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How to Draw Anime Art – The Complete Beginners Guide

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I have been drawing anime and manga art for years already and went through a transformation from a traditional artist to becoming a digital artist.

Through this guide (aimed at ones wanting to draw using digital tools), I will share my take on how to draw anime art, I hope you enjoy it!


Key Takeaways

  • Choose whether to draw anime art using traditional or digital mediums.
  • The best art software to draw anime and manga art is Clip Studio Paint, and the best drawing tablets to use are from Wacom.
  • Learn the art fundamentals before anything else.
  • Through constant practice, studying, and drawing, you will become proficient in anime art.

Choose Drawing Materials (Traditional Medium)

Before we dive deep into creating anime and manga art, you have to choose whether you want to create anime art using traditional or digital mediums.

Traditional medium means using tools like paper, pencils, graphic pens, markers, etc., to create your anime art.

When I first started drawing anime art, I used a series of pencils, mostly HB or 2B, to create the line art.

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For inking, I used Sakura Pigma Micron Ink pens with varied thicknesses of 005, 05, and 01. This enabled me to draw a 0.20 mm line width among other line widths. Sakura creates one of the best pens for drawing accurate line art.

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As for the paper, I used a Copic alcohol marker pad by Transotype. I used this paper for its superb marker usage quality. If you are using Copic markers with basic A4 paper, it will more than likely bleed over your lines, and you cannot keep the markers’ colors pure and bright.

For coloring, I used Copic markers, as they are the best in the class for anime art. Copic markers give you pure colors with zero compromises.

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And by using these markers with the correct paper, you can produce extremely accurate and beautiful-looking anime drawings. If you are into traditional mediums and would like to get the best materials for that type of drawing, check my article about the best materials for anime artists.

traditional-art-vs-digital-art-transformation
The transformation from traditional art (upper image) to digital art (lower image).

Choose Hardware And Tools (Digital Medium)

Even though I started my artistic journey by using traditional tools, I soon felt slightly limited by them. That’s when I found digital art, and digital drawing tablets, and the art world opened up to me in a whole new way.

If you are just starting out and want to get into the digital art world, a good place to start is to know that you need the following equipment to draw digitally:

Must-have tools for creating digital art:

  • Desktop computer, laptop, or a tablet
  • If you choose a laptop or a desktop, then you need to get a drawing tablet
  • Art software

Understanding Hardware

Now that iPad Pro, among other tablets, enables you to draw anime art at a professional level, you might not even need a fully-fledged computer anymore. But you still need art software.

The most important aspect of choosing any hardware, whether it be a tablet, desktop pc, or laptop, is that you need a lot of RAM memory. You also need a good processor and a display that has rich colors.

RAM memory for drawing

RAM memory is different from HDD, SSD, or such memory. Ram memory (random-access memory) is a form of computer memory that can be read and changed in any order, typically used to store working data and machine code.

The main point is that it does not store any files but is lightning-fast at processing “files.” 

32GB of RAM memory is the best to go for to draw crisp, high-resolution anime drawings. 64GB is the next best to go, as more is better when it comes to RAM.

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More allocated memory for your art software, more speed to your drawing process. But do bear in mind that increasing memory allocation to art software also affects the responsiveness of other software (when used at the same time).

HDD, SSD, M.2 Drive, Scratch Disk for drawing

Thankfully we live in an era where SSD drives exist, and the speed of write/read operations has increased massively. SSD drives have enabled faster access times, loading times, writing times, and whatnot.

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I am using an SSD drive for the scratch disk but also as a working disk. This enables fast saving times, and faster file processing, among other benefits.

The main benefit is that you can start drawing and progressing through the image faster. The save operations and drawing experience are smooth and uninterrupted.

I also have a lot of artwork saved from different sites, like DeviantArt, Pixiv, Artstation, Behance, and so on, which also reside on the SSD.

I want things to be done fast, or at least the information should be acquired as fast as possible. Also, consider the space you might need for your artwork and work-in-progress files.

I’ve seen that my artworks roughly take 2Gb-4Gb of storage space from the hard drive (and that is for one artwork/folder). And to counter that storage need, I’ve acquired two 5TB Lacie Rugged USB-C external hard drives.

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Preferred SSD, HDD, and external backup solution for digital artists:

  • 1TB SSD for scratch disk, work disk, and saving artwork.
  • 2 x 5TB external HDD for storing older drawings, video files, and files you rarely need in your day-to-day work.
  • 1 x Cloud Storage Backblaze for ensuring your files are also stored somewhere else where you physically live (in case of fire or theft).

Processor for drawing digital art

You do not need a powerful processor to draw efficiently. However, when and if you want to do other tasks, like zipping files or video editing, it would be best if you had a powerful processor.

I prefer Intel-branded processors. Whether you are building a PC, or buying a laptop, try to gather information about the performance of the processor.

If you are building a small desktop pc, do also take into account the TDP (Thermal Design Power) of the processor, as bigger and more powerful processors will quickly heat up your pc, which is never a good thing, and it brings fan noise to irritative levels.

Best display for artists

A display is probably one of the most important things you need. You have to have good color accuracy or color gamut, as some call it. Meaning that the display actually shows the colors as you intended. Reds are shown as reds and not as magenta, for example.

Look for a display with 99%+ Adobe RGB or 99%+ sRGB. This is somewhat of a base standard to be expected from a display for professional drawing. So aim for color accuracy over 4K and other things. Color is the thing that matters.

Currently, you can get 10K displays, but it seems like 4K or 5K is the standard for displays. 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) resolution has four times the pixels found in a 1080P monitor. Wide-Quad HD (WQHD) displays have a pixel ratio of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, also known as 1440p.

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What is also important is the I/O (input/output) connections the display offers. For you to get everything out of your monitor, make sure it has DisplayPort 1.2 or greater. Also, HDMI should at least be at version 1.4, but yet again, the bigger the version number, the better.

Choosing a desktop, laptop, or a tablet

Whether you go for a tablet, desktop pc, or laptop does not matter in the end. What matters is the fact of whether you like to draw with a big screen or like to draw on the go.

Also, what is worth mentioning is that the beefier (powerful) your hardware is, the faster you are able to create drawings.

While speed isn’t everything you should care about, I’ve found it extremely pleasant when I can get to drawing pretty instantly and don’t have to wait for the files to load or layers to show up.

So when you choose your hardware, remember whether you want it to be portable (laptop, tablet) or whether you want to dedicate a place in your room for drawing (desktop pc).

I like to draw on a big screen and chose a laptop and drawing tablet as my hardware.

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Best tablet and stylus for digital artists:

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Choose A Drawing Tablet

A drawing tablet is a tablet that enables you to draw digitally using a stylus. Drawing tablets are separate hardware that you connect to your computer. However, iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface Book 3 also enable you to draw on the screen, so it’s not a must to have a separate drawing tablet.

Graphics tablet

When I first started drawing digitally, I chose a tablet that didn’t have a display/ drawing screen (graphics tablet). My choice for the time was Wacom Bamboo. I drew with it a bit until I noticed that I didn’t like the feel of the disconnection of the hand and eye.

When you don’t have a screen, you have to look at the monitor while you are drawing on the tablet. 

The best drawing tablet without a screen is the Intuos series by Wacom.

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Drawing tablet with a screen/display

Drawing tablet with a screen enables you to draw directly to the screen. So the drawing experience is very close to if you would use paper and pencil.

After experiencing a lot of frustrating drawing moments with the Wacom Bamboo, I bought myself a new drawing tablet, Wacom Cintiq 12WX. It was a game-changer for me and the next ten or so years. 

In 2020, I bought a new drawing tablet, and this time I decided to buy the best you can buy in the market. Wacom Cintiq 24 Pro. I can only say that this drawing tablet has given me the best drawing experience ever.

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While the tablet I bought is one of the most expensive drawing tablets on the market, it is also the best. And when you get the best, you know that hardware is not the bottleneck in your creative process.

So when buying a drawing tablet, think about the space you have on your desk, calculate your budget, and think about the way you would like to draw and work.

Drawing stylus

A stylus is a pen that works with digital screens. However, almost every tablet in the market has a dedicated pen to it, which means that you can’t just buy a stylus and use it with every screen out there.

But when you buy a tablet, you get a pen with it, so no worries there. iPad Pro has a dedicated stylus for it, and for example, using a Huion stylus with Wacom tablets is not possible.

Choose Art Software

Art software is the last piece of the tools you need to draw anime art. Art software is software just like any other software you use, but it just enables you to draw with it.

There are free art software and paid ones. And if you are serious about art, you should focus on the ones that have a price tag in them.

If you want to, you can read about the best art software for anime art, but the below art software is considered to be the best ones when it comes to drawing anime art.

The reason why I recommend the above art software is that they have everything you need to draw professional-looking anime art.

I personally use Clip Studio Paint, but I see Procreate as a wonderful option if you have an iPad and like to draw on the go.

My artworks feature a lot of line art, and I use cel shade as the coloring technique; for that, Clip Studio Paint is phenomenal.

Learn The Art Fundamentals

Learning art fundamentals is crucial for any artist, it might not be the most enjoyable and exciting thing to learn, but fundamentals improve the believability of your artwork.

Color theory

Color theory is the study of how colors interact and how they can be combined to create aesthetically pleasing compositions. Understanding color theory is essential for any anime artist as it enables you to use color palettes, contrasts, and color harmonies efficiently.

Here are some key things to learn about color theory:

  • The color wheel: The color wheel is the foundation of color theory. It visually represents the relationships between colors based on primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.
  • Color temperature: Colors can be classified as warm or cool, depending on the associations they evoke. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow) are associated with energy and passion, while cool colors (blue, green, purple) are associated with calmness and serenity.
  • Color harmony: Color harmony refers to the pleasing combination of colors in a composition. There are several ways to achieve color harmony, including complementary colors (colors that are opposite on the color wheel), analogous colors (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel), and triadic colors (three colors that are equidistant on the color wheel).
  • Color contrast: Color contrast refers to the difference between colors in a composition. High color contrast can create a sense of drama and excitement, while low color contrast can create a sense of calm and tranquility.
  • Color psychology: Colors can have different psychological associations depending on culture and context. For example, in Western cultures, red can symbolize love, passion, and danger, while it is associated with luck and prosperity in Chinese culture.

Color schemes

how_to_draw_anime_Color_schemes_okuha
Color Schemes From Adobe Color.

Color schemes and palettes used in art:

  • Monochromatic
  • Analogous
  • Complementary
  • Triad
  • Split-Complementary
  • Double Split Complementary
  • Square
  • Compound
  • Shades
how_to_draw_anime_coolors_color_schemes
If you want to get yourself read-made color schemes, do check coolors website.

Proportions, composition, and rules

Proportions are everything when it comes to drawing human anatomy, but also when it comes to drawing items and objects in 3D space. How objects bend in space is important to create believable forms.

Key things to learn about proportions, composition, and rules:

  • Proportions: Proportions refer to the relationship between the different elements in a composition. Understanding proportions is essential for creating realistic and lifelike representations of objects and figures.
    • Golden Ratio: The Golden Ratio is a mathematical proportion often found in nature and has been used by artists for centuries to create harmonious compositions.
    • Human proportions: Understanding the proportions of the human body is essential for creating accurate and believable figure drawings. Artists often use the “head unit” method, where the figure’s height is measured by how many “head units” tall it is.
  • Composition: Composition refers to the arrangement of elements in a work of art. A well-composed artwork has a sense of balance, harmony, and visual interest.
    • Rule of thirds: The rule of thirds is a guideline that suggests dividing an image into thirds both horizontally and vertically and placing the most important elements along these lines or at their intersections.
    • Symmetry: Symmetry is a compositional technique where elements are arranged in a mirror-image fashion. Symmetry can create a sense of stability and balance in a composition.
    • Asymmetry: Asymmetry is a compositional technique where elements are arranged in a non-mirror-image fashion. Asymmetry can create a sense of dynamism and movement in a composition.
  • Rules: There are many “rules” in art that artists can follow to create effective compositions. However, it is important to remember that rules are meant to be broken and that creativity and intuition are also essential in the artistic process.
    • Unity: Unity refers to the sense of harmony and coherence in a composition. Unity can be achieved through repetition, color harmony, and consistent style.
    • Contrast: Contrast refers to the difference between elements in a composition. Contrast can be achieved through the use of color, value, texture, and scale.
    • Focal point: A focal point is the area of a composition that draws the viewer’s eye. A well-placed focal point can create a sense of visual interest and lead the viewer’s eye through the composition.

Light and shadow

Light and shadow can be used to create depth, volume, and a sense of realism in a composition.

Here are some key things to learn about light and shadow in art:

  • Light sources: Understanding light sources is essential for creating realistic and convincing depictions of objects and figures.
    • Direction: The direction of the light source can create different effects and shadows on the object or figure. Frontal lighting can create flat and even lighting, while side lighting can create more dramatic and sculptural effects.
    • Intensity: The intensity of the light source can affect the brightness and contrast of the composition. Strong light sources can create deep shadows and bright highlights, while weak light sources can create a more even and subdued lighting effect.
  • Value: Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. Understanding value is essential for creating the illusion of depth and volume in a composition.
    • Highlight: The highlight is the brightest area of an object or figure and is often the point of highest contrast in the composition.
    • Midtone: The midtone is the average value of the object or figure and is often used to create a sense of form and volume.
    • Shadow: The shadow is the area of the object or figure that receives the least amount of light and is often used to create the illusion of depth and space.
  • Chiaroscuro: Chiaroscuro is a technique that uses strong contrasts of light and dark to create a sense of drama and depth in the composition. The term comes from the Italian words “chiaro” (light) and “scuro” (dark).
  • Atmospheric perspective: Atmospheric perspective is a technique that uses the blurring and fading of colors and values to create the illusion of distance and depth in the composition. Objects that are farther away appear lighter and less detailed than objects that are closer.
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Example drawing to give you a clear idea of a strong light source behind the character. Also, notice the ambient light in the hair and jacket (on the left side).

Light and shadow rendering categories:

  • Ambient occlusion
  • Key light shadow
  • Bounce/Fill light
  • Ambient Light
  • Subsurface scattering

Drawing Anime Face

The main thing you need to know about drawing anime faces is that the facial features are exaggerated, the eyes (especially with teen girls) are big, the mouth is big (but can also be just a dot), and the head, in general, is big compared to the rest of the body.

how_to_draw_anime_head_structure
Anime face proportions front view.

Drawing anime eyes

When drawing anime eyes, you need to consider the age of the character. If you are drawing a young or a teen anime character, you should draw big eyes in a non-continuous style (upper and lower eyelids do not connect).

If you’re drawing a more mature anime character, you should draw slightly slimmer eyes, preferably in a continuous style (connecting the upper and lower eyelids).

Drawing_Anime_and_manga_how_to_guide_beginners_advanced_eye_width_structure
Anime eye structure (as well as real human eyes) tends to follow a rule where the width of one eye is the measurement of the space between the eyes.

Drawing anime nose

Drawing anime noses is pretty interesting because you can draw the nose very realistically, or you can just not draw it all. You can draw a dot, a triangle-looking pointy nose, or as realistically as you want.

In anime art, the nose has to follow the style of the eyes. Drawing realistic-looking eyes and just a dot for the nose won’t work as there’s a collision of styles.

When you are drawing an anime nose, think about the character’s age and whether you are using a continuous or non-continuous style.

how_to_draw_anime_nose_2_structure
Structure of the nose.

Drawing anime mouth and lips

You can draw mouth and lips with a single line or by taking the realistic approach and drawing lumptious lips and rich teeth, etc.

When drawing the mouth, think about the style that you are drawing in. All facial features must consistently connect with each other.

Mature characters more often have more defined facial features than teen characters.

Drawing Anime Body

When it comes to anatomy in anime and manga art, you can either draw it proportionally correct (real-life proportions) or break the proportions and draw it any way you like while still keeping it believable.

Anime and manga are all about breaking the rules, breaking forms, and molding them back together to create sensational poses and figures.

In anime art, you can draw hands, legs, and torsos twisted in every way, but proportions are key for body parts to look believable.

You have to understand the proportions of the human anatomy to draw believable anime art and characters.

Using 3D models to draw characters

There are ways to go around drawing proportionally correct anatomy, and that is by using 3D models. There is a couple of software that lets you do this, but my favorite is Clip Studio Paint.

While Clip Studio Paint is the best in the market drawing software for anime art, it also provides a very customizable and easy-to-use 3D modeling feature.

Reference images and anatomy resources

If you would like to draw without guidance, reference images are a good way to practice. There are plenty of good anime art sites to find reference images for drawing an anime body. 

But maybe the most convenient one is Pinterest. Pinterest offers you a ton of content when it comes to anime and manga art.

Best resources for learning to draw human anatomy for anime artists:

Coloring A Drawing

how_to_draw_anime_coloring_cel_shading

When it comes to coloring, you have a few options: cel shading or soft rendering. While there are plenty of other ways to color, we will focus on these two because they are the most used ones. Especially cel shading is the style you often (almost always) see being used in anime series and movies.

Cel shading

how_to_draw_anime_cel_shading_example
Example drawing with a simple cel shade style.

Cel shading is all about using flat colors to convey shadow and base colors. Cel shading comes from the use of celluloid sheets (in the past) in which the animator drew the artwork/animation frame to it.

Cel shading is an extremely simple and easiest place to start learning colors and the coloring process in general.

In cel shading, you are using only flat colors on top of each other until you create shadows with the aid of a multiply layer mode on top of the flat colors.

In a way, you are creating a hierarchy inside the art software, where every layer has its own place and effect on the end result. Cel shading is a very structured way to color, but simultaneously very manageable and easy to control.

Soft rendering

how_to_become_digital_artist_art_example_2
Example drawing with a soft rendering.

Soft rendering works very differently than cel shading. In soft rendering, you are gradually introducing new colors to the layer and mix the colors together slowly and gradually.

In soft rendering, the goal is to use a hard-edged brush and gradually mix two or more colors together. The results do not look good if you use an airbrush or a very soft edged-brush.

You need to mix the two colors together gradually. That’s the big secret for gradual and soft rendering.

Finalizing A Drawing

When it comes to finalizing a drawing, you might already feel like there’s no room to improve the drawing or that there’s nothing to change.

I suggest you leave the work in the WIP (work-in-progress) folder for a few days and bring some fresh eyes after those few days to see if there’s everything just like you want it.

The best works I have always go through a few steps before they see daylight. These are 20%-rule, color correction, line art adjustments, effects, and checking the background.

20%-rule

how_to_draw_anime_finalizing_image_20
Image showing how adding 20% more to the image creates a complete version of it.

It’s those last moments you spend with your artwork before you show it to the public. It’s the last 20% you should apply to your drawing, it’s the last few details you must add. Just to make sure, it’s the best quality you can produce.

Color correction

how_to_draw_anime_color_correction
Image showing how color correction affects the end result.

At some point, you have to make up your mind and settle on a color scheme, and when that’s done, then you still have to make sure every color works with each other.

You can easily use Adobe Photoshop’s (or any other art software that has color correction features) color adjustment options like Hue /Saturation, Levels, Brightness/Contrast, Color Balance, and Channel Mixer, among others, to adjust the colors to their final stage.

Line art adjustments

If you are doing line art heavy work, it’s not a bad idea to slightly chop away the super crispness of the line art by adding a bit of blur to them. 

Adding a Gaussian Blur to the line art, slightly making the line art softer, will also make the line art blend a bit more with the colors beneath it.

Also, changing the opacity of the line art layer is one way to make the line art layer work better with the colors beneath it. If you want the line art layer to blend a bit more with the colors, some blur and opacity change might be a good idea to do.

Effects and elements

how_to_draw_anime_effects
Image showing how adding effects to the foreground brought flow and visual interest to the drawing.

Effects and elements are there to complete the drawing and add a bit of flow and dynamism to it. As you can see from the example drawing, there are these flowy lines there that don’t inherently have a meaning other than just making the drawing look a bit more interesting.

It might not be a bad idea to think about adding some final effects to the drawing, to tie the whole drawing to its final form.

Background

If you are an environment artist in the anime art area, then this part does not apply to you. You have it already covered.

However, if you are mainly drawing characters, then drawing the background can be a challenge. And the reason for that is that drawing environments or backgrounds is not your point of interest and passion.

What I’ve found is that drawing something to the background, even something tiny, small, and insignificant, can already make the drawing look that much better.

I have added to some of my artworks a few different color hues to the background, and even those little tricks already break the otherwise dull background.

Remember that drawings should look interesting, and even adding a flat color rectangle to the background can already take your drawing to the next level.

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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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