In a lot of production drawings for anime (and I've also seen them in plots), particularly of characters as opposed to backgrounds, the detailed sketches/drawings have lines in different colors. Is there a purpose for this other than maybe to differentiate between lines? Are they used for color boundaries? Is there a production reason why the specific lines have to be different colors?

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Just to be a bit more clear, I was wondering specifically with the colors used in these particular style line drawings, where the lines seemed to be color coded. For example, given this animatic, the first sketch has color used in shading and hue, but the middle picture shows the color coded line art, where the tears are red and the eyes are blue.

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  • 1
    If I had to make a guess, these might indicate how the final output is to be shaded/colored. Purple and that red are for specular highlights and shades of hair color while that yellowish tinge would be for shadows. The light blue would also be for sharp specular highlights.
    – iKlsR
    Oct 1, 2013 at 22:41

2 Answers 2


The use of colored pencils and related mediums vary depending on the artist or production that does them.

The yellow is typically seen being used to highlight shadows or break up object in the background (like clouds), because shading with a regular pencil might drown out the details especially in a elaborate or darkly lit scene. Take this storyboard from Arrietty:


Compare it to this uncolored storyboard from Evangelion 2.0:


And the Steamboy:


Other times the yellow can be used to highlight an active foreground object like a person, take a look at this example from Mushishi:



The color blue is typically used as a secondary color, do add more detail and depth to the storyboards. Here is an example from 5 Centimeters Per Second:

More details

Even more pages!

Notice the blue is being used to highlight additional shadows for a better sense of the atmosphere of the shots. Here's an example of how it's used to separate objects in Gundam UC.

Dun dun dunnnn!

None of these guidelines are set an stone and can vary greatly depending the budget and needs of the production and/or director(s).

The opening storyboards for Ponyo are in watercolor:

The colors!

The main scenes too:

Pretty colors!

  • Specifically though, I was wondering what the use of colors were in those types of line drawings, where the lines themselves are specific colors, each seemingly coded for a specific reason. As opposed to colors used to colorize an already complete line drawing. Does it have to do with the way programs like Illustrator or RETAS work?
    – Jon Lin
    Oct 5, 2013 at 2:19
  • 1
    From what I can infer the reason that two different line color are used if to differentiate the objects and their color so the colorer know to separate them. The same thing for the tears. The shadows are are outlined instead of being filled in probably to save time and $$. In orders to give noticeable separation different colors are used.
    – кяαzєя
    Oct 6, 2013 at 16:49

A typical Japanese animation can have up to 3 levels of shadows plus a highlight. Different colored lines specifies boundaries of different shadows and the highlight. Traditionally, these are traced in the front of the cel and then the cel is flipped and using these traced lines as a guide, the appropriate color is applied at the back. - I used to work in traditional animation and that is how we use those lines

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