Shading Techniques

Shading is where you attempt to give depth and colour to your dolls. Darker and lighter colours represent where the light is absent or hitting the surface. That is what makes our eyes see the shape of the doll. There are several different shading techniques.

There are many ways to go about giving colour and depth to your dolls. In this article you will get to know pixel shading, tool shading, cell shading, ‘mutt-shading’ and dithering. It’s up to you to pick a style.

Pixel shading

Base by KaylaAs each doll is made up of pixels (the smallest point on your computer screen), shading or drawing pixel by pixel is called Base by Kaylapixelshading. This is the most basic form of making dolls.

Pixelshading can be done with any graphics program that allows you to zoom in and work on the pixel-level of an image. Paint will do this just fine.


ditheringThis is a technique close to pixeling. And at the same time it can create an effect like toolshading. Dithering is when one colour is blended into a another by putting the colours next to each other pixel by pixel.

Instead of a hard edge, as with pure pixeling, you get a softer edge, of colours bleeding into each other.

Dithering is time-consuming, but gives a briliant result.

Tool shading

Base by KaylaMany advanced graphics programs have ”tools”, shortcuts or instruments that help you achieve some effects. The use of these tools makes a doll toolshaded.Base by Kayla Most common tools used are burn, dodge and smudge, or different shapes of brushes other than an aliased pixelpoint.

Burn means to select the tool that makes the colour you draw on look darker. This helps when making smooth folds and shadow.

Dodge means to make a colour you draw on look lighter. This helps making highlights on folds.

Smooth means to select a tool that smudges or blends darker and lighter colours together, giving a smooth look to the doll, almost like it is painted on.

Brushes are different shapes of your drawing cursor. They give a different texture to your smudging or other tools, so experiment with them.

Mutt shading

Anything that is not completely tooled or pixeled shaded can be called ”mutt shaded”. You use parts of both techniques.

ch_bgc_cellshade_exCell Shading

Cell shading is a simplified form of shading, where usually one or two different shades of darker and lighter colours are used. This technique is used in many anime bases and dolls. It is very convenient for larger bases.

Other useful techniques

Aliased / Anti-aliased

Your graphics program may give you the option of ”aliased” or ”anti-aliased” brushes. Aliased means that there is a sharp, pixel edge, dropping the colour on exactly the pixels you point at. Anti-aliased means the opposite: it blends your drawing colour into the background, making it look smooth and softer. Anti-aliasing can also be done by hand in programs such as MS Paint, by adding a second colour to the edges of a line.


When using an advanced graphics program you can usually work with a thing called layers. Layers are just that: you can make a new drawing layer for every piece of the doll. This helps to make changes easily to only one part of your doll.

Such as when you start with long hair, but want to change it to short. Everything under the hair will have to be redrawn. But if you have two separate layers, you can just adjust the hair layer by erasing some hair. You will need to have drawn things that go under the hair (a top for instance) on a separate layer.

Most programs also allow you to turn layers on and off, so you can work on the shirt layer without having the hair in the way

Doll by Daenelia, base by Pixelstix/Ukidancer/Kayla

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