How to draw realistic hair: The ultimate tutorial

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how to draw realistic hair in 4 steps

Are you struggling when it comes to drawing hair? Drawing hair can be an intimidating task for those who are just learning how to draw. With the overwhelming amount of detail and commitment required, many people lose their patience and resort to a series of sloppy scribbles.

To some of us, drawing hair can be a nightmare. But a change in your approach can help you leave those fears behind. In this tutorial, I will introduce 4 simple steps for drawing realistic looking hair.

UPDATE: I’ve broken the steps down further (7 steps) in video format. It’s a really detailed video tutorial that covers 6 different hairstyles:

It contains additional tips, techniques and close ups so you see exactly what I’m doing.

Tools I used for this tutorial:

 

 

Tutorial Breakdown:

  • 4 steps for drawing hair
  • Close look at drawing a small lock of hair
  • How to draw curly hair (Mini tutorial)
  • How to draw short hair (Mini tutorial) Expanded tutorial is now available! With over 2000 words of valuable content + detailed images!

The steps below can be used for drawing all sorts of hairstyles from short to long and straight to curly hair. So without any further ado, let’s jump right into the lesson! Here are 4 things you need to keep in mind when it comes to drawing realistic hair:

Volume, Flow, Value and Texture

how to draw realistic hair in 4 simple steps

1. Volume

It helps to make loose outlines of the skull before you start drawing hair. If you draw hair without the 3 dimensional shape of the human head in mind, it will lack volume and you risk chopping off a part of the skull. Hair hugs the head, but it isn’t plastered to it. For most people with long hair, you can expect at least 2 centimeters of “hair height” on top of their actual height and at least 2 centimeters on the sides as well.

Having difficulty drawing heads? Click here to learn how to draw one from the front and here to draw one from side.
RFA How to Draw Hair Volume

2. Flow

In order to draw hair with flow, you need to be aware of the structure underneath. For long hairstyles in their resting state, the hair flows down, hugs the head and wraps around the shoulders. Somewhat like a liquid. You want to begin by sketching the basic structure of the hair and keep your strokes loose and simple.
rfa how to draw hair example 2

3. Value (Shadows, Midtones, Highlights)

A head of hair contains many shades, so before you start scribbling away, take some time to determine where the light source is coming from and how it will affect the tonal value of the hair.
If you are working off a reference image where the lighting is too soft, posterize the image or turn up the contrast using a free image editing program such as gimp in order to exaggerate the 3 different shades – Making them much easier to identify.

Posterized reference image:

posterize comp
Posterized Image in GIMP (image editing software)

Once you have the lighting down, start drawing boundary lines between groups of hair that appear to be overlapping. Decide where you want the light to fall and then outline those areas using the shadow lining technique. Shade your way around the highlights. If you often find yourself getting lost in the details, this step will help you keep track of the overall lighting so you can be more confident when drawing the individual hairs.

how-to-shadow-line-and-shade-hair

Click here to learn more about light and how to shade.

 

4. Texture

An average human head contains around 150,000 strands of hair. Just the thought of this can be very discouraging. FirstHow to Draw Realistic Looking Hair of all, you don’t need to spend 90% of your time meticulously drawing your subject’s hair. In fact, this step can be done so quickly it might even become your favorite step. The key to adding texture is using confident, steady strokes and maintaining a consistent flow.

Tip: You can produce long, continuous and smooth lines using an overhand grip on your pencil  while harnessing the power of your elbow and shoulder instead of your fingers and wrist.

Work on one part of the hair at a time, while following the general direction in which the strands flow. In dark areas, don’t be afraid to press hard (I used a 6B to 8B for these areas). To bring out highlights, flatten your kneaded eraser and swipe it in the desired direction. The eraser will become too dirty after the first swipe, so fold it in and flatten after each stroke.

You can add more or less detail depending on the level of realism you are trying to achieve.


Let’s take a closer look at drawing a small lock of hair:

When creating your first layer of pencil strokes, mix it up with how to draw hair close up RFAa variety of different line weights. I use a mixture of dull and sharpened pencils as well as mechanical pencils. As you are creating each stroke, remember to press and then lift as you approach the area you want to highlight. Work your strokes inwards so they fade in the middle of the lock.

Add a second layer of strokes. In this stage, I usually opt for a 0.5mm HB4B for touch-ups and a very dull 6B to fill some white space without making it look too busy.

Keep doing this until you achieve desired results. If you want to create a shiny look or replicate harsh lighting, try to keep the highlights fairly clean. You can use an eraser if need be.

For hair ends, work outwards so your hair tapers nicely without looking too blunt and dull.

Useful Techniques

Drawing hair isn’t just a bunch of lines in boring repetitive patterns. Use the 4 techniques below to make your drawings more interesting to the eye.

techniques on how to draw hair

 

If you’re having difficulties drawing long hair because your pencil strokes are too short or choppy, try holding your pencil further away from the tip. This will give you more range of motion, producing longer, smoother strokes.

Are you ready to draw some hair? Let’s implement the steps and techniques above in the 2 mini tutorials below! Pencils I will be using: 4B, 6B, 8B

How to Draw Curly Hair

Drawing curly hair is really fun and absolutely great for building confidence when it comes to adding texture.

How to Draw Curly Hair 4 Steps RFA

1. Practice drawing curls using a cylindrical shape. This will help you achieve realistic curls with plenty of volume.

2. Sometimes it helps to make associations. So think of a curl as a ribbon. They have many ringlets which stretch further apart near the bottom. Use curvy lines and avoid any straight lines in order to achieve a more realistic feel and flow. (4B)

3. Pay attention to the highlighted areas of the hair and keep it consistent. For this example, the highlight is in the center. As you can see, the hairs closest to the front have more prominent highlights than the back. (6B)

4. Use swift strokes to add texture. Break free from patterns and boring lines by overlapping or adding stray hairs. Be creative and look to reference images or even the mirror for inspiration. (4B, 8B)

How to Draw Short Hair

Drawing short hair is really no different than drawing long hair, except that you will find yourself covering less ground in the same amount of time because the strands are much shorter.

Click here to go to the expanded version of this mini tutorial (more than 2000 words and tons of detailed images)

how to draw short hair tutorial RFA

1. Construct the shape of the head and position the ear in the correct place. (4B) Click here to learn how to draw a head/face from the side and where to draw the ear.
2. Draw a loose outline of the hair using strokes that flow in the actual direction the hair is pointing. (4B)
3. Shade the dark areas, keeping in mind this step is for helping you see the big picture. (6B)
4. Add texture by working on one area of the hair at a time. Outlining groups of hair and then adding texture is also a good technique. For thin hair, use ‘v’ shapes to taper most hair ends. Keep in mind that thick hair usually does not taper at the ends. Instead, most hairs will stand on their own. (4B, 6B, 8B)

This is my longest tutorial to date! I hope it covers everything. If you want to see more tutorials like this one, please let me know. Also, don’t forget to share the love using the share buttons below :) Does the thought of drawing hair make you cringe? Let me know in the comments!

Other Hair Tutorials:

If you love RapidFireArt tutorials and want to support what I do, check out my Patreon page where you can support RFA and earn cool rewards at the same time!

Darlene created RFA In 2013 with the goal of sharing simple yet detailed drawing tutorials with other artists on the world wide web. She is a self taught pencil portrait artist and Youtuber.

107 COMMENTS

  1. This is so cool, damn!! Crap, I’m freaking out so much ahhh!! I’m drawing one of my role models/idols, Brendon Urie. I’ve shaded most of the face, but I got bored, so I wanted to move onto the hair and come back to the shading later! I’m not too bad at drawing, my drawings are easily recognisable as who they are supposed to be, but drawing hair is the BIGGEST problem for me! I always get scared when drawing hair hehe, hopefully I’ll be able to do this well, as I want to send this to Brendon as soon as I can (as fan mail). Oh well, I guess I’ll see how it turns out! Thank you so much for the tips!

  2. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I am twelve and a beginner to drawing realistic, I already figured out that I should draw hair in layers, but this tutorial is very helpful.

  3. Grazie mille che questo davvero mi he aiutato un sacco come diseghare come ho usto per essere molto spazzature in esso…… grazie grazie!! ancora!!!!

  4. Hello Darlene.
    Thanks so much for the tutorial.
    My wish is to help us with how to short Afro.
    And may be how to draw grey hair.
    Thanks

  5. thank you for these toturials you shared. i thought then that hair so hard to do so but you made some tips and techniques which makes a lot more easier than it should be.

  6. Hiii Darlene!!! You’re just awesome by the way you explain everything in detail and soo sooooo comprehensible. I’m a seasonal artist and your tutorials are helping me much more than anyone of my teachers by the way I’ve recently joined painting classes and about to complete pencil sketching course so now I’ve to choose among acrylics water and oil and I’m left with only one of these as per the time constraint to learn all … So what would you suggest best that’s going well these days.. Plz plz do suggest me .:-) :-)

    • Hi Cherishma! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and leave your feedback! I don’t really dabble into other mediums very often so I don’t know if my suggestions will help much.

      Are you taking the course to get your feet wet? If the course supplies all your materials, I would suggest oil painting because acrylic and water are fairly easy to learn on your own and the supplies are a lot cheaper from what I remember. As for what’s popular these days, I’m not quite sure to be honest.

  7. This is such an amazing tutorial and it’s helped me out with things I though I would never be capable of. Thanks to all this I feel more confident with my work. Is there any way I would be able to send some photos to you of my work ? Thanks

    • That’s awesome Shiro! I’m so happy to hear that :)
      You can send me images via the contact page. If you scroll to the bottom of the site, you’ll find the link.

  8. Your drawings are gorgeous. They have helped me to get even better in drawing perfect hairs. But Can you please give a tutorial on drawing dense curly hairs??

  9. I use the threshold option in Photoshop to see the shadows more clearly, as in your Gimp example. Thought I was the only one doing this haha.

  10. Thanks for taking your time to write this tutorial – drawing hair (or beards what si the same thing) is for me the most difficult part of a realistic face drawing .
    My difficulty is the transition from stage 2 to 3 which is , I believe, the most difficult stage .
    If one looks at the picture 3 in the tutorial, it looks very different from mere shading and it is not really explained how one gets there .
    The picture 3 doesn’t really show shading but rather strong contrasts between irregular black and thin white lines .
    If 3 is done, 4 is relatively easy because it is mainly smoothing, smudging, highlighting and blending .

    So what I wonder is how 3 is done and what would perhaps help would be to show the very first dozen of lines .
    Especially important is how the thin and irregular white lines (which look like individual hairs or very thin strands) are drawn .
    Is it with using a thin eraser ? Or is the black drawn around leaving white thin areas untouched ?
    The problem is for me neither shading, nor black lines but the strong contrast of the thin white lines .

    • Hi Tomas,

      The image I added for stage 3 is my reference image, posterized in GIMP. I’ll edit this tutorial to include the image I actually shaded for your reference. The way to get from stage 2-3 would be to use the ‘shadow lining’ technique to separate areas of hair into rough sections and then shading it. This step is just to map out the general areas of light and shadow on the hair. I’ll add a clearer example later today so you can see what I did :)

      I’m working on a more in-depth hair tutorial at the moment. This tutorial should be released early in the week. If you sign up to my email list, I’ll let you know when it’s posted.

      When I draw individual hairs, I use a mixture of adding and removing graphite. Sometimes, I’ll be lucky and get a nice clean line while I’m layering my strokes. If that happens, I’ll add a darker stroke beside a light one to help bring out the highlight more.
      If I’m not so lucky, I’ll have to use an eraser to create or redefine the highlights: http://rapidfireart.com/2015/05/14/what-is-a-kneaded-eraser-and-how-do-you-use-one/

      I’ll eventually add a video to this tutorial. Let me know if you’d like me to explain anything else in detail. *to anyone else reading this, feel free to leave your questions/suggestions as well*. I’m taking notes!

      • Thanks much for your answer . Yes I’d like a detailed explanation about something (concerning hair and beards) .

        Shading a continuous surface (a wall, a face, a vase etc) consists in simulating the amount of reflected light .
        But for a continuous surface the amount of reflected light is also continuous what makes things simple .
        That means that the technique to be used is to create gradients from dark to light . The gradients will be different, have different orientation etc but they will all be gradients . This can be typically done with smudging and blending .

        Now hairs are something completely different . They form neither a surface nor are continuous .
        Every single hair is reflecting light and as their position/orientation is not identical, one doesn’t get gradients .
        What one gets instead are strongly contrasting thin strands some reflecting much (e.g almost white) and right beside others reflecting little (e.g almost black) .
        So even if the side of the head oriented towards the light is generically lighter, there are still strands that are very dark and vice versa for the darker side of the head .
        Unfortunately it is precisely this irregular, non gradient like, very contrasted superposition of dark and light strands which makes realistic hairs .
        That’s why if I use the “standard” shading, the hairs look too much like a continuous “solid” surface and if I go more for individual hair drawing it is missing volume .

        So my problem is what technique to use to achieve those irregular, strongly contrasting thin strands because, as you rightly say in the tutorial, it is impossible to draw each of the 100 000 hairs individually :)

      • Thanks for your answer Darlene . I really appreciate that you spend some of your time to help people drawing better .
        For some reason the detailed question that I wrote yesterday didn’t come through to the comments so I’ll link a typical result I get when trying hairs (done with 4B) .
        It lacks contrast and volume but I can’t see what is wrong and what technique to use to improve it .
        [url=http://imgur.com/ZhCmR1w][img]http://i.imgur.com/ZhCmR1w.jpg[/img][/url]

        • Hi Tomas, can you send me an email via the contact page? I think it’ll be easier for me to explain using pictures. Thanks :)

  11. Thank you Darlene for your tutorials, I am just starting to draw, my goal is to draw realistic portraits, so much to learn, so many techniques, your sharing how you do it is a great start, by copying your drawings I hope to achieve my own technique from here and there I am learning a little bit at a time… one of the most important things I have learned is Patience….

    Thanks again you are wonderful

  12. First of all, WHAT ARE YOU DRAWING! Showing others your fantastic drawing skills does not teach them to draw. It teaches them to copy your work.

    People, grab a picture of a model, get a sketch pad and draw what you see. Start by laying down a foundation of white pastel on newsprint, then go over it with darker colors. If you set aside a few hours a week and draw what you, yourself see, you will learn. Technique will come later over time.

    So, what are you drawing? Where is the model?

    • lol, this tutorial gave me plenty of tips and pointers and that’s the point. To show people how she does it and give her thoughts so we can digest it and take away what we want to add to our style….. one way people learn by is mimicing and copying and then add their own flair….

    • Anne, I understand your point but Darlene seriously helped me develop my style( realistic with a touch of anime). She has probably helped others do the same as well. It would also be help if you were stuck on a feature of a drawing. This is just my opinion but I hope you see my point of view.

    • ok tbh it was kind of dumb for u to say that. her tutorial have helped me so much to understand how to draw a basic face, and now i can draw faces that look pretty realistic. from what she taught me from these, now i can look at a face and see how i can make it into a sketch. she isnt making u copy her, because if u can realize, she gives really helpful tips that have helped me a lot. so please read the things she said and maybe see if it can help u at all. u putting up that comment shows that u are ignorant of things and probably arent very smart. hope this taught u to read and look before u make conclusions.

  13. All of tutorials are really fantastic.really helpful for everyone. ..iam a fantastic drawing master.but your methoud of teaching is soo good that you can’t imagin…like a teacher :)…site is really good.thanks

  14. Can you add a part for hair that is like Randy Blythe’s hair? I have to do this for a school project, and it is not an easy feat

  15. This tutorial is very helpful!! Thank you for this awesome post. I have a question…do you have a tutorial or suggestions on how to draw realistic dred locs and braids?

    • I’m releasing a super detailed tutorial on shading very soon! You can subscribe to my newsletter to find out when it’s posted!

  16. so helpful tutors u doing tank so mach an if u do faces at some angel an all of ur drawings in different angels it will be mach more helpful to me ur changing my sketches tnk u so mach

  17. I really need help drawing hair. It’s not like regular, it is different. I have this big portrait due Tuesday and I’m stuck on the hair. Please help me.

  18. Wow! A very well-written and informative tutorial! I really enjoyed reading it and found the guidelines very simple and easy to read but still providing effective content. One of the best tutorials I’ve seen! Great work!

  19. I love all of your tutorials. I am so inspired by your tutorials. They are so helpful and will help me to draw better by using them as a reference. I will be watching for new tutorials to come out. Keep up the great work.
    Thank you

  20. how to draw really black hairs . and which pencils should be used for it ?
    as well as , how to get smoothness on hairs ? you seems a great artist . please help me .

  21. This is an awesome site!
    I just found it through a series of searches while looking at fashion illustration.
    I will totally use this site in the future!!!
    Awesome detail and such good communication through tutorials.
    Thank you Darlene, you are truly talented :)

  22. Hey Darlene. After ages of searching on the net I came across this tutorial. It’s been really helpful. I would love it if you could do one on how to draw eyes. Your drawings are amazing. Also, do you do hyperrealism and photorealism?

    • Thanks Faridah, I’m glad you found it helpful :) I have a tutorial on drawing eyes but not an ‘ultimate tutorial’ if that’s what you mean.
      Unfortunately I don’t have any hyper/photorealistic tutorials.

  23. No offense but this is a very poor tutorial. You can’t expect people to learn anything from this level of vagueness. The search for proper tutorial goes on.

  24. This IS the ULTIMATE tutorial!! Thank you so so much Darlene! I really hope you will make more tutorials like this one. Especially one for shading =)

    • Thanks Leona! I have that one on my to-do list already :) I will start working on it sometime after the holiday. You can follow me on Facebook to get an update when I post it!

    • Hey! I’m really impressed! The first one’s got some really nice volume and your strokes are quite fluid. You can make the fur shinier if you bring your lines closer together and really define the areas you want to highlight. I like how you made use of different line weights when drawing the bottom half of the tail.

      Keep up the good work :)

  25. Wonderful Tutorials, i’m gonna bookmark this site so I can always come back here if i’m feeling stuck. ^^
    Also, do you think I can apply the hair techniques to something that’s not human? like a cartoon pony’s mane?
    another thing, do you plan on doing a fur texture tutorial in the future?
    thanks in advance! ~Frostine

    • Thanks Frostine! I’m not too familiar with drawing cartoons at the moment. But I think you can apply most of these techniques for drawing cartoon hair as well. Such as the first 2 out of 4 steps (volume and flow), curls, tapering, overlapping, and line weight.
      I will be expanding the tutorial section to cover animals soon. Fur is one of the top tutorials on my list :)

  26. I am gonna thanku you for your article. It’s really helpful the way you have described it. I always have a problem drawing hair. I will love to see more exposure of hair with different type of faces.

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