Character Design Inspiration: Tips, Tricks, Example Images | CharacterHub (2024)

Characters come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Even species! Building them from scratch sure is challenging but far from impossible!

There are so many things that character creators have to think about! Great characters are relatable, have goals, flaws, and more. In a world with so many stories and movies, making a character that stands out can be hard!

With so many possibilities, where do you even begin? How do you come up with an incredible character? Where do you get your inspiration from?

Start with what you already know.

Use your personal experiences to jump-start your brainstorming.Think about some interesting moments in your life. What are some traits you have (good and bad) that you can explore in a character?

Below are some proven ways to get inspiration for your character designs. You’ll find tips for coming up with both character details and visuals! You’ll also find a collection of character images at the bottom to help get your brain cranking for ideas!

Character Design Inspiration: Tips, Tricks, Example Images | CharacterHub (1)

Character Design Inspiration: Tips, Tricks, Example Images | CharacterHub (2)

Create a mood board

Looking at pretty pictures helps a lot! Mood boards are big sources of visual inspiration for both writers and designers.

They let you collect all your thoughts and ideas, even color schemes, in one place. When words fail, pictures can better describe the vibe you’re going for with a character.

Show, not tell – as the popular storytelling advice goes. What does tall, dark, and handsome look like for you?

Create a mood board for your characters on Pinterest. Narrow down your vision with plenty of photos showcasing various aesthetics and designs.

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You can make moodboards for all types of things:

  • Interesting images that might spark character ideas
  • Visuals that evoke certain emotions
  • Specific images that your character might look like
  • Items or locations the character might visit. What kind of bedroom would your character have, for example?

Following a color scheme can make picking images a bit easier. Plus, every color has a meaning you can add to your character.

In addition to Pinterest, Unsplash has endless pages of royalty-free photos to scroll through.

Their stylish photos are often done by pro photographers and they have a wide collection of pictures! Scroll through the home page, search around for images. Look at some collections. You never know what image might spark some inspiration! What’s great about Unsplash is the images are all so high quality! Save the images that resonate with you for your moodboard.

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Keep in mind: you’re not copy-pasting these pictures as your ideas! Use them as inspiration to spark new ideas that will make amazing characters!

Study the greats

There have been many great creators who worked extremely hard at the craft of character design and have changed the world with their characters.

Some of them you’ve heard of. If they’ve made it to your FYP and your ads, then it’s worth figuring out what they did right.

Study the big names like Marvel and Disney who have super popular characters. Many people worldwide love these icons for who they are and what they represent.

There are also Pixar and Dreamworks, two leading animation studios. They're known for making kids and adults alike cry with heart-wrenching movies.

Study how their art styles and animation fit their stories. How do these visual elements work together? How do the characters' shapes and sizes support their personalities?

Don't forget the stories themselves! Dive deep into the plot and themes.

You can find even find origin stories online for many popular characters. You can read about the inspiration for them and the little details the creators used when crafting the narrative!

Reread your favorite books to see how the author handles their characters. Or get your hands on the latest #1 New York Times Bestseller.

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Analyze how the characters move through the story. How do they relate to one another? What are they like on their own?

Take Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, for example. Even though many movies bring different interpretations, because of great character design, viewers always relate to the sisters' life and hardships.

But be careful! You're not studying the greats to copy what made them great. Be your own artist!

When exploring the greats, bring up WHY instead. Decipher why the storyteller wrote a character that way.

Draw inspiration from the WHY in creating your own characters.

Don’t forget to be unique. The WHYs for these great characters often led them to become characters that stood out amongst the crowd.

Go people watching

Try going on a stroll. Visit the park. Relax somewhere bustling with people the subway station or the mall.

Watch the people around you. Observe how they act and create your own mini-stories about each person as they go about their day.

You can be realistic or you can conjure up a fantastical backstory about the lady feeding the birds. Is she some horror in disguise?

It's a simple brainstorming game you can practice to dig up fresh ideas. Try it when working on several characters at once.

This exercise often can bring lots of new ideas for both lore and for visuals as you’ll see all types of people, fashion styles, and interactions.

You never know what you might see!

Take in some randomness

Sometimes you don’t know what the exact trigger of your next brilliant idea will be. When in doubt, check out some random stuff!

Wikipedia Roulette or Youtube Roulette will show you completely random, interesting content. Let you brain be free and take it all in!

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Grab a random magazine or book from your shelf. Flip it to a random page.

What you land on can be:

  • a challenge against a creative block; or
  • a quick exercise before a heavy brainstorming session; or
  • an answer to your character dilemma.

Go with the flow and see how inspiration takes you. The first thing you see may not spark anything. Then the 20th thing you see may spark an idea that connects to the first one and leads to a brilliant world, character, and story!

Turn to history

Every historical figure has a story. Otherwise, they wouldn't have monuments in their honor or textbooks and museums in their honor.

They're remembered for something. They often lived interesting lives, regardless of if they’re remembered for good or evil. Yes, those evil ones can make good bases for villains!

Are there any historical figures you look up to? What are popular names you've heard of?

Look through their lives. It's time for a little investigation!

Wikipedia, for example, has a long list of the wealthiest historical figures. What life-changing events brought them financial success?

Search other categories too. Your local heroes. The world’s biggest real-life villains.

You can also find movies retelling the stories of the most famous people in history.

While you might get lost in the story, don't forget to study them as characters. What are their traits and motivations? What part of their past changed them?

Examine what made these historical figures very important and influential characters in society. You just might find something interesting!

Turn to pop culture

Most of us spend a little too much time on social media. Thankfully, social media can be a great place to character design ideas! What’s trending on Twitter? Who’s top in your Spotify Wrapped?

Pop culture involves plenty of eye-catching personalities and tons of twists and turns. Such is the nature of showbiz!

Scroll through the news and see if an entertainment headline pops out at you. Follow the latest icons on Instagram. They often share the glitziest part of their lives.

You’ll find all types of people. People posing as heroes, villains, and more! There’s often drama just a few clicks away that might spark some new ideas!

Get to know people on the rise too. You may not have heard of them yet but a particular detail may catch your eye.

Pop culture is always changing. You can never predict what comes next! It's an eventful place to discover new ideas, people, and ways of thinking.

This is where you can stand out! Hello Kitty can’t be based on the latest trends, but maybe your character can!

Fill out a character sheet

Designing a character involves knowing every nitty-gritty detail about them. Of course, that can be quite intimidating.

Character sheets make this easy! Often in text form, they display any info that describes the look and qualities of your character.

Common versions ask for basic details such as name, age, and likes and dislikes. While some include unique situations and this-or-that choices.

What would your character do in a zombie apocalypse?

The more details, the merrier! And the better to illustrate your character's identity.

Fill out these character sheets as much as you want. Use the various questions and categories as prompts.

You might discover a characteristic you haven’t thought of yet.

Remember, nothing you write down is final!

Like with mood boards, have fun mixing and matching.

Try some character design prompts

Prompts are a great way to kickstart your imagination. A simple question or scenario guides you in shaping your character.

Whether you’re brewing somebody new or not, prompts help you get to know your characters better.

You'll know you know your characters by heart when you can tell what they'll do even in the weirdest of scenarios. By then, it's going to be much easier to write their stories!

Here’s a handy list of useful character design prompts:

Example character designs to drive inspiration:

First impressions matter!

Checking out images of characters can give you an idea of how you want your character to look. Beneath that, what personality would they have?

Why would they wear a cheerleader's uniform? Have a mustache? Have braces?

Remember that each style, detail, and feature should hint at your character’s deeper ins and outs!

Here are some great character illustrations to spark some ideas. What’s your first impressions of them?

Looking at amazing character designs often helps trigger some new ideas for your own characters!

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Character Design Inspiration: Tips, Tricks, Example Images | CharacterHub (8)

Character Design Inspiration: Tips, Tricks, Example Images | CharacterHub (9)

About the author

David Davis

David Davis is a cartoonist with around twenty years of experience in comics, including independent work and established IPs such as SpongeBob Squarepants. He also works as a college composition instructor and records weekly podcasts. Find out more about him at his website!

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Character Design Inspiration: Tips, Tricks, Example Images  |  CharacterHub (2024)

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