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How to Create a Digital Painting Portrait in Paint Tool SAI

Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Do you want to have some fun and learn new tricks? In this tutorial, I will explain how to use Paint Tool SAI’s vector tools to create clean and smooth contours, and use its properties to speed up the drawing process. 

This tutorial also includes a sketch, so you can use it to practice vector tools without worries. Let's get started!

1. Prepare Your Sketch

You can find inspiration in these portraits:

Step 1

Start with a New Canvas with 2400 px width and 3200 px height. The bigger your canvas, the easier it is to draw small details. Once we have our canvas, let's make a quick, rough sketch of the overall idea. For now we don't need to go into much detailing, but it's important to have all our basic shapes in the correct places. 

For this portrait I want that girl to look to the front, with her head slightly turning right. As we are drawing this portrait with realistic proportions, keep that in mind while sketching. 

Quick rough base sketchQuick rough base sketchQuick rough base sketch

Step 2

After base sketching, create a New Layer on top and make our clean sketch for the portrait. The base sketch will be your guide line, so reduce its opacity to about 20-30% and draw on top of it.

You can use any tool you think is more comfortable. I prefer to work with the Pen tool at this stage, because it'll give clean and tidy lines.

This is the perfect time to add all the details you want. Later we will draw on top of this sketch using vector tools, so it'll be better if all the details are in place now. I've decided to decorate the portrait with flowers.

Sketch is ready for vectorSketch is ready for vectorSketch is ready for vector

You can either make your own sketch from the beginning, or use this one to practice vector tools. You'll find its original size in the attachment

2. Use Vector Tools to Create Clean Contours

Step 1

Now we can start creating contours using vector tools. Change the opacity of the sketch layer to about 20-30% and create a New Line work layer on top, so you can use vector tools. Take the Curve tool and begin to outline your sketch. 

Click on places where you want the Curve tool to change the direction of the line, and then click twice in the same place to start a new line. If you made a mistake, or want to change lines, don't worry about it now—just draw comfortably. We can change them without erasing later.

Curve tool in actionCurve tool in actionCurve tool in action

Step 2

Using the Edit tool you can easily fix all problem spots in your drawing, without redrawing the same piece over and over or deleting lines.

The Edit tool has lots of functions for corrections, but for now particularly useful for us is Translate CP. Click on the line you want to fix, and move it to the correct place in the drawing. You can use it to move the whole line or just a point.

Edit tool in actionEdit tool in actionEdit tool in action

Some useful functions of the Edit tool:

The Select/Deselect function, which allows you to quickly choose a segment of the line between two points. You can select or deselect as many segments as you want, adding them to one big selection area.

Translate CP, which we used to fix our lines right now. It moves the lines or points of one segment that can affect nearby lines.

Deform Stroke is not used very often, because it affects the whole line, deforming its angle and rotation.

The Delete CP/ Curve function is obvious from its name—it deletes the whole line or point. When deleting the line, white space remains between two points, whereas when deleting the point, lines without this point are merged together.

Translate Stroke moves the whole line from its initial position.

The Pointed/ Rounded function is used to change the corner of the line. So, select the point of the line with the corner which you want to change and move this point up, and it'll get a pointed corner. Move this point down and it'll get a rounded corner.

Step 3

Sometimes you'll want to draw a straight line, and in this case the Line tool will come in handy. It works the same way as the Curve tool, and you can switch between these two tools when necessary, without breaking the line. 

Using the Line tool, we can make rubies for earrings.

Line tool in actionLine tool in actionLine tool in action

Step 4

Using the Curve and Line tools, we've finished the base contour of the girl. Now look at all these green dots and lines; those are our vectors. The more dots you have, the smoother your lines will be. But don't overdo it, because instead of smooth clean lines you can get chaos in vectors, and that makes orientations in them so much harder.

Vectors dots and linesVectors dots and linesVectors dots and lines

After finishing the base contouring, continue with further detailing. Add more lines to sculpt her hairstyle and decorate the jewelry. For hair I prefer to use the Curve tool, but with jewelry decorations you can use the Pen tool, because it works better for short lines and small shapes.

Detalisation with Curve and Pen toolsDetalisation with Curve and Pen toolsDetalisation with Curve and Pen tools

Step 5

We'll work with the flowers in the same way: using the Curve and Pen tools we create contours for them, making corrections with the Edit tool when necessary.

Drawing vector contours for flowersDrawing vector contours for flowersDrawing vector contours for flowers

Step 6

Now to the fun part! After we’ve made our lines, we can give them more emphasis and weight using the Weight tool. Take the Weight tool, change the size in its settings, and then choose the line you want to make thicker. You can experiment with different sizes to see what works best.

In this case, we'll emphasise the outside lines and the shape of her face.

Weight tool in actionWeight tool in actionWeight tool in action

Step 7

Meet another great tool from the vector tools panel: the Pressure tool. It allows you to create an interesting flow for your lines, making them more alive and artistic. 

Take the Pressure tool and hover on the point of the line you want to change. Then click on that point, moving left to make the line thinner, and right to make it thicker. You can make your line 200% thicker or 0% thinner, which will make it invisible.

Pressure tool in actionPressure tool in actionPressure tool in action

After we've finished the contours and added some effects, it's time for the coloring. You'll see that the vector layer makes base coloring so much easier. 

3. Continue Coloring

Step 1

On the Line work layer, take the Magic Wand from the Selection tools panel and click on the area where the skin will be in our drawing. When selected, this place will have a blue color, but as soon as you create a New layer and put it below the Line work layer, this place will be just selected and empty. Make sure that your contours are closed, or the whole drawing will get selected instead of only a part.

Magic wand selectionMagic wand selectionMagic wand selection

With the skin area selected, apply the appropriate color, and the base coloring of the skin is ready. Really quick, right?

Select and deselect tools for coloringSelect and deselect tools for coloringSelect and deselect tools for coloring

In the same way, we apply base colors for the hair, dress and any other details. Also if the Magic Wand left an important area outside, you can add it to the selection using the Select and Deselect tools. Use them like a brush and choose all the areas you want. You can use these tools in the same way on a Line work layer as on a usual layer. 

Remember: always make separate layers for different areas, such as the skin, hair, dress and so on. This will help you in the process, and saves you time navigating in the layers.

And the base coloring with the help of the selection tools is done!

Flat colorsFlat colorsFlat colors

Step 2

After the base colors are in their respective places, we can move to further coloring. Take the Air Brush and add shadows and highlights for the skin and hair.

Adding shadows and highlightsAdding shadows and highlightsAdding shadows and highlights

Make an additional layer on top for each area and Clipping Group it to the base color, so you won't step out of the base color area and paint only inside the desired area.

Clipping Group for coloringClipping Group for coloringClipping Group for coloring

Step 3

Add decorative colors for the hair and eyes, and highlight the hair. Continue working on further detailing for the jewelry and dress. 


Step 4

To color the flowers we use the same technique: selecting areas, applying base colors, and continuing with coloring and detailing. 

Flowers coloringFlowers coloringFlowers coloring

Step 5

Also you can change the color of the lines—on the Line work layer, choose the Preserve Opacity setting and use Air Brush to color the lines. Experiment with the flowers' vector lines or try changing the face lines to brown so they won't stand out from the picture.

Coloring vector linesColoring vector linesColoring vector lines

Step 6

To make the drawing more interesting, you can apply textures to it. Create a New Layer on top of all others and change its mode to Overlay. Take the Air Brush and choose a texture from the list in the settings. Try different, even very bright colors, and in the process you'll arrive at the perfect combination. 

You can either go further in texturing with other brush textures, creating a New layer with Luminosity mode, or leave it as it is with Overlay layer mode. It's totally up to you!

Texture brushesTexture brushesTexture brushes

Step 7

Our last step is to create a background for the portrait. Create New layer below all other layers, and take the Air Brush tool, choosing a light beige color. You can make it look as if the color is fading away on the background—that gives more impact and attention to the face of the girl.

Make a backgroundMake a backgroundMake a background

Awesome Work! Our Elegant Portrait Is Finished!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and it inspired you to create your own portrait using Paint Tool SAI. Its vector tools are useful and pretty simple to handle, and with some effort and time in practice, I'm sure you'll master them like a pro. 

Have fun, and good luck!

Finished portraitFinished portraitFinished portrait
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