Paranormal Toon Shader: Light-Driven Npr For Cycles & Eevee

by cfc in Surfacing

What color management settings should I use?

Whichever you prefer. Because PNTS is designed around Blender’s standard lighting workflow, it is color management agnostic.

Most of the promotional images were created using the Filmic view transform with Medium High Contrast. The AgX or Standard transforms can also look great, depending what you’re going for.

Does it include outlines/line art?

Yes, PNTS includes a Fresnel Outline node, which is also built into the ParaNormal Uber Shader. For best results, use this as a supplement to standard techniques for outlines, such as Solidify inverted hulls or the grease pencil Line Art modifier.

How much will the price increase after Early Access?

TBD. The top toon shader assets on Blender Market are in the $35-50 range, so it's reasonable to expect pricing will be competitive with that.

What makes this shader different from other toon shaders?

ParaNormal Toon Shader is a fully light-driven solution that supports light intensity, light falloff, and colored lighting using the real lighting in the scene. It’s compatible with both Eevee and Cycles, including GPU rendering.

Most other toon shaders require the brightness and color of lit and shadowed areas to be set directly in the materials, using any lights in the scene only to determine which side the shadows should be on, and are based on Shader to RGB techniques that are only compatible with Eevee. Toon shaders that are compatible with Cycles are rare, but are typically based on OSL, which does not support GPU rendering.

PNTS uses a unique approach, leveraging basic vector math that works with both rendering engines, to dynamically parallelize the shaded surface’s normals relative to the primary light source.

In simple terms, this shader tells the rendering engine that the object is flat. The key trait that distinguishes 2D art from 3D art is, of course, the fact that 2D art is flat. Where most toon shaders try to emulate flatness by applying color reduction after an image is rendered, PNTS works with the rendering engine.

This technique takes full advantage of the rendering engine’s lighting model, which allows for this shader’s unique look featuring subtle gradients, detailed shadows, and dramatic lighting, inspired by digitally colored comic books and high-end anime productions.

Are these shaders compatible with Cycles and/or Eevee? Which render engines are supported?

Everything is compatible with both Eevee and Cycles, including GPU rendering.

The only exception is the Basic RGB Toon Shader, which is included for reference as an example of a typical toon shader using the Shader to RGB node, which only works in Eevee. 

Which render engine should I use?

PNTS works great with both Cycles and Eevee, but each rendering engine provides slightly different results. Since they have different strengths and weaknesses, the best option depends on the needs of your specific project and personal preference.


Eevee is the de facto standard for NPR rendering in Blender, so it’s unlikely you’ll go wrong by choosing this option. Eevee is very fast and the Shader to RGB feature provides a ton of flexibility for art direction, which can be complicated to replicate without it. Working with Eevee makes it easy to combine PNTS with other toon assets, which usually depend on Eevee.

The main downside is that Eevee offers less advanced lighting features because it doesn’t use ray tracing. This means features such as emissive lighting and global illumination require extra steps to set up and have limitations when it comes to animation. Also, shadows can be prone to janky, pixelated edges, depending on render settings.

However, even though better lighting than traditional toon shaders is a big advantage of PNTS, the shader is still targeting a 2D visual style. Eevee’s lighting is quite sufficient for this and generally provides excellent results.

Overall, Eevee makes a great default for any toon rendered project, whether you’re using PNTS or another solution.


Cycles is a ray-traced render engine targeting photorealistic results. It is much slower, but provides more advanced lighting features, including emissive lighting and global illumination that fully support animation and work automatically.

Aside from speed, there are a few downsides specific to cel shading to consider when evaluating Cycles:

  • No Shader to RGB: Most other toon assets & techniques require this feature, which will limit your ability to take advantage of existing resources and can make tweaking the final output more difficult.

  • Less flat appearance: The parallel normals approach to hard shading usually provides good results in Cycles, but the more accurate lighting does result in some soft shading appearing as well. This is usually most visible around edges (e.g., on surfaces with a grazing angle relative to the light and/or camera), and may be more visible in some lighting conditions than others. Depending on the style you’re going for, this additional shading may be desirable, but it also may reduce the illusion of being 2D art in some cases.

While most cartoon & comic styles don’t need ray-traced lighting, one of the major benefits of PNTS is being able to take advantage of more lighting features. If you want to kick that up even further, and you’re comfortable with the caveats, Cycles is a great option for achieving moody, dramatic lighting with clean, detailed shadows.

Is it compatible with Shader-to-RGB?

Of course! While the ParaNormal shaders do not require Shader to RGB, if you are rendering in Eevee you may choose to use them with a Shader to RGB node, just like any other shader. This can be a great option if you want to make adjustments to the output for art direction purposes, or when combining them with other toon assets that require Shader to RGB.

Since this is in Early Access, can it be used in production?

Probably! But that's up to you. I am offering this as an Early Access product because, prior to release, it has only been used by a couple people with one workflow for a handful of projects. I've had a great experience working with it and everything does work as advertised, but there's no way I can know if there might be hiccups, "gotchas," or unexpected issues when used in the context of different workflows or projects with different needs. There are also some setup steps that are more manual than I would like, and additional content and features I would like to add that I just haven't had time for yet.

Considering those factors, I felt initially offering it in Early Access at a reduced price would be the most fair and honest way to get feedback from a larger audience to help me polish off any rough edges I might not have discovered on my own. It will remain in Early Access for as long as it needs to (probably a few months), after which I will be raising the price for all new buyers.

Purchasing during Early Access gets you the product at a discounted price in exchange for being a little bit of a guinea pig. Of course, if you're not comfortable with that, you're more than welcome to wait until it comes out of Early Access and the price goes up!

How do I set the light and shadow colors in my materials?

That’s the neat thing: You don’t.

While most toon shaders are based around an art direction focused workflow that requires manually setting the color and brightness of lit and shadowed areas in the materials, ParaNormal Toon Shader is based around the same fully light-driven workflow used for most other 3D production.

The lit parts of materials will naturally change brightness and color based on the intensity, proximity, and color of the primary light source. The shadowed parts will change brightness and color based on the intensity and color of the indirect light in the environment, whether from the World shader or from other nearby light sources.

So when you want to affect the light and shadow colors, you won’t edit the material, you’ll edit the primary light source, World, and/or other lights. Just like you would with a “normal,” non-toon shader.

That said, if you do find yourself wanting to achieve a particular look or special effect that requires tinting the areas facing toward (lit) or away from (shadowed) the primary light source, without changing the actual lighting, there is a Direction Mask node that will let you do that.

How can I achieve a completely flat look, like classic cel shading?

Subtle gradients from light attenuation are an intended feature of PNTS, but classic cel shading sticks to completely flat colors. Traditional toon shaders, including the Basic RGB Toon Shader that comes with PNTS, will provide that look out of the box.

If you want to approximate this even flatter look, but still want the other benefits of ParaNormal’s light-driven workflow, using a Sun light with no other light sources and rendering in Eevee should do the trick.

When should I use PNTS vs. a traditional toon shader?

What makes PNTS unique is fully supporting Blender’s standard lighting workflow. This provides two related benefits: A distinctive look with more realistic lighting, and allowing artists to use a standard workflow they may be more comfortable with.

When choosing between PNTS and a traditional toon shader, consider how much these benefits will apply to your project.

Realistic Lighting

ParaNormal’s light-driven approach was inspired by digitally colored comic books and anime, with subtle gradients, detailed shadows, and dramatic lighting.

But realistic lighting is obviously not a part of all art styles. Classic cel shaded cartoons, B&W manga, and other heavily stylized looks may not benefit much from enhanced lighting features.

Standard Workflow

ParaNormal’s light-driven approach is based on the same principles as the standard physically-based workflow used for most modern 3D production, so artists experienced with this industry standard workflow should be able to hit the ground running with minimal learning curve.

But artists who are already comfortable with the manual art direction workflow of traditional toon shaders, and happy to continue working that way, might see little reason to change their workflow.

How do I get started using these shaders?

After you’ve purchased and installed the asset, getting started can be as simple as dragging one of the premade base materials from your Asset Browser onto an object in your scene, and then tweaking its color and other properties as desired.

ParaNormal shaders are best thought of as equivalent to built-in shaders like the Diffuse Shader, but optimized for creating cartoons and comics. By adjusting the properties or supplying your own maps, they can easily be used to create a wide variety of looks and materials.

For a more detailed walkthrough of getting started and how to work with PNTS, see the User Guide.

Do I need to UV unwrap my models to use these shaders?

Not necessarily. Since ParaNormal is designed to achieve a comic or cartoon look, you can usually get pleasing results by manually setting the color and other properties. When used this way, UV unwrapping is not required.

Of course, if you want to use textures, you will likely need UV mapping to get good results, just like with any other shader.

Are these “procedural” shaders?

Technically it would be accurate to describe them that way. The core feature is procedurally adjusting the shaded object’s normal map in order to create a toon shading effect.

ParaNormal shaders are best thought of as equivalent to built-in shaders like the Diffuse Shader, but optimized for creating cartoons and comics. They do not include textures, but by adjusting the properties or supplying your own textures, they can easily be used to create a wide variety of looks and materials.

Can I customize PNTS shaders and/or use it to build my own custom shaders?

Yes. The included ParaNormal shaders are built using a collection of modular utility nodes, which makes it very easy to customize them or build your own.

Custom shaders are intended for your own use. They are not licensed for resale.

Does it have any limitations or known issues?

The main limitation to be aware of when using ParaNormal Toon Shader is that in order to parallelize normals relative to the direction of the main light source, the shader needs a reference to that light source. This is very simple for most static scenes, but requires workarounds for complex scenes with multiple light sources, especially in animations where objects may move between different lighting zones.

Currently, the workarounds for this issue are to have separate versions of materials for different lighting zones, and/or keyframing a Mix node to switch the primary light source as needed. I’m working on improvements to streamline the handling of multiple lights, but I can’t make any promises about a release date for those improvements at this time.

Aside from that, there are no major issues or limitations specific to the shader that I’m aware of at this time. Of course, ParaNormal Toon Shader is built on top of Blender’s built-in Diffuse Shader, and it may be subject to any issues or limitations that affect the Diffuse Shader, or that affect the specific rendering engine you choose (e.g., emissive lighting has limitations in Eevee, no matter what shader you use). Such limitations cannot be avoided.

Will it continue to receive updates and support?

Yes. I use ParaNormal Toon Shader for my own projects and develop new features as I need them, which will then be rolled into the official release as free updates. This means PNTS will continue to be actively developed and maintained for the foreseeable future.

Can it use standard textures?

Maps from standard textures should work in most cases. Of course, it won't magically convert a photorealistic image into cartoon artwork, so you'll want to choose stylized and/or hand-painted textures for the best effect (or stick to flat colors).

Are normal maps, image maps, etc., supported?

PNTS is based on a diffuse/specular workflow, and supports most maps one would expect for that workflow, including normal maps. Keep the following in mind:

  • Color maps will work the same as for any standard shader.

  • Normal maps are filtered and flattened (or "ParaNormalized") to create the toon shading effect, so by default normal maps will mostly impact the shape of the edge between flat shading areas. This can be a great way of implying surface detail. You also have the option to blend unfiltered normals in to show detail explicitly.

  • Specular and metal effects are supported, but may not be one-to-one equivalent with how these effects are implemented in other shaders. If using maps in these slots that are not intended for PNTS, some tweaking may be necessary to get good results.

  • Alpha and emission maps can be used by mixing the ParaNormal shader with a built-in Transparent shader or Emission shader, respectively.

  • Roughness, subsurface scattering, and many other properties for controlling physically-based surface properties used for photorealistic rendering are not supported, as they are not applicable to toon shading.

Will PNTS combine with other toon assets?

In general, yes. It works great with shaders that provide artistic effects like hatching, outlines, etc., and looks good on toon-style meshes.

If you want to use objects shaded with PNTS in the same scene with other objects that are shaded with a traditional toon shader, keep in mind they will interact with light a little differently, and some manual adjustments may be required to get brightness, etc., to match up.

Choose a product version:

Sales 100+
Customer Ratings 3
Average Rating
Published 8 months ago
Blender Version 4.0
Render Engine Used cycles, eevee, freestyle
License Royalty Free
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