How to Draw and Paint Hair


It’s almost impossible to not draw hair when drawing characters—except you specialize in drawing bald characters only, that is. Knowing how to draw and paint hair goes a long way.

I used to struggle when drawing and painting hair. It seemed to me that everybody can draw hair well, but mine always look miserable. Turns out, drawing hair isn’t hard at all, as long as you get a grip of the basics.

This tutorial will cover almost everything about drawing hair right from the basics, how to make use of reference, drawing different hair textures to painting the hair in both colors and monochrome manga-style.

Let’s get started!

Hair Basics

Hair types exist in a spectrum.

The curlier the hair, the more voluminous it’d look. Also, the curlier the hair, the more textured it’d be and thus the less glossy the hair would look compared to straight hair.

Because hair has certain volume, there will be a little distance between the hair and the skull. Unless you’re drawing really thin hair, that is!

There are also hairlines. Knowing how proper hairlines are helps tremendously when drawing short hair, hair in the wind and certain hairstyles. You can also use normal hairlines as reference when drawing receding hairlines.

Here are hairlines seen from the front.

In some cases, hairlines don’t really matter, but it’s a nice detail to pay attention to if you’re looking to create unique individual traits on the characters you make.

When using the same bangs, different hairlines will yield you different results.

Other than the front, there are hairlines near our ears and nape.

Drawing Basics

When drawing hair, simplifying the hair shapes in sketching stage is a good idea. This makes visualizing the hairstyle easier and save you time. Drawing straight hair, you can just add details as you faithfully refer to the simplified sketch.

Some hairstyles (like the top right one in the picture below) are too complicated to be simplified with ease, but you can always forgo the details and focus on the overall shape.

When you want to draw slightly wavy hair, you can forgo the waves in sketching stage. Sketch it like you would straight hair.

Getting used to simplifying hair shapes will make it easier for you in using hair style references.

For example, you have these pictures below as reference but wants to draw the hair in a different angle.

Trace it on another layer with simplified shapes.

Then, apply the shapes to the sketch and copy the hairstyles to the angle you want and finish drawing.

Tips: It’s also a good idea to add stray strands for more details.

Curly and Coily Hair

Drawing wavy to curly hair might look tricky, especially the filling part. I used to wonder if I should draw random waves when detailing wavy hair of if there’s actually a logic to it, good old times!

Start by drawing two hair parts as the border. Then draw some seamless wavy lines, add detail, erase the overlapping parts and rinse and repeat.

On step 6, there’s still a plenty of empty spaces, but adding too much detail wouldn’t be good. The blue parts shown below are the spaces we need to fill.

You can use the previous steps of filling it with seamless lines, but it’s okay to fill it with random curves now. Keep it only one or two curves per space so it doesn’t look too cramped.

Then draw the ends of the hair. Done!

It might looks messy with just the outline, but if you color it and add context, you’ll get this pretty looking hair.

You can also use brushes to draw curls, here’s a very good one!

To draw coily hair, I start with simplified sketch with straight lines. I’ll draw the curls spontaneously when doing the outline.

Coily hair has more volume than other hair textures, keep it in mind when planning the hairdo!

Following the sketch, draw just enough waves. The waves should be shorter compared to curly hair.

Add details, give extra for the ends of the hair. If you’re going to color the hair, stopping at this step is fine.

Using the same steps from previous wavy-curly hair, fill the hair with denser curls. This is the end result.

Add colors just like before and voila!

Braids and Ringlets

Braids and ringlets has existed for a very long time. Nowadays men usually go for short hairstyles, so braids and ringlets are generally considered feminine. But, in the olden days men has longer hair and (in some cultures) style their long hair in braids and ringlets.

Knowing how to draw braids can be especially useful since a lot of accessories, rope knots and military decorations use braid variations.

In case you’re not familiar with it, braids are usually made from three or more interlaced lines. For example, we have these three lines and how it’ll look as a braid.

To draw a braid in front view, draw a box and divide it equally in two with a vertical line. Draw diagonal lines on both sides, one is slightly higher than the other.

Connect the outer parts with curves, then draw the braid’s details.

Many people mistake the shape in braids as heart shaped. In reality, it is similar to heart shape, but with slight difference. The shape a braid makes isn’t symmetrical, unlike heart, because one of the two halves is higher than the other.

When you’re familiar enough with braids, you can try drawing it in other angles/shapes using these steps: draw a curved line, draw diagonal lines on one side, draw curved lines on the outer parts, finish by drawing the other half positioned higher than the first one.

Other than drawing manually, you can save time by using assets instead. Don’t overuse it though! These are good braid brushes I can find on Clip Studio assets.

Ringlets, also known as vertical roll and also “drill” is a fairly popular female hairstyle.

Drawing ringlets is easier than braids, in my opinion. The basic is very simple. Draw spring-like line, copy and move it downwards a bit (the copy is in blue in this tutorial), draw a straight line to connect the edges of the springs and add details.

Other way to draw ringlet is by drawing the “rings” in boxes. This is easier to use for ringlets that has different ring sizes.

We’ll need to determine the part that connects the rings. Draw a line from the top left of the first box to the top right of the next. Then, another line from the bottom left of the first box to the bottom of the right. Rinse and repeat with the other boxes.

Then draw the ringlets and add details.

Sometimes you want to draw ringlets in more distinct shapes. The last method is by drawing the overall shape first, followed by dividing the shape into rings. It might look weird at first, though.

Determine the connecting parts (using similar step with boxes method), followed by actually drawing the ringlets and adding the details.

Cheating with Calligraphy Pen

Okay, maybe not easy enough to be worthy of the word “cheat”, but this trick can make drawing curls easier. Calligraphy pen alternate between thick and thin lines depending on the stroke, personally, I think it’s perfect to help drawing wavy and curly hair.

(Note: The colors are for tutorial purposes only, I usually use gray.)

Using Calligraphy Pen (default setting works well), draw some wavy patterns. Three to four is usually enough.

After that, on another layer, trace with Mapping Pen and add a little details to the previous patterns.

Since there are a lot of empty spaces between the waves, add some wavy lines using the technique we learned before. After that, hide the colored patterns’ layer and it’s done.

If faithfully following the Calligraphy Pen look too ribbon-ish to you, feel free to adjust as you draw. Fill the gaps with the technique from Curly and Coily Hair section!

Another way of sketching is by using Calligraphy Pen with Blending Mode “Multiply” as reference for drawing overlapped hairdo.

Sketch the hairdo on another layer.

Finish drawing the whole picture and it’s done.

Hair vs Gravity and Wind

No matter how angled the head is, the hair will not defy gravity. There are a few exceptions though, for example when there’s wind, or when the character is falling down, under the water or in the outer space.

When drawing hair in the wind, the wind’s strength and direction can be shown with how intense the hair movement is.

The example above used straight hair, but this logic can be applied to other types of hair as long as you pay attention to hair volume. The more voluminous the hair, though, the harder it is for the wind to blow them away compared to straight or wavy hair.

For example this is how curly hair gets blown, the wind strength is comparable to that of the previous picture’s bottom right.

Coloring Straight/Wavy Hair

Coloring hair steps can be divided into 3: base color, shading and highlight. As long as you’re aware of the direction of the hair strands, coloring hair can be a breeze.

I tend to use analogous color for the shading, but that’s not the only colors you can use. Some artists use triadic or complementary colors instead.

*Analogous color scheme.

Also, I paint each color on separate layers. Other than ease of painting, it also makes it very easy when I want to try on different colors.

The step by step below features straight hair, but wavy hair is painted the exact same way.

To color the hair, first fill it with the base color.

Following the flow of the hair, draw the first shadow. I paint the shadow using Transparent Watercolor Brush and Mapping Pen.

Then the second one. Still using the same brushes.

When drawing the second shadow, sometimes I paint it close to the base color to give contrast and make the base color pop more. Aside from this, there isn’t much logic on why I paint a certain part. As long as it looks good, it works.

Add highlight. Usually I use Blending Mode “Screen” for highlight layer and use the base color. This was painted with Mapping Pen.

Highlighting the hair using “Screen” works for other hair colors too. Of course, you can opt to use other colors that fits the overall look of your work.

Using skin color and Soft Airbrush, paint the hair around the face.

Lastly, add hair strands for extra details. Done!

Coloring Curly and Coily Hair

Coloring curly hair can be a bit more tricky because the hair texture can randomly block or reflect the light, thus not as straightforward as painting straight or wavy hair.

First, roughly paint the shadow.

Next, paint the shadow with Mapping Pen and Transparent Watercolor Brush. Erase the parts where the light supposed to be reflected.

Add another dark color, using the same method and brushes.

Highlight, draw some stray strands and paint the area around the head with Soft Airbrush in skin color. Done!

To paint coily hair, I prefer less glossy texture when coloring to make it look fluffy. First, color with base colors.

With Mapping Pen, roughly draw the first shade.

Soften and add details with Transparent Watercolor Brush and Hard Eraser. Hard Eraser is for when you want to add sharper details. If you want sharper lines (and this glossier looking hair) use Mapping Pen when shading works!

The same steps apply to the second shade. Draw with Mapping Pen first, then do the detailing with Transparent Watercolor Brush + Hard Eraser.

Highlighting also use the same steps. Mapping Pen first.

Then Transparent Watercolor Brush + Hard Eraser.

With Soft Airbrush, paint the area around the face with skin color.

Add stray strands for the final step. It’s done!

Post Processing

Usually coloring the hair using step by step on previous sections be considered done. But, hair is rarely the main focus in an artwork. You can add color at the end of the hair (in this case, the rightmost part) to shift the focus back to the face.

Let’s use these three different hair colors as the sample.

The simplest color option would be using base color and adjust it.

For darker base color like brown hair, lower the saturation and add luminosity. For lighter hair colors, increase the saturation and lower the luminosity.

You can see the color I used in the small box containing a single color.

Alternatively, and a more interesting color choice, would be by picking complementary color. Complementary color is the color on the opposite side of the color wheel of your current color.

For example, the complementary color for red would be blue.

Even without knowing about how color theory works, there’s a rule of thumb you can rely on. If your current color is warm (yellow, orange, red), pick cool color (blue, cyan, green) and vice versa.

And so, because brown and yellow are both warm, the color we’ll pick will be something bluish (cool color). Lighter blue for brown hair and darker for yellow.

For blue hair, because it’s a cool color, we’ll pick pinkish tone (warm color).

Gives a different impression compared to the previous one that used base colors, right?

There’s also another option that situationally works. You can use one of prominent colors that exists in your background. This will help the end of the hair blending to the background, and thus become less of a focus.
Despite the color actually defy the previous logic (warm and cool colors pairings), as long as the color is in the background it’ll work.

For example, brown hair was paired with bluish color. But because the background is pinkish, even though it’s quite a warm color, using pink works okay here.

Without the background, though, it looks quite eye catching and distracts the eyes from the face (compared to the previous two options), which isn’t what we want.

Bonus: Monochrome Black Hair

If you read manga, you’ll find various inking styles for black hair. There are simple ways to highlight the hair like the three examples below.

But they’re fairly easy to draw, so I’m going to cover more complicated inking styles. Each of these were done by using Mapping Pen and Hard Eraser.

The first one starts with blank outline. We’re going to paint it in black on later steps.

Paint the part that should be the darkest first.

Add details.

You can stop at this step if you want. Personally, I’d like to paint more to make it a little darker to make it obviously black hair. And, we’re done!

The next style starts with the hair already filled with black. Unlike before, this time we’re going to paint the hair with white highlight instead.

Paint the flow of the hair in white. I didn’t follow the outline and instead freely draw it, you can paint the available outline in white instead if you want.

Add enough shine to make it look glossy. Don’t overdo it. Also, because the highlight look fairly simple, you can add stray strands to give it more detail. And, done.

The last one is using Gradient Tool. Pick the color black, block the inner part of the hair and fill it with Gradient Tool.

Go to Layer Property box and click on Tone feature. The result below used the default setting. (Frequency: 60, Density: Use color of image, Reflect layer opacity checked, Dot setting: Circle, Angle: 45)

Then, paint most of the area in black, starting from the supposedly darkest parts. The key is to not paint the brightest part too much. The third style is done!


Whew, at last we’re at the end of the tutorial! I hope you find drawing hair easier now. If you’re an experienced artist, I hope you learned something new!

Have fun drawing :)



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