How to scan watercolours

If I scan black and white lines, it usually works out fine, but watercolours never come out right; the images always look very bleached loosing all the vibrancy of the original. I asked other illustrators what they do, and here’s the answers I got:

I scan my watercolour (using Vuescan usually at 300 dpi); then adjust in Photoshop using Curves. I find for RGB that I need to increase below the diagonal; and for CYMK I need to increase above the diagonal. This gives me results that whilst not identical to my original watercolours, do have qualities that I like and print well. – Clare Tovey

… and from Lorna Eynsham:

Increasing Colour Range in Photoshop

• Scan image at least 300dpi. This will not work well if you have painted on
very textured paper.

• Open in Photoshop and create a new adjustment layer. (Layer > New Adjustment
Layer > Levels).

• Adjust the middle slider so the mid tones look right. Pale areas will bleach
but this is fixed later.

• Adjust the darks.
Click on the thumbnail of the level adjustment layer. Should have a white
outline if selected.

• Open Apply Image tool (Image> Apply Image).
Use settings
Channel: RGB
Invert: Checked
Blending: Multiply
Opacity: 100%

The layer mask thumbnail will look like a film negative.

• Duplicate the darks layer, select layer mask and then invert.

• Now double click “Levels icon’ in the light layer to open levels tools.
Adjust the middle slider to the lights are good.

• Create a brightness/contrast layer. (Layer> New Adjustment Layer>
Brightness/Contrast) Increase Contrast and put this on the top layer.

• Duplicate original background layer and move to the top of the layers. Adjust
opacity of layer to suit.

These are the simplest steps I know to improve the colour range and I hope they
make sees to you. However, like all recipes, adjust to suit. The best source of
information is this index site;

which I heartily recommend. It was here that I found the best way of getting rid
of a colour cast in an image etc.

All the best


  1. Thank you for these tips!! I will see how it works out. I only have mixed media bristol board (have not painted on it yet), so i’ll see if this works. If not i’ll look into what they call hot press.

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