Cartoon Clothes Formulas | The Drawing Website

Cartoon Clothes Formulas

We’ve learned formulas for every body part, however, people don’t tend to walk around naked. We’re usually wearing something. That something often wrinkle up and fold around us as we move.

In this lesson, we’ll be dealing with how to handle drawing cartoon clothes. Specifically how to draw wrinkles and folds.

Here you will find:

  • Simple Cartoon Folds
  • The Four Most Common Cartoon Folds: Pipe Fold, Half Lock Fold, Spiral folds, Zig Zag Fold
  • Fold Thickness and Fold Origin Points: Fabric Types, Support Points and Pinch Points
  • Using Fold to Describe Form
  • Costume and Clothes Ideas
  • Applying The Folds to Cartoon Styles

There’s a lot to this topic and I’m not even telling you all of it. Just enough to get your cartoons to look right. So let’s get to it.

Simple Cartoon Folds

The simples folds in cartoons can be done with bumps in just the right spots. It’s not too difficult and early comic strip cartoons used them all the time. If you don’t want to get into anything complicated, this is the way to go:

However, when these types of simple folds are no longer enough and you want to have something that feels more natural, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to know a bit more about how folds work…

The Four Most Common Cartoon Folds

For the sake of this lesson, I decided to distill the information into the folds most used in cartoons. These are not all the folds there are. There are a few other fold types I won’t be covering here.

I’ll explain the folds from what I think, are the easiest folds to understand to the trickiest.

Pipe Fold

When cloth hangs off a support point and simply gets pulled down by gravity, we get pipe folds. Pipe folds are cylindrically shaped folds, similar to a pipe.

From beneath, they often create multiple half pipes attached together. They look like this:

This is the easiest fold to wrap your head around. These fold are commonly seen in skirts, capes, and most articles of clothing that loosely hangs off a person.

Spiral folds

Spiral folds are simple to understand as well. In fact, the bumps used to create simple cartoon folds as explained above are more often than not, spiral folds.

Spiral folds are simply small cylinders that wrap around a body part like a spiral. They occur, mostly, when tight or form fitting cloth bunches up.

They’re ideal for defining the direction of the body part underneath the cloth.

Half Lock Folder

This is when things start getting a tad tricky. Half locks are folds that are created when two sections of the same piece of cloth interlock. There are two types. A single half lock and a double half lock.

The single half occurs when one part of the cloth goes into another.

The double occurs when to parts of the cloth come together and the cloth inverts and pushes out against itself:

This is extremely common. It happens in pant legs and shirt sleeves anytime they bend.

This means this type of fold comes up a lot. So learn to draw it. It will immediately make your clothed cartoons look more natural.

Zig Zag Fold

I find zig zag folds to the trickiest of all the folds. They’re sometimes made up of Pipe folds that are bunched up:

Bottom of pants legs and shirt sleeves are where you tend to see them.

Fold Thickness and Fold Origin Points

Now that you know some fold types to use, the tricky part is finding out how thick they should be and where best to put them. The answer comes when you think about gravity, material of the fabric and points of origin.

Fabric Types

It’s important to know what material makes up the clothes.

Thinner fabric will have thinner folds and more of them.

Thicker fabric will have bigger folds and less of them.

But you can still simplify the amount. Less is often more.

The origin of the fold is extremely important. They tell you where the folds ought to be placed. Pinch points and support points tell you what you need to know.

Support Points

Support points or anchor points have to do with gravity. Any loose cloth is draped, supported or anchored up from somewhere. Once you pin point those places you can then create the folds which are created from those points:

Pinch Points

However, people tend to move around. We bend and twist. This causes our clothes to pinch up in places. These pinch points cause folds to happen, BUT they almost always point to a support, or anchor point:

Using Folds to Describe Form

Yeah, so far, that’s a lot to keep track of. Well, there’s one more very important thing that you need to be aware of as well when doing folds on clothes. They work best when the folds reinforce the form they are covering or are draped over.

Remember how I talked about the arm and leg direction and keeping it consistent and clear? Part of the way you do it is with folds:

This is in spite of the fact that, in reality, folds sometimes go AGAINST the direction of the form shadows. This is where we take an artistic license and h adjust things so that we don’t confuse anyone looking at our drawing.

Costume and Clothes Ideas

If you’re saying to yourself, “okay, that’s a lot but I think I understand, but my problem is, when I draw clothes on my characters, they look generic and often uninspired. How do I know what clothes to give my characters ?”

It’s simple, look around you. People are wearing clothes all around. Look online, search for the type of clothes you may want to have your characters wear.

If it’s historical, fantasy or science fiction, then you look online for reference for that as well. Anything fantastical or from a science fiction background should be some amalgam of contemporary and historical clothing anyway.

That way, it has an element of truth to it. That’s what designer for movie and tv show do.

Do some research. It’s that simple.

Applying The Folds to Cartoon Styles

When speaking of folds in cartoons, simplicity is the name of the game. The overarching theme in all these styles is how they simplify the folds.

Freddy Moore

Freddy Moore style, out of these three styles has the most balanced amount of simple folds. Not too much so that it’s representational but not so simple that the folds are still there.

This makes it so that balancing the amount of folds can be tricky but they also look just right when you nail it:


Bruce Timm

Bruce Timm Style folds fluctuate a lot. Sometimes they’re so minimal that they practically don’t exist, while other times they can be quite elaborate. It really depends on the type of drawing you’re making and how simple you want to go with it.

In the examples below, I show you how folds can be drawn in the style in case you actually want to see them:

The turnarounds below, basically have no folds at all. This is, more often than not, the default folds of this style…


Takahiro Kimura Anime Style

Kimura style is by far the most elaborate. It really tries as best as it can to be representational when it comes to folds. Still, there is some level of simplification to this style: