Do you use watercolors for your design projects? I don’t use them very often, but I know how important it is to digitize them without losing details. That’s why I want to show you how to remove the white background from watercolors in Photoshop using a simple, non-destructive method.
Watch how to remove the white background from watercolors on YouTube
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How to import watercolors to Photoshop
When your artwork is ready, leave it out to dry completely. Once it’s dried, try to flatten the image by putting something heavy on top of it. This will remove the wrinkles and help you take a cleaner photo or scan.
I usually scan my artworks. I use the high-quality settings, scan the images at 600DPI, and save them as PDFs. These settings work really well for my scanner and I don’t have to make many edits to the image.
If you don’t have a scanner, you can use your phone or camera to take a photo. Make sure you focus on the watercolor. The photos look better if you have natural light. Also, try not to tilt your phone. Take a few photos and upload them to your computer.
Clean the watercolor images in Photoshop
Open your watercolors in Photoshop.
Go to the Layers panel (Windows > Layers), click on the padlock to unlock the layer, and duplicate it. Make the bottom layer invisible by clicking on the eye icon next to it.
Select the top layer, the use the Crop tool (C) to remove the extra whitespace around your watercolors. Press enter to apply the changes.
Let’s clean the image. It’s important to have a white background and to have contrast between the background and the watercolor graphics.
So go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.
In the Levels panel, use the right eyedropper to sample the white. Just select the eyedropper and click on the whitest area. This will help you define the background and it will brighten your image if you have a greyish background.
Move the arrow, the black arrow to the right and the white arrow to the left, until you have a light background. Your colors should also be more vibrant if you adjust the levels.
If your image is dark, you can also change the Brightness/Contrast settings.
Changing the levels will also remove the watercolor paper texture from your background without removing it from your graphics.
Remove the white background from watercolors
When your image is clean and you have a white background, you can remove the background.
I know many people use the Magic Wand tool to remove the white background from watercolors, but it’s not the best option. The Magic Wand might work well if you have smooth edges, but with colors, it will delete some of the pixels.
There are many methods that work better than the Magic Wand, and in this tutorial, I want to show you how to remove the background using the Layer Style panel.
Create a new background under the top layer and fill it with black. This will help us remove the white background.
Select the top layer and double-click on it to open the Layer Style panel.
Make sure Preview is checked to view the changes in real time.
We will only work with the sliders under Blending Options.
From the Blend If drop-down menu, choose Grey.
Hold down the Alt or Option key and click on the white arrow from This Layer. The arrow should split in two. This will help us remove the background without removing the fine details. Just slide the left part of the arrow to the left until the white background disappears and you can see the black background underneath. Click Ok.
My watercolor has a few transparent areas, so I will move the slider to 180.
Use the Eraser (E) to remove all the small pixels that are not part of your graphics. When you are done, delete the black background.
Changing the blending mode will not remove the white background. It will only make it transparent.
To delete the background, create a new empty layer beneath the watercolor. Then select both layers, right-click on them and choose Merge Layers from the menu. This will remove the blending mode and preserve the transparency.
Now you will be able to select the watercolors and use them in your design or vectorize them in Illustrator.
Do you use watercolors in your designs? How do you remove the white background from your artworks?