HOW TO DRAW: Highlights in Hair

Once again, when it comes to colouring and shading a character you always need to take notice of the light source. Ask yourself ‘where does the light come from’, ‘how bright is it’ and ‘what colour does it have’?

Hair generally has a shiny surface and bounces off the light rather well. So highlights show up very well. Highlights are fun to draw, yet they can put down a picture if placed incorrectly.

Always remember that hair has volume and that it has a shape. Depending on where the light hits, the hair will show light areas and dark ones. In case the overall shape of the hair seems to be too complex, try to divide it into simpler shapes in your mind. Mostly it will follow a curve.
Imagine a ball to be the head from which hair grows, take gravity into consideration and you can start to guess how the hair will flow.

A tutorial on how to create highlights in manga hair.

When you look at different manga or anime you will discover that there are countless different styles when it comes to highlights in hair. There is no real right or wrong of how a highlight needs to look. BUT it needs to be coherent with the overall artistic style.
Is the hair drawn in a simpler and stylised manner, complex and realistic highlights might seem very out of place. The same is true for the reverse. Have a look around the internet to see how different art styles handle their hair highlights.

A tutorial on how to create highlights in manga hair.

A rule of thumb for highlights is to make them look erratic. Avoid repetition of the same strokes. You might want to base the highlights on the same type of strokes, yet try to add diversity.

V-shapes are a good place to start when you want to add highlights. Bend them, apply a few more strokes, change their size and divide the strokes. It might take a bit of practice to make them look random, so do not be discouraged if the do not look right the first time.

A tutorial on how to create highlights in manga hair.

Thinking back to the shaded ball above, I should note that the highlights in hair are never a true spotlight. Instead they appear  to be placed on an imaginary ring around the head slightly on top.

Straight hair does make it easier to add highlights to. No distracting hair strands which go in different directions while breaking up the simple ‘ball’ shape of the head. Let the highlights follow the gentle curve. Add diversity to the strokes and let the highlights also follow the direction of the hair strands.
When the light comes from the side, then highlights should reflect that by not going all the way around the head. Highlights will not appear in shadow areas.
Specific lighting setups can create interesting effects on the hair, such as backlighting, and can add a lot to the atmosphere of an image.

A tutorial on how to create highlights in manga hair.

A typical hair style in manga and anime is spiky hair, which can be trickier to shade. The overall ball shaped surface is gone and replaced with spikes all over the place. Even though that is a case, try to imagine that ring around the head on which the highlights are placed. Follow that rule generously, bet leave room for highlights to appear on upward facing hair strands.
Spiky hair does have more contact areas with the light, so some strands might be highlighted, which are closer to the light source, while others are shadowed by them.

A tutorial on how to create highlights in manga hair.

Different hairstyles will lead to different looking highlights, but the same principle applies. The highlight will be visible on the most out- or inward side of a curve.  Straight hair will feature ‘tame’ highlights whereas curly hair highlights will appear more irregular and twisted. In either case do they follow the flow of the hair and reflect their light source’s position.

TIP: Do not go overboard by adding too many highlights everywhere. It will look out of place.

TIP: Highlights do not need to be white. Often they appear more pleasing when they are a very light rendition of the normal hair colour.

A tutorial on how to create highlights in manga hair.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.
Thanks for reading.

© Aileen Strauch, first published on WorldMangaAcademy.com in 2015