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How to Create a Detailed Hair in Adobe Illustrator




First let’s begin by creating the base shapes for the t-shirt and skin. These won’t have any details added to them in this tutorial as we’re focusing on the hair alone. I’ve used the Pen Tool (P) to create these shapes and kept them on their own layers.

Portrait base shapes

Using brushes you’ll need to create from my first course, Vector Portraits for Beginners (this is a free to view course!), use the triangle tapered brush to create 10pt strokes around the outside of the hair, where it doesn’t overlap onto the skin.

Hair strokes

Select these strokes and go to Object > Expand to convert the strokes into filled paths.

Expanded shapes

Then select all of those expanded strokes and use Pathfinder > Unite to create one shape.

United shape

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create a shape which fills in the space between the expanded strokes and the rest of the hair.

Then select all of the shapes and use Pathfinder > Unite to combine them all.


Now we’re not focusing on the hair which overlaps the face, don’t worry about this, but use the base shape of the skin and Pathfinder > Minus Front to cut away the skin from this shape so you’re left with the following:


Repeat the initial steps to create the strokes over the front of the skin base, Expanding them and Uniting them with the rest of the hair base. You’ll be left with one complete hair base to work with.

The hair base is now complete


The initial hair strokes

With your guiding strokes now created, fill in the rest that it clearly visible. Underneath the hair isn’t so visible as it’s in shadow, so don’t feel you have to render this.

If you’re confident enough, at this stage you can do away with the reference image and use the guiding strokes as the direction the hair is flowing.

I’ve then selected all the hair and reduced it’s Opacity to 5%, Blending Mode Screen.

Filling in the strokes

You may have noticed on the previous step that the hair crosses over the hair base. This is completely fine. We should be aiming to fill in the tips of these areas to create a consistent distribution.

I’m going to tidy this up now by duplicating the hair base and using it to create a Clipping Mask (Control-7).

Creating a Clipping Mask

Even the darkest of hair will have shadow and darker areas of the hair. This can either be from shadows cast by the face and hair itself, or even from darkened roots (either from being chemically treated or from exposure to sunlight).

I find the best and most consistent way to add shadow, especially at the root, is to use transparent radial gradients. If you were to draw darker strokes in the root area, there would be areas which aren’t as dark as they should be. Alternatively, over rendering an area may make your work look messy. So a transparent gradient can help create a smooth distribution of shadow in specific areas.

I’ve placed my initial shapes using the Pen Tool (P) and the Gradient Tool (G). These are in the undersides of the hair.

Gradients added to the hair

I then use the Pencil Tool (N) and the same theory to add shadows in the gaps of the strokes placed on the hair. This creates more depth.

Of course when you’re done with these shapes, Group them (Control-G) and add them to the previously created clipping mask group.

Further gradients are added

You could leave the hair how it is, but we want it to look more vibrant and realistic. So using the tapered brush and a higher Opacity, add strokes to the peaks of the curls in the hair to add the impression of shine.

Remember to follow the direction of the hair to ensure it looks natural.

Adding shine to the hair

These masses of hair are varied in size and depending on the light hitting it, varying in colour.

So with the tapered brush and the Paintbrush Tool (B), I’m going to add strokes underneath the hair base with different shades of grey to create this effect.

Add hair on the base


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