Beginner Guide to Picking Colors When Drawing Anime & Manga

This is a an extensive beginner guide to colors with a focus on anime and manga. If you don’t know much (or maybe nothing at all) about the color wheel or different color combinations then this is a must read. These are the same principals used by professional artists, designers and animators.

Anime girl different color combinations examples
Color combinations

The colors of anime and manga characters or even entire scenes are not chosen at random. Certain colors go better together then others.

Color Wheel

Color wheel
Color wheel

A color wheel shows colors based on their relation to one another.

Please note that while the color wheel used in this tutorial is probably the most common example, color wheels can have far more divisions then this or even a smooth gradient transition from one color to another.

Primary Colors

Primary colors color wheel
Primary colors

There are three primary colors, red, blue and yellow. The main defining characteristic of primary colors is that they cannot be created by mixing other colors.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors color wheel
Secondary colors

Secondary colors are created by mixing two of the primary colors. For example you can mix red and yellow to get orange or blue and yellow to get green.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors color wheel
Tertiary colors

Tertiary colors are a combination of a primary color and a secondary color. So if for example you mix yellow and green you will get a yellow-green color.

Applying Colors to Anime Characters

In the below examples you can see how colors and color combinations can be applied to an anime style character in different ways.

Please note that for these examples the colors will only be changed on the hair, eyes and clothes. The shaded half of the color circles represent the color used on the shaded areas of the character.

Color Intensity

Anime girl drawing color intensity example
Color intensity example

The color intensity is the brightness of a color. It is effected by tints, shades and tones.

  • Tint – adding white to a color
  • Shade – adding black to a color
  • Tone – adding grey to a color (a mix of black and white)

In the above example you can see the difference between colors with and without tone.

Having the right color intensity can be very important when coloring a character.

More intense colors may be more appropriate for a more cheerful character while less intense colors may be more appropriate for a more serious one.

Generally you do not want to use colors with no tone at all color an entire character. But you may want to use more intense colors if for example you want parts of their outfit to look like their glowing.

Achromatic

Anime girl achromatic drawing
Achromatic colors drawing

Pure achromatic “colors” are black, white and grey but achromatic can also include browns, tans (light brows), as well as very dark or very pale colors.

Achromatic outfits are fairly common in anime characters (black suit with white shirt for example).

Monochromatic

Anime girl monochromatic drawing
Monochromatic drawing

Monochromatic simply means one color. In this case the color is a mix of red and blue along with some white and black (tone) to make different color intensity variations of pink.

A monochromatic character may be good if you want to create a character that stands out. For example if you saw someone walking down the street dressed in pretty much all bright red or yellow that person would probably catch your attention more then others.

Complimentary Colors

Anime girl complimentary colors drawing
Complimentary colors drawing

Complimentary colors are located across from one another on the color wheel.

Once again this is a good color combination to use for a character that you want to stand out.

Split Complimentary Colors

Anime girl split complimentary colors drawing
Split complimentary colors drawing

Split complimentary colors are a milder version (less contrast) of complimentary colors. These basically create a “Y” shape on the color wheel.

Split complementary color schemes are very common for anime characters.

Analogous Colors

Anime girl analog colors drawing
Analog colors drawing

Analogous colors are another common color combination for anime characters. These are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.

Analogous colors create a fairly mild, low contrast look.

Triadic Colors

Anime girl triadic colors drawing
Triadic colors drawing

Triadic colors are a combination of three or more colors. These colors will form a sort of triangle on the color wheel. You can pick any three colors you want as long as you keep the same distance between them (in this case three divisions apart).

Square Colors

Anime girl square colors drawing
Square colors drawing

Square colors are a combination of four colors. These colors will basically form a square on the color wheel.

Tetradic Colors Combination

Anime girl tetradic colors drawing 2
Tetradic colors drawing 2

Just like a square a tetradic is a combination of four colors. These colors will form a rectangle shape on the color wheel.

Warm Colors

Anime girl warm colors drawing
Warm colors drawing

Warm colors are ones like yellow, red and orange. Basically colors that you would associated with warm things like the sun or fire.

This type of a color scheme may particularly be useful for fantasy or sci-fi characters (a character with fire magic for example).

Cool Colors

Anime girl cool colors drawing
Cool colors drawing

Cool colors are blue, purple and some greens. They are colors that you would normally associate with cold things like ice and snow.

Same as the warm color combination a cool color combination can also be great for sci-fi and fantasy characters (ice magic using character for example).

Conclusion

There is a lot to know when it comes to colors but hopefully this tutorial helped you gain a better understanding of different types of color combinations. You can try and apply these when coloring your drawings and you can also try and spot some of them in your favorite anime characters.

For more on color see:

How to Color an Anime Character Step by Step

For beginner drawing tips see:

Beginner Guide to Drawing Anime & Manga

Liked it? For more drawing tutorials and other content consider supporting AnimeOutline on Patreon!