer Style and set the colours of the Stops from the left: 1.#9397a0 2.#252d4f 3.#6b7074. Reduce the opacity of the “background” layer to 50%.

Step 18

Select the Burn Tool and choose a soft brush at 8px , the Range set to Midtones and Exposure reduced to 45%. Now, apply the tool across the base of the splash.

Step 19

Duplicate the “splash” layer and with the Free Transform Tool (Ctrl+T), right click to select Rotate 90 degrees CW .After which you right click again to select Flip Horizontal. Reduce the “splash” layer opacity to about 65%.With the Eraser Tool (E), Opacity at 40% fade the top part the splash shape.

Step 20

Create a new layer and pick the Rectangle Tool to draw a rectangle right below the splash shape. Add a Gradient Overlay style and edit the Gradient as shown below:

Step 21

Blur the edges of the rectangle by going to Filter > Blur > Guassian Blur. Set the Radius to about 35 px.

Step 22

Reduce the “flow” layer’s opacity to 90% and set the Blend Mode to Hard Light. Do the same for the “splash” layer except its opacity should be left unchanged. Also have this layer sharpened twice (Sharpen > Sharpen)to make the splash a little more ‘crisp’ to say the least.


If you have the Bubbles Brush though I can’t recall right now if it with came preloaded with Photoshop or I downloaded it from somewhere. But a Soft Round Brush can still serve the same purpose. A new layer should be created for more intricate splashes and brush color set at #f7f7fa. Have both the “splashes” and “splash” layers sharpened.


Step 23

Though I intended the above image should be the final one, not being satisfied, I duplicated the “background” layer and change the Gradient Style to Radial. The colour of background (more importantly a dark one) determines the look of your water effect when the Blend Mode is set to Hard Light. Therefore, you can create different variation of your water effects.

Step 24

For more realism, I set the Blend Mode of both the “flow” and “splash” layers to Pin Light. For this gave the water effect more transparency. The duplicated “background” layer was hidden as well.

Step 25

Here the duplicated “background” layer was enabled and as a result the flowing water was given more visibility. I however ‘thirst’ to use these techniques to create more complex compositions or artworks involving human figures.

Step 26

For the final image, I used the free Transform Tool’s Distort Tool to make the flow of water narrower. Well, this is where the tutorial ends for now.

By David Ella Ella

Got a question about this article? – Ask it here!