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By Lauren Harmon |

Deke's Techniques: Creating synthetic water droplets

Learn how to create realistic beaded water droplets and composite them on top of a background photo in Adobe Photoshop with this week’s Deke’s Techniques. The crux of the technique is a simple black and white, almost ink-blot-like pattern, which Deke creates from scratch with a combination of Photoshop filters and adjustment layers. No drawing required! To this pattern you can add styles that transform it into spilled water, ink, soda, or any other liquid.


Follow along with Deke in this week’s free video and use the companion text below to help with each step.

  1. Start with your textured background photo. Deke uses wood paneling like you might see on a porch or deck. Convert the image into a layered Photoshop document by double-clicking the Background layer. When the New Layer dialog box appears, rename your layer and click OK.
  2. Choose Image > Canvas Size. Check the Relative check box and change the Width to 100 pixels and the Height to 100 pixels to expand your image area or canvas 50 pixels in each direction (left, right, up, and down). Click OK.

The transparency grid you can see around the edges of the image represents the extra space.


  1. Create a new layer (Cmd+Shift+N or Ctrl+Shift+N) and name it grayness. Fill the new layer with a solid gray fill by choosing Edit > Fill and selecting 50% Gray from the Use menu in the Fill dialog box.
  2. Make sure your grayness layer is selected and then go to the Layer panel flyout menu. Choose Convert to Smart Object.

Converting your layer to a Smart Object will allow you to apply the necessary filters nondestructively.

  1. Choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Change Amount to 50%, set Distribution to Uniform, and make sure the Monochromatic check box is on. Click OK.


  1. Now return to the Filter menu and choose Blur > Gaussian Blur. Crank the Radius up to 28 pixels and click OK.

Note: This setting determines the size of your pattern’s droplets and you can change it at any time by double-clicking the Gaussian Blur Smart Filter in your Layers panel.


  1. Option-click (Mac) or Alt-click (Windows) the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Threshold.

Adding the Alt or Option key inserts the adjustment on a brand-new layer, as indicated by the New Layer dialog box. Rename your layer dropmaker and turn on Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask. Click OK.

  1. If you’re using Photoshop CS6, the Properties panel will expand and you should increase the Threshold Level to 129. In older versions of Photoshop, you’ll find this field in the Adjustments panel.

Because this is a random effect, the pattern is going to come out a little bit differently for everyone. Your canvas may not look exactly like Deke’s at this point.


  1. To smooth the edges of your pattern, select your dropmaker layer and press Cmd+Shift+Option+E (Mac) or Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E (Windows) to copy everything visible on-screen to a new layer. Call the new layer blur.
  2. Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur again. Dial in a Radius of 6 pixels and click OK.

Your image is going to become very soft and blurry at this point. Time to reinstate some hard edges.

  1. Option-click (Mac) or Alt-click (Windows) the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels. Call the new layer sharper and turn on Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask. Click OK.
  2. In the Properties panel, change the first Levels value (your black point) to 120 and change the third value (your white point) to 145. Now hide the panel.

  3. Go to the Channels panel and Cmd-click (Mac) or Ctrl-click (Windows) the RGB channel to load the white areas of your pattern as a selection.

  4. Return to the Layers panel. Select your sharper, blur, dropmaker, and grayness layers and choose New Group from Layers from the panel flyout menu. Name the group intermediate. Finally, turn off the visibility of that group by clicking the eye icon.

Now you should see the “marching ants,” or an animated border, around your selection.


  1. Choose Select > Inverse to select the black outlines from your pattern.
  2. Create a new layer and name it drops.

  3. Tap the D key to load the default foreground (black) and background (white) colors. Now press Option+Delete (Mac) or Alt+Backspace (Windows) to fill your selection with black.


  1. Deselect the image by pressing Ctrl+D (Windows) or Cmd+D (Mac).

Now you’ll apply the styles that come with the exercise file Deke has created for this tutorial, accessible from the lynda.com library.

  1. Choose Load Styles from the Styles panel flyout menu. Choose fluid styles.asl from the exercise files.
  2. Choose the Clear style to instantly apply a clear liquid effect, with a slightly transparent fill and reflective highlights. Deke built this style by combining effects like Bevel & Emboss, Inner Shadow, Color Overlay, and Drop Shadow.


And that is how you create a droplet pattern from scratch in Photoshop. If you have access to the exercise files, make sure to check out some of the other styles Deke included, such as Lemonade, Orange soda, Black ink, and even Radiator coolant.


If you’re a member of the lynda.com library, Deke has two follow-up videos ready and waiting. In the first, he shows you how to add high-contrast reflections. In the second, he shows you how to distort the background texture that appears underneath the droplets, as it would refract through real water.

In the next free video, Deke shows how to transform paint splatter into ink or even something more sinister like blood. Stay tuned!

Interested in more?

• Start a 7-day free trial of lynda.com today • The entire Deke’s Techniques collection • Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate • Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate • Start your 7-day free trial to lynda.com today

Adobe and Photoshop are registered trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.

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