Introduction to Toon Shading

May 30, 2023

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    About Toon Shading

    Toon shading, also known as cel shading, is a rendering technique used to create a stylized, cartoon-like appearance in 3D computer graphics. In recent years, toon shading has become increasingly popular in the animation and video game industries as a way to give characters and environments a unique and distinctive look. In this article, we will explore the techniques used to achieve toon shading, as well as its various applications and best practices.

    Toon Shading Techniques

    Toon shading is achieved by using a combination of shading algorithms and post-processing techniques. The most common method is to use a non-photorealistic rendering (NPR) algorithm that simulates the appearance of hand-drawn shading. This is achieved by using shading algorithms that produce smooth, gradient-like shading that is typical of traditional cel animation. The resulting images are then post-processed to give them a stylized, cartoon-like appearance.

    One of the most popular NPR algorithms used in toon shading is the cel shader. This technique uses a simple threshold function to determine the brightness of each pixel, which is then used to determine the color of the final image. The threshold function is typically set so that pixels with brightness levels below a certain value are shaded black, while pixels with brightness levels above the value are shaded white. This creates a stylized, high-contrast look that is typical of traditional cel animation.

    We've produced a complete guide on creating a custom toon shader in Unity URP. To read it, click here.

    Applications of Toon Shading

    Toon shading has a wide range of applications, including animation, video games, architectural visualization, and scientific visualization. In animation, toon shading is often used to create a stylized look for characters and environments, while in video games it is used to create distinctive, eye-catching visuals.

    In architectural visualization, toon shading can be used to quickly and easily create architectural illustrations that are easy to understand and visually appealing. In scientific visualization, toon shading is used to create visualizations of scientific data that are easy to interpret and understand, without the need for advanced technical knowledge.

    Best Practices for Toon Shading

    There are several best practices that should be followed when using toon shading to achieve the best possible results. One of the most important is to choose the right shading algorithm for the specific project. Different shading algorithms are best suited to different types of scenes and characters, so it is important to choose the right one for the specific requirements of the project.

    Another important best practice is to choose the right post-processing techniques for the specific project. Post-processing techniques can be used to add additional visual elements, such as outlines and shadows, that can help to create a more visually appealing and distinctive look. You can also integrate a hull-based outline shader directly into your toon shader.

    Finally, it is important to carefully consider the color palette used in toon shading projects. A carefully chosen color palette can help to create a consistent, stylized look that is easily recognizable and memorable.

    Conclusion to Toon Shading Techniques, Applications, and Best Practices

    In conclusion, toon shading is a powerful and versatile rendering technique that can be used to create a wide range of unique and distinctive visual styles. Whether used for animation, video games, architectural visualization, or scientific visualization, toon shading is a valuable tool that can help to create visually appealing and memorable images that stand out from the crowd.

    Learn more about our Toon Shader, Toon Kit 2

    Use OccaSoftware’s flexible toon shader to design a beautifully shaded material that matches your concept art and drives interest in your game. Create opaque, alpha cutout, and even transparent materials with customizable specular and rim highlights. Click here to learn more.

    Michael Sacco
    Founder & CEO

    Michael Sacco is the Founder and CEO of OccaSoftware where he specializes in developing game assets for Unity game developers. With a background ranging from startups to American Express, he's been building great products for more than 10 years.


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