Anime Cloud Tutorial

anime cloud tutorial
I have learned more about anime cloud painting in the past few months. Although my cloud painting is not that great yeat, but I believe the knowledge I have learned so far is useful for anyone who is starting out in painting background art.


Types of Clouds

Before moving further into the topic, lets look at different type of clouds. You can see photos of diferent clouds at this wikimediacommons list of clouds page.

types of clouds
The naming for clouds can be confusing. So, here is a list of useful info to remember.
  • Cirro = High altitude clouds
  • Alto = Mid altitude clouds
  • Nimbo / Nimbus = Clouds that bring rain
  • Cumulo = Piles of clouds
  • Stratus = Wide flat layer of clouds

BUT WAIT! We are not learning meteorology here, we just want to paint! Remembering types of cloud is not our top priority, but painting different types of clouds is. So let's start painting and keep in mind that there are different type of clouds in the sky.

Brush Settings

For the purpose of simplicity, I will only be using the default Photoshop brush. Some default brushes that I found useful are the round tip brush and chalk/oil/pastel brush.

cloud brush using default Photoshop abr
You can try to experiment with different settings for brush tip size, rotation (angle), roundness, flip x, flip y, scattering. You can also use the Jitter (random/noise/fuzzy) option. In my case, I am mostly using the default settings.

Painting Basic Cumulus Clouds

This is the most basic clouds we will be painting a lot of times in different artworks. Mastering this will help alot when come to painting landscape art.

cloud placement reference simple anime cloud
  1. Paint the shape of cloud.
  2. Lock layer transparency and shade the cloud. A lot of time, we can use 50% opacity of the sky colour for shading.
  3. More painting/shading
  4. Unlock layer transparency and smudge the edge of cloud. This step is optional but will add some wispy look near the edge.

By changing the colour palette of clouds, we can use this basic clouds for different time of day.

anime cloud colour reference anime cloud colour reference
This basic cloud look easy to paint, but there are two important factors to remember, which I will discuss more below.
  • Avoid painting cloud symmetricaly.
  • More randomness in cloud placement and cloud shape.

Asymetry Cloud Shape

A lot of time we want to avoid painting cloud that look symmetry.

shape of anime cloud
Cloud A is symetry and look more cartoony. Cloud B is asymmetry and look more natural. Since we are trying to do anime style which is semi-realism, cloud B work better for us.

shape of anime cloud
The shape of clouds also varies depend on the angle we are viewing them. Cloud A near top of image mean it is on top of us, and we are viewing from below of it. Cloud C is near horizon so we can see the side of it.

Random Placement of Cloud

The placement of clouds will be more visually eye pleasing if it is random. The first image below show a more symmetry placement. There is no wrong with this, as it will work well with a cartoon style drawing. But again, we are trying to do anime style so the second image with random cloud placement work better for us.

simple anime cloud anime cloud placement
With these knowledge keep in mind, lets move to painting other types of clouds.

Painting Large Cumulonimbus Clouds

The steps to paint large cumulus cloud are the same as painting the basic cloud, draw the shape, shade and smudge.

big anime cumulus cloud big anime cumulus cloud
  1. Paint the shape of cloud.
  2. Lock layer transparency and shade the cloud.
  3. More painting/shading. Unlock layer transparency and smudge the edge of cloud.

Large cumulus cloud are usually use for summer scene in anime. By using a different colour palette, you can use it for sunset scene too.

anime summer cloud anime sunset cloud blue sunset cloud

Painting Long Evening Clouds Near Horizon

These long clouds near horizon are usually seen during the evening. They are quite easy to paint as it can be done in just 2 steps.

evening cloud big anime cumulus cloud
  1. Paint the outer countour of cloud.
  2. Distort the cloud using transform tool CTRL-T.

The distortion can be uniform as seen in B or non-uniform as seen in C. You can also shade them if needed.

evening cloud evening cloud

Painting Cirrus Cloud

Cirrus clouds are paint by smudging the cloud.

cirrus cloud smudge cirrus cloud
  1. Paint random shapes (can also be line) as seen in A.
  2. Smudge them with smudge tool, you should get result similar in B. Increasing the smudge tool strength will allow us to smudge the cloud to further.
  3. It will look like C when we stack more clouds together.
Avoid smudging on area which we had smudge earlier because this will make the cloud lost its fine detail. If we want to add more cirrus cloud, it is better to add another layer and repeat the steps.

Painting Cirrocumulus and Altocumulus Cloud

This clouds are usually seen during evening or early morning. It is not easy to paint this due to the amount of little clouds, but it is basically done by painting lots of small clouds and distort them into perspective view.

Cirrocumulus Altocumulus cloud distort anime  cloud
  1. Paint random small shapes as in A. It will work better if we are using custom brush as seen in B
  2. Distort the cloud using transform tool CTRL-T. Result will be similar to C

Cirrocumulus Altocumulus cloud evening cloud

We have cover how to paint different types of clouds sop far. Now lets move to other topic which can be quite useful for painting sky and clouds.

Atmospheric Effect

Atmospheric effect are use to show distance or glowing light. It is best to use for sunset scene.

colourful cloud
  1. Add a new layer, set the blending mode to any addictive mode like screen or add.
  2. Paint the glowing part with a soft edge round brush.
  3. We can also try stacking multiple layers with different blend mode. I find overlay blend mode work best for blending sky colours.

rocket anime cloud colour reference doge

Light Ray Effect

Sometimes we will saw light rays radiate from sky around the clouds. Light rays can be easily generate by using motion blur or radial zoom blur.

light ray
  1. Add a new layer and paint around the area where light ray will be visible.
  2. Apply motion blur or radial zoom blur.
  3. Set this light ray layer to addictive mode if you want it to be glowing.

sun ray light pillar
A vertical motion blur can be use to generate light pillar effect.

Colours of Cloud

Time of day, seasons, weather, amount of light scatter in clouds. All these factors will affect the colours and shading of cloud. Sky and cloud are most colourful during magic hour. Look at some of sunset photos I took below, sometime they look more colourful than real painting. So, you can be more adventurous when choosing the colour palette.

colourful cloud colourful cloud colourful cloud
Since I am a red green colourblind, I won't be able to share more on colour theory with you. But what I can suggest is, go out and look at the sky more. Pay attention to the details and colours.


These photos show the sun is casting light behind the clouds, so it will fully lit the thinner cloud or add a rim light around the thicker clouds.

cloud colour reference cloud colour reference

Night Cloud

Cloud still receive light from city lights or moon during the night. So, we can paint the cloud with bright or dark colour depending if there is light scatter in them. In the artwork below, I paint the some of the clouds brighther and some darker.

night cloud
We can even add in milkyway or nebula cloud in our night sky painting. This will give the artwork a more magical and mystical feel

night cloud night cloud night cloud

Raining Cloud

For raining scene, cloud is one huge layer of dark nimbus cloud. Nimbus cloud is dark because it is dense with water.

raining cloud
Colour use to paint raining scene are usually more monochrome and desaturate.

raining cloud raining cloud

I can't paint with default Photoshop brush!

Don't worry, it take time to achieve result and I am also still learning how to paint as I am writing this. If you want faster result, the best way is to paint with custom brush. I have compile a list of useful cloud brush in my Photoshop brush download page.

cloud brush download cloud brush download cloud brush download
And this is a result of using some of the custom brush.

warm sunset
Last, enjoy this timelapse video of different clouds I did last year.


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