I'm using adobe illustrator and I am putting watercolor effect on my elements. I want it to look like this:
original art

I have added a watercolor background to the element, but then my art looks very plain and flat:

my art

I want to add a thick outline to the art to make it look like the original. Or here are some more examples:

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • How exactly did you add the watercolour background? Did you add a clipping mask to a raster image? – Billy Kerr Aug 6 '17 at 10:04
  • @BillyKerr I added a clipping mask to a raster image – pandaren Aug 7 '17 at 4:11
  • There are two textures. One of the paper and second one, masked by all the objects of watercolours. – SZCZERZO KŁY Aug 7 '17 at 9:40

None are perfect, but I can think of a few options...

You can add an inner glow effect (Effect → Stylize → Inner Glow...) to your shapes, just set your glow to a darker color and a more appropriate blend mode...

This is a dark grey filled shape, set to "Multiply" at 80% opacity over a texture image, with a black inner glow also set to multiply:

enter image description here

The same shape with a gradient fill, a colored inner glow and the texture clipped to that shape:

enter image description here

Another option is to use a custom brush stroke:

enter image description here

Another option is to use the Appearance panel...

Add two fills, the bottom one set to the color of your "outline", the top one to your desired fill, then add two effects to the top fill; an "Offset Path" with a negative value to bring it in, this will give the appearance of a stroke; then a "Roughen" effect to add the rough details.

You could take it further by adding a slight blur or whatever else, the "Offset Path" and "Roughen" is a good start though:

enter image description here

  • Thank you everybody! I think every answer was equally helpful, and I could achieve the effect, what more it looks better than the original! – pandaren Aug 7 '17 at 17:12

If I understood, your problem is the edges of your shapes, not the painted texture. Maybe the following receipe helps you. It covers dark edges. See the following strip:

enter image description here

  1. Paint something. Have a solid stroke and no fill.

  2. Change some strokes thicker and select quite light grey stroke color

  3. Plenty in one image:

    • select all
    • Object > Expand Appearance (=the strokes become filled shapes that can have own strokes if wanted)
    • In the Pathfinder panel: Unite
    • If you do not want to leave the paper visible under the shape, fill the holes with Live paint. Use lighter fill to see the result properly
  4. Add a solid dark stroke.

NOTE: there's live paint fill. It prevents to use complex brushes for the stroke.Only simple solid strokes are allowed. This lock can be released by expanding the object. Do not expand fill and stroke, cross only object in the Object > Expand dialog.

This can be already useful, but let's add also some paint textures and less sterile stroke. I have not good paint textures of my own, so I crunched together in Photoshop 2 different fakes - the dense one and the sparse one. They are far from a real thing, but fortunately this is only a demo.

enter image description here

I copied and pasted them from PS to Illustrator. The dense one was dragged straight away to the Swatches panel to be used as a fill for shapes. I didn't vectorize the textures because my low end machine would freeze under the load.

The cartoon continues:

enter image description here

  1. Make a copy of the shape 4 and fill it with the fake paint texture. Expand the object (not the fill and stroke as described) and change some less flat brush. Here is applied the Cat's Tongue from Illustrator's own Bristle brush collection. NOTES:

    • complex brushes are a big load for the computer
    • stroke widths need to be reduced radically to retain solid appearance
    • a piece of real watercolor edge would be ideal. It can be dragged to the Brushes panel for use as an artistic brush. Because it's not symmetric, the stroke directions need special attention. It' s easiest to have a reversed version, too.
  2. The appearance of the thickest branch is still flat. Add a little shading to it. Paint a few solid black strokes near the edges. When blurred they become the shading. NOTE: for light background you might need a clipping mask to keep the blur out of the background.

  3. Blur the shading strokes and insert the backgroud


It seems like your drawn elements are similar enough to reproduce the same effect, but the texture you are using is too white and not contrasted enough. I wouldn't want to mention the book or movie, but there's many more shades of grey on the reference texture.

Perhaps you could try with this file for the backgroundenter image description here

And you could also add some other watercolor textures above your elements with the "Soft light" blending mode (maybe only "inside" your elements, not on the overall composition as it will apply also on your background image, you might need to use a clipping mask).

Example of watercolor texture you could use : enter image description here.

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