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How to Draw Clothing with Photoshop

M. T. Dremer studied graphic design at Muskegon Community College and has been using Adobe Photoshop for more than a decade.

This is what our final product will look like.

This is what our final product will look like.

There are a lot of different ways that you can draw clothing in Adobe Photoshop, and while my method may not be the same as other methods, it is still an option available to you. And, since it’s the only way I’ve learned how to do it, I’m going to pass that knowledge on to you. Before we get started, however, you might be asking what the point is of drawing clothing but not characters. Well, I don’t know about you, but I suck at drawing people, so if I want to make an image with photoshop I either need to use a picture of a real person, or render them with a 3D program. Drawing the clothing (as opposed to rendering it or using a picture) gives you greater artistic control and allows for a higher amount of detail.

Our base picture. In this case I used a 3D render.

Our base picture. In this case I used a 3D render.

Step 1: Pick Your Canvas

In this instance the model is your canvas. As I said above you can either render a 3D character or you can use a photograph. Stock photos are great for this reason because you will be able to use the final product any way you want without royalty fees. A nude model works best for these kind of drawings because any clothes already on the figure would just get in the way while you’re drawing. It is possible to do it on a model already wearing clothes, but it would restrict the placement of the clothing you’re drawing. For my example I’m using a clothed model, only because I don’t want to push the censorship barrier on this website.

Once you’ve selected your model it is good practice to cut them out of the background. This can be accomplished using the lasso tool from the left hand menu. Just try to get as close as you can to the edges of the model and do a ‘layer via copy’ from the menu you get when right-clicking the base layer. This will create a copy of just your selection. You can then clean up the edges with the eraser tool. The reason this is beneficial is because 1) you can now add in any background you like by pasting a picture beneath the model’s layer and 2) you now have the option of making the clothing appear behind the model if, for example, you wanted them to wear a cape.

Looks pretty crappy at this point, but don't worry.

Looks pretty crappy at this point, but don't worry.

Step 2: Drawing the Base

Next you’ll want to create a new, blank layer that you can draw on. Select an appropriately sized paint brush (one that can draw around the smaller details of the model) and pick a shade of grey to color with. You’re going to color with grey because we want a color that we can both lighten and darken later and because you can add any color you want to it and have it not clash with a pre-existing color. (Although if you do decide to use a specific color, you can always desaturate it later.)

Now you want to draw the basic outline of the outfit you want them to be wearing. This is an important step since it will define the shape you’re going to be working with. You can always alter it later with the eraser tool, but try to get it as close to your vision as possible. In my example, I’m creating a dress so for the upper half of the woman’s body the fabric will conform to her shape, but below it will fan out into a skirt. Once you’ve outlined where you want the dress to go, fill in the space inside with your grey color until you have a solid shape on your new layer.

Reduce the opacity so you can trace the shadows beneath.

Reduce the opacity so you can trace the shadows beneath.

The shading will probably look bad at first, but just keep at it.

The shading will probably look bad at first, but just keep at it.

We're almost there. Just a few minor adjustments.

We're almost there. Just a few minor adjustments.



Step 3: Shading

While you could probably draw in all the shading in the same manner that you drew the base (with a paintbrush), that process can get time consuming, switching between shades of grey, and it can really start to distort the base shape. So I prefer to use the Dodge and Burn tool. If you’ve read my article on Basic Photo Editing, then you know that the Dodge/Burn tool is used for darkening and lightening parts of a picture, like a paint brush. The difference is that a paint brush will create new shapes and colors whereas the dodge and burn will only alter what’s already there. This way you don’t have to worry about the shape of the clothing changing.

Now to begin you’re going to want to focus on making the shadows on the clothing match up with the shadows on the model. The best way to do this, that I’ve found, is to select the layer with your new clothing shape and adjust its opacity (located at the top of the layer window). Don’t make it disappear, just make it transparent enough that you can see the model beneath. Now select the burn tool and essentially follow along all the shadows on the model, burning them into the clothing layer. Since you won’t be able to see exactly how the burn is looking, you don’t have to do all of your shading this way. It’s just so that you can get an idea where the shadows are so that when you return the layer to full opacity then you know where to work from. The same is true of the dodge tool, except you’re highlighting the bright areas from the model.

Once you have the basics of light and shadow on your clothing layer you can start playing around with various sizes of brushes for the dodging and burning. Feathered edges work best to give a gradient of light. Also, if you’ve drawn a part of the clothing that doesn’t follow the model beneath (such as the skirt in my drawing) then you’ll have to do some guesswork as to where the fabric is bunched and where it would create shadows. It’s a lot of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to undo something or create multiple copy layers at various stages of the process.

Also remember to shade your model if necessary. You want your new layer of clothing to blend with the model and in some cases that might require the dodge/burn tool on the model layer (Such as creating a shadow for the skirt on her legs). In this instance it would also work to draw a black shadow with the paintbrush between the clothing layer and the model layer then adjusting its opacity to make it look more like a shadow.

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Speaking of shadows, pay close attention to whether or not your model is casting a shadow on the environment around her. If you replaced the background you don’t have to worry about this, but in my example I kept the same one and she was clearly casting a shadow that has no skirt. In this instance I just copied a section of her existing shadow and moved it down to where the skirt would be (seen in the first picture on this article). It’s easy to forget details like these, but not hard to fix.

Some Additional Tips:

  • If you find that you unintentionally made your shadows too dark or your highlights too bright, you can go to Image > Adjustments > Equalize and photoshop will redistribute the darks and lights to be more equal. You can also continue to use the dodge/burn tool or Brightness/Contrast to reduce shadows and highlights.
  • By going to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance you can change the color of your clothing.
  • With enough mastery of this technique, it can be used to draw entire characters (still using the base photo or render), giving them a more artistic look.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your first few tries come out poorly. Each time I draw a new one, it comes out a little better than last time. It’s all about practice and perseverance.
  • This isn’t the only way to paint clothing with Photoshop, but it’s a way to get started, especially if you have no experience with it.


M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 09, 2011:

danielallen66 - Thank you for the comment! I'm glad I could help.

danielallen66 on June 21, 2011:

Interesting Tutorial really helps me and improved my techniques.

M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on December 14, 2010:

royalbert - You're welcome. Thank you for commenting. :D

royalbert on December 14, 2010:

Thanks interesting tutorial.

M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 06, 2010:

Rusty - You're right, drawing clothing with photoshop can open up artistic possibilities you wouldn't have had otherwise.

RexoValentine - Thank you, I hope it is useful to you in the future. :D

Aya_Hajime - Making desktop wallpapers is also a passion of mine (I have a few hubs on the subject) but it definitely gets complicated when you start mixing many different kinds of media. Blending can be really difficult. As for a glossy look you might try playing around with the dodge/burn tool as well as the brightness/contrast setting. If that doesn't get the desired effect, you could also use the brush tool to draw in shadows and/or shiny areas on your existing image. Thanks for your comment!

Aya_Hajime on October 06, 2010:

Nice tutorial!

One of the things on my project list is to generate fantasy backgrounds by combining sky, 3d-objects, Photoshop brushes, and Photoshop effects.

I am not sure how to get that shiny, glossy look that is sported in most fantasy backgrounds. Would love to see a tutorial on this ... [she asks hopefully] :D

RexoValentine on May 13, 2010:

exclusively great dear.. i enjoyed it

Rusty C. Adore on March 01, 2010:

Good article. It's a neat concept to draw your own clothing on a model.

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