How to Create Custom Water Drop Brushes in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
Water drops are one of the most ubiquitous of naturally occurring elements. They are like tiny little liquid prisms that can capture light and reflections. The very fact that they are so common and so small does nothing to detract from the inherent majestic beauty of a single drop of water. 
For something so simple in nature, they are remarkably difficult to accurately reproduce in digital artwork. Instead of trying to reproduce the shape and randomness of them, it's much easier to capture the effect and use it as an assortment of custom brushes in Adobe Photoshop. This Quick Tip will show you exactly how to do that.
The materials required for this project are very simple:
  • A small pane of glass (I removed this one from a medium sized picture frame) 
  • A method of holding the glass, like a spring clamp
  • A simple glass of water
Gather the materials
First be sure the glass is clean of any dust or oils. Avoid touching the glass with your fingers, as the smudges will be visible in the photos. Use the clamp to hold the edge of the glass, making sure the grip is firm so the glass doesn't slide out!
Clamp the glass
In my experience through several tests, the best way to achieve clean images of water drops is to shoot outside against the sky. The problem with trying to shoot in a studio setting with controllable light is that the reflections are nearly impossible to eliminate: not only reflections off the glass surface, but also in the water drops themselves.
A much easier solution is to wait for a day when the sky is all the same color, either heavy cloud cover or perfectly clear, and find a way to rig the clamp to hold the glass above you so you can shoot up through it. I used a light stand that extends up nice and high.
Rig the clamp outside on a cloudy day
A common tendency is to use a spray bottle to generate the water drops. I found that creates more of a mist with small droplets. I prefer big, fat, juicy drops of water that can be easily seen. So my recommendation is to just dip your fingers in the water and flick the water onto the pane.
splash water onto the glass
Now it's time to shoot the drops. Try to frame the shots so the background is clear and make sure you pay attention to the focus point on the camera. For my camera and lighting, I found that f/5.3 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 worked really well. Take several shots focusing on different water drops. Then clean the glass and do it all over again!
Water drop photo
Open one of the photos and add a Curves Adjustment Layer. Move the outside curve points inwards to meet the edges of the histogram. Then add a central curve point and move it downward slightly until the drops have a good degree of contrast.
Use Curves to increase contrast
Click on the Lock icon next to the Background layer to unlock it. Then select both layers and go to Layers > Group Layers. Rename the group to be Water Drops.
Group Layers together
Use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to create a selection around the largest, best defined drops.
Select Drops with the Quick Selection tool
Click the Refine Edge button and adjust the selection edge. For our image here, the selection required a small Radius setting of 1.0, Smooth of 9, Feather of 1.4 px and Contrast of 31%. It's important to set the Output to Layer Mask so the selection will add a mask at the group level.
Refine Edge
Add a new layer underneath the water drop group and fill it with white. This should show the water drops in sharp contrast.
White Background
When we added the curves adjustment layer, it was needed to increase contrast with the background. Now we will change it to smooth out the tones within the drops. Open the curves Properties panel and adjust the central point of the curve to give a more even transition of tones within the drops.
Curves adjustment again
Click on either the photo layer or the white background layer to make them active and go to Edit > Define Brush Preset. Photoshop asks for a brush name, then when you press OK, this new brush is added to your list of Brush Presets.
Define the custom Brush
I fully encourage you create practical effect brushes on your own. It's not a very difficult task and it is incredibly rewarding. Cultivating the skill to transition visual effect from practical to digital will open up new possibilities for your digital designs. But if you don't have the time or capability to create these brushes on your own, I've included mine here for you to use.
Download the attached file for this tutorial, CustomWaterDrops.abr. Then go to Edit > Presets > Preset Manager. In the Brushes section, use the Load button to navigate to the downloaded file.
Load the water drop brushes

This will add five new Water Drop brushes to your list of Brush Presets.
Water Drop Brush Gallery
Go be amazing! Use these brushes to add an interesting natural element to your digital artwork.
Water drops added to a photo
Can't get enough custom creative brushes in Photoshop? Hungry to learn more about how to use custom brushes in photo manipulation projects? Check out my profile of courses and tutorials here at Tuts+ and find all that, and much more!
Creating your own library of digital resources pulled from real-world practical effects is a skill that will pay off exponentially in the future. Instead of searching stock sites for interesting textures, try creating some for yourself! I'd love to see them in the comments below.


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