How to Shade Anime Hair – Drawing Tutorial


If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. As an Amazon affiliate partner, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
Read our disclosure.

In this article, I will cover how to shade anime hair, my cel shading techniques, and how I approach the process. I used Adobe Photoshop to create the shading for the hair. Nowadays, I use Clip Studio Paint to draw anime art.

Key Takeaways

  • Try out different light sources by blocking in shades without detailing them.
  • Select a light base color for easier shading.
  • The multiply layer mode helps blend the shadow color into the base color.
  • As a last step, add highlights to the hair.

Pick Light Source For the Hair

Shading begins by understanding the light source and the direction of the light. Is the light coming from above, below, from the side, or possibly from the back?

I’ve chosen the light source to be above (easiest). We more than often see the light coming from above us (the sun), so it’s the easiest to understand. You know how the shadows work when it’s coming above, as you’ve seen it so many times.

One of the fastest ways to try out different light sources is to draw big blocks of shadows without detailing them.

Initial light source placement and modeling

Select Base Color For 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, select quite a light color to make the cel shading nicely visible.

Select a base color that complements the personality of the character. When drawing anime hair or shading it, think about the character and the mood you want to express with the drawing.

Trying out base colors is easy when you have different elements in different layers.

Cel Shading the Hair

The next step is to lay down the first shadow color; I more than often use slightly cold shadow colors in multiply layer mode. 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.

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


Building the volume of 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.

Shade Individual Hair Strands

You can move on to the hair strands when you have the volume in place.

The easiest way is to use the lasso tool. Pick the lasso tool and create a long spike going from the “root” toward 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/shade in place. However, the image might look a bit empty still. This is where you start to create the next shade for the hair.

Adding Another Shade To 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 you should consider what areas you want to emphasize.

Added another shade with a multiply layer mode

Not every area should be emphasized or highlighted—only the ones that get affected by the light source, either hardest or lightest. Darker shadows mean that the light doesn’t get there so easily. You can use the same shading color you used previously.

Finalizing The Cel Shading

Check that the volume of the hair and strands are going in the right direction. The 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).

As a last step, I highlight the hair using the same methods I used when I was cel shading the shadows. You can add the highlight either by choosing a certain color in a normal layer mode or then a lighter shade of the base color and using it in screen layer mode.

If everything looks good, share your work and be proud of your accomplishments.

The final illustration


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.

More Posts

Contact and Feedback