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How to: design watercolour-themed greeting cards in Photoshop

For this how-to, you’ll need to leave your inner perfectionist at the door - be prepared to make a mess! If you’ve used watercolours before, you’ll be familiar with their unpredictable nature. You can expect a few mistakes, but also a few ‘happy accidents’, and with a little experimentation, you can achieve beautiful results.

watercolour greeting card tutorial finished cards2

To get started, you will need:
Watercolour paints, paint brushes, smooth watercolour paper (or cartridge paper), something to mix paint in, something to put water in and a camera or smart phone (to photograph your endeavours). Don’t spend too much on the paper – anything with a little rigidity will do.

watercolour greeting card tutorial materials

Find somewhere where you can make a mess, get your paints ready, and let the chaos commence. Experiment with mixing colours, tilting the paper, adding salt grains, masking fluid (or white wax crayons) – paint to your heart’s content. I challenge you to have as much fun as I did making this how-to.


watercolour greeting card tutorial painting

watercolour greeting card tutorial bleeding paint 

Once you have a generous array of creations in front of you, let them dry. You can hasten the process by gently applying a hairdryer on a low temperature.

watercolour greeting card tutorial creation

Once dry, set up your paper somewhere with an even light source and photograph it. Ideal lighting conditions would be outside on an overcast day, or in an evenly lit room. If you have shaky hands like me, you might want to ask someone with a steady hand to take the shots for you. Once you have some shots you’re happy with, use whatever means necessary to transfer them to your computer.

To make your greeting card design, open Photoshop and click File > New. Make sure Color Mode is set to CMYK, Resolution is set to 300 Pixels/Inch, and units are set to Millimeters

watercolour greeting card tutorial new document 

At printed.com, we print greeting cards in four different sizes: 148mm x 148mm (Square), A5 (148mm x 210mm), A6 (105mm x 148mm), DL (100mm x 210mm). Enter the dimensions for your chosen size, then click OK. I've chosen to print a 148mm x 148mm square greeting card. Both sides of the card (outside and inside) require a piece of artwork. I'm just printing on the outside, so I'll only need to upload one artwork file. The full width of this size when it's open is 296mm (2 x 148mm), so my artwork is 296mm x 148mm.

To make sure your cards look ok when they're cut after printing, you'll need to add Bleed. This video will show you how in a couple of easy steps:

Once you've added bleed, click File > Place Embedded, and navigate to your preferred watercolour photo. Press the Return key to set the image in place. Make sure the Layers Palette is open (Window > Layers), and check that the image you’ve just placed has the below symbol on its icon. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to turn it into a Smart Object. To do this, right-click the name of the layer and click Convert to Smart Object. Doing this allows you to resize the image as many times as you like, without degrading the quality. It’s a good habit to pick up for all your Photoshop projects.

watercolour greeting card tutorial smart object


To resize your image, press Ctrl+T (or Cmd+T on a Mac), then hold the Shift key and click and drag the corners with your mouse. Holding Shift forces the image to retain its original proportions when resizing, so it doesn’t become skewed. Move your image around until you’re happy with the positioning. If there are particular areas of the image you’d like to remove, you can do so by masking them inside your Smart Object. The beauty of this process is that it’s ‘non-destructive’, allowing you to make changes without affecting the original image. Press Return when you're happy with the positioning.

watercolour greeting card tutorial resize
To mask areas of the image, Double-Click the icon for the image in the Layers Palette. This will open the Smart Object up in another tab in Photoshop.

Select the image layer in the Layers palette, and click the Layer mask icon. The mask is shown next to the image preview.

watercolour greeting card tutorial add mask

Make sure the Mask is selected, and switch to the Brush Tool from the Tools palette. Select something soft, like an airbrush, choose black as your colour, and paint away the areas you don’t want. You can easily undo this by selecting the mask, switching to white (instead of black) and painting areas back in.

watercolour greeting card tutorial mask selected 

watercolour greeting card tutorial airbrush

To adjust the light levels on your watercolour photo, you’ll need to add an adjustment layer. Click the circular icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, and select Levels. Play with the sliders until you’re happy with the way the image looks. If you mess up and can’t work out what you’ve done wrong, it’s okay - just delete the adjustment layer and remake it.

watercolour greeting card tutorial levels adjustment

watercolour greeting card tutorial levels palette

watercolour greeting card tutorial levels result

Click File>Save, and close the Smart object. Pressing Save will update the image inside the original document. You can make changes to your Smart object at any time by double clicking the icon in the Layers palette.

Once you're happy with the appearance of your watercolour image, you can add text to it. To add text, select the Text tool. Type your text and move it around with the Move tool. The Move tool is at the top of the Tools palette

Make sure the Character window is visible (Click Window > Character if it’s not), select the Text tool and click your text. Find a font that you like the look of, or look for some free ones online. Download and install a font, then find it in your font list in Photoshop. The font should appear without the need to restart Photoshop.

watercolour greeting card tutorial character window
To install the font in Windows, find the file, right-click it and click InstallTo install the font in Mac OS, double-click the font file and click Install font.

Using the Character window we opened earlier, adjust the size and spacing of your text until you’re happy.

watercolour greeting card tutorial text added


Once you’ve finished, you should be ready to go to print. To get good results from your print, save it as a PDF. This tutorial should explain everything you need to know:

Set up your order at printed.com, making sure to select the right size for your artwork. Select ‘Gesso’ paper stock to achieve that watercolour feel, or have a browse through some of our other luxury papers to find one you like.

Finish the order process, wait a few days, and enjoy your beautiful bespoke print. Put it up for sale in an online shop, approach local stores to see if they’ll sell your designs, and enjoy the benefits. Oh and most importantly, show us your designs! Share your creations on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and mention us in the post. We are passionate about print, and there’s a good chance we’ll share yours.

Happy printing!

watercolour painting animation.gif

watercolour greeting card tutorial finished cards 

Comments

David Brookes
26 Jan 2015 23:45
Love this
Barbara
28 Jan 2015 23:33
Gorgeous - going to try this at the weekend.
Sam Miller
29 Jan 2015 13:01
Sweet advice: "Find somewhere where you can make a mess, get your paints ready, and let the chaos commence." I love digital art, but you've got to get your paint brushes out now and again!
Su Mwamba
30 Jan 2015 06:30
Love the 'freestyle' watercolour idea! :)
Emma Carney
30 Jan 2015 10:09
Let us know how you go Barbara! Why not #showitoff to us on twitter?

Sam, we completely agree, and Dan can often be seen coming into the office covered in paint and glitter!

Thanks Su, if you want us to write more, we are more than happy to oblige!

- Ems

claire
30 Jan 2015 15:18
Loving watercolour at the minute, thanks for this!
Sophie Taylor
30 Jan 2015 16:37
Definitely going to have a go at this - what a beautifully effective idea!
Charlotte Barrett
02 Feb 2015 18:21
Great tip may create a wedding stationery suite with this idea!
Alex Wilkie
23 Feb 2015 10:55
great advice and tutorial, cant wait to try it
Jack
27 Jan 2017 13:13
these tutorials are so helpful, thanks

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