Digitizing Realistic Designs, Part 4: People

Strategies for digitizing faces and silhouettes

By Jesse Elliott, Contributing Writer

Use simple, round and soft shapes when digitizing women.

September 2, 2016

(Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a four-part series on realistic designs. Click here to view Part 3, which covered digitizing realistic animals. Click here to view Part 2, which covered digitizing realistic trees and bushes. Click here to view Part 1, which covered digitizing realistic landscapes.)

There’s nothing more difficult to digitize than people. I don’t have any easy answers, but these tips should help make your designs more presentable.


A face is one of the most complex images you can try to draw or digitize. When you look at someone’s face, you will notice that it contains complex angles and planes. These planes create shadows and highlights. Digitizers often want to try to capture these planes and shapes by using different fill types. I don’t recommend doing this unless you are doing a large design and have a lot of experience in both digitizing and figure drawing. The problem with using different fill types or direction to create a face is that it is difficult to make it look like all of the shapes are of one unit. Instead, simplify, simplify, simplify. Keep shading at a minimum. Shading can look awkward if you don’t know what you are doing, so leave it out. Highlights add depth, but limit them to eyes and tip of nose. I know what you are thinking: “He’s saying to keep it simple and flat?” In short, yes.

Focus instead on your drawing skills. The following are some rules on figure drawing and faces.


Men’s noses can be done with a continuous line from one of the eyebrows. Details like the lips and nose can be done with black, but I prefer to make them a color that’s darker than the skin tone. Nostrils can be done in a dark gray as to not draw more attention than the eyes.

For women, go with softer details (see above example). A continuous line for the nose may be too harsh. It is better to break the line below the eyebrow and then re-start it at the tip of the nose. Ease up on the nostrils. Better to just do an indication of a nose.


Eye shape is important. The tendency is to make an oval shape that is pinched at the ends, but the reality is eyes are more like a trapezoid. Another tip is to avoid adding eyelashes on men. For women, the bottom eyelashes should end at the halfway point of the eye leaving it open towards the nose. Filling in eyelashes all the way will produce small, closed looking eyes.

For eyebrows, remember that women’s eyebrows are generally thinner, curved and higher above the eyes, while men’s can be thicker, angular and lower set on the eyes. 



Don’t be tempted to make the eye shape like the one on the left. The trapezoids illustrate the actual shape. 


Women’s lips should be full and top lip should never be a lighter color than the bottom lip. The same color or darker is preferred. Lips tend to dip in the center, dip slightly again on the sides and then taper down. When digitizing women, highlights on the lips are okay.

The upper lip look should look darker than the lower lip. The lines indicate the best angles for satin stitching. 

On men, even if you see a big full lip, make it thin to avoid feminizing the guy. Usually a running stitch line is good enough. I tend to keep teeth a simple fill or satin stitch. Do not use a black run stitch to delineate each individual teeth; it will only look messy.

Men’s lips may be a rose color, but that doesn’t translate well on the finished product. Avoid too much detail when you are dealing with teeth.


Shown here: a simpler nose, thinner upper lip and a lower lip that blends in with the face. Eyes are more open.

Your approach for hair should be determined on a case-by-case basis, but try to simplify it to one hair color with a highlight and a lowlight. Try your best to keep hair from looking like a helmet. Be careful when doing strands of hair with run stitches. They can end up looking messy or worse, like a mistake.

When doing a fill for the face shape, usually an angle of 45 degrees works best. Stitch the neck in more horizontally to give it a flatter look than the face. This will help the neck appear to recede from the face. Also be careful with chins. You don’t want them to be too round or soft for men, and try to de-emphasize them on women.  


This is where you can have fun with stitch direction. I like to add detail even where you cannot see it. If you’re digitizing a full body, put yourself in the same position and try to figure out what parts of your body are in front of the others. This will help determine stitch direction and order of the design. 

If you are dealing with a face and shoulders, then try to determine hairline, collar details, etc. Don’t go too crazy, though. Simple shapes and stitch direction will do. Have fun and don’t be afraid to try something different. Most of all, experiment to determine what works for you.

Map out your ideas when digitizing silhouettes.


Finished digitized silhouette.

Jesse Elliott is digitizing product manager of Artwork Source. For more information, visit artworksource.com.