Deke’s Techniques 212: Creating Synthetic Water Droplets in Photoshop

212 Creating synthetic water droplets

Long time dekeItarians know how much I love a good Deke’s Techniques that manages to create something (in this case water droplets—mini puddles, really) out of nothing (in this case, a Photoshop layer style applied to a randomly generated pattern.) Here’s the effect that Deke created in this week’s episode, against a wood background:

Fabricated water drops on wood in Photoshop

But Deke claims that you can create these mini-puddles against any background. And so I set out to prove that was true using a tile image from artist Magann instead of Deke’s wooden one. Here are the steps, so you can prove it yourself against your own background:

1) Increase the canvas size.

This effect is based on applying layer effects to a random pattern. If your pattern doesn’t run slightly off the edge of the visible area, you risk looking like you have unbelievably magical powers of liquid containment. So the first thing to do is make sure your image is a free-floating layer (i.e. not a background) and then add a 1 pixel extension to the canvas (with the Relative checkbox turned on).

2) Create a new layer and fill it with 5 percent gray.

Like many of Deke’s “something from nothing” techniques, the key to this one is to create a gray layer and then let Photoshop’s random filter generators actually create the drops.

Create a layer of gray

3) Apply the Noise filter to the gray layer.

The randomness of the water splotches actually begin life as a field of random noise. So apply a dose of monochromatic noise (at a setting of 5 percent) to your gray layer.

Add a layer of noise

4) Blur the noise.

As is so often the case, blurring the artificially created texture is called for. Apply a Gaussian Blur filter with a radius of 28 pixels.

Add gaussian blur

5) Apply a Threshold adjustment layer.

The noise becomes more puddle-like when you create a Threshold adjustment layer and set the Threshold to 129—meaning all the grays in the field of noise are pushed to black or white, revealing this pinto-like pattern:

6)  Blur the spots.

In order to smooth out the edges of our water drops (because water is nothing but smooth), apply another dose of Gaussian blur to a layer that consists of everything we’ve done to the gray layer so far. You can create this layer with the keyboard shortcut Command-Shift-Option-E (Ctrl-Shift-Alt-E in Windows), then apply a Gaussian Blur filter effect with a radius of 6 pixels.

7) Create a selection from the pattern and fill it with black on a new layer.

In the Channels panel, Command-click (Ctrl-Click) the RGB channel to load our newly created pattern as a selection. Create a new layer, then invert the selection by pressing Command-Shift-I (Ctrl-Shift-I). With the colors set to their default, press Option-Delete (Alt-Backspace) to fill the selection with black (the default foreground color).

8) Apply a Bevel & Emboss style.

Note, at this point in the video, Deke creates the water style by using his handmade “Clear” layer style, but I’m going to show you how to create this style on your own.

The first step to converting those random splotches into random drips of water is to add a Bevel & Emboss layer style. With your “drops” layer selected, click the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then click Bevel & Emboss in the left-hand paen. The key settings to remember (highlighted below) are an a Altitude of 65, setting the Gloss Contour to Ring, and choosing the Linear Dodge and Linear Burn blend modes for the Highlights and Shadows respectively.

9) Apply an Inner Shadow.

With the Layer Styles dialog box still open, choose Inner Shadow from the left-hand pane. Then start with the settings shown in the image below and adjust appropriately for your image.

1)  Give your puddles a drop shadow.

In the Layer Styles dialog box, click Drop Shadow in the left-hand pane. Then use these settings below as a starting point for your image and adjust to taste.

11) Add a Color Overlay effect.

Click Color Overlay in the left-hand pane of the Layer Styles dialog box. Then create a slight cast to your droplets using the Color Overlay settings (see my choices below). You can adjust your color to create a spill of anything from water to orange soda to bourbon.

Assertion proved. The technique Deke created for a wood background in this week’s episode looks terrific against my tile image.

If you want to watch Deke create these layer styles, you can watch a second free movie this week by checking out the Deke’s Techniques course page at In the third movie of the week, exclusive to members, you can see how Deke adds distortion to sell the effect of those droplets sitting on their respective backgrounds.

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  • Great source of help.


    Could you replace the stamp new layer (command-shift-option e) by converting the layers to a smart object and applying Gaussian blur as smart object.  Then applying the layer effects, still remains editable? And works (I think?).

    Have really found these techniques a great help.  Thank you.

  • That reminds me.

    My shower tile really needs cleaning

  • Fill to zero

    You might mention setting the fill to zero to get rid of the black (or setting it to a low value if you want a little black in it) as well as turning off the intermediate layers.

  • Fill to 0


  • Yes, thanks for the reminder. Needs a fill reduction.

    I originally reverse engineered this from Deke’s layer style that already had the 5% fill built-in. In fact, because Fill settings aren’t reset when you remove layer styles, it kept vexing me in the opposite direction. Thanks to all who reminded me: the Drops layer Fill should be reduced to 5%.

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