How to Draw Realistic Hair: The Ultimate Tutorial


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.

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
  • How to draw short hair

how to draw realistic hair in 4 steps

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. Start shading or outlining dark areas so you can get the big picture before getting too caught up in the small details.

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

posterize comp

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.

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!

New Tutorial: How to Draw Braids (this is a pay-to-unlock tutorial)

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.


  1. 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

  2. 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….

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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

  10. 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 .

  11. 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 :)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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 :)

  15. 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 :)

  16. 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.