Removing the white background from your watercolour painting - Step by step photoshop tutorial

Removing the white background from your watercolour painting - Step by step photoshop tutorial

Have you ever found yourself wondering how people get their watercolours from painting onto products? Or perhaps spending hours googling how to remove the white background from your art?

I know I have! It has taken me a few years but I feel like I have finally perfected editing my watercolours for making patterns.

The editing process will still apply to all fine artists who want to digitise their work but this is a tip I’ll share for those of you who also make patterns.

What I do is paint most of my motifs separately, and then arrange them together in the pattern. This has saved me hours of editing as I can more easily isolate and edit each motif rather than a big bunch of loose florals with lots of colours and shades.

Now to the editing – I am planning to make a skillshare class on this so if you prefer to watch a video please sign up to my waitlist here

You will need some artwork, a scanner (or your smart phone) and photoshop.

Step 1. Scanning/photographing your art

Once my work is dry I scan it into my computer using my Epson v39 scanner. I scan my art at 600DPI ad a JPEG, this ensures I can adjust the scale a bit as needed. If I scan at 300dpi I can only make my motifs smaller – not bigger as they will become pixelated. Save this scan somewhere you can find it like a folder called scanned artwork.

You can also take a photo of your work if you don’t have a scanner. You will need to make sure your work is well lit with no shadows and you hold your phone/camera flat so that your painting is not skewed. You’ll then need to air drop/send your photo to your computer and save it somewhere you can find it like a folder called scanned artwork.

Step 2. Open your work in photoshop

Yay you now have a jpeg of your artwork, that’s the first step to digitising. Head to you scanned artwork folder and right click on your artwork and select open in photoshop. This will open the image at the exact size the image is.

  • A - Then in the layers panel (usually right hand side up the top ) you’ll find one layer names background which is your artwork click the lock to the right of this layer so that you can edit it.
  • B - I’ll then click W for wand (make sure it selects the one with the picture of the wand – the bottom picture in my photo).
  • C - and make sure contiguous is selected – this means the wand will select all white parts that are touching each other. If this is not on you will often loose the light parts that are in your painting. (If there are white parts in your painting you want removed you can click on them too).
  • D - Click the white background and then hit delete. (Then hit cmd + D to deselect or Ctrl + D on a pc)
  • E - If this has removed too much you will need to lower the tolerance, if it has not removed enough you will need tot make the tolerance higher. Press cmd + Z to undo, adjust the tolerance and play around until your happy with it – it doesn’t need to be perfect at this stage.

Step 3 – refining the edit

You should now have a transparent background (grey checkers) behind your painting but all the motifs are on one layer and still need a bit of refining right?

  1. You’re going to use the magic wand tool again but a bit differently this time – go the the tools panel on the left and press and hold on the wand to bring up 3 wand options. (See photo above B).
  2. I like the use the object selection tool so select this. The object selection tool is used to draw a box around your motif to select just that motif. You can use the quick selection tool in a similar way but instead of a box you have a dot – you need to click the dot on the motif you want to select and move it around until it’s all selected. (Quick tip – press option while using to de select, you will see the symbol in the middle of the dot turns into a – instead of a +).
  3. If you need to start again cmd + D (or Ctrl + D for PC) will deselect everything.
  4. Once it’s selected you will see the ‘dancing ants’ around the edge.
  5. Go up to the top right and click select and mask which brings you to this screen just below

6. These are the setting I like to use – play around with the sliders until you get the effect you’re after then press OK.

7. You’ll now see the dancing ants have moved in a bit so that I’m not getting the white edge showing 

8. I will right click and select layer via copy.

9. Now press V to go back to the arrow tool. You can use this like a normal mouse to click and drag your newly edited motif around. I like to move mine into a new document once they are edited.

Step 4 – smart objects and check the transparency

  1. If you haven’t already press cmd + N to open a new document. I am using an A4 300dpi CMYK document.
  2. Go the the layers panel and double click the layer with your motif (not the background layer) and rename this to what your motif is e.g yellow flower.
  3. Then in layers click the background layer, then go to the top bar and select layer, new fill layer, solid colour. Then click ok. This will add a coloured layer under your motif so that you can check the white background has gone.

4. You will see a box open up with a colour picker on it (mine is blue in the photo below), move the circle around within this panel, changing colours if you want to. I like to go for black to start to see if there are any white edges on my motif or any stray bits that I have missed.

5. Once you’ve checked it choose a colour that makes you happy and click ok.

6. To change this colour just click the coloured square (circled in red)in the layers panel and it will open the colour selector box again.

7. Now in the layers panel right click on your motif and select convert to smart object! This is important because at the moment the motif is as big and crisp as it will get based on how you scanned it in. At this stage if you make it smaller in photoshop, save the file, and then make it bigger it will have lost quality and become pixelated. Turning it into a smart object means you can scale it down and then back up again without losing quality!

8. You can see it’s a smart object because it has grey square in the corner (circled in red).

Step 5 – saving your motif with a transparent background

  1. To save with a transparent background you first need to turn off the background layers by clicking the eye (you will see the background turn to checkers which means its transparent). (Like in the photo above - the eye is showing on the yellow flower layer but not the other two).
  2. If you want to save just the motif and no extra background space go up to image in the top panel and select the drop down called Trim

3. My setting are here then click OK.

4. Now go file, export, Quick export as PNG (PNG is important as this way the background will remain transparent when saving)

5. Last step is to name and save your file!

Congratulations!! You now have a beautiful PNG of your artwork with a transparent background.

Any questions please ask below, I hope this has been helpful.

If you prefer a video I am hoping to make a Skillshare class on this and making patterns – sign up to the waitlist here

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