How to Render Hair in Clip Studio Paint

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Hello friends! In this tutorial I’m going to go through my step by step process for rendering hair in Clip Studio Paint using only the default tools that comes built into the program, namely the fantastic range of CSP watercolor brushes. Let’s begin!

Conceptualization

Hair has a drastic impact on visuals and aesthetic when it comes to a character and can therefore be an indicator of good or bad character design. The first thing I like to do is get a feel for the character. It may help to start your process by casting a wide net of words and phrases that best describe your character. Is (s)he Elegant? Wild? Sensible? menacing? Figuring this out before you put your stylus to your tablet could render a more cohesive and thematic result.

Sketch

I have prepared a sketch of three figures at different angles. I recommend drawing the whole skull, this should make it easier to determine the correct hair volume and thus avoid any flatness or irregularities. But if you are at a comfortable level, you can simply skip this step.

I mark out the hairline as indicated in blue. The hairline may be higher or lower for stylized proportions but here I use a semi-realistic style. The hairline runs across the forehead, curving towards the middle, then downwards till it ‘disappears’ behind the ears. You may wish to incorporate a slight widow’s peak in the middle of the hairline if you want your character to have a sharper look as illustrated on the figure to the right.

Basic Shape

Thinking in “big shapes” is a common method employed by illustrators, in other words, breaking the subject down into its simplest possible form and then building the detail up from there. This basic shape will be the framework of the hair. More angular shapes usually denotes “fierceness” or “confidence”, for instance, whilst curvier, softer and more whimsical shapes usually denote a “gentleness” or “friendliness”.

When sketching my basic shapes, I like using the default “Watery” brush in Clip Studio’s [watercolor] brush sub tool panel, set to anywhere between 10-15 px in brush size. I like this brush for its tapered tip and translucent color application which almost gives it the look of hair strands.

Using loose and confident brush strokes I then proceed to sketch the basic shape of the hair. It’s okay for your lines to be a little messy here. Also consider movement, is your character posed mid-action? Is there wind blowing in his/her hair? If so, draw your lines in accordance with the direction of the movement.

Defining the Shape

Now I break the basic shape down into a few smaller chunks in order to establish the several layers of a hairdo. Here I like to use a technique I like to call the “Flat Planes Technique.” I imagine these chunks as flat, two-dimensional surfaces reminiscent of ribbons that can curve around and warp.

Flat Color

I reduce the opacity of my sketch to around 50%. In a new layer beneath the sketch, I start applying the base hair color evenly using the default “Oil Paint Flat” brush in Clip Studio’s [Oil Paint] brush sub tool panel (or any brush with bristle-like tip), this color will usually be the midtone.

Tip: Use the “lock layer” function to lock layers you are currently not working on, this will help avoid the possibility of painting on the wrong layers. I have locked my sketch layers here for example.

Light and Shadow

After a flat color is fully applied, the next stage is to pinpoint where areas of light and areas of shadow will appear in relation to the light source. With my flat color layer selected, I click the “lock Transparent pixel” icon which appears under the [Layers] window. This handy tool will protect the alpha of my selected layer so that my brush strokes are contained within the parameters of the base color. You should see the same icon displayed in the corner of your selected layer, indicating that the transparency lock is active.

Shifting my color hue slightly and picking a lighter shade from the color wheel, I then select the “Soft Airbrush” from the [Airbrush] sub tool. I have already decided the position of my light source and I lightly airbrush over the areas where the light hits, pressing my pen harder where it gets closer to the light source. Darker surfaces tend to reflect more light from the environment, I imagine my characters in bright sunlight with a blue sky overhead so the hue on the middle character is shifted even further towards blue.

Shifting my hue again but this time with darker shades, I airbrush shadowed areas whilst adding in accents of ambient light over the midtones as I go along.

Detailed Render

Switching my brush to “Opaque Watercolor” in Clip Studio’s [watercolor] brush sub tool panel, I now use the “Eyedropper” tool to pick the colors in between the different tones and make a number of short and quick strokes (almost like a pushing and pulling action) which conform to the direction of the hair. This creates a more realistic transition between the previously airbrushed tones whilst creating the illusion of finer hair strands. I also take the opportunity to add both deeper shadows within the already established shadows as well as a few lighter areas to give the hair some contrast and value.

Highlights

Now I shall attempt to add more depth to the lighting on the hair with a dash of highlights. This will add a glossy sheen giving the impression of a silk-like hair texture. I select an almost white shade, lighter than all previous tones used thus far. With the same “Opaque Watercolor” Brush (or any hard edged brush) and with a good amount of pressure on my pen, I apply to only a few places which are strongly lit by the light source. The ‘outer rim’ of the hair surface which are cast in shadow is one such place.

Edit Sketch Lines

When it comes to hair, I like to incorporate my sketch lines into the painting. First, I move the opacity of my sketch back to 100%. Locking the transparency of my sketch layer, I use the “Eyedropper” tool to pick the colors directly adjacent to the lines and then I brush over the lines with that color. This essentially blends your line art or sketch into the painting. However I also use a slightly lighter color for some areas, and a slightly darker color for others (lines that lay on top of shadows for instance) to add some variation to the hair.

Enhancing light

Let’s take the lighting a step further. For this step your sketch and paint layers will either have to be merged together into one layer or grouped into a single folder. I create a new layer above, and clip it to my folder/hair layer using the “Clip at Layer Below” function in the [Layers] window. A red bar should appear to the left of your layer. Now everything I paint in this layer will stay within the confines of my painting below.

I select “Color Dodge” as my [Blending Mode].

I switch to the “Soft Airbrush” tool and using the same color family as the character’s hair, I very lightly brush over the highlights I laid down earlier and in places where the light passes through. “Color Dodge” renders a very intense result so be sure to apply it modestly.

Tip: You can use Clip Studio’s “Blend” tool to fan out and lessen the intensity if you feel some areas are too bright.

Stray Hairs

To make the hair appear more life-like, one of my final steps is adding stray hairs. I select a very light shade from the color wheel. I go back to the same “Watery” brush I used in the sketching phase and set the brush size very low as I want these hairs to appear light and thin. In a new layer above the hair, once again I make loose and confident brush strokes, I follow the movement of the hair and apply to random areas.

And that’s a wrap! Hopefully my steps will have provided some guidance and inspiration for you, if you have any questions or requests for future tutorials, please feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

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