If you’ve noticed cute avatars taking over Twitch, you’re not alone. These days, VTubers and PNGTubers of all shapes and sizes can be found streaming in virtually every category. If this trend continues, streamers using avatars may come to outnumber streamers with webcams. If you’ve never heard of VTubing before, keep reading and also check out our other articles on the subject, including, “How to Become a VTuber.”
Like a combination of two of life’s greatest joys—anime and video games, the VTuber community continues to intrigue and attract streamers of all ages. There are a lot of reasons why one might want to use a virtual avatar for streaming. For one, it allows the streamer to maintain their anonymity. Staying safe on social media should always be a top priority for every streamer.
Another reason people enjoy using avatars to stream is because of the creative expression it allows. VTubers often create lore (a backstory) and a persona for their character. Some streamers infuse their avatars with elements of their own personalities, while others adopt completely different characteristics. From fantastical figures such as faeries, demons, and angels to anthropomorphic cats and foxes, anything goes in the VTuber realm.
How to Start VTubing
The VTuber rabbit hole is deep and vast. The VTuber community has its own lingo, support system, and culture. There are VTubers specifically designed for 18+ viewers and those that are more “seiso” (Japanese for “wholesome”). The community is incredibly welcoming to new users, particularly over on Twitter. Most VTubers have a “debut,” aka a date in the future where they will display their model on stream for the first time. Presumably, this is done to generate anticipation and create a community of followers before the VTuber goes live.
We’ve created a short list of things to do if you want to start down the path of VTubing. This list is by no means exhaustive.
- Make a character style guide and backstory.
- Decide on PNG, 3D, or 2D for your model (keep reading for more info about each).
- Create your model in your software of choice: you’ll need PSD files for 2D and naturally, PNG files for a PNGTuber. For 3D, you’ll need special software (more info below). If you don’t want to draw your own, start looking for artists to commission avatars from.
- If you’re going with 2D, you’ll need to learn how to rig (more info below). If you don’t want to rig on your own, start searching for rigging specialists.
- Create social media for your VTuber, start networking & posting, and decide your debut.
Style Guide and Backstory
Before you jump into the creation of your character, it’s best to create a style guide and a backstory in order to have a consistent design. A backstory can aid the creation of your guide, so we recommend doing that first. Did something happen in your avatar’s past that influences the way they look now? Is your character human, mixed with an animal, or something else entirely? What is their hair, eye, and skin color? What clothes would you like them to be wearing (remember, multiple outfits means more work and/or money)? Most importantly, do you want a bust up, waist up (½ model), knee up (¾ model) or full body model?
Example of a reference sheet/style guide by Da3iann on Twitter. Notice that the color palette, clothes and accessories, and other details have been outlined for clarity.
2D vs 3D vs PNG
There are three different types of VTuber avatars to choose from. The simplest and the least expensive is a PNGTuber avatar. Many VTubers start out with a PNG avatar and slowly build up followers and income until they can afford a 2D or 3D model. We’ll explain more about PNGTuber avatars in another article and show you how to add one to Streamlabs Desktop.
You’re more than welcome to stick with a PNGTuber avatar throughout your VTubing career, but many streamers see them as stepping stones to the ultimate goal: a 2D or 3D avatar. Whichever you choose will be a matter of personal preference and budget, but just know that the better the skills of the artist and rigger (2D models) or animator (3D models), the better your avatar will look.
If you’re wondering how to make your own avatar for streaming, unless you have some artistic skills, you’ll likely have to purchase a VTuber avatar. There are inexpensive programs to create your own avatar, but they require a significant amount of skill to use. That being said, if you’re patient and willing to learn, you can definitely create your own VTuber avatar. We’ll show you what programs to check out below.
A 2D Avatar is pictured on the left, with a 3D version on the right.
2D VTuber Avatars
A 2D VTuber avatar is made up of flat, 2D art that has been “rigged” to move. Various elements of the avatar, including eyes, mouth, eyebrows, and even certain pieces of hair, accessories, and body parts are drawn using software like Procreate or Photoshop and saved onto different layers. The drawing is then exported as a PSD file to a program such as Live 2D Cubism and rigged from there.
Live 2D Cubism offers a free trial but it is a notoriously tricky software to learn. It’s recommended that you study rigging as much as you can before activating the free trial.
The most popular of the three, a 2D avatar is also the most expensive. Prices vary wildly, with 250 USD being on the low end and 5000 USD on the high. 2D avatars are considered by many to be the most visually appealing, as they closely resemble the 2D anime characters we’ve come to love onscreen.
Searching the tag #Live2DShowcase on Twitter will yield some incredible results. If you’re looking to purchase or make your own 2D VTuber avatar, this is a great place to start looking.
This post from KH_626 on Twitter is an example of a 2D VTuber showcase. This model has been rigged so well that, to the untrained eye, it appears to be 3D. The model is also particularly stunning as it has a variety of poses, outfits, and detailed animations. In the post, you’ll notice that KH says, “Thank you for becoming our daughter.” This is because in the VTuber community, the avatar’s artist is called the “Mama” or ママ in Japanese and the person who did the rigging is referred to as the “Papa” or パパ in Japanese. However, it is possible for the artist to do both the design and the rigging.
If you decide to purchase a 2D model, we strongly recommend that you proceed with the utmost caution when choosing an artist and rigger. Make sure the artist has plenty of samples of their work before commissioning them. With VTubing on the rise, many scammers are trying to take advantage of new users, sometimes even using stolen artwork to entice buyers. If you want Streamlabs to give a more in-depth tutorial on how to create a 2D avatar on your own, let us know!
3D VTuber Avatars
3D VTuber avatars are also very popular. Some streamers even have both 2D and 3D avatars and switch back and forth to shake things up once in a while. Like 2D rigging, 3D avatars can take an incredible amount of time to construct. Again, the better the 3D modeler, the better your avatar will look. 3D “idols” from companies like Hololive Productions have entire teams devoted to animating their VTubers. So while it’s unrealistic to expect this kind of quality for your own model, there are many skilled artists out there who can create great-looking 3D avatars. Expect to spend as little as 50 USD and as much as 1000 USD.
If you want to try your hand at making your own, there are several programs available. VRoid Studio is one of the most popular, and it’s free!
With VRoid Studio, you get out what you put into it. You can create a basic avatar in a few minutes but a detailed, personalized avatar will take hours, days, or even months as reported by some users.
VRoid Studio is quite user friendly for basic avatars. The process of creating an avatar is more like creating a Sim and doesn’t require any formal training in 3D modeling. That being said, if you are experienced in working with 3D, you’ll be able to build a more visually dynamic avatar. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials available that will show you how to create the 3D avatar of your dreams.
Similar to “Create a Sim” in the Sims 4, there are a lot of options to customize a 3D avatar in VRoid studio.
There are other software programs available to create 3D avatars. Animaze by Facerig and VTuber Maker are both on Steam and while they’re free up-front, some features are locked behind paywalls. Artists can use Blender for 3D animations but be advised that there are no base avatars to choose from like in VRoid Studio. This tutorial on Reddit shows users how to make a 3D VTuber through MikuMikuDance. If you’d like us to do a step-by-step tutorial for one of these programs, let us know!
Sketchfab is a great place to look at 3D VTuber avatars to get some inspiration. There are even models available for purchase, should you so desire. Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and the VTuber community on Twitch are all great places to research 3D VTubers, find animators to commission, and access helpful tutorials.
A PNGTuber doesn’t require any face tracking software and is therefore very easy to use. As mentioned previously, a large number of streamers use a PNG avatar when just starting out. As for making a PNGTuber avatar, you’ll need to draw one in a software like Procreate, Gimp, or Clip Studio Paint. Any software where you can export your avatar as a PNG will be fine. If you don’t want to draw your own avatar, you can purchase one through Etsy or a similar site.
Once you have your avatar ready, Discord Reactive Images is the easiest platform for PNGTubers to use their avatars, though there are others. With Discord Reactive Images, all you need is two PNGs: one of your character talking and one of them not talking. While this method is not as fun or interactive as a full 2D or 3D avatar, the avatar changes with your voice, adding visual interest to your streams. We'll go into detail about how to add a PNG avatar wtih Reactive Images in another article.
This PNGTuber avatar was designed by @wingmadewithlove on Instagram
Now that you know all about VTubing, will you take the plunge and join the growing community of 2D, 3D, and PNGTubers? Which style do you find most appealing? We want to hear your thoughts on VTubing over on our Twitter. Stay safe and happy streaming!