Coloring Manga-Style Characters Part 1: Skin

Chihiro Howe | June 27, 2017

Today's tutorial by illustrator and manga artist Chihiro Howe is the first in a four-part tutorial. Today Chihiro explains her process for coloring skin on manga-style character with Copic markers. Enjoy! 

Manga Girl and Boy in Celebration Costumes 1

In this series I'll break down the image above in four parts: skin, eyes, hair, and clothes. This first part covers skin. I'll be showing you how to color two different types of skin, light and dark. 


Step 1: Sketching Your Manga Characters

I start out with a sketch on regular copy paper. I then transfer the image onto a nicer paper (whichever types of paper you feel comfortable using. I like to use Canson's Bristol paper) with the Multiliner, using a light box. This way, you'll still have your original sketch along with the colored image. 

Sketched Manga Boy and Girl No Color Step One

Step 2: Coloring Your Skin Base Layer

With Copic markers, start out with the lightest colors first—darker colors can bleed when you use a lighter color over them. The exception is when you are blending the colors. I start with the darker color first, then blend it with the lighter color.

For the light skin, I used R00 for the blush and YR000 for the base color. To get the really smooth blending, I use the R00 first and immediately blend it out with YR000. For the darker skin, I used E13 for the blush and E31 for the base color. If the blush looks faded, do another layer of E13 before E31 dries. If you want a even darker skin, just use a darker reddish brown for the blush along with the darker base color.

This is what the skin will look like with the base color. I usually use the blush on the characters' cheeks, nose, tip of the ears, chin (very lightly), fingertips, shoulders, elbows, and knees (basically the pointy parts of the body). In real life, if a person has red cheeks and red nose it means they have a cold or allergies...but for a cartoon, I personally think they look healthier with a blush.

To differentiate a red face versus healthy looking face, use a darker reddish color for the red face and light pink for the healthy face.

Manga Girl and Boy Copic Skin Coloring Step Two

It's best to work on one blush at a time, because once the ink dries it won't blend seamlessly. When using markers, work fast! Be bold! Don't be afraid to color, because if you color hesitantly it'll turn out blotchy...if you are afraid of going over the lines, use a masking tape or sheet to cover up the areas where you don't want the ink to go.

Step 3: Adding Shadows

Determine where the light source is (for this particular drawing, the light source is where the arrows are – from above, veered slightly to the left). The shadows will go opposite of where the light touches.

For the lighter skin, I used YR00, and the darker skin I used E55. Wherever I want the shadow to go soft, I blend it out with the base color (YR000 for light, E31 for dark).

Manga Girl and Boy Copic Coloring Tutorial Step Three

I then enhance the shadows on the areas where the object sticks out the most (nose and neck), and where it is closest to another object that causes the shadow (right below the mask, right below the hands, right by the sleeves). I used E02 for the light skin, and E34 for the dark skin.The colors within the red lines are all of the same darkness, but with varying saturation. 

Manga Girl and Boy Copic Skin Coloring Step Four

Step 4: Adding Highlights and Finishing Touches

Now that the skin is all colored, I finish it up with some highlights. I use a white colored pencil like Copic Opaque White, Prismacolor, Crayola, Lyra, Sakura, etc. I put some highlights on the nose and cheeks, and also along the parts where the lights touch the most. Highlights give the characters more shine, and also make them look more three dimensional.


The next tutorial will show you how to color eyes . The following post details Chihiro's techniques for coloring hair, and she completes the series with a tutorial on coloring manga-style clothing. Please leave your comments and questions for Chihiro below!

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Topics: Illustration, Copic

Chihiro Howe
Chihiro Howe on June 27, 2017

Chihiro is an illustrator and manga artist who combines Anime and Disney-like styles into unique, beautiful, and irresistible characters. As a resident artist for Imagination International, Inc., she creates iii Academy instructional content to help aspiring mangakas translate their visions into engaging story-telling art.