Unlimited AE and Premiere Pro templates, videos & more! Unlimited asset downloads! From $16.50/m
  1. Photo & Video
  2. Photoshop Actions

How to Create Artistic Backgrounds From Photos With These 3 Photoshop Actions

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Backgrounds are an important—if sometimes underappreciated—element for many designers. Whether you're creating a game, visual novel, or website, the backgrounds you choose play a huge part in setting the mood and scene for your work.

Part of the reasons backgrounds don't always get the love they deserve is that, despite their importance, backgrounds are sometimes slow and tedious work. Luckily, there's always a faster way to get the job done.

In this tutorial, I'll be showing you how to create three dramatically different backgrounds from photos using resources from Envato Elements. These resources are a combination of Photoshop Actions and Photoshop Brushes that, when combined, save you countless hours you would otherwise use to create these backgrounds from scratch. So let's get started!

What You'll Need

Here are the following assets you'll need for this tutorial:

1. How to Create a Charcoal-Inspired Background

Step 1

First up is the charcoal background. I'll be using this amazing Charcoal Photoshop Action to help achieve the final result. Start by opening this Eiffel Tower reference into Photoshop, making sure that you select the 1920x999 pixels size.

Charcoal Pixabay Reference
Eiffel Tower Stock

Step 2

Now let's set up the action. Go to Window > Actions and load your charcoal action into the Actions palette.

Charcoal Photoshop Action

Because there's a brush set included with this action, you'll need to load it as well. So hit B on your keyboard to bring up the Brush Tool. Select Replace Brushes from the drop down menu then select the .abr file to replace your current brushes with the new charcoal ones. 

Here is a look at the charcoal brushes you should now have in the Preset Manager.

Charcoal Photoshop Brushes

Step 3

Many Photoshop actions come with a set of instructions you'll need to follow exactly in order to avoid any program errors. So make sure you pay attention to the attached "Readme" file before you begin.

Now create a New Layer and name it "brush." With the Brush Tool (B) selected, paint black all over the Eiffel Tower since it's where I would like to apply the charcoal effect. It's important to keep the brush part as clean as possible, otherwise it will affect how this action plays out.

Applying the Charcoal Action

When you're ready, select Style 1 under the Charcoal Action, then hit the Play button on the Actions palette.

Playing the Charcoal Action

Step 4

Here is the initial result after you play the action.

Charcoal Action Initial Result

Since it looks quite messy, let's tweak some of the Adjustment Layers found within the new Group created by the action.

First Hide the Visibility of the Sketch Lines 2 Group. Then select all three photo layers and set their Layer Blend Modes to Pin Light and their Opacity to 100%. Follow up by select the Contrast layer and changing the Opacity to 100%. This will allow your subject to show through the smudges more.

Adjust the Photo Layers

To add more texture to the background, create a New Layer above the second photo layer. Select the Brush Tool (B) and use one of the charcoal brushes from the set to paint a large smudge of gray on the layer. Right-click to go to Blending Options and apply a Gradient Overlay with the following settings:

Apply a Gradient Overlay

Step 5

For a tint of color, add a New Adjustment Layer for Color Lookup at the top of your layers. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Lookup. Then set the 3DLUT File to FoggyNight.

Add a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer

Here is the final charcoal background below. See how simple that was?

Charcoal Background Photoshop Tutorial

2. How to Create a Watercolor-Inspired Background

Step 1

Next up, we'll create a lovely watercolor background from a photo. This time, I'll be using this Artist Photoshop Action and this set of Handcrafted Watercolor Brushes to make the process much easier.

Open your photo into Photoshop. Here I'll be using this Woman Portrait at 1920x1079 pixels.

Woman Portrait Pixabay Stock
Woman Portrait

Step 2

Now go to Window > Action and load the artist action into the Actions palette.

Artist Photoshop Action

Just like before, we'll need to also load all of the brushes attached to this action. So select the Brush Tool (B), Right-click to bring up your brushes, then select Replace Brushes from the drop down options. Choose the artist brush file located from the same folder as the action.

Here is the new set you should have.

Artist Action Brushes

Step 3

To run the action, create a New Layer and name it "brush." Select the Brush Tool (B) at 100% Hardness, and use the brush to Fill in the areas with black where you'd like the effect to take place. Here I painted the woman and the bars behind her.

Paint the Woman to Apply the Action

With the brush layer still selected, hit the Play button on the Actions palette to run your artist action. Here is the initial result.

Initial Watercolor Action Result

Step 4

Even though we're going for a watercolor effect, let's clean up the result a bit. First, Hide the Visibility of the Watercolor Edge Splatter Group. Then go into the Watercolor and Watercolor Texture Groups and Hide some of the layers to allow the portrait to breathe. Feel free to experiment with this for the result you prefer.

Hide Some Texture Layers

Step 5

To create a better color palette, add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Create a gradient that transitions from a deep red color #491802 to white.

Add a Gradient Map

Step 6

Finish this background with a little more texture. Load the Handcrafted Watercolor Brushes we mentioned earlier into the Brush Tool (B).

Handcrafted Watercolor Brushes

Create a New Layer and use the Brush Tool (B) to paint white watercolor splashes all around the canvas. I used brushes 1,15, and 17 for the right side, and brushes 15, 26, and 72 for the left side.

Here is the final watercolor background when you're done.

Final Watercolor Background Photoshop Tutorial

3. How to Create a Paint Splatter-Inspired Background

Step 1

For this last background, we'll be creating another traditional art effect using this Paint Splatter Action.

Here I'll be using this Tiger Stock, downloaded at 1920x1280 pixels. Open this photo into Photoshop.

Tiger Stock Via Pixabay
Tiger Stock

Step 2

Load your paint splatter action. Go to Window > Actions, and load the action from the drop down menu.

Paint Splatter Photoshop Action

Just like the previous actions, you'll need to load the brush set that comes along with it. So select the Brush Tool (B), then Right-click to bring up your brushes. Select Replace Brushes from the options and replace them with the paint splatter brushes found within the same folder.

Paint Splatter Photoshop Brushes

Step 2

Now create a New Layer and name it "mask." Select the Brush Tool (B) and use a Soft Round Brush with 0% Hardness to fill your subject with black.

Mask the Tiger with Black

When you're ready, select the mask layer then hit the Play button on the Actions palette. Here is the initial result after you play the action.

Paint Splatter Initial Background

Step 3

To adjust this background even further, Hide the Group for CC Option 1, and Unhide the Group for CC Option 2 instead.

Change the Group Visibility

Now we have a color scheme that suits this photo better. Scroll down to the bottom of the action list to find the layers for the background elements. Unhide the Visibility of the background splash layers as well as the contour fill layers in order to achieve a more dynamic result.

Result with Background Splashes

Finish with a New Photo Filter Adjustment Layer. Set the filter to Cooling Filter (80) and raise the Density to 91%. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light and you're done!

Add a Cooling Photo Filter

Here is the final paint splatter background.

Final Paint Splatter Background


Let Photoshop actions do all the heavy lifting for your designs. You'll be impressed with the incredible diversity in the effects you can achieve, all while saving countless work hours.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, feel free to leave any questions in the comments below. And for more tutorials on photo effects, check out the following links:

Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.