How to Create Water Splashes in Photoshop

Have you ever had a customer bring you something and say, “Make it look just like that”?

I was flummoxed when the customer’s letterhead had a photograph of a wave and they couldn’t get the original photo. They wanted me to recreate the wave and oh yeah, they had a limited budget. So, I had to figure out a cheap and quick way to do it.

A Google search led me to free Photoshop brushes that make various waves and water splashes. I liked the ones I found at, downloaded and installed them.

* Be sure to back up your custom brushes onto your back up drive or else they will be deleted when Adobe updates Photoshop! *

Then I imported the new brushes this way: with the Brush Tool selected (type a B), I opened the Brush Preset Picker [1], then clicked on the Gear Icon [2] to view the drop down menu and selected Import Brushes [3].

Next, I scanned the customer’s letterhead to use as a template. I opened the scan in Photoshop and changed the canvas size (⌥⌘C ) to include a bleed.

Then the fun began. My strategy was to select brushes that made marks similar to a portion of the wave I needed to recreate, then to keep adding layers for each new brush stoke that represented another portion of the wave.

I added a new layer (⇧⌘N ) to paint upon. Hit F5 to reveal the Brushes Panel. Please note that you need to have to Brush Tool selected (B) in order to make the Brushes Panel active. With any other tool selected, besides Stamp (S) and Dodge (O), the Brushes Panel is grayed out.

* Make sure that the color you want is in the foreground, because the water brushes will paint only the foreground color. *

Because the wave on my customer’s letterhead was a metallic Pantone color, I needed my brush strokes to be black so I could assign the correct Pantone color to my wave when I brought it into InDesign for the layout.

Selecting the new layer, I chose the first brush tool and clicked once:

I’m right handed, so I like to have all my tools and panels on the right. I hope that is not confusing for you.

With the brush stroke layer selected, I hit ⌘T for Free Transform, then did a Control-Click to get to the submenu and selected Warp.

I transformed and warped the brush stroke until it matched a portion of the scanned image on the bottom layer.

I continued to add layers and brush strokes until I had the whole wave recreated. Finally, I masked and changed the blending on each layer layer until it pretty well matched the scanned sample.

* Always save your layered file in case the customer wants modifications later! *

I hid the scan of the letterhead that I was using for a template, flattened the layers and saved it as a separate TIF file to be imported into InDesign. Here is the scanned customer’s wave compared to the recreated wave:

I hope you enjoyed this tip and that you will have many interesting uses for it!

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