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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Paint Tool Sai

How to Create a Portrait in Paint Tool SAI With 3 Awesome Brushes

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I am going to teach you how to create a portrait using brushes already built in to SAI. These are the three brushes I use in almost all of my illustrations! 

Let’s begin!

1. Make a New Canvas

First things first, we need to create a new canvas. To do that, you want to go up to File, in the top left corner, go to New and Left-Click it. SAI has some great presets already there for you. I normally use A4 - 300dpi. Press OK and you’re good to go!

Creating a New A4 canvas at 300 dpi

2. Create Your Sketching Marker

Before we start drawing, we’re going to need a Sketching Brush. I will show you how I make my own using brush and texture settings that already come with the stock version of Paint Tool SAI!

Step 1

The first thing we have to do is create a new tool. We do this by going into the Brush Section in SAI and scrolling down until we find an empty slot.

Then we Right-Click with our mouse or tablet pen and go down to where it says Marker. Now select that and we’re all ready for the next step!

Select the Marker Tool

Step 2

Go to your brush settings as shown in the image. You will want to change the Minimum Size to 0%. What that means is that the more pressure you apply, the thicker the line, and the less, the thinner.

  • Leave Density at 100.
  • Next is the Brush shape. That will be set as “Simple Circle” by default. You want to click the dropdown and select ‘Fine_Flat’.
  • Leave the Density at 50.
  • Next go to Brush Texture and change it to Paper
  • Set Blending to 50. Blending is how the color of the brush reacts with other colors.
  • Set Persistence to 60. Persistence is basically how long a color persists. So the higher the number, the longer it will drag that original color into the new color. 

Now to go into Advanced Settings.

  • Press the + and let’s continue. 
  • Quality is one of the big advantages of using SAI. It gives you very nice controlled lines. We’re going to set this to 4 for the smoothest lines.
  • Edge Hardness, Min Density, Max Dens, and Hard <-> Soft set those all to max.
  • Uncheck “Blend”, and your sketch brush is complete!
Settings for our custom textured Marker

Step 3

Let’s start drawing!

Final Sketch with marker tool

To resize your brush, you are going to press Control-Alt and then drag your brush left and right or up and down, it doesn't matter. Or you can use the ] and [ keys, but that way is a little slower!

3. Create a Paint Brush

Now that we have our sketch done, we’re going to want to start painting. Since you know what most of the settings are from making the Sketch brush, we will go faster this time.

Step 1

Again, we are going to right-click an empty slot, but this time select Brush.

Selecting Brush tool to be modified

Step 2

  • This time set your Minimum Brush Size to 0%
  • Density: 100%
  • Fine_Flat with Density: 100
  • Paper Texture: 92
  • Blending: 20
  • Dilution: 40 (If dilution is 100%, it will not paint on an area with no pixels (or paint).)
  • Persistence: 20
  • Check Keep Opacity

Go back down into Advanced Settings.

  • Quality: 4
  • Edge Hardness: 100
  • Min Density: 0
  • Max Dens Pressure: 100
  • Hard <-> Soft: 100
  • Uncheck Size 
Use these settings for your Custom Painting Brush

Step 3

Now that we have our painting brush, let's give a little life to this sketch.

4. Paint the Face

Step 1

Create a new layer underneath the line layer. Quickly brush in a loose base to get some value.

Quick underpainting

Step 2

Keep creating layers underneath the lines to add more value. I like to work from dark to light.

Value Buildup using multiple layers

Step 3

Using separate layers, add a light base to the eyes.

Eyes roughed in

Go in and softly add the pupils and the shadow to give the eyes form.

Add pupils and Shadows to eyes

Step 4

Now we start to paint on top of the lines layer. We will be keeping some lines in this piece, but others will be painted out. 

Creating new Layer on tops of Lines

Step 5

Here we add some more details and build up form of the lips and nose. We're paying attention to the light and making sure the face builds its 3D form.

Working in form and adding details

Step 6

Sometimes subtle is better. I've taken the mouth from hard contrast to a softer look, to balance with the rest of the face. I also added white highlights to the hair. Work from big to small with the hair.

Adding White strokes to the hair and softened the mouth

We're done with the custom paint brush for now!

Finished Brush Painting

5. The Watercolor Brush

The way I use this brush is specifically for blending. The power of using the watercolor brush over a regular blender is that you can actually paint with it too by applying a bit more pressure.

Let's go.

Step 1

Right-Click an empty slot, go down to WaterColor, and Left-Click it.

Selecting Watercolor tool to be modified

Step 2

You are going to set everything as follows:

  • Min Size: 100
  • Density: 54
  • Leave the Brush as Default Simple Circle and no Texture
  • Blending: 15
  • Dilution: 15
  • Persistence: 80
  • Keep Opacity
  • Smoothing Pressure: 50%
  • Jump down into that Advanced section
  • Change Quality to 4 and leave the rest of the settings as Default
  • Uncheck everything but Blend
Use these settings for your brush

Step 3

Let’s blend a few areas to help push this picture to a nice finish!

Neck and hair have been smoothened with Watercolor brush

6. The Finishing Touches

Step 1

As you can see, some lines on the face have changed to white. To do that, you select your Line Layer, then select Preserve Opacity located at the top left. This will lock the line layer, allowing you to paint on top of it in any color.

Step 2

This is a personal touch that I add to all my paintings. In order to highlight, I will go in with a tiny brush (it doesn't matter which one) and add little highlights in abstract shapes. This time, however, I added hearts to her nose and some highlights on the lips and eyes.

Add linestyle to accent and highlight areas

Step 3

This is an extra step. It is totally optional, but I like to go into an editing program like Photoshop, and add a Gaussian Blur to the outside to direct the viewers eye to the face. You can also do this by painting the edges with a soft brush.

optional step Add Blur in photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop

Awesome Work, You're Finished!

Perfect, and we’re finished! I do hope that you’ve learned a lot about using the brushes that come default in SAI and can utilize these functions to create your own custom brushes that are perfect for how you work!

Final Piece
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