Skip to Content

How do you shade anime hair with a pen?

Anime hair styles are known for their bold, dramatic shaping and colorful hues. Learning how to shade anime hair properly can help bring your anime character drawings to life. When shading anime hair with pens, using the right techniques and tools is key for creating dimension and texture.

The Basics of Shading Anime Hair

Before jumping into advanced shading methods, it’s important to understand the basics. Here are some core guidelines to follow when shading anime hair:

  • Use a lighter touch when shading towards the highlights. Press down harder when shading the shadows.
  • Add gradients by slowly lightening the pressure as you shade outwards from the shadows.
  • Use cross-hatching (layers of parallel lines) to create textures and gradients in the hair.
  • Make sure your core shadows remain dark and saturated.
  • Leave white spots for shiny areas and highlights.

Choosing the Right Drawing Tools

Having the right drawing tools makes a huge difference when shading anime hair. Here are some recommended tools:

  • Pens: Fine tip black pens (0.3-0.8mm) are essential. Have a range of tips for thick and thin lines.
  • White gel pens: These add shiny hair highlights on top of shaded areas.
  • Blending stumps: Useful for softening and smoothing shaded areas in the hair.
  • Colored pencils: Add depth by layering colored pencil over pen shading.

High quality drawing paper is also recommended to handle multiple layers of shading without smudging.

Shading Straight, Smooth Hair

For sleek, straight anime hair:

  • Use long, sweeping strokes in the direction the hair flows to shade.
  • Add subtle lines across the form to show highlights and add texture.
  • Gradually lighten pressure when shading toward the highlights.
  • Use a blending stump to soften and blend the shading for seamless gradients.

Shading Spiky, Textured Hair

For spiky, tousled, textured anime hair:

  • Use small zigzag strokes to create a choppy, jagged look.
  • Vary the thickness and darkness of lines to create lots of contrast.
  • Make the spikes and ends of the hair darker with thicker lines.
  • Add crisscrossing hatching strokes to build up shading and texture.
  • Leave more white highlights throughout to increase contrast.

Shading Curly, Wavy Hair

For bouncy curls or wavy locks:

  • Use “C” shaped, looping strokes following the curve of the hair strands.
  • Vary the thickness and closeness of lines to show changes in form and lighting.
  • Make the interior of curls darker by thickening lines and adding cross hatching.
  • Leave areas within the curls white to show shiny highlights.
  • Soften transitions between lights and darks with a blending stump.

Shading Long, Flowing Hair

For long, flowing anime hair:

  • Use long, fluid strokes following the flow of the hair’s movement.
  • Make strokes extend past the outline to show flyaway strands.
  • Use hatching and crosshatching to develop form, shadows and highlights.
  • Gradually lighten shading toward the ends and edges.
  • Add motion lines and stray wispy hairs to show movement.

Shading Anime Hair Accessories

Hair accessories like ribbons, hats and hair clips need some special shading considerations:

  • Study lighting on real ribbons to see how light hits the folds and edges.
  • Shade the undersides of hats and hair clips darker, leaving the top lighter.
  • Use thin, looping strokes to show the texture of ribbons and cloth.
  • Shade hair behind objects lighter to push it into the background.

How Lighting Affects Shading

The direction and intensity of lighting has a big impact on how you shade anime hair. Here are some tips for shading hair under different lighting:

Front Lighting

  • Shade the hair on the crown and sides darker.
  • The front sections and ends will be lightest.
  • Add rim lighting along the edges facing the light.

Side Lighting

  • Shade heavily on the side opposite the light.
  • Add strong highlights on the side closest to the light.
  • Use gradient shading to transition between the light and shadowed sides.

Back Lighting

  • The silhouette will be darkest.
  • Shade gradually lighter toward the edges.
  • Use thickly shaded rim lighting around edges.

Overhead Lighting

  • The top will be most highlighted.
  • Shade underneath sections darker.
  • Add cast shadows on the neck and shoulders below.

Practicing Shading Different Hair Colors

The hair color also impacts shading. Here are tips for some common anime hair colors:

Black Hair

  • Use black and gray tones when shading.
  • Add blue tints in the shadows for depth.
  • Leave white highlights on the highest planes.

Blonde Hair

  • Use light grays and light blue hues when shading.
  • Make highlights punchier by leaving white paper.
  • Add yellow and orange colored pencil in light layers over the grays.

White/Silver Hair

  • Use light to mid-range grays for shading white hair.
  • Highlight with white gel pen.
  • For silver, add blue and purple colored pencil.

Unnatural Colors

  • Shade with darker and duller version of the color.
  • Gradually lighten shading toward highlight areas.
  • For extra dimension, layer complementary colored pencil over the base shading.

Common Shading Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some common mistakes when shading anime hair and how to fix them:

Mistake How to Fix It
Hair lacks volume and looks flat. Create more contrast between lights and darks. Add thicker shading in shadows.
Shading looks messy and muddy. Blend and soften shading more. Use smoother strokes.
Harsh, obvious transitions between shades. Soften edges by carefully smoothing and blending tones together.
Hair lacks texture and looks stiff. Use more hatching, crosshatching and varied line weights.


Shading anime hair may seem complicated at first glance, but just remember to use the right shading strokes, transition gradients smoothly, and observe lighting carefully. With some practice on different hairstyles and colors, you’ll start getting a feel for shading anime hair in a convincing way. The key is developing control of your pencil pressure, building up tones gradually, and not being afraid to make those shadows nice and dark! With the shading techniques covered in this guide, you’ll be drawing gorgeous, dynamic anime hair in no time.