How To Cel Shade Hair – Step-By-Step Guide

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Feature_image how to shade hair cel shading hair

Written by Juha

This is a step-by-step guide to cel shade anime hair. Shading hair is so much fun that I always look forward to doing it. Yes, sometimes it’s not so much fun, but usually, it is. This particular piece was done in Adobe Photoshop.

So, where to begin?

Picking light source for the hair

It would be best if you started with the light source. Is the light coming from above, below, from the side or possibly from the back (which is always cool)?

I’ve chosen the light source being above (easiest). We more than often see the light coming from above us (sun), so it’s the easiest to go with that. You kind of know how the shadows work, when it’s coming above. You’ve seen it so many times.


Select base color before starting to shade the hair

When you’ve drawn the line art, move on to selecting a base color for the hair. If you are not sure what to select. You can select quite a light color to make the shading nicely visible.


Get the shading going on the anime style

The next step is to lay down the first shadow color, I more than often use slightly cold shadow color. Pick something like #aea4b3, for example. Shading hair is slightly different from shading other elements. Hair has lots of strands. So the goal is to illustrate those strands and volume.

As we are shading the hair, we do not draw individual strands, but focus on volume and main shapes.


Building the volume for the hair

Focus on the volume first. Shading or drawing the volume first gives the hair its shape and personality. Don’t be afraid to make the shading fill the hair. The goal is to make the hair look lively.


Shading individual hair strands

When you have the volume in place, you can move on to the hair strands.

The easiest way is to use the lasso tool. Pick the lasso tool and create a long spike going from the “root” towards the end of the hair. This illustrates the strands. Do take into account the flow of the hair. Which way is the hair moving? Make the spike flow according to the hair’s movement.

If you have lots of volume in the hair. Make the spikes thicker rather than thin.

Fill the hair with these spikes while keeping the light source in mind. Now you should have the first shadow/shading in place. However, the image might look a bit empty still. This is where you start to create the next shade to the hair.


Adding the next shade for the hair

This process is very similar to the one you already did. One thing to keep in mind is that the shadows should be smaller and more defined. By this, I mean that, think through at what areas you would like to emphasize.

Not every area should be emphasized or highlighted. Only the ones which get affected by the light source the lightest (pun intended). Darker shadows mean that light doesn’t get there so easily. Logical, Right? You can use the same shading color you used previously.

Finalizing the hair shading

Check that the volume of the hair and strands are going in the right direction. Light source works, and the hair looks good even if the canvas is flipped. (You can do this by selecting Image – Image Rotation – Flip Canvas Horizontally / Adobe Photoshop CC). If everything is looking good, share your work and be proud of what you have accomplished.


I hope this step-by-step post was educating or at least gave you some new perspective on shading hair.

Sorry for the video not showing the actual shading process, but I still wanted to show the drawing process to you.

Available resources for this artwork

  • PSD-file
  • Process images
  • High-resolution image
  • 4K wallpaper
  • Full speed painting video

Find this and more from the Anime Artist’s Art Bundles

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