Anime Shading: Discover the Technical Process to Create Awesome Anime Drawings!

Various anime shading and comic shading techniques have evolved over the years. With the move to the digital platform, it has never been easier to do. While there are many ways to learn this technical skill, it still goes back to two fundamental basics: having a line art and shading underneath it.

Just look around the different type of stylized anime art. The colors are rich as a means to give identity to characters and environments so the viewer can quickly distinguish between different characters. The colors are also flat where shadows are created using a darker hue of the same color rather than a gradient.

Then, there is the line art. The line art is helpful in isolating and creating boundaries on the drawing. While helpful for the individual artist, this is especially important when you have a team of artists, that needs to organize work with others, to know what to color at a glance.

Since there are two components to anime shading, it is logical to have both areas separated via some sort of layering process. Most drawing software should have a built in layer functionality. This is important as it helps keep the drawing organized.

Anime shading: line art

Through a simple demonstration, the process of putting anime shading involves a few steps. First, as mentioned, the line art is the most important part as it dictates the rest of the composition. Ideally, the preparation of the line art should be in its most finished state.

The cleanup is usually done through isolating black and white hues whereby the contrast is set so different shades of intermediary grey hues becomes either black or white. Through the magic of contrast options present in modern drawing software, this can be done with a few clicks of the mouse.

anime shading step 1 from

If the line art is scanned in, then there is an extra step in deleting the white background outside of the line drawing. Again, this is easy enough through adjusting the contrast and then globally selecting all white pixels through a selection marquee and then deleting it.

Sometimes, it is necessary to draw in any line art by hand to finalize or close any gaps. How much effort spent here will indicate the general quality of the line drawing. When done, I can proceed to the next step, which is to add simple flat colors.

Anime shading: adding flat colors

The second step after finishing off the line drawing would be to add flat colors in preparation for anime shading to happen. Some like to add the flat colors on top of the line drawing while others like to add it underneath it.

Regardless of method, it is always done on a separate layer. Personally, I like to draw it underneath the line art. With a simple hard edged brush, the flat colors are usually drawn in, using maximum pressure, following the outline suggested by the line art.

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For each color, I like to create a separate layer. For instance, a skin layer that has all the browns, the hair layer that has all the dark blues, and a clothing layer that has many different flat colors. The choice is up to the artists on how they want to arrange these flat colors.

Depending on work flow or what is needed, it is OK to stop here as just the flat colors are enough to get the idea across. For commercial work like logos, one or two flat colors is enough. Now, since I don't want to stop here, the next step would be to detail out the flat colors.

Anime shading: adding weight

The advantage of having flat colors on its own layer will be demonstrated best when adding more complex shading. The idea here is to lock the layers with the flat colors down. This prevents any spilling of colors outside the designated areas.

There is a fine balance between having too many or too little layers, though. Too little layers means color control may be difficult while too many layers will slow down the work flow as switching between colors on different layers can get cumbersome. In these instance, it is OK to start merging flat colored layers.

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For the coloring, there are essentially two possible paths. The simple method would be to add more flat colors of the same hue. For example, a darker version of skin color drawn in near the hair lines to show a bit of shadowing from the hair. Most artists striving for an ideal anime shading style will stop here.

The other possible method will be to shade in normally without any regards to creating that ideal anime shading style. This is more for works that target a bit more realism as it creates more of a gradual range of colors to the drawing. I've opted for this path in this demonstration.

Anime shading: complex gradients

Artists looking to add another layer of depth to their drawings can use color gradients. The advantage is that it makes the drawings look much more vibrant than simple flat colors. Another advantage is that it can suggest a directional key light source on a global level.

The downside is that it can get hard to manage if there are too many layers and that it won't be very useful for commercial work as too many color variations only adds to complexity and costs. However, for digital distribution, this won't be an issue.

The easiest gradient to do is a simple black to white fade combined with the 'soft light' or 'overlay' layer blend mode. This allows for a global gradient to be done on the entire drawing. However, doing it on a per layer basis can get a bit more complicated as not all drawing software can support this functionality.

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In Photoshop, I use an internal function called 'layer styles' to insert a simple gradient on individual objects like the magic circle underneath. This can be repeated for any other object that could benefit from this simple procedure. But what if I don't have Photoshop?

In that case, shading individual gradients on a one on one basis are usually generally shaded in with a large round brush (again, through locking down the layer's shape to prevent any spilling) if the drawing software does not support the feature natively.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of freedom on how far one can take anime shading. It can be a simple drawing with flat colors or it can have a bit more realism. The final result will have be dependent on what tasks and requirements are needed to be met for that specific drawing.

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