Drawing vector portraits Part 4: The Lips

In the previous posts, I’ve explained how to draw the face, eye and nose. In this tutorial I will explain how to properly draw the lips, obtaining depth and volume.

I’ve received some requests of explaining more thoroughly the tracing process in Illustrator, so this will be a more in-depth research than the others.

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So let’s begin. We will work on these sketches I’ve made.

The lips are not just three lines on the face, they are a complex entity surrounded by lots of muscles. It has high flexibility and this is a very important attribute to keep in mind, it will affect the thickness of the lips when drawing expressions.

It is important you understand the shape and positioning, else your subject will look like he has a flat face, and we definitely don’t want that.


The lips are composed of five distinct areas, shown in the image below. You can start with those shape as a base for the lips, you can throw a rough contour later on.

The waterdrop-like shapes allow you to create smooth contour lines alot easier that if you would draw them directly. So my advice is to start with these lines.


Notice in the image below the proportions between the top lip and the bottom lip. Usually, the top lip is thinner than the bottom lip, but not in all cases. Study your subject closely and you’ll get them right. Just imagine a line between the mouth’s corners, then everything will be clear. One thing about the mouth’s corners: do not draw them sharp! It’s an area where the top and bottom lips intersect, so make sure they have a fair amount of volume.

In the second image above, take a close look at the tri-dimensional profile and understand the shape of each lip. This will basically enable you to do a  great shading with no headaches.

For the profile view, the top lip usually stands out more than the bottom lip or as much as it.

Shading and lighting

Once you got hold of the shape, this part should be fun to do. In the image below, I’ve marked the areas for:

– Dark shading (red)

– Medium shading (yellow)

– Light shading (blue)

– Green (light)

There are some areas that need special attention, namely just suggesting them. They’re hardly noticeable, but you’ll obtain more depth.


In short terms, your workflow for the pencil sketches should be like this:

Turning into vector

Create a new document and drag-drop the sketch onto our canvas and reduce its Opacity to 65%. Create a new layer above it and lock the first layer. Grab your Pen Tool (P) or Brush Tool (B) if you have a graphic tablet.

Start Tracing the strong lines of the contour with a dark line. Try to keep a nice line flow as much as you can.

Create a layer under this one and select it. Then lock the top-most layer. Pick a dark gray and draw the strong shades. You don’t have to be precise, you’ll draw under the contour lines.

Create a layer under the current one and lock the one above it. Then use a lighter gray and draw the medium shading.

Do the same for the base color and lights. It sounds awkward to have the lights under the shadows, but trust me, you’ll have it alot easier this way.

Unlock all layers, select all (CTRL+A), then go to Edit > Expand appearance, Edit > Path > Clean up. Go to Pathfinder window (Window > Pathfinder) and click the “merge” button”.

At this point, you are free to adjust the colors as you please.

Go to Swatches window (Window > Swatches), click the button in the bottom left corner and select “Skintones”.

Grab the Magic Wand (Y), press Enter, set Tolerance to “0” and click each color, then pick one from the Skintones palette.

Feel free to add small lines to texturize the surface of the lips!

Want to take a closer look ? Download the source file from the link below.

  Lips tutorial (2.7 MiB, 1,192 hits)

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15 Comments Drawing vector portraits Part 4: The Lips

  1. Laira May 25, 2010 at 09:51

    wow…great post.really amazing job….

  2. Manuela May 25, 2010 at 09:36

    Wow! That’s great!

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  4. Image Masking May 26, 2010 at 02:15

    It was really awesome post!
    Thanks a lot for sharing..

  5. reADactor May 27, 2010 at 01:41

    nice sketches. the final vectors look great.

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  8. pharmacy technician schools Jun 21, 2010 at 00:07

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  9. pharmacy technician schools Jul 4, 2010 at 11:53

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  10. Clippingimages Aug 8, 2010 at 07:28

    Really a cool one buddy..thanks for sharing …awesome one

  11. medical assistant Aug 25, 2010 at 13:51

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  12. Darrick Mcswiggan Oct 5, 2010 at 21:37

    unbelieveble news dude

  13. Vicente Aruizu Oct 8, 2010 at 16:59

    Greeting from me sir :D i hope you will happy . Good bye

  14. praise139 Feb 8, 2011 at 00:21

    This post is even more informative than the previous one. Thank you for sharing your process, it’s very, very helpful to me as I’m just starting out with illustration.

  15. Image Clipping Path Sep 10, 2011 at 06:40

    WOW! This is a work of excellence. Brilliant! want more post like this. Thanks…


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