Do Anime Artists Use Reference Images?

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Written by Juha

To achieve fast results, most anime artists use reference images to draw their pictures. It is common to find people using scanned images to draw over photos as a background for their drawing. Or by picking up artworks online and then using them when drawing digitally.

Well, experienced anime artists who have done the same thing for several years may not need any references.

However, for someone who is a beginner, there is nothing wrong with using reference images as many do to help them achieve the results they need.

Whether you use reference images or not, the idea is to make sure you achieve the kind of results you want in whatever way you can.

Do Anime Artists Use Reference Images_example_drawing
Example drawing where I used multiple reference images to draw this one character. Legs and hands where taken from two separate reference images.

Anime Artists Use Reference Images

You may be asking yourself, do anime artists use references? Sometimes people mistake using reference images and copying. However, the two are different, and for the artists to get to what they want, they do not need to imagine poses or particular perspectives.

It is easier for them to use an actual pose from a photograph than imagining things that might or might not exist.

Most artists, if not everyone, use reference images when drawing. It makes the drawing process faster and more accurate in achieving the results they want.

However, most of the time, they have to modify the image to get to what they want. When you decide to use reference images for drawing, it is essential to identify areas that may look awkward on drawing and modify it accordingly.

Reference Images Help With The Drawing Process

Using reference images can be a fantastic way of creating great drawings. 

However, you must be sure of how to use it well to help you in your drawing.

Trying to use your memory may not be the best way because there are too many details to remember. That is why you need reference images to make sure you do not leave any detail that may make you draw an incredible piece.

If you want to successfully use references and get the best results, make use of the following ideas:

Identify What Is Not Right For You To use

Although using reference images is a great idea, it is essential to note that not all images will look good both in the photo and in the drawing. 

Therefore, you need to note areas that can make your drawing look awkward and find out how to change them. You do not have to use everything in a reference image; you can choose what suits your drawing.

Combine Your Reference Images

You may have one main image that you want to use but then combine it with parts from different images. For instance, you may have one reference for one thing like the face and then change to a different one for the body or the color scheme.

Avoid Copyright

Many people use Google images when drawing, but it is essential to be careful about copyright. It is wise to look for copyright-free stock images if you are to use online images.

At the same time, you may use the image but make sure you change a few things here and there to avoid copying everything.

Your artwork’s goal is always to create something unique and new, and copying other people’s works does not do justice for you and for the one you copy.

Come Up With Your Own Reference Images

You can use what you have to create your reference images. For instance, you can look for your costumes, create reference images from those, and draw from those.

You do not have to use what someone has already photographed as your reference image. You can take photos of several items that you want to use and create references from those images.

Analyze Your Process

After collecting all the images that you want to use, you need to analyze the art process. That will give you a moment of thinking about what you want to communicate. You can then change the images depending on the kind of communication you want for your art.

It’s Preferred To Use Reference Images

Reference images help to improve the vision and correct mistakes that might otherwise occur during the drawing process. Photo references will help you improve significantly in lighting, perspective, and coloring.

They are the best way to learn in that; they will help you understand the details and how things work in reality.

When you are using references, you will learn about the proportions better than when you use your imaginations. They also help you to learn faster than when you choose to struggle without references.

When you have reference images, it will make it easy for you to know the right posture, like the sitting posture and how to position the legs. It is also easy to create the right face shape when looking at a photo than when you draw from your mind.


Do not think like how many people do and imagine reference images are like cheating. As long as you are not tracing the image, then you are ok with using reference images. It will help perfect your art.

Trusting your memory when drawing will not always serve you the best way, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my art career, it is that reference images are a lifesaver.

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