How To Shade In Paint Tool SAI

Do you need help figuring out where to start in your project? Let us help you fill in the sketch you made in Paint Tool SAI. 

The most important step in shading in Paint Tool SAI is choosing the right colors for your shadows and highlights. Moreover, the layers tool, brush tool, and watercolor tool also come in very handy. 

For further information, please keep reading. 

For a detailed tutorial, please watch this Youtube video:

Important Tools To Know About

The three tools that play a great role in shading in Paint Tool SAI are discussed below. 

The Layers Tool

When you open a new file in Paint Tool SAI, the layers panel can be found on the left side of the window. This is by default; the position can be changed according to ease. The layers tool will be very handy when shading in Paint Tool SAI. 

The layers tool assists you in making mask layers to add shadows and highlights to the artwork that you are working on. 

The Brush Tool

This is the most important tool that will help you create your work. The brush tool is found on the right side of the window when a new file is opened in Paint Tool SAI. 

Under the brush tool, you will have access to a wide range of brushes that can be used for different purposes. Find the one that suits you the most. You can install new brushes in Paint Tool SAI for your project if the perfect brush is unavailable. 

The Watercolor Tool

The watercolor tool is a brush that can be used on top of an existing brush stroke. This tool is important because it provides the softness that individual brush strokes mostly lack. 

When you are done using the brush tool, it is essential to go over it with the watercolor tool to ensure that the shading looks soft, cohesive, and realistic. 

Choosing The Colors

When you are working on a project, you may have a complex object or shape that you are drawing. If this is a recreation of a real-world image or a face, you may have to introduce both shadows and highlights in the image to make it look more realistic. 

You may have to figure out the light source and decide the colors you would use for the two effects. Below we will discuss how you can choose the colors accurately. 

Choose The Right Color For The Shadows

Below are some tips you could use when choosing the color for the shadows. 

  1. Do not choose black as a color for your shadows. It will darken your image and defeat the purpose of a shadow. Black can also be very hard to work with. 
  2. With your brush tool selected, go to the color picker and move the little dot on it toward the darker end of the spectrum. 
  3. Make sure the color you land on is a few shades darker than the base color for the artwork that needs shadows. 
  4. Select this color and brush with it. 
  5. Choosing a perfect color involves lots of trials and errors. Go back and forth to hit the spot. 

Choose The Right Color For The Highlights

Consider the following suggestions when choosing the right color for the highlights. 

  1. Do not use white to highlight. This may be often recommended, but we advise strictly against it. 
  2. Go for a color closest to white but still in the same shade as your original base color. 
  3. As in the previous section, go to the color picker tool with your brush and move the dot to the lighter end of the spectrum. 
  4. Go back and forth to ensure you have made the right choice. 

Use Light Strokes

When working on the project, make sure you use lighter strokes. To do so, you can change the brush size to a smaller number. Lightly shade in your project so that there is more room for corrections. However, you can use a bigger brush size to fill in bigger areas with the same color. 

Use The Watercolor Tool

Was shading with the brush tool the last step? We are still going. The watercolor tool is a great way to lock everything in and give you the final result. Select the watercolor tool and run it over every area where you have shaded. 

You can go over an area repeatedly to get your desired effect for added smoothness. 


Shading in Paint Tool SAI, or any software, can be very daunting. Figuring out the light source and choosing the colors can be very tricky if you are a beginner. However, we can assure you that practice makes perfect. Keep at it, and you will soon become a pro at shading.