Cel Shading Tutorial

How to cel shade. A step-by-step tutorial of this popular shading technique as seen in anime and digital art.

This cel shading tutorial was made in TVPaint, but this method will work in Photoshop, Manga Studio, or any other program that lets you work with multiple layers. 


Choose Your Base Colors.

– After the line work of your drawing is complete, figure out the color of the skin, hair, eyes, clothing, etc. In the case of this elephant, he’s purple.

Create a new layer underneath the line drawing layer.

Then select the paint bucket tool. The source of the paint bucket is set to “above”, which means that it will refer to the drawing layer above when adding colors. (note: the lines should be connected. If there are gaps in the line, the colors will bleed through and color the whole picture).

Define the Light Source

– The direction of the light source will determine where you place highlights and shadows.

Drawing the Highlights and Shadows

– Create a new layer above your line work layer.

Select the color of your highlights (lighter and warmer than base color).

Draw the outline of where the highlight will be.

Select the paint bucket, and put the source on “layer”.

Now touch the space inside the lines of your highlight. The highlight should be filled in with color now.
For the shadows, pick a darker and colder color, and repeat the same process for highlights (create a new layer, draw the outline of the shadows, fill in the shadaws with the paint bucket).


You can adjust the opacity on the layers of your highlights and shadows. If your highlights or shadows seem too intense, 50% opacity can give a more harmonious look since the base colors will blend with the other layers. Play around with opacity.

Using pure white for highlights and pure black for shadows will flatten the picture.

You can create more layers to add highlights on the highlights and deeper shadows in the shadows


Check out RESOURCES for recommendations on getting started on animation.

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