Lighting Effects

Lighting is one of the first special effects you should consider when enhancing the look of your animation.
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Adding special effects is an important part of creating high-quality cartoon animation. Applying an effect is not mandatory, but it will certainly help to catch your audience's attention.

Lighting is one of the first special effects you should consider when enhancing the look of your animation. If done properly, lighting effects will add a lot of volume and depth to your character, contributing to a more realistic environment and a more convincing animation.


Move your mouse over the images to see the updated effects.

We will show you how to make tones and highlights using the Stroke tool or a mask layer. You will also learn how to add shadows to your elements.

Before you begin adding any lighting effects, you should plan where your light source is located, its angle and its level of intensity. This preparation is essential to prevent bad shading or incorrect shadow positioning and direction. The best method is to make a quick map of your scene (from the top and the front view) and position the light on the map. This will help you determine the origin and angle of the light and where the shadow will fall.

The bottom picture on the left shows the correctly lit scene where the shadow follows the correct angle cast by the light source. If you put your cursor over it, an incorrectly lit scene where the shadow does not match the angle of the light source will appear.

Highlights and Tones

Highlights are areas of reflected light on the surface of an object. The more reflective the surface is, the more the object will contain highlights. Highlights are small, very bright areas of an object. Highlights should typically be pure white. If you are highlighting a tone you can make this the lightest tone in the picture and have it contain some detail. In animation, the tones are placed on an object and shadows are placed on the ground. This process is also called shading.

Using the Stroke Tool

Using the Stroke tool is a fast way to create some highlights and tones for your drawings. The Stroke tool is typically used to close elements that have gaps, but in this case we will use it to define zones where we want highlights. The first step would be to define the color of the highlights and tones that you are going to use. A great way to choose colors for the highlight and tone is to use the Color Picker in the color palette.

  • In the color palette, select the color you want to use as a highlight.
  • Use the + button to duplicate the color. Rename it by adding "_h" for highlights and "_t" for tones to the original color name, so you can identify which colors are associated to each other.
  • Open the Color Picker by double-clicking on the newly created colors. You can also use the Color Picker icon (a multicolored circle).
  • The bar to the left of the Dropper is the currently selected color. The colors below it are different shades of the same color. By clicking on the shades at either end, you can get lighter or darker shades of colors. If the colors shown don't fit your needs you can also choose any colors by changing the RBG and HSV values or selecting specific colors from the left part of the window.

After you have chosen your colors, define the zones that se have highlights with the Stroke tool. Make sure that your line t ouches both edges of the drawing. If it doesn't, Toon Boom Studio won't isolate the zone and repainting the zone will result in the whole surface being repainted. To see the strokes that have been made so far, activate the Show Strokes option (View > Show Strokes, or the [K] shortcut). When strokes are visible, all closed edges are shown as green dots and all unclosed edges are shown as red dots. Once you have defined your tone and highlight zones, use the Paint tool to change the color to the ones that you defined earlier.

Tip: Remember that once you have defined the color, you can always change it in the color palette and it will be automatically updated in your scene.

Animating the Shading Effect Using Mask and Color Transform

Another method of creating highlights and tones is to use multiple layers. Even though this method might sound more complicated, it allows you to easily animate the intensity of the light by simply changing the values in the Color Transform effect. For this method you will need to use two more drawing objects: one for the highlights and one for the tones. Here are the steps required to apply this method.

  • Create the color for the shadow and the outlines. For the highlights, take a light color (such as white or yellow) and enter an Alpha value that is less than 100. Do the same for the tones, using a dark color.
  • Create a layer called Highlight and a layer called Tones and place them over the element drawing (inside the clipping mask if you used one).
  • Paint the highlights. You will need to determine where your light is coming from. If the light is coming from the left, the highlights should be to the left and the tones should be to the right. If it comes from the center, highlights should be in the center and tones to the side. Remember that by adding these, you are actually giving depth to your character so you can also use tones or highlights on the neck or parts that are deeper or not accessible to as much light.
  • If your drawing is in one element only, you can also add a clipping mask (see the previous article on making a mask to create a transition) of the element you want to highlight so you don't have to bother with painting outside of the element. Also, if you have black contour lines in your element, we suggest that you make a copy of them on a new layer or delete them from the mask so they won't be affected by the highlights.

Drop Shadow

Adding a drop shadow to elements on your animation project is a great way to give depth to it. However, you must be careful about the angle of the drop shadow so it fits with the angle of your highlights and tones. If you don't pay special attention to it, you might end up with a scene in which the lighting isn't consistent and you will lose the feeling of depth that you wanted to acquire by doing the lighting in the first place.

To make a convincing drop shadow:

  • Create a clone of the element.
  • Add a Peg element to the timeline with the + button.
  • Attach the clone to a peg
  • Add a Color Transform Effect element into the Timeline with the + button.
  • Drag the peg containing the clone into the Color Transform effect.
  • Move the group containing the Color Transform effect behind the element that is going to have the shadow.
  • Set the Red, Green and Blue color values in the Color Transform effect to 0 on the first and last frame.
  • Select the Rotation tool and move the pivot point of the peg to the bottom of your element (where the shadow will be attached to the element).
  • Select the Free Transform tool and use the skew function (keep [Alt] pressed and select the top of the element) and the scale function to adjust the angle of the shadow.