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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section

Painting Hair in Photoshop

By Kelly L. Johnson

1. Getting Started

We start with a blank canvas, usually 2 - 3 times larger than the size you plan to show the finished product at and at least 200 DPI. Make sure you're not working in .jpg format, because .jpg will cause to you lose some of your hard-earned detail with each save. Also, make sure to save after you're satisfied with each step.

Now select a neutral tone (I picked a warm pinkish-tan here) and fill the background with it. A good tip, if you're not drawing the hair directly onto the face it's being made for, is to pick the most common hue in the face so you can see how well it works with the character's coloration. For Photoshop (on the PC), a quick and useful command to learn is alt + delete to fill layers or selections.

2. Outlining

After your background is filled with something other than glaring white, start blocking in the general shape of the hair on a separate layer, paying special attention to two parts - 1) Where it starts, and 2) Where it's ending up. For my own example, I'm not drawing it onto a character so it will just span from one corner of the canvas to the other to make it easier to follow. This is the only part where scribbling wildly without lifting the pen is allowed, so be sure to enjoy it.

3. Refining the Shape

Now is the time to pick how you want it to be; where the flyaways are, attachment point to the head, tips of the ends, etc. It doesn't have to be exactly how you want it to end up, but the drawing process goes a bit easier if it is. If you'll notcie mine, I've completely filled the area where the scribbles were earlier and put a few frizzies on the edges to make it more natural. I'm working in Photoshop with a pen and tablet set on size, not opacity. Those of you out there working with a mouse might have to play around with brush settings to find something you like.

Another helpful tip: Hold down the ctrl key to keep your brush from snapping to the nearest guideline / edge of the canvas while drawing, or just work in a larger area than you need and crop it down later.

4. Beginning Definition

This is a really small, almost invisible step, but helpful in that it allows you begin making a palate. Take the bottom half of the hair and lighten it, just barely. NOT with the Dodge tool! Until otherwise stated, the Burn and Dodge tools do NOT exist. This lightening can be done one of many ways, but the method I've done here is with the Hue/Saturation option. First, select roughly half the hair you have drawn so far with the Lasso then hit Ctrl + U or go Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation from the menu bar across the top. Once at the H/S window, click the checkbox for Colorize. Now play with the slide bars to make your selection just a bit lighter and a different color than the upper part and hit OK when you're happy. This color should be BARELY noticeable, such as my example below. Make sure to smooth out the edge where they meet if there's a line.

If you're doing this by coloring in a new hue over the first one, click the foreground color on the side bar to choose a new one. And don't just slide your little selector up or more towards the white; pick a hue closer to yellow from your current brown hue. Hit OK and start coloring - it doesn't have to be perfect, but should smoothly fade into the last one. Like I said in the last paragraph - it should be BARELY noticeable.

5. Defining Lights and Darks

Now that you have two different hues on your document, go into your color selector again and pick a lighter shade of the yellow, and a darker shade of the brown. Some people like to scribble a palate off to the side of colors they're working with - if this is you, you'll now have four colors. Take your light color with a very small (2 - 4 pixel brush) and start bringing it up into the darker one and visa-versa. Now move to your shades and lighten the lighter areas, and darken the darker. I like to leave the darker areas near the roots; it's where new hair grows from and thus hasn't had as much exposure to the sun, and also the place where artificial highlights grow out. *wink*

The most important thing here is to learn to let the pen skip a bit. Don't just draw straight lines from top to bottom; pick the lightest areas and let the pen skip and make short dots and dashes for a rougher look.

6. Deepening the shadows

You can see where the darker parts of the hair are from the last step, right? You DID remember to leave some dark parts? Good. Now go into your color selector again and grab a really dark version of the brown you have as your shadowed areas. Set your brush to about 70% opacity and enlarge it to near 25 pixels. Darken the already dark areas, but don't create new ones. If you want new areas, go back to the lighter shade and make a broad area and bring out the center of it with your new brown for a more natural look.

Shrink your brush down again to the 3-pixel area and go over the middle of the parts you just deepened to make them the darkest you have. Again, let the brush skip - NO LONG LINES. Period. And try to work around some of the lighter strands in darker areas to leave them as flyaways.

7. Varying the Coloration

Starting to look pretty good, huh? Nice and normal with all those browns and blondes mixed together? Not for long! This is the REALLY scary step where we mess up everything we painstakingly worked to perfection! Al right, it's not all that bad, but you'll still want to cry.

I want you to click Select at the top menu, the Color Range This will bring up a window with a sliding bar that says Fuzziness and a black and white window with a dropper. Move the window to the side and click directly on your drawing) one of the darker browns with the dropper. Now set the Fuzziness somewhere in the 20 -30 area or until all of your shaded areas are on the little black and white window. Now press OK and you'll see that it selected all of the areas on your hair that are within a certain range of the color you chose.

Go back to the Hue/Saturation window (ctrl + U) and click the Colorize checkbox again. Now make the selection PURPLE. That's right - PURPLE! And hit OK. The idea behind this is to shade with a color opposite on the color wheel from the one you're working with. In this case, purple is the opposite of brown (de-saturated orange). What you have now looks pretty funny, doesn't it? It's okay, if you need to take a few seconds to grieve, go ahead. I'll be here. When you're ready, save and continue to the next step.

8. Darkening the Contrasting Shadows

Now that you've mostly recovered from the slaughter of your perfectly built masterpiece, it's ime to start the defining routine again. Using the Sponge (to desaturate) and Burn (to darken), make the purple of last step look more dull and blackish. Remember - darken the all ready dark areas, don't make new ones.

9. Highlights! Finally, highlights!

It's looking a bit odd with all those shadows and no highlights, isn't it? Time to fix that! Go back into your color selector and pick out some lighter, desaturated (close to gray) orange and blue colors. Once you have those, start with the blue and let the pen skip while highlighting the dark areas. If the entire mass of hair is equally sharp, it will look unnatural. To keep this from happening, make sure to use a soft / fuzzy brush in the back part (furthest from the face). Now highlight the lighter areas with the warmer orange color and start to bring out a few flyaway strands. Again, remember to keep it blurrier toward the back.

10. Finishing touches

Almost done! Pick a light yellow color and set your brush to 70% opacity, 3-pixels. Look for the lightest spots and touch these up with the light blonde to really make them POP! Remember - no solid lines, just dashes and dots. This is the time to make flyaways and fuzzies that go against the grain of the hair. Imagine how badly your hair misbehaves on picture day and draw accordingly.

Parting Words

After you're satisfied with how it turned out, shrink it down to the size you'll be using and stare in awe of how real it looks! Congratulations, you've just learned how to draw realistic hair on a computer. *YAY*

FARP Article Guestbook

24 Dec 2008:-) Cynthia ´Arthemis´ Smit
4 Jan 2009:-) Ashley Is awesome lol
To me that looks awesome...
15 Apr 2009:-) Silvia Meiliani
Wow... I don’t have tablet so I think it’s impossible to try this TT^TT
28 Apr 2009:-) Eve Smith
Regardless of whether or not the pictures are photos, the actual tutorial part is correct. Start with a darkish middle tone and paint it bit by bit. Flesh out some lighter parts, deepen some darker parts. and remember that hair comes in locks, not just individual strands. The basic idea of the tutorial is perfectly fine. Just takes practice.
16 Jul 2009:-) Cooper Gaskins
I love this tutorial, although I have to adapt it for Corel Painter Essentials...However odd it may be and however much it may look like a photo, the tutorial part is still very valid and helpful. Thanks a lot!
9 Aug 2009:-) Leah leahir Runyan
thats cool
25 Oct 2009:-) Tiana Fair
Hi Kelly! Please can you post a link to your work as I’d love to see your stuff, it would also show us what is possible. I think you may need to add a few more steps between 8 and 10 as I cannot get any better than my usual hair texture with this tutorial. There is quite a jump to photograph standard and this is why we are having difficulty copying it. Number 10 has more colours than just light yellow added to it, I can see at least 4 so please tell us each coloour stage otherwise it is not really a tutorial that can be emulated. Cheers 12
26 Jun 2010:-) Eden Halt
amazing amazing amazing, it looks so real
1 Jul 2010:-) Emily A Cook
Ok. Now how about black hair? I’ve got a bunch of black-haired characters, and I can’t figure out how to paint their hair.
20 Apr 2012:-) Jenny McMillen
Wow, that does LOOK like real hair. I do paint my characters’ hair in a similar matter.
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