How to Shade Hair – Step-by-Step Process

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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

You should start with the light source. Is the light coming from above, below, from the side or possibly from the back (which is always cool)?

I have gone with the light source being above (easiest). We more than often see light coming from above us (sun) so it’s the easiest to go with that.



Base Color Selection Before Shading the Hair

When you have the line art done. Move on to selecting a base color for the hair. If you are not sure what to select. Select quite a light color to make the shading nicely visible.


Get the Shading Going On In Anime Style

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.



Building the Hairs Volume

Create the hairs volume first. Shading the volume 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.


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 hairs movement.


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

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


Adding the Next Shadow For the Hair

This process 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 hairs volume and strands are going 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.




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.

Do leave a comment below or even better, show your image and what results you got.

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About Okuha

Passionate about digital art, loves drawing anime, building a business and running this project where you can get a massive amount of resources for digital art, learn new skills, and develop your art business to new heights.


Did you know?

That you can find this and many more artworks from the Anime Artists Art Bundles!