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Another Hair Painting Tutorial

Author: Valea

Tools Needed

  • Any character available and Poser or D/S
  • Any layer capable paint program and a graphics tablet (or mouse)


Alright, I've been asked to do a tutorial about my hair painting technique and now I have finally managed to make it available to everyone. But please let me say a few things before we start.;-)

This tutorial is about the way I am doing the hair in my images. It is a way that is working for me, but might not be the best way for everyone else.

I have read many tutorials of great artists but wasn't able to make their technique my own ' and so this is something quite important to keep in mind ' read as many tutorials as you can and try to find the elements in them that will work best for you, experiment with them and don't ever give up. Finding your own way of painting things is much easier than trying to copy someone else's style entirely. And believe me - my first hair painting attempts were absolutely terrible. I still don't think that I'm too good at it at all.;-)

So, what do we need? It would be very helpful if you have any graphics tablet available. I'm using a small Wacom Volito for my images and that's enough for me. Then, of course ' a graphics program that will support layers and your graphics tablet . It is quite important that the program will support the pen pressure and I am also using a brush setting that should have a similar name to 'fading' and that will fade the lines at their ends (well, it just helps to get finer hair strands) Just experiment with the settings to see, what will be the best for you. I don't know if it is possible to get good results with a mouse, as I've never tried that but I think that a tablet is strongly recommended.

Ok, enough babbling for now ' let's start!


Step 1 - The Main Shape


Well, what you see here is the main shape of the hair. I'm always starting this way and have finished a large portion of the main postwork before – you can do it this way or do the postwork later but I prefer to have it ready, so the hair won't get blurred afterwards.

So add a new layer over the background layer of your image and start painting the main shape of the hair with a smooth brush. Try to keep the lines flowing and avoid making them look blocky, as the hair is always flowing and full of movement, at least when it is long enough to flow.;-)

Remember the pen pressure? You can see its importance right here, as it will make the hair look more natural than a simple, blocky line that is straight from the beginning to the end. The size of your brush depends on your image size – this one here is a larger portrait, so I was using a brush size of 25 – 35 pixels, maybe even larger.

I have also used a darker shade of grey for the shape that is to be colored later, as it is easier for me than using a color right from the start. I'm always messing it up when I use color. *g*

Step 2 - The first Strokes


So, are you satisfied with your main shape, yes? Great, let's move on to the next step. Add a new layer over the other layers – name it or not, I usually don't give my hair layers names, as I merge them quite often and don't have more than 3 or 5 of them open at the same time – that's still quite easy to keep track of.

Then go and get your smooth 2 pixel brush – well, I know that's hard but believe me, it will get even harder.;-) And again – remember the pen pressure!

Alright, now we'll choose a lighter shade of gray and start painting strokes on the new layer. Keep them flowing and take care of the top of the head, as this is an area that is easily forgotten but very important to make your special haircut look natural!

It is desirable to think about the directions in which the hair will be flowing, when doing so, as this will help a lot – strokes that are going into strange directions may look a little false in the end and it is a pain to get rid of them. But you don't have to be too careful at all.

Ok, finished with the lines? Then go and choose an even lighter shade of gray and do the same once more. You can do this on a new layer but if you're not sure about the result, just add a new one and paint on it!

Step 3 - The Eraser


Does everything look alright? Great, so let's move on to the next step. Select the layer with your main shape and look at the hair ends. They should be looking quite blocky with the strokes of the 2 pixel brush going over it. So get your favorite eraser and take a bit of the main shape away at the hair ends, so that you will see the finer strokes and not the large blocks.

Step 4 - Color


Finished? Ok, now we'll merge the layers of the hair but NOT the background! So there will be only one hair layer left over your image of the poor, bald character. Now it's time to color the hair. Go to the hue / saturation option and use it on your hair layer, until the color looks fine to you. I have chosen black hair in this case and that may not be the wisest choice to show this option. While you might be having a nice blond, brown, or red hair color now, I am left with a very dark grey that is not nice to work with at all.;-)

Step 5 - The 1 Pixel Brush


So what I have to do now, is add a new layer, grab my lovely, smooth 1 pixel brush *cough* and start painting with a lighter shade of gray. Again, a lot of strokes are needed here and it isn't fun at all with this small brush. But any larger brush will just look awful, so I'll have to shut up and paint.

If you've chosen another hair color, just pick your eyedropper and select the color from your hair shape, then look for a nice, lighter shade of the main color and well' just do the same.

Step 6 - Here we go...


And when you're finished with it? An even lighter color and the same procedure with different tones of your color over and over until it looks good! Avoid pure white as a highlight color as it might look false on your hair and a little too hard.

It is not easy to decide now, how much work on the hair will be needed. Don't overuse different colors on your hair, but don't stop too soon. Even if the hair might look finished, it is no bad idea to go on with it, as it might look even better afterwards.

Step 7 - Make it shine


Ok, but the hair looks dull, doesn't it? Time for some highlights and a little thought about light and darkness. Merge your hair layers again and then add a new one and set it to overlay. Choose pure white as a color, pick a large (I've used the 100 pixel brush in my image), smooth brush – and start painting (or rather dotting, to be honest) highlights into the areas where the light will be visible on the hair. Looks a little too bright when you're finished, doesn't it? Apply the Gaussian blur over the white dots and lower the opacity of your layer a little, as needed. It should look a lot better now.

A little bit of your burn tool could be great also – use it on the shady areas, it will make your hair look a lot more real. But however – don't overuse this tool, as it might ruin the whole image very, very fast.

Oh and something important - don't merge this certain layer with the other hair layers or you will experience a not so very nice surprise.;-) Keep it over the other layers until you merge the finished hair with the background.

Step 8 - Details!


Done? Then let's have a look. It won't hurt to add details and so have a look at the upper part of the head and add small strokes from your 1 pixel brush to the area where the hair starts. Some fine strands of hair and single brushstrokes will look good also and add to the realism, so have a look at your hair shape and add them, go out of the main shape and paint over it with fine strokes that will look lively and flowing. We don't want to keep a blocky shape, do we?;-)

Add some more highlights, where you think that they are needed, paint some single strokes into the face, look at the hair ends and add some more until they look good or use a darker color to add contrast.

This is a stage where I can't help you a lot anymore and where your hair painting is left to your own imagination. I've shown you the basics, so go on and have a look if they will work for you.

The burn tool, some more highlighting, shading – whatever will make your hair look good and alive will be right.

Just don't forget to add some shadows below your hair layer, when you're done and keep in mind that you can use hue / saturation whenever you don't like the color anymore or if it gets too light. And remember – setting the contrast a little lower might also help your hair to look good.;-)

Step 9 - Finished


Well' that's all I have to say. Have a look if it will work for you and don't hesitate to ask me, if you want to know some more details or have any other questions.:-)