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How to Paint Quick Realistic Fur Using Photoshop

How to Paint Quick Realistic Fur Using Photoshop

Do you love photo realistic digital art, but lack the time or skills to produce epic digital paintings?

If you answered yes, then don’t go anyway, this is the tutorial for you.

Simply avoiding learning digital painting is a real shame, as it can teach you a lot about design, art and Photoshop, and can really help you better your understanding of areas such as lighting and perspective.

In short, if you learn digital painting, other aspects of your day to day designing will benefit.

Luckily, there are certain short hand techniques that the masters use when it comes to digital painting.

This means that even if you don’t a whole lot of time, you can produce amazing works in minutes or hours, rather than days.

This tutorial will teach you how to draw realistic fur using Photoshop, without having to worry about drawing it hair by hair.

Think of this as a short hand guide.

You’ll be taken through the steps to create a realistic wolf using a photo reference and some creativity.

Let’s get into it!

Final Image

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Resources Used In This Tutorial

Step 1

First you need a good reference photo of your subject.

A good reference should be sharp and a large resolution (I found mine on one of deviantART’s stock site – see the resources section above).

Open the reference photo in Photoshop and save it as your new file. Choose Lasso Tool (L), make sure you’ve got “Add to selection” option turned on and use the tool to “draw” the general shape of the wolf’s body. It’s good to draw small parts at once, so that you don’t lose your work when something goes wrong.

Generally I prefer other selection methods, but for this example the lasso tool is perfect because it’s most similar to free-hand drawing and you’ll get natural hair tufts this way.

This is how it should look after finishing the selection.

Basically, we just set a border between wolf’s body and everything else.

Sometimes you’ll have to guess a selection for an area hidden in the source file (look at the paws).

Now create a new layer and use Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill the selection with some basic color of fur (you can pick it from reference with Color Picker (I)). We’re going to call this layer ‘Base’.

Lower the ‘Base’ layer’s Opacity to 25% so that you can see what’s behind it. Create a new layer and grab your favourite brush to sketch basic lines. Don’t dive into details yet!

Change the Base’s Opacity back to 100%. From now the reference should be there just for looking – no more tracing, or you won’t learn anything.

Use Crop Tool (C) to make your canvas bigger and place the reference next to the Base and the sketch.

Step 2

Create a new layer between the Base and the Sketch, then open its menu and choose Create Clipping Mask. Everything you’ll draw on this layer will stay within the Base’s borders. Cool, huh? Now grab a Brush and choose options for it as shown below (low Flow is a key for good blending). Lower the Sketch’s Opacity so that it doesn’t disturb you, then put first colors on the clipped layer. Pick them from the reference for realistic effect. At this moment it’s important to stress the lights and shadows, not exactly colors.

Step 3

Have you ever seen a picture that looked great as a thumbnail, but not so good when enlarged? You can use this for your pictures – just make your image much bigger than you need. This way you’ll be able to put fine tiny details on it, and the final effect will be amazing. Go to Image > Image Size and change the Resolution to 300 (at least – if your computer is good enough, you can try more).

Step 4

Now look at the reference to see the flow of the fur. You need to see all the layers in your mind.

Draw some hair on the clipped layer according to the imagined arrows indicated below. Use the same brush as before and draw it fast, loosely, don’t really think about it too long. Pick new colors all the time.

When you want to draw some shorter hair that are cooped up, make a scattering brush. That’s easy, really. Check out the brush settings below.

And these are the places good for it.

Step 5

When the fur is thick and long, it doesn’t distribute evenly. There are places where it “breaks” in a specific way and the contours change. It’s very important to stress this, as many beginners forget about it, subsequently making their fur looking fake. Pick some darker color (glum green or blue should do) and draw these “cracks” wherever they are needed.

“Cracks” are always covered with single hairs. Use the base color for your covering hairs and cover the cracks.

Now pick lighter color of the fur and stress some lights. They should appear especially over the green borders of Step 4.

Step 6

Time to add some detail on the head. Draw the nose and the eye, using glum colors first.


Then add some light, using a hard brush, light blue and Linear Light Mode. It will make the eyes shine, but don’t overdo it. The nose will need some wetness too.

Step 7

Use black to draw the claws. It’s a wolf and its claws can break off easily, so don’t make them too sharp.

Step 8

Come back to the Base layer and use Smudge Tool to make the hair tufts even more natural and blending. You can draw some single hairs as well.

Step 9

Merge the Base with all the clipped layers, then duplicate it (Ctrl + J) and convert the copy to a Clipping Mask. This way you’ll be able to edit whole picture without going out of the body borders.

For now, the fur may look hand-drawn. There’s a quick way to give it a natural look. Go into Quick Mask Mode (this way you can select chosen parts with a brush). Choose a soft brush (0% hardness) and paint over all the parts where fur goes in the same direction.

Click again the Quick Mask Mode button to go out of it, then, if your selection is inverted (the outer parts are selected) click Ctrl+ Shift + I to change it. Now go to Filters > Blur > Motion Blur and choose the directon of the hair you selected. The strength of the blur is up to you – the more blur, the more “dreamy” style.

Now repeat these steps for every “direction group” you can find.

Step 10

The blur you added could’ve break some details of the fur. Add some new dark cracks between the “direction groups”…

…and this time cover it slightly with hair going into different direction. This way you’ll blend the “direction groups” you’ve blurred before.

Ear and head need more special treatment. Hair goes here in every direction it wants, really.

This is how it should look when finished.

Step 11

Time to add some environmental lights. According to the reference, we’ve got some sky’s reflection and grass reflection. Use very light versions of these colors to put the lights.

Step 12

To add a final polish choose a small, sharp brush (but leave the Flow amount low) and draw some single light hairs. Draw them loosely, in tufts, going in different directions.

And We’re Done!

And here is the final effect. It’s looking good and using this method we didn’t have to spend ages creating it. I hope you liked the effect.

Access the source files for this tutorial:

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About the Author:

I'm an artist with a long experience in doing creative things. I'm familiar with traditional and digital media, and I feel at home in Photoshop. I love fantasy, my speciality are dragons - I could draw them all the time. You can visit my portfolio at http://ladyaway.deviantart.com

Leave a comment

9 Comments:

  1. Eric Vasquez says:

    Wow! This is a great and easy to understand process for painting realistic fur which is usually a pretty scary thing to approach for painters. I will definitely be trying this one out for sure. Thank you for sharing, very nicely done!

  2. Gerald says:

    Well, that has helped this digital painter beginner, thank you for a very clear tutorial.

  3. 17sp8 says:

    very good tips.nice

  4. Draake90 says:

    Damn, that just so freaking hard ! do you paint with tablet?

    • Monika Zagrobelna says:

      yep, I use the cheapest Wacom Bamboo. I think it’s impossible to get a natural effect without a tablet (sorry for late response)

  5. Craig Aviazily says:

    hey, great tutorial , the problem i have is with brushes, do you have a link to the ones you used for this? Im a website designer and developer, thats why i have no clue

    • Monika Zagrobelna says:

      I used just a typical round brush, and if I changed any options, I showed them in the tutorial (but if you use a newer version of Photoshop, select “transfer” instead of “other dynamics”).

      If you really want to download them, they’re included in every profesional set, like this: http://fav.me/d5i0i9d

      (sorry for late response)

  6. Dijji says:

    Pretty sure this is called COPYING. Not a good way to start out…

    • Monika Zagrobelna says:

      Only the first step is about tracing, since I needed some base to start teaching about fur (it’s not tutorial about painting a wolf). The rest is just about looking at the reference and that’s a normal way of learning how things work.

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