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Tutorial: Realistic Vector Hair 1.0

How To Make Realistic Looking Hair in Illustrator

That's a fairly bold statement, but what the heck, I'm still a tad bit cocky after making my cool biker jacket graphic. As promised, I have another fun tutorial for you. As the title so boldly states, this one is going to walk you through the steps to make your very own realistic vector hair. Unfortunately, I'm not going to show you every frick'n step that was involved to make the cover graphic, but instead show you the steps taken to create the main parts of it. Hopefully, with this knowledge you should be able to create your own cool artwork with hair.

Final Image

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Final Image

Let me introduce Lisa. She's spunky, sexy and likes baseball. She was created using Adobe Illustrator with a tad bit of color correction and background work performed in Photoshop. And today you're going to learn how you can make her hair. If at any point you guys need some more information on something I did, just give me a shout out in the comments. I will be glad to fill in any gray areas. I design from the gut and a lot of times I start going down the road on something only to find out I don't like it. I wind up going back and forth on some of the steps, so making these tutorials can be somewhat chaotic. Sorry!


The very first thing you need to do is create a nice hair artwork brush. It should be tapered at one end, similar to what's below. When creating your brush, make sure the direction follows the taper (the arrow should be pointing towards the right).

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Artwork Brush

Step 1

The first thing we need to do is use the pen tool to draw a nice arced line that follows the basic flow of hair on one side of your subject's face.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 1

Step 2

Once you have your arced line, duplicate it and roughly move it to a position that represents the outside lines of the hair. I adjusted the bezier curves to fit my desired outline. Once you have done that, select both lines and apply the tapered artwork brush.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 2

Step 3

Now select you outer most line and adjust the stroke weight to 0.25 pt.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 3

Step 4

Select both lines and choose your blending tool form the tool palette. Click on either end of one of the lines, and then option-click the corresponding point on the second line. You should see the Blending Options dialog box as shown below. Change the Spacing to "Specified Steps" and put in a number. I used 16, but you can enter various amounts here to achieve either a dense or loose clumping of hair. You'll see what I mean in the next step.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 4

Once you hit ok, you should see that the blending tool has added additional lines in between your original ones. The line weights have been blended as well. So, now we have a bunch of lines, but it still doesn't look like hair. In comes out next step.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 4 Part 2

Step 5

Now the magic. With both lines selected, go to your effects menu and choose Distort & Transform > Roughen. Click on the preview checkbox, so you can see what's going on and then click on the "Smooth" option. Change the "Detail" slider to 0. You now have a couple of options here. Start changing the value of the Size and you will notice that your lines start to take on some randomness and start looking more like hair. You can switch back and forth between "Relative" and "Absolute" to get a feel for how the lines react to that setting. I've come to the conclusion that Relative is more chaotic where as Absolute is chaotic, but seems to stay within the borders of the original two lines a little more. Play around with it, because ultimately this is more or less the heart of this tutorial. These past few steps are repeated to achieve the final shape of our hair down the line.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 5

Step 6

Something that you might want to do is to create a solid shape underneath your hair strands. You don't have to, but its easier than duplicating the above steps a gazillion times to make sure you have some volume behind your hair strands. I created another layer below, my hair strands and made a solid shape that roughly fit the shape of my hair outline.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 6

Step 7

If you turn the view back on for both layers, you'll notice that the basic shape outline for the hair is nice, but our solid shape is not blending in well with the hair ends. We need to add some more strands and make it look a little more random. Create a new layer above the hair strands layer. (You might want to clean up the ends towards the top at this point. I left them in, but if you would rather have a nice clean edge, then this is probably the best time to do it.)

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 7

In your new layer, we are going to repeat the process we used to create the main hair, but instead focus on the area towards the bottom. Make to arced lines again with the pen tool.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 7 Part 2

Apply your art brush and fiddle with the line weights. Then use the blending tool again. (You'll notice this time I used a higher number)

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 7 Part 3

After the blending tool.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 7 Part 4

I duplicated this a few times and applied different line weights to each of them. I also manipulated the lines to change their shapes somewhat. If you use the "Direct Selection" tool (the hollow pointer) you can change the bezier curves, even after you have applied the blending options. This helps you see what you are doing and lets you fine tune the various strands.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 7 Part 5

Then I selected all of my new lines and then repeated the step with the Roughen Effect to add some randomness. Now we have a very nice hair outline.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 7 Part 6

Step 8

The last few steps, may have been somewhat confusing, but really, we are just repeating the main steps 1 thru 5 by creating little areas of hair in various places. Take a look out all the layers in Outline mode to see what I mean.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 8

Step 9

It's time to add some highlights and color to the hair. In order to do this, we need to expand the appearance of all of our hair clumps. "Select All" and then go to the Object menu and choose "Expand Appearance". Once you do this all of the lines should be outlined. Like in the image below.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 9

Step 10

Open up the gradient palette and depending on what color you want to make your air, create a nice gradient. I choose black and by creating a strong highlight color, it gave the hair the appearance of being "wet". Some people might not like this, and that's fine, just choose a gradient color scheme you like and you should be able to get whatever desired effect you want. For the image below, I did not use the gradient tool to control the angle. I just applied the gradient and let the object shape determine how it was applied. You could change the angle by providing a value in the gradient palette window to tweak how it flows. By doing it this way, the individual objects have different gradients, instead of them all going the same way. If that makes sense. Also, softer highlights will give the hair a more dry look. (You might have to add more hair strands when you use this method).

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 10

Step 11

To give the hair some more depth, I added a gradient to the bottom outline shape as well.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 11

Step 12

At this point it just a matter of adding more strands where ever you feel like they need to be. I thought the top highlight part needed a little more hair, so I created another layer and added some more. The more strands you add, ultimately will lead to a more realistic effect. To complete the final image, I copied all the strands and flipped it horizontally. I then used the Scale Tool and Mesh Warp to adjust it's flow and played with the gradient angle values so it didn't look like a mirror copy.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Step 12

Final Word

I hope you find this tutorial helpful. Basically it's a simple process that you repeat a few times to get the hair effect. As you can see below, playing around with the color gradient can give you as many hair colors as you like. It's just a matter of playing around and trying things out. Have fun and let me know what you think.

CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial BlondeCJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Purple
CJBoCo: Hair Tutorial Final Image Black (Softer)