How To Paint Realistic Hair

How To Paint Realistic Hair

How To Paint Realistic Hair

In part 2 of this 2-part digital painting tutorial, you will learn how to easily paint beautiful, realistic-looking hair without needing to download any special brushes.

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 1

1. Paint the Basic Shape of the Hair

The hardest part of this whole tutorial is deciding on the hair style! Once you decide on a shape, on a new layer, paint it using a watercolor brush. Use the darkest color of your hair. Don’t refine the edges too much, and it’s ok to leave the edges a bit transparent as long as your character’s scalp is covered. (You may also want to check out my other tutorial, How To Draw Hair: Trichology for Illustrators.)

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 2

2. Break Up the Shape

Lock your hair layer’s transparency.
Take a slightly lighter color than your shadow color, and a large watercolor brush, but not so large that it covers your whole hairstyle.
Paint in the natural direction of the hair flow, starting from the part (or whorl). Here I did about 4 or 5 strokes total. Keep your strokes long and flowing, rather than “petting” your brush (making short strokes close together).

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 3

3. Smaller Brush, Lighter Color..

Shrink your brush to a smaller size. It doesn’t really matter how much smaller, but I usually go to about 1/2 to 1/3 the size of my last brush. Using a slightly lighter color than before, paint again in the natural direction of the hair flow starting from the part.
What we are doing here is breaking the hair into “chunks.”  You don’t want to completely cover the strokes you did previously, but rather break up the shape into smaller and smaller pieces.

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 4

4. Repeat This Process

There isn’t a certain number of times you need to do this, you could continue shrinking your brush by 1 pixel a hundred times if you like, but that would be really tedious and the outcome is the same, so conserve your time and energy. Continue to break up the hair into smaller pieces, being mindful of the natural flow of hair, and starting from the part. 

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 5

 5. Repeating..

When you start to get pretty small, you can start flicking off some hairs in a different direction, adding a different curve, etc. Little imperfections like this will make your hair look more real and natural.

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 6

 6. Until…

You will end up with something like this, using a little tiny brush. In total I used 5 different brush sizes. Don’t worry about putting these little strokes in out of focus areas, because we’re about to…

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 7

 7. Blur

Use a medium sized blur brush. Tap the blur tool in the part area, as well as other out of focus areas, and then randomly in in-focus areas too. You don’t want to go over the whole thing with a huge blur brush or with a blur filter, because you’ll lose all that beautiful detail you spent all of 5 minutes creating. You want some areas to stay sharp and others to stay soft.

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 8

 8. Shade the Hair

Use a large airbrush and set the blend mode to either burn or multiply. Gently brush underneath the parietal ridge and over the part. Then set the blend mode of the brush to one of the following: dodge, screen, lighten, or overlay. (I used dodge) Brush over the parietal ridge. This will make your hair look round. You can also add random highlights and shadows in the rest of the hair, but these are the most important areas.

How To Paint Realistic Hair Step 9

9. Retouch

I unlocked my layer transparency so I could soften the edges of my hair. You should also add a few flyaway hairs at this point (but don’t go crazy with them, unless your character is supposed to have split ends). Adjust the color balance if necessary. Finally, paint a little bit of scalp color showing through in the part area.