How to Digitally Outline Hair

Outlining hair is fun, but is one of those things that can look slightly ‘off’ about a piece if you don’t get it quite right. Doing it digitally adds another element of challenge! In this article, I wanted to outline the steps that I use to outline hair in Photoshop, and break them down into more manageable chunks. Once you get the hang of it, outlining hair is likely to become one of your favourite steps :)

This post is mainly to outline the ‘aesthetics’ of the steps on how to outline hair in Photoshop (or any other digital art program) — that is, the look you want to achieve at each stage — if you’re having trouble achieving smooth lines, I would recommend using Photoshop’s pen tool.

To assist you with that, I’ve created a guide on how to use the Photoshop pen tool and included it as a free download. I think the pen tool is so powerful and useful for creating controlled and smooth lineart, especially if you don't have access to a tablet pen. Grab the technical guide for free below! :)

Free Photoshop pen tool guide

Alright, let’s dive in.

Step 1: Prep the Sketch

The inevitable first sketch to any digital piece (that you drew by hand first) is to prep the sketch so it’s easy to digitize. First, I simply import a photo of it into Photoshop (I just take it on my phone).

From there, my personal preference is to adjust the saturation, brightness, contrast, levels, and opacity so that I am left with a faded sketch that still has clear lines to trace.

Step 2: Outline The Main Shapes

My next step is to outline the main ‘body’ of the hair. Taking a look at your piece, try and distinguish which primary shapes comprise the body of your hair. In my case, this is what I came up with.

Here’s what it looks like with the sketch layer visible underneath, so you can get a better idea of which lines I thought were and were not part of the main base shapes.

Step 3: Build Up the Detail

Next we’re going to add a bit more detail. Using a smaller brush size, go in and build up the shapes a bit more. Add in some more chunks of hair that follow the flow of the main shapes you just outlined.

Don’t go too far with adding individual stands. Try and find a middle ground, and we’ll add the finer details in the next step.

Here’s how I tackled this step:

And again, here’s what it looks like with the sketch underneath so that you can see which shapes I chose to build up at this stage.

Step 4: Add the Final Touches

Now that the main shapes are done, we can go in and build out the detail. Again, use a smaller brush size for this, and at this point you can go a bit further with outlining individual strands.

Remember to use the smallest brush size relative to the rest of the hair for these parts; this adds a sense of hierarchy to your lines and levels of detail.

How far you go with the detail is a matter of personal style! Experience and see what you like the look of.

And again, here's how it looks with the sketch. You’ll note that I didn’t follow every line in my original sketch; I changed it up a bit as I went and made a few adjustments.

Bonus: One Trick for Smooth Lineart

Like I mentioned above, this isn’t a technical tutorial. I wanted to demonstrate one style of outlining hair in Photoshop (or any other digital art program), which you can achieve using whichever digital art techniques you feel most comfortable with.

However, to accompany this post, I also created a technical guide on how to use Photoshop’s pen tool, which is such a useful tool in achieving smooth, controlled outlines (especially if you don't have a tablet pen). I HIGHLY recommend learning how to use this tool. Download the guide for free below!

Free Photoshop pen tool guide

The pen tool is a great asset because it allows you to make perfectly smooth, controlled lines, even if you don’t have a tablet pen or drawing tablet. It does take a bit of getting used to, and it will feel awkward to use at first, but with practice you’ll get the hang of it!

I hope you found this tutorial useful and I’d love to see what you create with it! Please tag me @pixeltropes or email me ( with what you created with it :)

Also, if you think you know someone who would find this useful, I would really appreciate if you used one of the sharing buttons below to share it with your friends!

— Olivya

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