Watercolor Effect

Painting GIF

Using Affinity Photo, you can turn any of your photos into beautiful watercolor paintings! With this simple effect, you’ll have your friends do a double-take when they see your pictures.




Step 0: Downloading the Image

For this tutorial, we’ll be using this landscape photo.

In addition to this written tutorial, you can also watch our video tutorial on this watercolor effect.



Step 1: Detect Edges

The first thing we need to do is duplicate our background layer, which we can do by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).

Duplicate Image


Then we’ll come up the top to Filters, Detect, Detect Edges.

Filters, Detect, Detect Edges


Right now our photo is looking pretty strange.

Strange Looking Image


If we change our layer’s Blend Mode from Normal to Subtract, then we’ll start to see the effect we’re going for.

Blend Mode, Normal to Subtract



Step 2: Adjustment Layers

To enhance the effect, we’re going to apply a couple of adjustment layers. Press the Adjustment icon.

Adjustment icon


Then apply a Brightness and Contrast Adjustment.

Brightness and Contrast Adjustment


I’ll increase the Brightness and the Contrast a little bit.

Increase Brightness and Contrast


Next, we’ll apply a Split Toning Adjustment.

Split Toning Adjustment


With this adjustment, I’ll add some red into the Highlights, and then add some purple into the Shadows.

Red Highlights, Purple Shadows


To help the colors pop even more, I’ll apply an HSL Adjustment.

HSL Adjustment


Then I’ll increase the Saturation a little bit.

Increase Saturation



Step 3: A Little Painting

At this point, some parts of our photo are looking a little too dark, especially our castle.

To fix this, we’re going to apply a Curves Adjustment.

Curves Adjustment


Increase the brightness of our shadows by lifting the bottom left of the curve up.

Increase Shadows


We don’t want everything brighter though, so we are going to bring the middle of the curve down.

Bring Middle Down


You can refine where your curves adjustment is being applied by painting in black on the parts of the photo you don’t want this adjustment applied to.

Just press B for the Paint Brush Tool, and make sure you have 0% Hardness while painting so your brush strokes will be soft and unnoticeable.

Paint Black, 0% Hardness


If you’d like to learn more about masking adjustment layers, you can check out our beginner’s guide to Affinity Photo, where we cover these techniques in much greater depth.



Step 4: Soften and Blend

Our photo is looking good, but we’re going to do a few more things to polish the effect.

The first thing we’re going to do is soften our photo and help the colors blend together better. To do this, we’ll right-click on any of our layers and select Merge Visible.

Right Click, Merge Visible


Then with our merged layer selected, we’ll change its Blend Mode to Soft Light.

Merged Layer, Blend Mode, Soft Light


Now we just need to apply a filter to it. Press the Filters icon.

Press Filter icon


Select the Gaussian Blur Filter.

Gaussian Blur Filter


In the Dialog Box, bring the Radius up a little ways.

Increase Radius


But now our photo is looking a little dark again, so I’m going to apply another Curves Adjustment to brighten the shadows in our photo.

Curves Adjustment


Then adjust the curve the same way as before.

Increase Shadows, Decrease Middle


If the adjustment isn’t quite strong enough, you can duplicate it by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).

On the duplicate copy, I’m going to paint in black on the parts of the photo that I think have become too bright.


Duplicate, paint on


After working with all of these adjustments and filters, our image is looking nice and watercolored.



Great work, you artist you!

clap GIF