Cartoon Eye Formulas

August 31, 2016 in Intermediate, Lvl 1

Cartoon Eye Formulas

Eye drawing formulasEyes come in all types of shape and sizes. In this section I’m going to be talking about a few specific types eyes and what they’re made up of.

These eyes will be:

Cartoon eyes

However before we begin,  just as having knowledge of drawing real heads helps your head drawing, having real knowledge of how real eyes work, will help your cartoon eye drawing. Especially the more naturalistic your cartoon characters are.


When drawing cartoon eyes, there are four things about realistic eyes to keep in mind:


Some of these things may seem like common sense, but more often than not, when drawing cartoon eyes, they’re ignored. This makes eyes look a bit odd.

Let’s quickly take a look at why these things are good to know:


  1. Eyes are spheres – This is, of course, the most common sense of all the things, yet when drawing eyes, most of  us tend to draw flat stickers for eyes instead of spheres inserted in the head.
  2. The eyelids have an origin – In many cartoon eyes, the lids tend to often appear out of no where. Yet in reality, they have specific origins from which they pivot to open and close.  The average eye’s lid origins tend to line up. In cartoon eyes, you can vary the angle these origins have to each other in order to add variety. I’ll show you more about this later.
  3. Eyelids wrap around the sphere – Another thing that can make or break the look of a cartoon eye is how the lids interact with the sphere of the eyes.  Unless you’re Garfield the cat, you want eyelids to wrap around the eyeball to add dimension to your eyes.
  4. Eyelids have thickness – Eyelids are not painted on the sphere of the eye, they have depth. They even cast a shadow on the eyes more often than not.  It’s another way to add depth and dimension to your cartoon eyes.

Keeping these four things in mind, let’s see how we can best use this info when drawing our cartoon eyes.

Dot Eye

Dot eyes are not only the easiest type of eyes to draw, they also happen to be my favorite. I suppose the simplicity is what appeals to me most.

By “dot eyes,” I don’t only literally mean eyes that are dots but also longer elliptical shaped eyes. I would even include lines for eyes, either vertical or horizontally drawn:

Dot eyes types

Dot eyes can easily be expressive by simply adding lines connected to them, around them or eyebrows above them:

Dot eyes expressions

However, one of the trickiest things to do with them is make them seem like they’re looking in specific directions. You can often get around this by turning the whole head to look in the desired direction.

Still, sometimes you don’t want to do this.  This is when knowledge about how real eyes work comes in handy. Even when drawing dot eyes.

Dot eyes can represent pretty much every part of the eyes: the whole eye, the irises or the just the pupils. When you want to make dot eyes look in a specific direction, it comes in handy to make them temporarily represent the iris or pupils.

By doing so, you can bend the dots in such a way to make them seem to look in a specific direction. Like this:

Dot eyes looking at things

It also helps with dot eyes if you’re aware of the solidity of the shape of the head. It’s best if you place the eyes in such a way that they emphasize the structure, direction and perspective of the head:

Dot eyes in perspective

That’s it, that’s all I really have to say about dot eyes.  Have fun drawing them.

Bubble Eyes

Bubble eyes are really one step up from dot eyes.  They were the first kind of cartoon eyes that I started using when I was a kid.

You can draw them two ways. You can draw them overlapping each other or you can draw them apart from each other. They also don’t necessarily need to be perfectly round:

Bubble eye types

When you use overlapping bubble eyes they immediately give the viewer the sense that the eyes have volume.  They tend to seem spherical.

However, they also have a tendency to seem like they’re bulging out of the head.  This is not a bad thing, just as long as you want that effect in your cartoon.

This is not necessarily the case if you separate the bubble eyes from each other.  It’s possible with separated bubble eyes to not have them seem like bubbles at all, but rather spherical disks inside the head. Which is fine, if that’s what want.

Here’s somethings to keep in mind:

When drawing overlapping bubble eyes, have the overlap happen in the correct perspective.  The eye closes to us should overlap the eye further from us:

Overlapping Bubble eyes example

This may seem like common sense but I’ve seen plenty of people, including myself as a kid, get it wrong:

Bubble eyes comic example

Also remember that eyelids should have an origin point from which they pivot. The eyelids, ideally should wrap around and reinforce the roundness of the bubble eyes.  UNLESS, you’re trying to create a flat graphic look to your cartoons on purpose.

You should also try to avoid splitting the eye in half with your eyelids origins points.  It’s best to error favoring a lower origin for the lids.  Why? Well, besides being good design, it’s much more natural since our own eyes are not evenly split in half by our own eyelids and also favor a lower pivot point:

Bubble eyes eye lip origins

Eyelid thickness is often used with these kind of eyes too.  Experiment to see whether you want to include the thickness or not.  It give the eyes even more dimension:

Bubble eye lids thickness

Below you’ll find a turnaround of how a version of these set of eye may look like from different angles.  This example is NOT the dogmatic, definitive way these eyes MUST be drawn.  They’re simply a version you can use that you can then modify to suit your whims.

For example, the eyes below are very different than the bubble eyes used on a show likeThe Simpsons:

Bubble Eyes turn around

I think that covers it. Play around with the eyes and enjoy.

Freddy Moore Eyes

Okay, here’s where thing start getting a bit more naturalistic.  Freddy Moore has had a big influence in the animation industry.  His way of drawing eyes are almost industry standard IF you’re going for a Disney or Looney Tunes type look to your cartoons.

Freddy Moore’s eye style has become more naturalistic than it started out being. It’s based far more on reality than the previous eye types. This means that knowing how to draw a realistic eye is more helpful when drawing this type of eye.

So let’s take a look at the two types of Freddy Moore eyes. The Looney Tunes eye and the Disney eye:

Fred Moore eye types

By the way, the examples shown here are by no means the definitive version of these eyes.  They’re just one sample of what can be done based on the framework I will talk about below.  There’s infinite design possibilities within the basic framework of this eye construction.

Here’s the logic and thinking process behind the construction this eye type.  Let’s start with the slightly simpler of the two, the Looney Tunes eye:

Looney Tunes breakdown

A. This type of eye simulates a real one much more.  It’s best to envision the whole eyeball when drawing it. This eyeball will be in the character’s cartoon eye socket.  In this case, the eye is so exaggerated that the ball would be enormous, so to save space I just made it an egg shape.

B. Just like with a real eye, the lids will have an origin.  A pivot point for the eyelids to open and close from.  It’s good to imagine this pivot point on the other side of the ball. Notice it doesn’t split the eye in half but favors the bottom of the eye.  NOTE: I’m putting a line down to show where the pivot point is for this step but I don’t draw the pivot point at this stage.  I usually figure out a pivot point of the eye, after I’ve roughed out the eye lids.

C. When drawing the upper lid, make sure draw it wrapping around the eye ball. Sometimes, depending on the design, the top of the upper eye’s lid are drawn thicker than the rest.  This is meant to imply the thickness of the eyelid.

D The same should be said about the lower lid.

E. When the eyeball is erased all that’s left is the exposed ball of the eye and the long shaped lids.  I exaggerated the pivot area so you can see where they connect but more often than not, they are not so clearly marked.  This area often looks like one continuous line.

F. When the lids come down for blinks and expressions, the origin of the eyes are used.  Also the thickness of the eyelids are more clearly seen.

G.  Now that you have a finished eye, you can create any expression you want. You can even “break” the eye and make it do odd things in order to get the expression you want.  This only works because the base shape of the eye you’re messing around with has a solid structures to start with.

Now let’s tackle something a little more complicated with the more naturalistic Disney eye.

Disney eyes breakdown

This eye is just an extension of the Looney Tunes eye, only it’s even more naturalistic.

A. Again, we’re starting this eye by thinking about it as an eyeball in a socket.

B.  And again, we’re going to be using pivot points. Just like last time I don’t really draw this line until after I’ve figured out the eyelids.

C. When drawing the eyelids, they should not only wrap around, but it’s also a good idea to thicken up the eyelids to imply eye lashes. It also makes the eyelids look thicker.

D. Bottom lids also wrap around. Notice there’s less bottom lid than top lid.  They eye should not split equally.

E.  Without seeing the rest of the eyeball, you should have something that looks like this.

F.  Here’s a sample of the eyelids pivot.

G. Here’s a wide eyed look.  I’m making sure to keep the upper lid lines thick, although I do it a bit with the lower lids too. I also added the wrinkle of skin above the eye as the eyelids compress to add to naturalism.

As you can see, familiarity with how a real eye works helps a lot when drawing his type of eye.  This is the reason why Figure Drawing and learning to draw naturalistic is the industry standard foundation for getting into the animation industry. Naturalism pushes your cartooning to a whole new level.

The variations of eyes that can be produced from this basic structure is tremendous.  Depending on the design and the style of characters, this type of eye can be very complicated or very simple.  But in the end, their basic structure is the same.

Below you’ll find a turnaround of how a version of these set of eye may look like from different angles.  This example is NOT the dogmatic, definitive way these eyes MUST be drawn.  They’re simply a version you can use that you can then modify to suit your whims:

Freddy Moore Eye turn around

I recommend you find some model sheets of the your favorite Disney or Looney Tunes cartoons to see how varied these eye types can look.

Bruce Timm Eyes

At their core, Bruce Timm Eyes are essentially, no different from Freddy Moore eyes except in one important way, their exterior design.

One of the reasons I’m bringing this up is to show the kind of variety you can get from something like the Freddy Moore eye formula.

So let’s take a look at some Bruce Timm male eye designs and his standard female eye designs:

Bruce Timm eyes male and female

Bruce Timm male eyes are pretty much a modified version of the Freddy Moore eyes, only smaller on the head.  There is one apparent difference that I noticed when looking at his male eyes, compared to Freddy Moore’s, the pivot points of the lids tend to be higher in most of his eye designs. There is more eye showing below the pivot than above:

Bruce Timm eyes male breakdown

When it come to the female eyes however, there something that happens clearly in Bruce Timm eyes that I didn’t talk about before when writing about the Freddy Moore eyes. Something that’s important to cartoon eye design.

Okay so, remember the pivot point I always point out on the eyes where the lids open and close from? Usually the pivots point are horizontally straight across from each other.  But if you want to vary the eyes even more, you can slant the pivot points. This is the main characteristic in Bruce Timm female eyes. And just like with the male eyes, there’s more bottom lid then top lid.

Let me show you:


Bruce Timm eyes female breakdown

This can be done with any Freddy Moore based eye.  So this is the main reason I wanted to examine Bruce Timm eyes.  To give you a good example of what can be done once you have an understanding of the Freddy Moore eye.

Below you’ll find a turnaround of how a version of these set of eye may look like from different angles.  This example is NOT the dogmatic, definitive way these eyes MUST be drawn.  They’re simply a version you can use that you can then modify to suit your whims:


Bruce Timm Style eyes Formula Turn around

Takahiro Kimura Anime Eyes

Anime eyes are probably one of the most complicated type of eyes to draw. This is why I’ve been saving these type of cartoon eyes for last.  The reason is because they’re so based on exaggerated reality.

I’ve seen a lot of “how to draw” manga books that completely ignore this.  But if you really want to understand how to draw a really good anime eye, you need to study real eyes.

Thing is, I’ve already showed you many of the things you need to know by showing you how to draw the eyes above.  However, here I’ll go one step further and show you how a naturalistic eye drawing can be transformed into an anime eye.

I’ll also add one more bit of info about eyelashes that I’ve left out in all the info about drawing eye above.  This eyelash info is relevant to all eye drawing so don’t skip it just because you’re not into anime or manga.

Let’s get to it:

Anime eye Formula

  1. Here’s a regular naturalistic eye. In order to take this eye and make it look like an anime eye you take the lids the iris and the pupils and…
  2. stretch them out
  3. You then erase most of the details leaving only the top fold wrinkle. You erase the connection of the eye to the pivot points. You darken in the inside thickness of the eyelid at the far end and you got an anime eye.

These are how naturalistic anime eyes are.

Yes, anime eyes can get far more stylized than this but they all tend to have this naturalism as their foundation.  Let’s take a closer look at more stylized Takahiro Kimura anime eyes to show you what I mean.

Takahiro Kimura Anime eye breakdown 01

  1. Here we can see the fold of the eyelids.
  2. (2A) represents the underside of the eyebrow as it wraps around the eye (more on that later).  Unlike a real eye, the Takahiro Kimura eye doesn’t necessarily connect the eyelash edge to the pivot point.  (2B) represents the eyelash coming up and over defining the edged of the eye. (2C) in most anime eye stylizations there’s always some sort of artistic license that often has no real world equivalent.  In the case of the Kimura eye, it’s this extra eyelash.  It kinda works as both eyelash and an odd indication of the eye socket.
  3. Here we have the eyelash drawn to show how it wraps around the eyeball.
  4. Here’s a tip about drawing eyelashes for naturalistic eyes, anime eyes and Freddy Moore type cartoon eyes:  The lashes wrap up and around the eye. Think of it like a ribbon you eventually break up to look like hair. You see the underside of the lashes as they turn away from us as, well as the top when they turn toward us.  You should avoid drawing individual lashes.  Lashes are often drawn completely black so you don’t often see the way they turn. Even if you can’t see this overlap in the lashes because of the black tone on them, it giving them dimension and a lot of depth.

Okay so let’s take a look yet another variant of the Kimura eye:


Takahiro Kimura Anime eye breakdown 02

  1. Once again we have the fold of the upper eye lid. Although sometimes, as it is on the Kimura eye on our right, the fold is not always where it should be. In this case, you can argue it’s actually describing the eye socket.
  2. (2A, 2B) Once again we see the lashes as they wraps around the eye, and once again we have that odd stylization especially in the middle of the Kimura lashes that over emphasize the way they overlap over the eyeball. The act more like overhangs than lashes.
  3. Here we have only the corners or the peak of the rounding of the eye drawn in the Kimura eye. The fact that it’s this area that is drawn gives the eye dimension.
  4. Lastly I just wanted you to notice that the pivot points in the naturalistic eye are slanted in order to give the eye a more exotic look, the way we did with the Bruce Timm eye.

You can breakdown the best anime and manga artist’s eyes the way I did with Takahiro Kimura’s eyes.  You can also separate the good manga artists from the bad ones by noticing which ones are devoid of structure.

Once again, below you’ll find a turnaround of how a version of these set of eye may look like from different angles.  This example is NOT the dogmatic, definitive way these eyes MUST be drawn.  They’re simply a version you can use that you can then modify to suit your whims:

Takahiro Kimura anime eyes turn around

A quick word on anime highlights.  Eyes are reflective, similar to mirrors.  The highlight in an eye is a reflection of the shape of the light source hitting the eye.  So if it’s round, the light source might be a round lamp or the sun.  If it’s square, the light source may be a a window.

Anime eyes sometimes have a TON of highlights.  This is simply artistic license.  But if you really think logically about it, those highlights must be a reflection of SOMETHING.  Do anime characters have a large lighting crew just off screen holding giant lamps everywhere they go?

That’s that for the cartoon eye lesson. Now that you have a collection of eye formulas to work with, go and play round with them. Have some fun.


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