7 Tips to Enhance Character Design in Graphic Novels
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Create Believable Characters
  2. Use Reference Images
  3. Design Differentiating Features
  4. Incorporate Color Theory
  5. Focus on Body Language
  6. Experiment with Exaggeration
  7. Think About Clothing and Costumes

When it comes to graphic novels, character design is more than just a pretty face. It's the heart of your story, the lifeblood that flows through every panel. A character's design can speak volumes about who they are, what they want, and why your readers should care. So if you're wondering how to improve character design in graphic novels, you've come to the right place. Here are seven tips to help you take your characters from flat to fabulous.

Create Believable Characters

First things first, your characters need to feel real. Just like people, they should have strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and fears. This is what makes them relatable and keeps your readers coming back for more.

  • Depth: Think of your character as an iceberg. The part your readers see is only the tip. Underneath the surface, there's a whole lot more going on. This could be a painful past, a secret dream, or a hidden fear. It's these deep, personal details that make a character feel real.
  • Consistency: People are creatures of habit, and so are your characters. If your character is a grumpy old man, he's not going to suddenly turn into a happy-go-lucky guy without a good reason. Consistency in behavior and reaction makes a character believable.
  • Change: But while consistency is important, nobody stays the same forever. Your characters should grow and change over the course of your story. Maybe they learn to overcome their fears, or maybe they discover a new dream. These changes should be gradual and believable, not sudden and out of the blue.

By focusing on depth, consistency, and change, you can improve the believability of your characters. This is a key aspect of how to improve character design in graphic novels, and it's something that all the greats—from Alan Moore to Naoki Urasawa—do exceptionally well.

Use Reference Images

Here's a little secret: even the most talented artists use reference images. Why? Because it's an effective way to capture the intricate details of life. Whether it's a specific pose, a facial expression, or a type of clothing, reference images can bring a level of realism to your character design that's hard to achieve otherwise.

  • Real Life: Start with the world around you. People on the street, friends, family, or even a mirror can be excellent sources of inspiration. Notice the way people move, how they express emotions, and how their clothing reflects their personality.
  • Photographs: If you can't find what you're looking for in real life, turn to photographs. Websites like Pinterest and Instagram are full of high-quality images that can spark your imagination. Just remember to respect copyright laws and always credit the original artist if you're sharing your work.
  • Artwork: Other artists can also be a rich source of inspiration. You might admire the way a particular artist draws hair, or the unique way they use color. Don't be afraid to learn from others, but always make sure to keep your own style and voice.

Reference images can provide a solid starting point, helping you understand the basics of form, proportion, and detail. By incorporating these elements into your work, you're well on your way to improving your character design in graphic novels—just like the pros!

Design Differentiating Features

Ever noticed how you can instantly recognize your favorite character even in a crowd scene? That's the power of differentiating features. They make your characters memorable and easy to identify. So, how do you design these features?

  • Unique Silhouettes: One of the best ways to differentiate your characters is by giving them unique silhouettes. Think of Batman's pointed ears or Homer Simpson's round body. Even without any details, these characters are instantly recognizable by their silhouette alone.
  • Distinctive Attributes: Another great way to make your characters stand out is by giving them distinctive attributes. This could be a unique hairstyle, a signature piece of clothing, or even a physical characteristic like a scar or tattoo.
  • Varying Body Types: Not everyone looks the same, and neither should your characters. By varying your characters' body types, you not only make them more diverse and realistic but also more identifiable. A muscular superhero, a slim sidekick, a chubby villain—all these variations contribute to making your characters distinct.

Remember, the goal is not to make each character different for the sake of being different. Instead, these features should reflect your characters' personalities and backstories. After all, character design in graphic novels is not just about how they look—it's about who they are.

Incorporate Color Theory

Color is more than just a visual element—it's a powerful storytelling tool that can convey mood, emotion, and even character traits. But how can you use color theory to improve your character design in graphic novels?

  • Color Schemes: Each color evokes certain emotions. For instance, red can signify passion or anger, blue can symbolize calmness or sadness, and green might suggest nature or envy. By choosing a color scheme that matches your character's personality, you can make them more relatable and engaging.
  • Contrasting Colors: Contrast can help to make your characters stand out and draw attention to important elements. Consider using complementary colors (those opposite on the color wheel) for high contrast, or analogous colors (those next to each other on the color wheel) for a more harmonious look.
  • Consistency: Consistency in color choices can help establish a character's identity. If a character always wears a purple hat or has green hair, these consistent elements become part of their signature look.

So, next time you pick up a color palette, remember—you're not just coloring, you're storytelling. By incorporating color theory into your character design, you can create more compelling, memorable characters that readers will love.

Focus on Body Language

Body language is a non-verbal form of communication, and it's an amazing way to breathe life into your characters. Ever wondered how to improve character design in a graphic novel using body language? Let's break it down.

  • Posture: The way a character stands or sits can say a lot about their personality. A slouched posture might suggest a lack of confidence, while a straight, upright posture could imply the opposite.
  • Movements: How your character moves can also reveal their state of mind. Quick, jerky movements might show nervousness or impatience, while slow, deliberate movements could indicate calmness or confidence.
  • Facial Expressions: A picture is worth a thousand words, and that's especially true for facial expressions. They can convey a wide range of emotions without a single word of dialogue, making your characters more expressive and relatable.

So remember, when designing your characters, pay attention to their body language. It's not just about what they say—it's also about how they say it. This can make your characters feel more real and relatable, making your graphic novel even more engaging!

Experiment with Exaggeration

If you're pondering how to improve character design in a graphic novel, one strategy is to experiment with exaggeration. Now, we're not talking about making your characters look like caricatures (unless that's the style you're going for, of course). What we mean is using exaggeration to emphasize certain character traits and make your characters more memorable.

  • Size and Shape: Exaggerating the size and shape of your characters can help differentiate them and make them stand out. A character with an unusually large nose, for example, will be instantly recognizable to your readers.
  • Expressions and Poses: Over-exaggerating expressions and poses can make your characters more dynamic and expressive. This can help convey their emotions more effectively and make your pages more visually interesting.
  • Details: Don't be afraid to exaggerate details, such as a character's clothing or accessories. This can add depth to your character designs and make your world feel more unique and immersive.

So don't shy away from exaggeration when designing your characters. It's a powerful tool that can help you create unique, memorable character designs that will resonate with your readers and make your graphic novel stand out from the crowd.

Think About Clothing and Costumes

Ever wonder how to improve character design in a graphic novel by using clothing and costumes? It's simpler than you might think. The outfits your characters wear provide a wealth of opportunities to reveal their personalities, backgrounds, and roles within your story.

  • Personality: A character's clothing can tell us a lot about their personality. A character who always dresses in neat, formal clothes probably has a very different personality from one who wears casual, messy clothes, right? Use this to give your readers clues about who your characters are.
  • Background: Clothing can also hint at a character's background. For instance, a character who wears expensive, high-fashion clothing is likely from a wealthy background, while a character in worn-out, patched clothes might come from a less privileged situation.
  • Role: Use clothing to indicate a character's role within your story. A character dressed in a uniform, for example, instantly communicates their job to your readers.

Remember, clothing and costumes are more than just fashion choices. They're an integral part of character design. So next time you're sketching out a new character for your graphic novel, take a moment to think about what their wardrobe might say about them. You might be surprised at how much depth this can add to your characters.

If you're looking to further enhance your character design skills in graphic novels, don't miss out on the workshop 'Drawing Compelling Expressions in Character Design' by Rory Duke Stewart. This workshop will teach you how to create expressive characters that will captivate your readers and bring your story to life.