Last time I showed you a simple method to shade in digital art. However, while it’s easy enough to shade something that doesn’t have any texture on it, shading fur is another pair of shoes. And to make matters worse, fur comes in different variants, and each requires a different approach!

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to modify that simple method of shading to paint four types of fur: short, medium, long, and thick. However, keep in mind that this isn’t the only way to paint fur—I’ll show you the general rules that I use to create these four effects, but feel free to modify them to fit your own style.

I will be referencing that previous tutorial extensively, so please check it first!

types of fur length

1. How to Paint Short Fur

Let’s start with the short fur, the type that at a distance may seem like no different from skin. But even though it’s smooth and can be very shiny, it still should have a subtle texture if you don’t want your creature to look hairless.

To be clear, by “short fur” I mean something like dobermans have. The fur of the short-haired German shepherd is only short when compared to the long-haired version, so in my naming it counts as medium fur.

Draw the Line Art

When drawing the line art, you should accentuate the muscles—the short fur doesn’t cover them nearly as strongly as the longer types. When doing it, mark the direction and length of the hair.

short hair dog line art

Paint the Basic Colors

Short fur doesn’t really affect the outline if the body, so feel free to draw it the same way as you would in the case of a hairless creature.

basic colors of doberman

Add the Shadows

Because the short fur is so smooth, you can also paint the shadows smoothly, ignoring the texture for now.

basic shadows on long hair
basic shadows added

Add the Shine

Here’s where the first difference appears: the shine should be distorted by the spaces between the tufts of hair. Also, the border of the shine should be covered with single hairs.

shine on short hair
shine added

Add More Detail to the Shine

The detailed layer of shine should be painted the same way, but with even more attention to the individual hairs.

detail of the shine on long hair
more detailed shine

Add the Highlights

The Fresnel effect should affect a smaller area than normally—this will be a good indicator that the surface isn’t actually that smooth.

highlights on short hair
short hair with highlights

Cover the Lines

Finish the painting now the normal way.

how to cover the line sin drawing

2. How to Paint Medium Fur

Medium-long fur doesn’t look like skin anymore, but it’s still pretty smooth. This is something you’d expect to see on a short-haired German shepherd.

Draw the Line Art

When drawing the line art of this length of fur, you should ignore the form of the muscles mostly and focus on the dividing the whole fur surface into overlapping sections. Also, this fur creates a thicker layer on the body, so you should put some distance between the anatomical borders of the body and the final outline.

medium fur line art

Paint the Basic Colors

When painting the colors (and the clipping mask), you should make the outline slightly fluffy on the bottom.

basic colors german shepherd

Add the Shadows

When painting the shadows, you need to take the layers of fur into consideration. Just like the muscles on a hairless dog, these layers have their own form. Also, paint the shadows between the tufts of hair, paying attention to the direction of fur.

basic shadows in medium hair
medium hair shaded

Add the Shine

Now, this is where things get tricky. The shine has to be distorted by whole tufts of fur, with pretty big shadows between them. It’s really important to create a variety of tufts, with areas of different size and direction. The mane and tail usually have longer fur than the rest of the body, and the legs can be actually short-haired.

Adjust the Opacity if this layer very carefully—here the shine should be less noticeable.

shine in medium hair
shine added

Add More Detail to the Shine

You shouldn’t make the shine too detailed—it would make the fur look wet. Add the details to the shine on the head only, and maybe right on top of the body, where the Fresnel effect is the stronger.

detailed shine in medium hair
shine with details

Add the Highlights

Add the highlights very sparingly as well—subtly mark the details on the top of the body (the back of the dog), but don’t go too far inside the outline.

highlights in medium hair
medium hair with highlights

Cover the Lines

Finally, cover the lines. It may also be necessary to add some details around the borders of the body.

how to paint medium hair

3. How to Paint Long Fur

Let’s now talk about the fluffier type, something like the long-haired version of the German shepherd.

Draw the Line Art

This fur is so long that you can forget about the muscles entirely. The outline of the body should be visibly thickened—a long-hared animal seems much bigger than it really is. A mane forms around the neck, and long fur growing from the cheeks makes the head seem wider.

long fur line art

Paint the Basic Colors

When painting the colors, add visible fluff on the bottom of the body, as well as on the top of the neck and head. The separate tufts of hair should be visible, especially in the tail and under the belly.

long fur colors

Add the Shadows

You should paint the shadows similarly like in the medium fur, but make them less detailed—instead, focus on adding big shadows to the thick layers of fur

long fur shadows
shaded long fur

Add the Shine

Long fur can be pretty shiny! Place the strands of shine on the layers of fur, and distort them with the shadows between the tufts.

long fur shine
long fur with shine

Add More Detail to the Shine

Add the detail very sparingly—accentuate the Fresnel effect only.

more detailed shine
how to make fur shiny

Add the Highlights

Similarly, there’s not much space for detailed highlights—the fur already looks pretty shiny, and adding any more detail to it will only make it look wet.

highlights of the long fur
long fur with highlights

Cover the Lines

Finish the painting by covering the lines. To make it faster, you can erase the lines in the fluffy areas.

how to paint long hair

4. How to Paint Thick Fur

Although long fur can be considered thick, there’s also another type of fur, with hair sticking out more vertically instead of flowing down in a form of smooth strands. I’m talking about something similar to what Alaskan malamutes have, or to the winter coat of wolves.

Draw the Line Art

This type of fur makes the animal look even bigger than the flowing type of long hair—the head turns smoothly into the thick neck. However, because this fur is so stiff and thick, it doesn’t produce nicely separated tufts like in the previous type. Also, the legs can be covered with a significantly shorter fur.

thick fur line art

Paint the Basic Colors

When adding the colors, make the border of the body very soft, but without creating long tufts.

thick fur colors

Add the Shadows

The shadows are the most important part in this type of fur. The hair produces vertical layers with elongated gaps between rows of tufts. They’re much trickier to draw than the flowing strands of hair, because effectively you’re drawing foreshortened hair—tufts as seen from the top, not from the side. So it takes some practice to get it right!

rhick fur shadows
how to shade thick fur

Add the Shine

Add very minimal amount of shine—because the light hits the tips of the hair rather than the side of them, there’s not much space for big reflections. Actually, the lack of shine will immediately make the fur look fluffier!

thick fur with shine
add shine to thick fur

Add More Detail to the Shine

However, even though the lack of shine in this type of fur is realistic, sometimes it looks simply flat. If this is the case for you, you can brighten the top of the body, but do it very carefully—the border of this brightened area needs to fit the texture of the fur beneath.

more detailed shine
thick fur with shine

Add the Highlights

Keep the highlights on the head only.

add highlights to thick fur
thick fur highlights

Cover the Lines

Finally, cover the lines

how to paint thick fur

That’s all!

As you can see, although this method of shading is very universal, it has to be adjusted to the texture of the surface you’re painting. Also, remember to adjust this method to the color of fur—dark fur will look great with shine, but brighter fur needs to rely more on the shadows.

kinds of dog coat

Painting fur is a complex subject, so if you feel this tutorial hasn’t answered all your questions, or you don’t find this method convenient, give these tutorials a try as well: