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How to shade anime face?

Anime faces can be difficult to shade properly. The subtle gradients and highlights that bring anime characters to life require careful attention and practice. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through the keys to shading anime faces in a step-by-step manner.

Understanding Anime Facial Structure

Before jumping into shading techniques, it’s important to have a foundational understanding of anime facial structure. Anime faces are simplified compared to realistic human faces, built around a set of common stylistic elements:

  • Large, expressive eyes
  • Small, narrow noses
  • Pointed chins
  • Smooth, round facial contours

These structural characteristics influence how light and shadow play across anime faces. For example, the large eye style lends itself to distinct shadows around the brow and bridge of the nose. The small nose style limits shadows on the nose itself. Paying attention to the impacts of anime facial structure will allow you to shade in a way that complements the style.

Choosing Your Light Source

Before applying any shading, decide on a primary light source for the anime face. Is the light coming strongly from above, from the side, or at an angle? The direction and intensity of your light source will determine where shadows fall. For most anime faces, a gentle light source placed above and slightly in front of the character works best. This lights the face clearly without being too dramatic. Keep the light source consistent as you shade the different facial features.

Shading the Base Skin Tone

With your light source selected, start with a simple base skin tone for the anime face. Use a soft, mid-range shade without much contrast. Focus the base tone on the character’s cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead, leaving the eyes, hair, ears, and neck for later. At this stage, keep the shading very simple – you just want a foundation to build on.

Adding Shadows and Dim Lighting

Now begin transforming the flat base tone into a more three-dimensional look. Add shadows and gradients to create the impression of contours and lighting. Place darker shadows in the following areas:

  • Beneath the eyebrows
  • Down the sides of the nose and onto the upper cheeks
  • Along the jawline and chin
  • Around the neck and collarbones

Use a soft brush to blend the shadows outwards from these areas. Apply lighter gradients on any raised areas facing the light source, like the forehead, cheekbones, and bridge of the nose. Work slowly and subtly – anime shading should look natural, not harsh.

Shading Unique Facial Features

With the main facial contours established, shift focus to the individual features. Consider the form of each feature and how light would strike it:

  • Eyes: Add shadows above and below, leaving highlights along the top and bottom edges. Deepen the shadows towards the outer corners.
  • Nose: Shade along the sides and underneath, keeping the bridge highlighted. Less shadowing for a small, narrow nose.
  • Mouth: Define the upper lip with mid-range tones. Leave highlights along the bottom lip and fade into shadows at the corners.
  • Ears: Shade the folds inside the ear and where they attach to the head. Add small shadows around the outer rim.
  • Hair: Vary tones to create shape and texture. Shade where hair overlaps facial features.

Take the time to render each feature carefully. Subtlety is key – build up thin layers of shading gradually.

Refine With Highlights and Blended Contours

Revisit the whole face and make refinements. Lightly blend shadows into surrounding areas, removing any harsh edges. Add highlights to raised or curved areas facing the light. Common highlight placement includes:

  • Brow bone
  • Forehead
  • Bridge and tip of nose
  • Upper cheeks and cheekbones
  • Jawline

Use crisp, bright tones for these small highlights to increase contrast. Take care not to overdo it – anime highlights should accent, not overwhelm. Make any final adjustments needed to get smooth, natural shading and lighting across the entire face.

Tips for Matching Light and Shadow

Here are some handy tips for keeping your anime face shading balanced and believable:

  • Softer light = softer shadows. Use blurred, diffuse shadows for gentle lighting.
  • Cast shadows over features that overlap, like hair over cheeks.
  • Offset bright highlights with deeper shadows to increase contrast.
  • Pick a light color for highlights and matched darker version for shadows.
  • Imagine the 3D head shape to determine where to shade.

Practice Makes Perfect

Shading anime faces takes patience and practice. Work on copying and recreating the shading of anime art you admire. This hands-on process will build your skills and understanding of anime lighting techniques. Some recommended exercises include:

  • Studying and reproducing shading from anime screenshots
  • Copying lighting on 3D anime models and figures
  • Quick sketching of shaded anime faces from imagination
  • Shading simplified practice heads at different angles

With regular practice sessions, you’ll gradually get a feel for how to stylize shading for anime’s unique aesthetic. Don’t get discouraged – even professional anime artists had to start somewhere!

Using Digital Art Software

Digital art programs like Photoshop or Clip Studio can be very helpful when learning to shade anime characters. Their flexible brushes and layers make it easy to apply gradients, blending, and overlays. Some digital shading techniques include:

  • Sketching base layers to plan out lighting
  • Using clipping layers to isolate shading
  • Lowering opacity to soften and blend tones
  • Airbrushing gradients for soft, diffused lighting
  • Adding texture overlays like speckles for realism

Take advantage of digital tools, but don’t rely on filters and effects too much. Custom shading will always look better than shortcuts. Digital software takes practice as well – work to build control and comfort using it.

Common Shading Mistakes

When starting out, it’s easy to make certain mistakes with anime shading. Be alert for issues like:

  • Shadows that are too dark and harsh
  • Overdoing highlights, especially on the nose
  • Forgetting reflected light to soften shadows
  • Inconsistent lighting causing mismatched shading
  • Shading facial features separately without harmony

Check for these problems frequently and train your eye to spot unnatural or imbalanced shading. Taking the time to shade carefully will pay off in more believable, appealing anime faces.


Shading is a vital skill for anime art that requires observation, practice, and patience. Start by structuring smooth base tones, strategically adding shadows, and highlighting raised areas. Refine details feature-by-feature, working gradually to create cohesive lighting. Keep studying anime face references to hone your approach. With a commitment to regular practice and study, your shading abilities will improve by leaps and bounds. Before you know it, you’ll be able to bring anime characters to life with elegant, masterful shading.