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How to Design Your Own Character – Tips And Strategies

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Designing characters is something that almost every artist wants to do at some point in their life. Designing your own character is something that gives you excitement and feels very personal.

What has always been an absolute blast is the fact that you can create worlds with your characters. Creating worlds is made of many components, but one of the critical elements is the ones who inhabit that world of yours, the characters.

Let’s explore how to design your own character, what to keep in mind, and how to make them believable.


Key Takeaways

  • Use reference images to ground your characters to reality (even if just a little).
  • What are the world and era your character lives in?
  • What kind of emotions your character goes through and why -the backstory?
  • What kind of personality your character has?
  • Think about the clothing, equipment, accessories, features, and body formation.
  • What abilities and weaknesses the character has and why?

Character Design_ Giselle Ukardi character design process and final image
Image created by Giselle Ukardi

The Process of Designing a Character

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Asmodea, original character design by Hans Steinbach

The first step is to imagine the world your character will live in. What is the era, what is the solar system, what kind of clothing do they wear, what’s the age of your character, story, background, and so on?

There are so many elements that go into creating an original character. When I’m designing a character, I do find it hard to make them look truly original. However, I’ve gathered below some of the most important things to consider when designing an original character:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • How is the character being used or shown?
  • Make the character a personality.
  • Add original and unique design choices (clothes, hairstyle, eye style, skin color, etc.).
  • Study and gather reference images of other character designs.

Gather Reference Images to Design Your Character

Start by gathering reference images around the subjects you have decided to include to your original character. Reference images give your character a sense of realism that is always needed.

Characters can’t be believable if there is no attachment to reality.

An excellent place for inspiration is Pinterest as that is kind of the place to search for images. Of course, there are always Google and art sites to go through, but I still think Pinterest is the best place to be when finding inspiration for your character designs.

Axsens Coffee Character Design
Image created by Axsens

Mixing the Reference Images

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m e k a n i k character design by Tan Zhi hui (Kudaman)

When you have all the reference images gathered. It is time to compile all the information you have. Try to mix things up and see how you can infuse different elements from various reference images into your original character design.

Twist and break elements in a way that the rest of the world might not have thought of or seen before. This creates that subtle touch of originality to the character design.

The world around you is so vast that it might not be easy to create entirely new personalities and character designs. Every now and then, someone breaks the lid off creativity, and a new design emerges into the world. It could be you who brings the next cool character design for the rest of us to wonder and awe.

Understanding the Basics of Character Design

Character designs always follow certain principles, and below I have gathered some of the most important questions to ask yourself when you are about to design your original character:

  • What is the era the character is living in?
  • What is the solar system? Inhabiting this planet or maybe some other?
  • What is the environment like?
  • How does the environment affect the character?
  • What kind of clothing do they wear?
  • What’s the age of your character?
  • What kind of background does the character have?
  • What is the biggest adversary he/she is having?
  • What kind of personality does your character have?
  • What does he/she like to do in his/her free time?

To help you with the design process, think about yourself and your life for a second or two.

Think of how much information, knowledge, and experiences you have inside you. Memories, skills, thoughts, what kind of personality you have, etc.

For you to create a believable character design, you need to base the character on reality in some form.

Character Design Volt by heavymetalhanzo
Volt, original character design by Hans Steinbach

If your character has a huge personality, you must develop that side more. If your character is more like a cool guy, you take the clothing and poses into your focus.

The above things are kind of like building the character, but then you also have to think about the features and characteristics of the character:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Skin color
  • Hobbies
  • Favorite food
  • Occupation
  • Friends, allies, enemies
  • Family

Designing Your Characters Abilities

To make character design complete, you should think about what they can do, what they can’t do, do they have superpowers, and if so, what kind of?

To make characters interesting, they have to have vulnerabilities. Something that makes them weak. Think through the abilities your character should have and how they fit into the overall world they live in.

The subtle combination of strengths and weaknesses creates powerful characters.

Character Design by heavymetalhanzo
Image created by Hans Steinbach

Remember, the character doesn’t have to be physically strong or weak. You can also think about the mental side of things. Showing that through illustrations might not be the easiest job but facial and body expressions help in that area.

To make characters interesting, you should look around and see what kind of characters you like and more importantly why you like them. When you figure that out, you are better equipped to design your own character.

Character Design Challenges

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If you want to challenge yourself and really push forward with character designs, there’s a Facebook group called character design challenge where you can participate with other excellent artists and really delve into character designing.

It is also an excellent place to find inspiration, as that could be hard to find sometimes.

In the Facebook group, you can get a clear task on what to design. As it could be hard sometimes to find an idea of what to draw.

Character Designs In Video Games

I believe video games are one of the best sources to gather inspiration for your character designs.

Final Fantasy series, World of Warcraft, Street Fighter, Tales of series, etc., are all fantastic resources for you to use.

If you think the characters just pop out like that. You are wrong; the design process takes turns and changes many times. Rarely a character design is spot-on from the get-go. They transform many times before settling into their final form.

A good example is from the designer of Chun-Li. Akira Yasuda, a.k.a Akiman, is known for designing some of the most memorable characters in video games, and Chun-Li from the Street Fighter series is one of them.

If you are looking to find excellent character design, look no further than video games. One of the best sites I know and use is Creative Uncut.

I use it frequently to search for inspiration and even to develop my art style and thought processes towards art. So I highly recommend that site if you haven’t seen it yet.

The Character Design Generator

Sometimes you need some sort of starting point, and for these events, random drawing prompt generator might be the best solution to use.

There are a variety of tools online that help you get an idea for your next character design. Random drawing prompts can get the ball rolling and give that spark of inspiration and imagination.

I see the tools as a quick way to get something to your mind, which you can then develop further with the guidance given in this article.

Resources For Character Designers

YouTube is a wonderful resource for finding tips and tricks on how to design characters.

Another awesome resource is Domestika or other course platforms that offer character design courses like CG Master Academy.

Another useful site to check is Character Design References. The site has a ton of resources for artists that are into character design.

Character Design Jacques Leveret by heavymetalhanzo
Image created by Hans Steinbach

World-building And Character Design

When designing multiple characters, the key is to make them look like they belong in the same world. You can do this by using the same color palette or color saturation levels. Having recurring design choices in the clothes and accessories.

World-building is its own art form for sure and would need a topic of its own. However, a good example of uniform, unique, and stylized character designs can be found in the Guilty Gear series.

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Guilty Gear Strive character designs by Arc System Works.

Colors, looks, and the feel of the characters start to tell a story of the world that the characters inhabit. And by keeping the art style intact, you can create a unique-looking world that one can quickly delve into.

When looking at the character designs in the Guilty Gear franchise, you can instantly see the rock and heavy metal aesthetics the characters have. This can be achieved when every character design supports one another.

Feature image credits.

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Okuha

Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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