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Edge lighting: How to add interest to your character art

In this tutorial, we’re going to add an interesting effect to our character by adding edge lighting. Let’s jump right into it!

Edge lighting: How to add interest to your character art

What is edge lighting?

Edge lighting, also referred to as rim lighting, is an effect that takes place when a subject is in front of a light source. The planes and edges facing the light source light up, creating a lightened edge around our subject. Think of when the sun is low and you take a selfie with your back facing the sun. Your hair will have a lovely rim light to it!

Rim lighting 2

How to add edge lighting/rim lighting to your character

Prepare your character

Edge lighting tutorial: 1

I started with an illustration of a character with pink hair. The background is purposely made darker than usual. I also did not add any highlights to her face. Only mid-tones and shadows.

Light source behind subject

Now we add a light source behind our character. Instead of just using a lighter purple, I decided to add color to my light source. Color is helpful in storytelling so it’s certainly something you should consider. In this case, I used orange.

Since my character is stylised I want to keep my light effects also stylised. It’s why I used a textured effect for the light, rather than a smooth gradient (what I would use for realism). Keep this in mind when adding your lights!

Add edge light to shirt

Now we lighten the edge of her shoulder. I also used the same orange. I put my layer on ”add” and then adjusted the opacity.

Edge lighting the hair

Next, I add a soft orange ”glow” to the edges of her hair. I purposely did not use a feathered brush because it will clash with the style.

Add hair detail

I’ll go over strands of hair and individually add another layer of bright orange. I used the ”add” mode again. If you’re not working digitally you can simply use the orange and make the centre lighter. Sort of a glowing effect.

As a result of the ”add” mode, the orange is lighter in value than our previous orange because we stacked these layers on top of each other. It’s also a little more desaturated (whiter).

Edge lighting to the face

We add some edge lighting to her lips and to the bottom of her cheek and to the left side of her chin. I could’ve added more edge lighting in places but since the character is rather simple I didn’t want to overdo it. Less is sometimes more.

Lens flare

As a final touch I added a lens flare. I positioned it near her eyes, because I want her eyes to be the main focal point. Once again I set my layer to add, and lowered the opacity.


Take an existing character of yours and incorporate edge lighting to add interest to your character.

You can use the image above as inspiration :)

Use the hashtag #Oleandered on Instagram for a chance to be featured in my stories!


Here’s some tips to help you nail your challenge

1. Make sure your lights are in the same style as your character to keep a coherent look

2. If you work digitally make use of layer modes! I use ”add” with adjusted opacity

3. Instead of just lightening the value, add color to it!

4. Don’t use too many highlights in your character so your edge lighting will pop

I hope you find this simple but effective tutorial useful.

See you next tutorial!

♡ Laura

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