Creating Digital Hair in Photoshop by dperceful (

By:Adam Thur
Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Application: Photoshop (apply the same theory for PSP, Painter, etc)

First off I'll start by saying that this tutorial starts out fairly step by step, but the latter half is fairly general. I did this on purpose so that you will experiment. Obviously there are other ways to create hair, I urge you to try them all and see what works best for you.

Ready, here we go.

You will need to create a custom brush for the hair strands. The way I create custom brushes might be different than yours, so if you have a preferred method go for it. Here is my way.

Create a new image 50x50.

Zoom in about 300% (we do this to get a better look at our work as opposed to smooshing our face against the monitor)

Create a new layer

Select the brush tool (b)

Choose a soft round brush, size 45. Use a brush slightly smaller than your image, you do not want to have alot of pixels on the border of your image.

Set the brush mode to dissolve and the opacity to somewhere between 5% and 15%. Click on the middle of your image. Opacity in this case does not mean opacity of image, by setting the brush mode to dissolve opacity effects the density of the pixels. Here is what you should look like so far.

Now just do a little cleaning up of the image. Erase out pixels that might be touching each other or are massed together. Basically you want to avoid clumping of pixels. Eventually you will end up with something like this.

Press Ctrl+E, this will merge down the layers so they are one.

Now just select the entire canvas (Ctrl+A). Now go to Edit>Define Brush. Name it whatever you want and say ok. Congrats, you have just made a custom brush call your friends and impress them. There are default brushes in Photoshop that will work for this tutorial, but I find this method works better, plus you learn a skill.

Okay now the fun begins.

I will start out this portion by saying that experimenting with the following methods with get you varied results. Different layer modes, different levels, multiple layers, etc...will yield you the results you want or don't want. Also, I'm not an excellent natural artist, I struggle with hair styles, figure poses, clothing, the whole ball of wax gives me trouble. That is why this method is very general and should be experimented with. You natural artists will really be able to work wonders with this tutorial and I can't wait to see some of the stuff you do with it.

Ready? Let's begin.

For the example I will be using a pic of Cameron Diaz. I would prep the image by making a copy of the original and on the copied layer erasing out the hair. I then extended the background over where the hair was. This helps you cheat a little, it creates a solid image behind the hair limiting your work later.

Now select your hair color.

Remember that brush you created? Go to your brushes and select one of them. It's usually the last brush on the list.

In the window click on Brush Tip Shapes. Make sure the Spacing check box is checked. Now drag the spacing slider down to 1%. Well would you look at that. That kinda looks like hair.

You will need to turn on the air brush and set it's flow down (I would give you a specific amount, but it really differs, for this example I'm using 39%). The reason why you turn on air brush is to allow for smoother hair strokes (especially if you are using a mouse).

Create a new layer above your model. How you design your hair is up to you. I am just going to recreate her hair for this tutorial. I also like leaving the original hair visible as a reference, for me it really helps, but it might be a distraction to others, so that part is up to you. Here is a look at the start of the image.

After a little work here is what I ended up with.

Okay remember earlier when I had you extend out the background. Here is why.

Why is it like that? Well, it's due to the airbrush settings. Don't worry it's normal. We are going to fix it now by adding a dark base to Cameron's hair.

To do this we do the exact same things we did before, except with a darker hair color and with a higher airbrush setting (I used 92%). Create a new layer underneath your brushed hair layer and just do pretty much the same thing you did before. Be careful not to go beyond the original length of you original hair, it will just be more cleanup later. You just want to cover up the transparency, nothing more, nothing less. Here is a look at what I've got.

Okay, your probably wondering why we just did the above step now and not earlier. It's a learning process. First I wanted to show you how to brush hair. I also wanted to show you what happens when you lower the settings on the airbrush tool. With the airbrush settings set really high, getting that sweeping hair effect is difficult, at least it is for me. Of course it could be me forgetting to do it at the beginning as well, but I think learning process sounds better. Okay back to work.

Now we are going to start adding definition. First highlights. Select the color dodge tool . Make sure the range is set to midtones, and lower the exposure down to 30% or so. Change the color dodge brush to your hair brush you created. Don't forget to change the spacing down to 1%. Now just start painting over the hair with the dodge tool. After a little work here are the results with the dodge tool.

Now we do the exact same thing with the burn tool . Again, make sure you pick your hair brush and lower the spacing. Settings for the dodge tool are the same or similar, I left the range on midtones and the exposure is 30%-ish. The only real thing to do differently is to add the dark roots to Cameron's hair. To do this I just repeat the dodge tool in the area I want to create the dark roots. After a little work here are the results with the burn tool.

Not bad so far. But we need to smooth out the lines. To do this we use the trusty smudge tool . Again, we are going to select our custom hair brush and change the spacing to 1%. I set my smudge strength to about 70%, again, this will vary depending on your needs. Now we smudge. Just do what you've been doing and follow the lines of the hair. You might smudge the tips a little extra. Don't forget to zoom in and work the hairline and scalp areas. After some work, here are my results after smudging.

We are pretty much done. I added a shadow to her face and adjusted the brightness/contrast of the hair image. Here are the finished results.

Here is a look at the original and the digital hair versions.

Have fun with this tutorial, experiment!

Well that's about it. I hope this tutorial helps you out if your having trouble with skin. If you have questions, comments, or need help with a manip feel free to email me at

Thanks for taking time out of your day to go through this tutorial. Please take time to look or try out all of the lessons in the Art School to increase your artistic horizons!