Skip to Content
Home » Tutorials

Learn How to Draw Realistic Hair in 8 Easy Steps

Drawing hair can feel like a daunting task at first. Maybe it’s because we try to jump into details first. And sometimes we overdo trying to get the best detailing while it’s not necessary.

We should slow down a bit and approach it one step at a time. When it comes to drawing hair one should not start with individual strands first. Rather it’s like sculpting where you find the basic form of hair and then you find the volumes of the groups.


How to Draw Realistic Hair

In this step-by-step hair drawing tutorial, I’ll present some techniques to help you solve your way through all of your hair drawing problems. Note that I’ll use photoshop but the concept is pretty same no matter if you use any other software or draw it freehand.

Step 1: Draw the outline

how to draw hair step 1
Step 1: Draw the outline

First of all, you should think of hair as a 3d object and you should not start drawing a single strand at a time. 

Find the basic form of the hair just like other parts of the body which has shadows, highlights, and mid-tones. 

You can use references, but you should not only copy and concentrate on designing. 

We have to understand the volume of the head around which the locks of hair wraps.

Here we took a reference and just put some lines to draw the hair. You don’t need to rush and make it look better in the first step. Take a new layer over the background, take any brush you like and draw the basic outlines of the hair you want to draw.


Step 2: Fill with the base color

how to draw hair step 2
Step 2: Fill with the base color

Now the colors. Take a new layer and keep it below the 1st layer so when you color you don’t lose the outlines you made before which you need to guide you. Set the opacity to 100% and flow to  50% as you want the same base color all over the area.


Step 3: Shadows

Step 3: Shadows
Step 3: Create shadows

Create a new layer put on top and name it shadow.

As we mentioned earlier, we are not going to draw hair as a single strand but rather as a bulk. To give the hair shadow & highlight areas, 1st of all you have to decide from which angle you want to put the light. And the next steps will follow your decision. 

Shadows are the darkest areas.

Here we assumed an easy light source from the up and a little bit front. So we take a darker shadow than the base color and put shadows in the areas behind the ear and both sides of the face where light cannot pass. And the other areas according to the light source. 

Set the brush opacity to 40-50% as you don’t want the same opacity all over now. Because shades can vary in opacity.

You can always use references to understand the direction of lights. Because understanding the nature of light is not a piece of cake.


Step 4: Deep shadows

drawing hair step 4: how to Deep shadows in hair
Step 4: Create deep shadows

Create another layer over the shadow layer

Now you select the groups of hair as a single volume and put more shadows in different areas. Take different shades to make it look realistic putting dark shades in the different groups. Keep brush opacity to 30-40%.

Connect the shadows, it is important. Too many floating shadows will be distracting. Increase opacity where you want to put strong shadows and decrease opacity near the highlights.


Step 5: Halftones

how to draw hair step 5: Halftones
Step 5: Halftones

Create another layer over the deep shadow layer

Halftones are gradations. They gradate to shadow on one side and to highlights on another. Take different colors close to your shadow area and gradate to lighter color.


Step 6: Highlights

How to draw hair step 6: Highlights
Step 6: Hair Highlights

Highlight is the area where the light hits directly. Create another layer over the halftone layer and select a lighter color. You can select white color, and keep the opacity of the brush to 40-50% depending on how bright you want in different areas.


Step 7: Blending

Drawing Realistic Hair Step 7: Blending

Step 7: Blending

Blending is an important part. You can’t use a brush and pick the colors from dark to light and blend the transitional areas. Or you can simply use the ‘Smudge tool’. This will save you time. 

But first make a copy of the last 3 layers- shadow, midtone, and highlight. Then make copy of them and merge the copied layers together. Because if they are in the same layer it’s easy to smudge naturally one color with another. And making copy is because u don’t want to lose the original layer in case u mess up.

Set strength to 40%. And smudge the transitional areas and connect the shadow, highlight and midtone.


Step 8: Designing or Detailing

Drawing Hair Step 8: Designing or Detailing
Step 8: Designing or Detailing

We have now something that has the shape of hair and has shadow, midtones and highlights.

Now the 4th element we need to make it look like hair is texture.

Select the round brush tool. Create another layer over the Blending layer.

Take the round brush tool, decrease the size and increase the opacity to 70-85% and now you can draw the strands of hair.

Don’t just put random lines. Try to understand which way the hair flows. Be confident. Don’t give a slow and confused stroke. Put rapid and confident strokes along the course and don’t worry about putting it in the wrong places because hairs do move and some hairs on the forehead and face will make it more realistic.

Take a darker shadow to cover the highlight and midtone areas. You really don’t have to draw every single strand.

Leave the shadow area because you really can’t see all the details in a dark area.

Don’t draw too much that u make all the areas look the same. The highlighted area should still be lighter. And the midtone area should be different from the shade and highlight area. 

And lastly, you can put some messy strands along the margins to give the hair a more realistic look!

step by step guide to drawing hair