Creating Hero Versus Villain Character Archetypes


Learn the fundamental characteristics of creating heros and villains. While these characters are created in Adobe Illustrator, this tutorial isn't focused on click by click software instruction. It instead set's out to teach you a fundamental process for conceptualizing and putting these characters together.

We dip into character theory a bit and then put it into practice. After reading this tutorial, try making your own heroes and villains, and then put them into battle.

Character Theory

In order to create a character we need to grasp character theory, how it applies to the characters we are creating, and then we'll put this theory into practice. First let's look at the theory and get a general feel for the characters we'll be creating.

Step 1: Silhouette

Some designers say that if people can tell a character just by his silhouette that this character is well designed. I agree with that. That's why I want to start this tutorial with this subject. For me the silhouette of a character is the essence of his personality, people have to feel the vibe of the character, feel if they are friendly or not.

Step 2: Geometric Figures

When designing cartoon characters there are basic figures which helps us define certain characteristics and personality. In this case we are working with the two basic archetypes: hero and villain. So we are going to work with two basic shapes to define our characters, which are circles and triangles:

  • Circle: Using rounded figures gives a feeling of peace and softness to our designs. If we apply rounded shapes we give this soft feeling to our character designs. It helps make our character visually gentle.
  • Triangle: As the opposite of the circle, the triangle is a very aggressive shape. We can use this shape to give our character that aggressiveness we need in a villain.

Step 3: Details

Details help us give our character's personality and history. We can give them some battle scars or certain items like a skull neckless. This way we can sense more about our character at first sight. We cover this more in steps 9 and 11 below.

Step 4: Colors

Colors on a character are very important. They also give a lot of meaning to the personality of the archetype we are working on.

Normally when working with clear colors we give this feeling of peace and tranquility, like for example the colors of the sky or snow. But when working with dark colors we give the opposite feeling, like the colors of a erupting volcano, which give us the vibe of danger or alertness.

In character coloring it's the same. If we want to give our character a feeling that he can be trusted, then we need to work with light colors, which give this feeling of trust. On the other hand, with villains we need them to give us the feelings of fear and mistrust so we would lean toward dark and deep colors.

Creating Our Hero and Villain

Let's start with creating the actual characters and I'll elaborate on the conceptual development as we go. Take a look, step by step, at how I solve each archetype.

Step 5: Setting the Groundwork

To start we need to know what we are going to do. For this example I'm going to go with some kind of wizard characters.

The Hero

I always like to think that heros are innocent and noble and that's why I'm going to give him a very young appearance. This way we know that he has a lot to learn from life and for the same reason he is pure, innocent, and noble.

The Villain

Contrary to the hero, The villain normally is older than the hero and maybe he had some rough times growing up. Whatever the reason is, he has more experience so we'll give him a self secure, cocky personality.

Step 6: Initial Sketches

The Hero

As you can see my first sketch is all composed by rounded shapes, some of them are circles and some not, but the corners and other parts of the characters are rounded. As mentioned previously, by using rounded shapes we can create this feeling of softness. Giving this feeling to our character makes him more touching.

The Villain

For the villain we are going to use pointy shapes like triangles, this way we can make him more aggressive. We can feel the sense of danger emanating from him.

Step 7: Character Map

The Hero

Once we are happy with the shapes we used on our sketch, we can start using them as a map so we can see were are we going with this. We need to see our sketch lines and figures carefully so we can erase the right ones and give some direction to others. It's kind of like reading a map, or at least I see it that way. If you don't want to erase those lines, then you can just make more visible the ones you need. By playing with your lines you'll define the figure of your character.

The Villain

We do the same thing with this guy. The only difference is that  thanks to the more rigid and less rounded shapes we can start getting a more aggressive and dangerous general shape for our villain.

Step 8: Overall Shape

The Hero

Now that we have a clean shape, we now see that our character looks kinda soft and friendly, this will help to give us an idea of what kind of character we are working with. We'll start giving him some details in the next step.

The Villain

As for the villain, we have a more important shape, like an authority figure. He has a shape with a rigid posture indicating he's not too friendly. We still need to give him more details to make him more evil, but we have a good start here with the overall shape.

Step 9: Adding Initial Details

The Hero

Now that we have our general shape and we have the vibe we want to give to our character, we can start giving him the first details, like clothing. In this case I decided to do some kind of magical characters, like wizards. So I'll give him some loose, clean clothing, by doing this we give the sensation of pureness and freedom. Sandals similar to Jesus, I would like to think less possessions represent more humbleness.


The Villain

As I mentioned in earlier steps, the villain is more self secure and kinda cocky, thats why I'm going to give him a cape, like a count or something. Also I've given him no shirt, which shows his muscles. This way he can intimidate our hero, since our hero has a very normal build.

Step 10: Adding Color

The Hero

As for the colors for our hero, I used the most obvious ones like the plain white robes, which sing of purity and cleanness.

The Villain

Similar to the hero, I'm going to use obvious colors for the villain. In this case, dark colors so we can give this tutorial a very clear example of what we are working with here: pitch black pants, boots and hair, dark red cape. Since our hero has very light colored skin, we want to contrast him, so I use a dark color for the villain's skin.

Step 11: Refining Details

Now that we have the colors assigned and most of the character done, we need to pay attention to some details and add a couple of more. This will help us give the final touches to our characters.

The Hero

For the hero we need to pay attention to the clothing, his robes are almost brand new, kinda like his inexperience in battle. This could be the case or not, but the main point of this is that he must look friendly and noble. That's why his robes are so well taken care off. Take note of these details:

  • The staff is rounded from top to bottom.
  • We can associate the hero with nature and all living things, especially mages in all those fantastic tales. That's why I add a leaf crown so it can contrast with some of the details we are going to add to the villain.
  • I don't see his knife as an offensive weapon. I see it as more of a tool of defense, since it's a very small knife. He could easily be carrying  a large sword or something like that.
  • His expression is very friendly, not deviant looking like the next example.

The Villain

For the Villain The cape looks all torn apart, giving signals of battle experience. Also this gives us a not too friendly appearance.

  • He has many battle scars. He's been in many battles and he's not afraid of getting hurt.
  • Contrary to the hero, the villain is associated with terror and death, thats why I added a skull neckless, so he can strike fear in his opponents and give a sense of black magic to his normal activities.
  • He's carrying a big sword not just to defend himself, he uses it to hurt too.
  • The staff he's using is similar to the hero but this one looks less organic and more stylized. Its a big black spike for intimidation. He can also do damage to someone with it.
  • His expression is a very spooky grin, not the same as the hero. We may add that his eyes look a little lost, he has seen a lot of bad things and he started to like it.


I hope this tutorial helps you create your own heroic and villainous characters. These characters are made from very basic elements. Some professional and well known characters are extremely complex, but I can assure you that in essence they have very similar characteristics we used to put together these two simple characters. I'm going to leave you with the two finished characters side by side for comparison.

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