How To Color Anime Clothes – Tips and Techniques

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This post is all about how to color anime clothes, how to add shading to clothes, how shadows work on clothing, and what to know about light sources when coloring clothing.

The tips and techniques come from my personal experience of coloring anime clothes and I hope you will find them valuable. I use cel shading as the coloring technique.


Key Takeaways

  • The transparent fabric should be colored using light hues so that the light shines through the fabric.
  • Keep the shadows light and transparent with light and thin fabric.
  • The heavy fabric should have strong and dark shadows
  • A rubber texture should have clear light spots and a strong contrast between dark and light.
  • Change the darkness of the shading according to the material of the clothing
  • No color restrictions, use any color you like, just make sure it complements the personality of the character

Understanding the Material of the Clothes

Not every material works the same way when stretched, pinched, distorted, or twisted. Every fabric works in its unique way, and every fold is different with different fabrics. 

In anime art, there’s no clear difference between reality and anime, when it comes to clothing. Rules of reality apply to coloring and drawing anime clothes, with this one little exception. In anime art, things are exaggerated, and there’s no limit to that rule.

In anime art, you can create big dresses with an insane amount of folds, or you can create shirts with extremely sharp folds.

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If we think about a skirt of some kind, the movement and structure are slightly different. While the material could be the same, there are different forces that twist the clothing in different ways.

All these little things affect the end result and are something you should take into account.

While cel shading is something that simplifies things a rather lot, you can still bring forth different materials, by having a different shading color for different parts of the outfit.

Darker shading color for thick material and lighter shading color for thin and light fabric.

How to Shade Clothes – Coloring and Shading Shirt Folds

The way I color shirt folds is that I think of where the light is hitting the shirt and what is either under the shirt or next to the shirt. You have to make sure you take into account the materials next to the shirt too. Think about the bounce light. 

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The shadow on the shirt is slightly lighter than on the skirt, and that’s just because the fabric and material are different from each other.

In cel shading, though, we can simplify coloring quite a bit. So in the example drawing, I colored the shirt based on the lines that the shirt had. So the shading follows the folds of the shirt.

And if you are drawing metal, well, that also has its own way of reflecting light and creating shadows.

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I use a fine-tuned brush in Clip Studio Paint to color and shade my character’s outfit. The thing you have to have for your brush (if doing cel shading) is a hard edge.

Light Sources and How It Affects Colors

I start the coloring process by having only one light source. This will make the coloring process easier and you can focus on the clothes’ volume and form.

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The light source is above and is cold, as in colorwise

When you are coloring clothes, try to think about what kind of light source there is. Is the character inside a room, where there might be a cold light coming from a ceiling lamp, or is there a fireplace somewhere that is oozing that warm red hue and yellow hue to the clothing?

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On the left side, you can see the coat is lit with cold yellow(ish) light, and on the right side, it’s lit with warm red(ish) hue. The red hue works better as the sparks have that same warm red hue in them.
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Clear, bright skylight coming from the top, lighting the clothing.

What if the character is outside? Is there a sunset, night sky, or bright clear sky? In the example drawing, I’m having a clear, bright sky color hitting the clothes. The shirt color could have been colored with a blue hue, but the “lavender” hue works better with the skirt color.

When you have a cold light hitting the fabric, the shadows go to a warm color and vice versa. When there’s a warm light source like fire or sunset, the shadow colors are cold.

I work with multiply layer modes, so when I’m shading the character, the base color will affect how the shade color shows up. The base color and the light source will work together and create a new color.

Choosing a Color Scheme

What I like to do with my drawings is to try out different color schemes. I just love this part, as you can truly experiment and find that perfect color scheme for your character.

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Different clothing color schemes for the character

If you are into cel shading, then creating color schemes for the character’s outfit is easy for you.

What I like to do is have complete control over my colors, so I just select different colors from the color palette and try out different combinations until I’m satisfied. You can easily do this by locking transparent pixels and then coloring over the base color layer until you find the color scheme you like.

When doing color combinations, I tend to use as many hues as possible — greens, reds, blues, etc. So there are different hues to compare against.

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Two different color schemes for the character’s outfit. The left side shows a light skirt, and the right side shows a darker skirt.

Finalizing the Color Choices

When you color anime clothes, you should have this final look at your drawing. Are the colors working together in a harmonious way or not?

One way to check if the colors are working is to create a white or black color layer on top of all layers. This way, you can see if the values work or not. Is there enough contrast between the colors, and are the clothes material identifiable even with just black and white?

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When checking the values of the clothing, we can see that they blend in together too much. So the colors do not work as well as they should.
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On the left side, you can see the old values, and on the right side, the corrected colors for the outfit. The right side colors and values work well together.

Sometimes I create an image from all the layers and place it at the top of the layers. Then I set the layer to soft light and set the layer opacity to 20%. This little trick brings vibrancy to the colors and adds that final touch to them.

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In my example drawing, the character is elegant, maybe even royalty, so the coloring has to match that personality but also the design of the outfit.

A Final Note

Drawing or coloring clothes is not easy. It’s anything but easy. However, the best way for you to color or draw clothing is that you find good reference images.

With reference images, you can see how the colors work in different lighting setups. How colors change on different materials, or how color works with different fabrics. Satin, for example, has a very shiny kind of texture and surface to it.

And that’s because the light particles act differently inside the fabric compared to rubber, for example.  

Sometimes the light bounces off, and sometimes it’s infused inside the clothing. These little details might be hard to remember and take note of. But that’s also the reason why we use reference images, so we can see how things work in real-life and then implement that in our anime drawings.

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