Because They’re Worth It: A Tutorial for Drawing Hair

So you want to learn how to draw luscious, realistic-looking locks for your characters? Or just curious about what steps go into the process of digital drawing and coloring? You’ve come to the right place. Today, I’ll be giving you a step-by-step guide on drawing realistic-looking hair.

Like anything, we start with the basics. In this case, the basics are clean lineart and a photo-manipulating software. I use GIMP, a free, downloadable program, but feel free to use whatever you want–Photoshop, MS Paint, even colored pencils or paints if you wish.

You also need a willing victim, in a form of some character. In this example, I’ll be using a character of my creation, named Katherine. Say hello, Katherine!

Tutorial 1

So we have clean lineart in the photo-manipulator. If working with GIMP or Photoshop, create a new layer and call it “Hair”. Then, select a base color and fill the entire selection, like so:Tutorial 2


Now that you’ve got the base color done, go back to the color selection palate and pick a slightly darker color than the base color. This will be your first layer of low lights. Set your brush to the smallest size it can be without being invisible, and, using short, quick strokes (this is easier to do with a drawing tablet, but not impossible to do with a mouse), color over the base color:Tutorial 3


The results should look something like this. Once you’ve done this, go back to the color selection and pick a slightly darker color than what you just used. This will be your second layer of low lights. Repeat the short, quick brush strokes over the first set:

Tutorial 4


Starting to look more like hair now, huh?

All right, now we move on to the highlights. Go back to the original base color (it may help to have a separate canvas open so you can put samples of the colors you used on there, just in case) and select a color slightly lighter than the base color. Repeat the short brush strokes for the first layer of highlights. After you’ve completed the first layer, pick an even lighter color and repeat the process of short, quick strokes:

Tutorial 5


And ta-da! You have realistic-looking hair! Your finished product should look something like this:

Tutorial 6


“That’s all very fine and well,” you may be saying, “but what if I want a different hairstyle? There are other hairstyles besides wearing your hair down.”

And you’re absolutely right. There are other hairstyles. So what do we do with them?

The simplest thing to remember is that hair is, in its own strange way, alive. We’re not talking alive alive, unless you’re unfortunate enough to be Medusa and have live snakes for hair (in which case, I pity you and have several questions I’d like to ask). Hair, however, does have a tendency to conform to whatever you’re trying to do to it. So, let’s take our example, Katherine, and do something a little different with her hair:Tutorial 7


Voila! As you can see, the process is still the same (base color, then low lights, then highlights). However, for the part pulled back into half a ponytail, instead of drawing the lines straight down, the lines curve, towards the direction of the ponytail holder. Same goes for the bottom half of the ponytail–all the highlights and low lights curve towards the ponytail holder.

Here’s some examples of some other possible hair styles to try on your characters:

Tutorial 8


Before this tutorial concludes, I have some tips for you readers for creating luscious locks of your own.

1) Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles–not only in your drawing, but in your own hair, as well! Trying some of these styles with your own hair might help you get a better idea as to what it would look like on paper.

2) Play around with different combinations when doing the coloring–you might turn out something you really like!

3) Pictures of real hair really help! Using pictures of someone’s real hair can give you great ideas as to what colors to look for and to try to pull out.

Good luck, and happy coloring!


  1 comment for “Because They’re Worth It: A Tutorial for Drawing Hair

  1. February 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I love the technique: simple, but very effective. Thanks for posting this!

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