Drawing Backgrounds Using Reference Photos and the Perspective Ruler



In this lesson, I’ll show you how to draw backgrounds using your own photos.

We will draw the background using the perspective ruler.

In this lesson, we will use the perspective ruler. Please read the following articles to learn how to use the perspective ruler.

[1] Drawing a background from a photo.

■1. Import a photo

I’ve prepared this photo of a street that I took with my smartphone camera. I’ll explain more about this in section [3] “ How to take photographs to use for backgrounds”.

(1) After opening CLIP STUDIO PAINT and creating a new canvas, I go to [File] > [Import] > [Image] and import my photo.

(2) Once the image has loaded onto the canvas, I check the image in the [Layer].

Imported images load as an [Image material layer].

You can use the handles at the edge of the picture to change the size or angle.

(3) To make the lines easier to draw, I set the photo layer as a draft and lower the opacity to 50%.

By setting the photo as a draft layer, I can use the fill tool and create selection areas without referring to the photo layer.

■2. Set the perspective ruler using the photo as a reference

I will draw the lines using the perspective ruler.

In some cases, when the buildings are angled in different directions, it is necessary to use more than one perspective ruler.

・ Find a building that connects to both vanishing points

Now I’ll set the perspective ruler using this photo of a street.

To start, I go to [Perspective ruler] > [Tool Property] and turn off [Create at editing layer] to make the perspective ruler active on all layers.

(1) I choose a building that stands out and find two horizontal lines across the building.

It’s best to choose two lines far apart to make the ruler easier to use.

(2) With the [Perspective ruler] tool, I draw two guide lines by dragging across the building, matching the angle of the building.

It doesn’t matter if the angle of the guide line is slightly off.

Once the two guide lines have been made, a vanishing point is created.

(3) If I feel that the angle of the guide lines is slightly off, I can adjust it by dragging the cross symbols (“+”) on the guide line. When you adjust the angle in this way, the vanishing point moves to change the angle of the line.

I make the vanishing point on the right side in the same way.

(4) Once I’ve set the guide lines, I drag the handle indicated by the cross symbol (“+”) and adjust the angle slightly.

(5) Next, I check that the angle of the guide line matches up.

I use the circle handle (“〇”) on the guide line so that I don’t move the vanishing point.

When you adjust the angle using the circle handle (“〇”), the vanishing point does not move.

I drag the circle handle (“〇”) and rotate the guide line to make sure that it lines up with other buildings at the same angle.

However, the image can sometimes be slightly warped due to distortion of the camera lens. Make sure that the guide lines more or less match up with the picture.

(6) Using the same method, I set three vanishing points to the left, right, and vertically.

I set the vanishing points after moving the guide lines around to see which buildings I can use them with.

■3. Set a perspective ruler for buildings at different angles

Some buildings won’t line up with the guide line even if I drag it using the circle symbol.

This means that the building is at a different angle, so I’ll make another perspective ruler.

However, the buildings share the same vanishing point in the vertical direction, so it’s a good idea to adjust the perspective ruler that I already made.

From the [Layer] menu, I duplicate the layer with the perspective ruler using the [Duplicate Layer] tool.

I adjust and set the perspective ruler on the duplicated layer. I do not change the position of the vanishing point in the vertical direction.

When setting the perspective ruler on the duplicated layer, I select the ruler with the [Object] tool (so that the handles are visible on the ruler). I right-click the ruler to show the pop-up menu, and turn on [Fix eye level].


The circle “〇” and cross “+” symbols appear when you click the perspective ruler with the [Object] tool.

When drawing on top of a picture on an image material layer, it’s easy to accidentally select the picture instead of the ruler.

In this case, try locking the image layer by turning on [Lock Layer].

■4. Ink along the perspective ruler

Once I’ve made several perspective rulers, I start inking.

As I draw, I switch between the layers and toggle ruler snapping on and off.

In this example, I drew thick lines and thin lines on different layers.

I draw carefully while referring to the original photo. For now, I don’t draw any of the lines that don’t match up with the perspective ruler. Once you’ve gotten used to drawing backgrounds, you don’t need to pay so much attention to the reference photo, and can move the windows or change the design freely.

I draw the lines while thinking about which parts will be in shadow and which parts will be brighter.

・How to create a three-dimensional effect

When drawing a window accurately, it’s necessary to draw the frame’s perspective as well.

However, drawing every detail such as the window frames in this cityscape will just crowd the image with lines and make the image confusing.

Instead, let’s simplify the lines to make it easier to understand.

If you draw all the detailed lines of the window structure, the details become harder to make out due to all the lines.

When you zoom in on the PC, it’s important to be aware of how the image will look at its actual scale.

For the details, I am not going to draw all the small lines like the above image, but instead simplify them using shadows.

In this shape of window, it would be enough to add thickness to the vertical lines.

In this case, it’s easier to draw the lines for the window on a separate layer to other parts.

On top of the thick black lines, I add some lines in white ink (or transparent ink).

I adjust the thickness of the lines while considering the thickness and depth of the window frame to create a three-dimensional effect.

The red lines for the walls and window frame were drawn on another layer to make this stage easier.


I used multiple perspective rulers to match up with the buildings here, but you can also ignore minor misalignments and simplify the composition.

However, you do need to get used to complex compositions to draw them later. Draw in the way that’s most comfortable for you.

■5. Joining the ruler and finishing up

In this section, I’ll show how to draw at angles that don’t match the perspective ruler, and add trees and tones.

・ Add vanishing points to the perspective ruler

Using the perspective ruler, you can only draw cuboid 3D objects such as boxes, which have the lines at the same angles. The red areas below cannot be drawn with the perspective ruler.

I go to the [Perspective ruler] > [Tool Property] > [Content of process] and change the process to [Add vanishing point]. I can now increase the number of vanishing points by selecting the perspective ruler layer.

When adding vanishing points for slanted angles such as roofs, it may become harder to choose which direction to snap to due to the additional snap points.

If it gets harder to draw when you add more vanishing points, try making a new perspective ruler.

< Using the parallel line ruler >

In the original photo, there are a few straight lines on the slanted parts of the roofs. The parallel line ruler is useful for drawing these.

I select [Special ruler] > [Tool Property] > [Special ruler] > [Parallel line]. I drag and drop the ruler in the direction of the line.

I turn off [Create at editing layer] when drawing this ruler so that the parallel line ruler will be active on all layers.

While the parallel line ruler can only draw straight lines at the set angle, I can easily change its angle for other areas once I’m done.

I select the [Object] tool and go to [Tool Property] > [Operation of transparent part] and turn on [Set direction of parallel line ruler].

I draw the other lines I need while adjusting the angle of the parallel line ruler.

While using drawing tools, I hold down the Ctrl key to temporarily switch to the [Object] tool, which I use to drag the parallel line ruler and change the angle.

Once I’ve set the angle of the ruler, I release the Ctrl key to return to the pen tool. I repeat this process several times to draw straight lines at several different angles.

I draw the buildings using both the perspective ruler and the parallel line ruler.

< Using the concentric circle ruler >

The concentric circle ruler helps you to draw concentric circles. This has a lot of uses when drawing backgrounds.

You can freely change the shape and angle of the ruler using the handles, so it’s useful for creating all kinds of circles in backgrounds.

I select this ruler in [Special ruler] > [Tool Property] > [Special ruler] > [Concentric circle].

I can draw it over a circle in the photo...

I can flatten the shape to use it as a ruler for curved lines (or parts of lines)...

... and I can use the guide line of the concentric circle ruler to make sure that circles are drawn on the same line.

I use this ruler to draw the road signs and traffic lights.

Note: I drew the road signs and traffic lights in the foreground on a different layer, and masked the black lines of the buildings.

・ Finishing details

I use decoration brushes and other tools to add natural elements such as trees. In this case, I draw in gray and then change to screentones to match the rest of the image.

To draw the trees, I used the following brush that I downloaded from CLIP STUDIO ASSETS (material search service).

I paint the front trees and rear trees on different layers and change them to street-lining trees.

Once I add screentones and black fill, the trees are finished.

[2] Extra notes about using multiple perspective rulers

When you take a picture of an actual street, the buildings won’t necessarily be at the same angle.

You should look for buildings at the same angles and use different perspective rulers for each angle.

In this example, we can roughly divide the buildings in the blue section and the red section, but the vanishing points are different.

Let me explain why this is.

I will also introduce a method of avoiding this if you find it hard to draw buildings facing different directions.

・ Relationship between vanishing points and the eye level

If we have two 3D objects facing the same direction, they will share a vanishing point.

However, if we rotate them horizontally, the vanishing point moves to the left or right.

In the diagram above, the red box and the blue box have different vanishing points.

Note: The vertical vanishing point (below) does not change.

If the 3D objects are on the same level, the vertical vanishing point doesn’t change even if the direction changes.

In real life, roads aren’t completely perpendicular to the buildings, and the direction of the buildings changes with the road.

However, because the pillars are usually completely vertical, the angle of the buildings doesn’t change.


If a building is at a slanted angle, it cannot share the vertical vanishing point. In this case, set a new vanishing point in the vertical direction.

When drawing buildings facing different directions, you can use the same vertical vanishing point, but other vanishing points will move.

If you rotate a 3D object horizontally, the vanishing point will move.

In this case, the vanishing points moves along the eye level.

The eye level is in the same location as the horizon.

The vanishing point is always on the eye level.

We consider the ground level to be the horizon. Buildings are usually perpendicular to the horizon.

By the rules of perspective, far-away things look small, so even huge buildings will look like a dot if they are far enough away.

When drawing streets, the buildings are sometimes facing slightly different directions.

This is because roads aren’t completely straight and flat, so the buildings change direction to match these slight curves.

Let’s check if the red and blue buildings have the same eye level.

・ Ignoring complicated building angles

When using a photo to draw a background, it’s likely that the buildings in the photo will be facing several different directions.

The buildings here have been grouped by color depending on the direction they are facing. To begin with, it can be hard to tell which buildings are facing different angles.

The perspective rulers for this example are shown in the image below. For those who aren’t used to drawing with the perspective ruler, it can be hard to draw buildings facing different directions while snapping to the perspective ruler.

When using a photo to draw a background, you can ignore the original photo to a degree and use the perspective ruler to change the direction of the buildings.

Even if buildings are at different angles due to the direction of the road, you don’t need to draw them in exactly the same way.

One method is to line the perspective up with the most distinctive building, then match the other buildings with that.

If it looks good as a background, it’s okay to draw all the buildings using only one perspective ruler.

When drawing with photographs, use the perspective ruler in the way that best matches your proficiency with the tools.

[3] How to take photographs to use for backgrounds

I’ll give some tips for taking photos to use for drawings.

If you use a wide lens for your photos, the feeling changes completely.

・ Be careful of wide lens cameras

Recently, smartphone cameras are making huge leaps, so they can be used for taking reference photos.

A lot of smartphone cameras have wide lenses so that they can capture a wide area even from a close distance.

If you take a photo with a wide lens, you can capture a lot of the area in the photo.

However, toward the edge of the photo, the vertical lines gradually become more slanted.

Because the wide lens captures a large area, the edge parts become warped in this way.

If you have a telephoto lens, you can zoom in to avoid this slanting effect.

If the vertical perspective is greatly slanted, any people that are drawn will also need to be at the same angle, so it can be hard to work with.

If you will be drawing people, take particular care to avoid a slanted perspective.

If your camera does not have a zoom function, you can crop the photo down to the center area.

When you scale up the center area, the image quality may decrease. However, this is fine if you are only using it as a reference.

・ Artist profile: Hey!TAROH

Hey!TAROH has been using digital art software since the very first release of Manga Studio Ver 1. He is a writer for the official guides and references for Manga Studio and CLIP STUDIO PAINT. He draws several manga comics and looks after his household.



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