Colouring Hair

I'm going to show you how I coloured my character Alicia's hair on my New Year picture.

I took lots of screens during the process, to clearly show you the way I colour.

First I coloured her skin eyes and mouth on different layers... I tend to do that before colouring the hair...

Then I made a new layer ("pelo" means hair in spanish) on top of the other colour layers and below the lineart to start colouring You can do all the colouring in just one layer if you want using selections and saving them, but I like layers better XD;

Now I pick a mid sized brush from the default brush pallete, 19pix wide, 100% opacity. Since I use a table, my default brush settings have the "shape dynamics" activated. So I can colour all the areas without changing brushes.

Now I have picked my base colour (and my 2st shadow colour as well) I then flat coloured all the hair area.

You can do the same by selecting the area on your lineart layer (in case all your line gaps are closed), expanding the selection on 1 pix (select>modify>expand) and then going back to your hair layer and using the paint bucket tool.

Or you can just colour everything and then clean with a thin brush eraser.

After that, lock the trasparency of your layer, so you will only shade the parts that are already coloured.

With the samebrush, or maybe one a little smaller, I start Cellshading the hair with the darker colour. I keep the base colour as the BG colour, so if I make a mistake I can quickly correct it by repainting the spot with the base colour by swapping the FG colour pressing the "X" key.

Now, the first thing to do when colouring is to set the light source... where's the light coming from? That helps you find the shadow areas. I drew some arrows to show you where the light comes from. Sometimes it really helps to actually draw arrows in case you're a bit lost with your lightsource.

The basics of shading hair is to simulate hair strands... so it will look something like hair.. that's achieved by drawing some darker strokes in the right spots, minding the light source. I draw them usually following the shape of the lineart from top to bottom, in the direction that the yellow arrows show.

Here's a close up of part of Alicia's bangs being cellshaded. I already drew strands of her hair on the lineart, so it isn't that difficult to see where the shadows should be. Since my light is coming from the left of the picture, I made some shadows on the right of each strand of hair. In case there are some overlapping strands, i'll add some shadow at the right of thetop strand over the overlapped strand... got it? XD it's not that hard.

Since Alicia's hair isn't totally straight and it curls a bit in the end, my shadows grow bigger when they reach the ends of the hair. I always shade the end of the hair strands darker. The start of each shadow is pointy and very thin. I find this way of shading quite nice.

In case you only plan to basic cellshade the hair, you can stop here and add a bit of a highlight with a lighter colour.


Now i'm going to go a little bit further on my base shading.

I picked a 13pix soft brush and adjusted the brush settings as you can see. I'm going to draw some extra hair shading to each strand. Just draw some strokes towards the end of the hair and voila XD

If you don't have a tablet, you can do the same with a mouse... it requires more patience, but it's not impossible. You can also do the shadows using the path tool or even the poligonal lasso tool to secret the shape and the area where your shadow will go. I don't use those techniques very often, because I like to draw freely with the tablet XD.

Alicia's hair looks like this now. You can see the cell shaded areas and the little extra strokes I did after cellshading. You can add more strokes if you want it to look more like real hair.

Take a look at the buns on her head. I tried to follow how the hair should go to form the bun and added some strokes and shading minding the lightsource and the shape of the lineart.

Not that hard, huh? If you find problems at this point, you could go and study some other pictures to see how the shading has been done. I learnt that way myself, it helps you improve quite a lot.

You still can stop here and add some highlight and it will look nice.

Now some nice effects...

I picked a wider soft brush, 72 pix, set the flow, or opacity in case it works better for you. to 58% and unchecked the shape dynamics. I keep the "Other dynamics" on, since it will allow me to regulate the opacityof my stroke with the pen pressure.

Now, with the same colour you did the shading , go and colour really softly (that's why it's set to 58%) the points of the hair and shaded parts.. Why? if you look carefully at the bangs on the screenshot on the left, you'll see that the base colour and the shade areas. That's the idea. You'll notice better when you see the whole hair below.

Once you're done with the above, pick the base colour and do the same, this time softening the start of the shadows.

See the effect?

Now Alicia's hair looks like this. It's a bit softer than the previous cellshaded version =3 that was the idea.

As said before, this part is totally skippable... I liketo do it, that's all XD.

I picked an even darker colour as my 2nd shadow and picked again my soft 13pix brush to add some extra shadows.

I drew some hair over my already shaded areas to add some depth. I don't let my darker strokes meet the base colour, I just keep them inside the 1st shade colour.


Once done with that you can repeat the "softening" process with this colour as well, picking a soft wide brush, low opacity and softly colouring in the darker areas.

In the end of this step, Alicia's hair loks like this. If you compare it with the previous shot showing all her hair, it has a little more depth... that was the idea.

Now some nice highlights to finish! I picked a lighter colour and my handy 13pix soft brush, lowered the flow to 56% (that's really a pretty random number... I usually set my medium opacity brushes between 50-60) and now I start drawing highlights!

Notice that the strokes are very soft... I go over them once I figure where the stronger lights should be. In this case, that's on the left part of the strands, since my light comes from the left.

I tend to draw my highlights a little above the start of my first shadow, or in the higher curve of the strand.

Once finished with the basic highlights Ali's hair looks like this.

Notice where the highlights are placed... as I told you, I drew my in the start of the 1st shadow or/and in the higher curve of the strand...see? You can see as well how I went over and made the highlights stronger at some parts, oh, something I forgot to mention is that my highlights are always at an angle... they have this kind of shape:

If you're lost here, again I recommend you to go look at some pictures and see where the highlights are placed.

I like this effect, so I'm doing it again on my highlights XD. You don't have to if you don't like it.. it will still look nice if you

don't do it.I choose again a wider soft brush, low opacity, no shape dynamics and then I go and soften the middle part of my highlights.You can also pick your base colour again and soften the ends of the highlights as well, but I didn't feel like it, so I skipped that part.

So far she looks like this right now. You can stop here if you want... I'll add some more highlights with the dodge tool now XP.

I'll intensify my highlights with the dodge tool now that i'm done. You can do this and make really shiny highlights, slightly shiny highlights or just skip this. It's not a necessary step.

Pick a mid wide soft brush, uncheck shape dynamics, set the dodge tool range to highlights and use the exposure at 50%... you can set the exposure lower if you want less bright highlights.

Now go over your previously highlighted areas

This is how it finally looks!! yay! I'm done afterquite some time.

I'm satisfied with the result, so I won't be doing anything else to the hair now XDNow to the finished picture..

Tada! Finished pic

I softened the skin colouring a bit, see? And I found the colours where a bit bland, so I added an extra adjustment layer on top to saturate everything a little.

I hope you have understood all the tutorial without any problems... And I hope it has helped you.

Please notice that this is THE WAY I COLOUR, not the ultimate guide, not the best way to colour hair, but my own way. You can experiment with it if you want and if you feel that it suits you... great! If you find it stupid... well... that's ok too.

Tools used
Genius WizardPen Tablet, Photoshop CS, Macromedia Fireworks to put everything together.

Time spent
no idea.

This tutorial is compatible with photoshop 7 and up. Not sure about other programs.

Things shown in this tutorial can be done with a mouse, but it will take more time patience, so be prepared.