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In my opinion, these are the most important factors in any character design: color, concept, shape, simplicity, cohesiveness, repeatability, personality and uniqueness.

Color: Any design with colors all over the place creates too many places for the eye to look. Keep your color design very simple and zen. Looking at the colors shouldn't be jarring or confusing. This isn't to say only use one color, not at all, but try to make sure the ones you use are harmonious. Avoid mixing and matching different saturations of the same color or picking colors that clash with one another.

My rule of thumb: Stick to no more than three base colors and some value variations.

Concept: Your design should have inspiration, even if the inspiration is just your intended character's personality or an interesting object that represents them. Your character could be a bookworm, and that would impact her posture, her clothing, her hairstyle...pretty much everything about her! You can design clothing based on objects, elements, existing fashions or other things that relate to your character's personality.

My rule of thumb: Your whole design should radiate with one strong idea.

Shape: Every character should have a unique overall shape. Nothing is more boring than a lineup of characters with the same exact body type, height, stance, etc. There's so much that can be conveyed by body shape and posture, and it's really worth looking at pictures of people to learn to draw as many different types as possible.

My rule of thumb: You should be able to recognize your character as a silhouette only.

Simplicity: Even in designs with lot of detail, I think the best character and clothing designs need to be relatively simple in the breakdown. Posture and pose can usually be conveyed in a few lines, and clothing shouldn't have too many elements or pieces to avoid confusing the eye.

My rule of thumb: You should be able to convey your character's overall design in ten pen strokes or less.

Cohesiveness: This goes for every facet of the design (concept, color, shape, etc.) Try to repeat colors, shapes, designs, patterns and overall ideas across your figure. Even if it's something really small, like your character has bright blue eyes, try to repeat a variation of that blue somewhere on the figure - maybe even an accessory or a fringe. Try to use every color and shape more than once.

My rule of thumb: The bottom half of your design should look like it belongs to the top half.

Repeatability: When you design a character, make sure that drawing him/her over and over would not get tedious, or that it would even be possible. Draw him/her from several different angles. Don't include any laboriously detailed patterns or tattoos that would be impossible to draw the same way twice.

My rule of thumb: Drawing your character should be relatively easy.

Personality: Your character's face, stance, clothing choices, even their color scheme should reflect their personality. If you can't hint at their personality through one aspect, double your efforts on the others; for example, if you have to draw a depressed man as a brightly colored clown, make him really slouched, his expression REALLY sour, etc.

My rule of thumb: We should know your character the moment we look at him.

Uniqueness: Perhaps most important of all, your character should be unique in body type, face shape, facial features, posture, deformities, etc. Don't just use one design or shape for everything, even if you really, really like the way one particular thing looks. Hairstyle, accessories and clothing don't count for this category because those things can be changed; don't depend on them to differentiate your character from another! Your character is an individual, so do them a favor and make them look like one. =p

Things to vary on the face include jawline, eyebrows, eye shape and size, nose shape and size, cheekbone placement, lip and mouth shape, ear size and shape, overall placement of the features, hairline, forehead size, and unique features such as scars, piercings and tattoos.

Things to vary on the body include height, weight, posture, skin tone, shoulder width, muscle tone, butt size, arm/leg length and shape, missing limbs, breast size, shape and placement, neck length and torso-to-leg ratio.

For a good example of this, look at the show Avatar; it has characters that periodically change clothes and hair, or are dressed in practically identical clothes, yet you can still recognize them all as individuals.

My rule of thumb: You should still be able to recognize your character even if they were bald and naked.
I hear a lot of people expressing frustration that their characters don't look unique. Today I was thinking about the stuff I think about while I'm designing a character, and came up with this list, which I hope is a bit helpful to anyone unsure about their designs.

Someone suggested that I make this journal into a deviation.. so here goes. Hope html works in deviations. If not, please don't point and laugh. :(

Weird that they didn't have a "general art" tutorial gallery...
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Daily Deviation

Given 2009-01-13
The suggester writes: Unique Character Design Tips by =thundercake is a concise written tutorial if you need guidance in trying to create strong and original character designs.It is well written, smartly thought out,making the often convoluted process of creating one's character designs hold their own and stand out, while narrowed visually down to an intelligent how-to guide.Personally, I think this will help a large number of artists, so it is definitely worth sharing with the deviantART community. ( Suggested by Javadoodle and Featured by znow-white )
ttkitty441 Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2016  Student Digital Artist
This is really helpful, but what about non-human characters?
seionara Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
It's the same thing but you may have other features you can play with either instead of or in addition to those we already have.
Prakorimas Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2016  Student Writer
Really nice tips. Thank you for sharing them!
KaiserZephan Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Added to bookmarks.
Kukurtaja Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This was super helpful, thank you! Tard Jig 
Omega-Knight-X97M Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2016  Student Digital Artist
This would help me.
cloudenings Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is super helpful, thanks for writing this!
MitoMN-Chan Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks, I have a surprise character coming up, but I'm running out of design ideas.
MetallicBeats Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, thanks for this! :D
AliceSacco Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2015   Digital Artist
I usually start to study my OCs naked and shaver because of this, although during studies, I draw them occasionally with hair and clothes to see if proportions still make sense.
Do7anii Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thank you for writing this :rose:
danaTheNerdyTiger Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Wow this is so good. Thanks so much <3
shypegasister10 Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I'm definitely using this!
road-tripping Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2015
I haz a suggestion for colors :D
The more natural pictures you find with the colors of your OC, the better colors you have :D
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road-tripping Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2015
you're welcome :D
Woohoorandom Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
That website is amazing! ;o
Thanks for the link!
road-tripping Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2015
You're welcome :3
8BitStitchPunk Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
"You should still be able to recognize your character even if they were bald and naked."

I've never thought of it that way...
Sakura-iro Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for this! I never even considered most of these things when I was thinking of character creation.
HikkHyric Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is extremely helpful with a comic series I working on, thanks! I always use this as a base when I'm designing new groups of characters.
IndicinaCN Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
this reminds me that I'm doing the right thing with my characters. Thanks
Azurewhiterose Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Very useful.I will keep this in mind.Thank you very much for sharing. 
KyraLynMoss Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This helps a ton as I'm designing my first character. Thanks!
SenatorHeart Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2014  Student Interface Designer
Great tips to reference! 
Sokomin Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2014  Student Filmographer
extremely helpful..thank you
Lostsabbath Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Student General Artist
Sazzywish Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2014  Student Photographer
This is extremely helpful! This is going to help so much in my character designing.
Angelfeathers137 Featured By Owner May 3, 2014
This is sooo helpful! However, I have a huge problem designing clothing. I can never figure out what they should wear...
CrazyRiverOtter Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2014
I've had both Sonic fans and My Little Pony fans mad at me for suggesting these tips.

Which is weird, because both of the two series' character designs (the latter more-so than the former) actually has pretty strong character design save for the main groups.
Gurdim Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014
Damn i discovered this just now XD But it's still very helpful thanks, especially as i have the strange problem of "spitting" out too much characters without even knowing what to do of em and how to optimize and give personality to them >.<
animeloverxox35 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014  Student General Artist
this was so helpful thanks :) (Smile) 
zevmor Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:) (Smile) :happybounce: 
GinsengLag Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2014
I'm about six years late to this party, but this is SUPER HELPFUL. I wrote some of it down in my sketchbook just so I can always have it around.
lanternlovers Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014  Student General Artist
love it!!!
hedwards Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2014
This is definitely the most useful page I've found on character design. It would be nice to have examples, but I think you've gone into sufficient detail to follow what's going on. Too many pages about design are just about copying other people's designs, and even those are poor at that goal.
ScoutF Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I like how structured and detailed this is. Very helpful, thank you!
AuburnSkys Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist

Love this! Its definitely very helpful :)))))

Dittle-chan Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2014
These are some really great tips! I'm a big fan of detailed character designs, but I should probably try to simplify things a bit more. ^^;; I get too carried away.
Hollowraid Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2014
Thank youuuuuuuu soooooo muuuuuch!
M-102 Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2013
BhagatRandhawa Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2013

SteelWing1 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
How woul you do the different body/face part with an anime style, other than height differences. Are different eye styles bad?
ArmedWatcher Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

The points in thundercake's tutorial about varying muscle tone and other details also apply to anime as well. For the body, most people like to use a martini shaped contour for males and an hourglass for females. If you play with these contours, you should be able to get very different looking bodies even at the same height.

When it comes to drawing anime faces, one of the popular methods is to draw a circle for the top and attach a V for the jaw. If you use this method, you can try tweaking the shape of the V or replace it with other shapes for more unique jawlines.

As for the eyes, different eye styles are actually good to help distinguish your characters, especially if you are going for more "realistic" anime. Not just eye shapes, but eyelashes and eyebrows as well. Large, round eyes usually go with younger, more innocent characters. Sharp, narrow eyes can hint at intelligence. Slit-like eyes create a sinister feeling; many true-evil villains have slit-eyes. Iris size also matters as well. Large irises are usually associated with good guys while small irises indicate villainy. There are exceptions, of course.

SteelWing1 Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you!
ArmedWatcher Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome. I'm glad I was able to help :)
Astral-Wingz Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Looking at the Sonic fandom and the fan characters, the best tip for a unique character is to pick a species that is rare and is NOT over used like hedgehogs, foxes, wolves, etc.
HyenaBonesART Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2013
gah i needed some advice for this and this was extremely helpful especially that parts where it says "the bottom half should look like it belongs to the top half" and the bald and naked thing is true too! thanks for having this up! :heart:
tokiratokia Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2013  Student General Artist
oh gosh
the bald and naked part is so ture but i am so bad at that part heh
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