Friday, July 5, 2013

How To Draw Hair Highlights in Photoshop

Gather round kids, it's time for another art lesson! Today we're gonna learn how to draw highlights in a character's hair.

Take a good look at Rockabilly Vampire's impressive gravity-defying coif here. Notice how it glistens and shines in the light, as if it's been coated with hair gel or "product" as the hairdressers like to call it?

Hair highlights are something I've struggled with for years. Not on my own head, mind you, but on the heads of characters I draw. I've never been able to figure out a good way to draw them that satisfied me and didn't take hours and hours to render. 

Until now. I think I've finally come up with a good way to simulate gleaming hair highlights. There are probably other better ways to do this, but this is the one I came up with. 

Note: These steps are for Photoshop, but would probably work in any bitmap drawing program that features layers.

First you've got to start with a drawing. Kind of makes sense, right? Your line drawing should be on its own layer, preferably at the top.

Make a new layer underneath the line drawing layer and add color, shading and whatever else you've got planned.

Here's where the highlight part comes in. Make a new layer above your color layer. Pick a color that's a bit lighter than the hair and draw a thick stripe across the front of the hair (where the light source is coming from).

I used a scratchy brush with fuzzy edges to draw the highlight. I dialed the flow of the brush down to around 20% to draw the middle of the stripe, then lowered it to 1% or 2% to blend in the edges (the edge blending is important). 

Try to follow the contour of the hair to help define the shape and give it some dimension.


Next pick a color that's a big lighter and color the center of the stripe. The two tones help make the highlight look more realistic.

Once that's done, make a copy of this highlight layer. Why a copy? Because you're gonna start erasing it and if you're anything like me you're gonna mess it up and need to start over, so having a copy of it will save time and prevent lots of cursing and mouse-throwing.

OK, once you've made a copy of this highlight layer, turn off the original. Now take your eraser tool and start erasing vertical stripes in the highlight. Use a sharp brush for the eraser and leave it at 100% strength. I like to make four or five thick stripes all across the highlight to serve as guides for the additional erased lines that'll be coming later.

Again, try to make the erased lines follow the contour of the hair. Don't just erase perfectly straight lines.


Once that's done, keep going and erase the rest of your lines in the highlight stripe. Vary the lines; thin next to thick looks best. Remember, you're supposed to be simulating strands of hair here.They also don't all have to go all the way through the highlight, some can stop halfway through.

If you're satisfied with the way the stripes look, good for you! Most likely you'll want to try it again, and that's where your foresight and planning pays off-- you made a copy of the highlight, remember? So now you can copy it again and give it another go.


Once you're happy with the stripes, pick a fuzzy brush for the eraser, dial it down to 1% and erase the edges a bit more to make them blend in better. 

That's it! You've just created cool glistening highlights in your character's hair! Now go brag about it on Facebook and Instagram it or whatever the hell people are doing these days.

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