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How do you make a drawing look metallic?

Making a drawing look metallic can really add an extra level of realism and visual interest. While it may seem daunting at first, there are some simple techniques you can use to achieve a convincing metallic finish in your drawings. In this article, we’ll walk through the basics of making metal surfaces look shiny, reflective, and textured.

Use the Right Drawing Materials

The first step is making sure you have the right drawing tools and surfaces. For the base drawing, you’ll want to use materials that can handle repeated erasing and layering without damaging the paper. Graphite pencils, colored pencils, and drawing paper designed for mixed media work best.

You’ll also need a set of metallic drawing media. These can include:

  • Metallic colored pencils – Offer a rich, shimmery effect. Great for adding gleaming highlights.
  • Gold leaf pens – Contain real gold foil that transfers onto the page. Allow precise metallic details.
  • Metallic markers – Have a paint-like metallic sheen perfect for larger areas of shine.
  • Metallic gel pens – Provide bold metallic accents. Best used for embellishments and fine details.

Experiment with different types to see what works for the look you want to achieve.

Start with an Accurate Base Drawing

It’s important to begin with an accurate base drawing before adding any metallic effects. Carefully sketch out the form and proportions of the object first. Pay close attention to perspective, scale, angles and curved surfaces.

Once your foundational drawing looks convincing, start refining the texture and material details. Add surface features like screws, seams, knobs, handles, etc. These finer details will help sell the metallic surface when the shine is applied later.

Take the time to get this underlying drawing right before moving onto the next step. Any inaccuracies will show through and be emphasized by the metallic effects.

Map Out the Lighting

Metallic surfaces are highly reflective. The way they interact with light is a big part of what makes them look convincingly metallic. So before applying any metallic media, lightly sketch in the lighting.

Mark the primary light source and indicate where you want the brightest highlights. Also indicate the general fall-off areas where the surface transitions into shadow.

Think about how light would wrap around curved or spherical shapes. The highlights should taper off gradually into the shadowed areas. Knowing where your lights and darks will go allows for a more strategic application of metallic effects.

Start Laying in Metallic Effects

Now you’re ready to start transforming those plain graphite tones into shiny metal. Begin gradually building up layers of metallic media. Apply just a hint of metallic sheen to start. You can continue layering to increase the intensity as desired.

Use fine precise strokes and a light touch with your metallic drawing tools. Try varying the pressure as you work from light to dark. Use the side of a pencil tip on broader areas of shine. Switch to the fine point for bright glints along sharp edges and rivets.

Slowly work your way across the surface, deepening tones and enhancing key details. Use reference photos of real life metallic objects to guide you. Observe the way the light transforms and moves across the curved forms.

Refine and Balance the Metallic Effects

As the form develops, continually step back and evaluate the overall balance. Make sure you aren’t overdoing it in any area. Bright metallic accents are effective, but they’ll look best if balanced with more subdued areas.

Compare your values and intensities across the surface. Adjust and refine until you achieve the illusion of a uniform metallic material. Use your eraser to pick out highlights and lend a subtle grain or brushed effect.

Don’t be afraid to rework areas as needed. Metallic drawings require patience and many gradual layers to build up the right textured look.

Accentuate Edges and Add Details

Once you’ve got the main reflective surface established, you can start honing in on finer details. Use your metallic pens and markers to accentuate edges, seams and borders between surface planes. Add extra pops of brightness to really make these edges stand out.

Consider adding some background elements as well. Things like cast shadows on a surface below can enhance the metallic, 3D effect. If applicable, consider adding a distorted reflection to indicate a glossy surface.

Details like screws, serial numbers, logos and other surface markings also lend realism. Use sharp, opaque white accents to help these small features pop against the shimmering metallic backdrop.

Seal with a Fixative Spray

Metallic media can sometimes be delicate. To help preserve and protect your finished metallic drawing, lightly apply a fixative spray. This seals in the pigments and prevents smearing, smudging or transfer.

Be sure to apply fixative in a well ventilated area. Follow any specific brand instructions for best results. Let the protective coating fully dry before handling the artwork.

Now you can enjoy your metallic drawing and all its shiny, reflective glory. With practice and an understanding of how light behaves, you can create amazingly realistic metallic textures in your drawings.

Examples of Metallic Drawings

Here are some examples of impressive drawings with convincingly metallic finishes:

Drawing Description
Robot This robot drawing uses a mix of graphite, metallic pencils and markers to render shiny metal and chrome.
Classic Car Metallic colored pencils help make this vintage auto drawing glisten like a well-polished chrome bumper.
Guitar Gold leaf pens accent the pickups and tuning keys on this electric guitar illustration.

Tips for Making Metallic Surfaces

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when trying to achieve realistic metallic textures in drawing:

  • Observe how light moves across real-life metal objects. Look for the bright spots, reflections, and areas of shadow.
  • Start by creating an accurate underlying drawing before applying metallic media.
  • Map out where the main light source hits and fades away. Plan your highlights and shadows.
  • Apply metallic media gradually using repetitive strokes and varied pressure.
  • Blend and balance areas of shine so they look natural, not overdone.
  • Refine edges and borders between surface planes.
  • Use black backgrounds and white accents to make metallic details stand out.
  • Work slowly and layer metallic media for the best results.


Creating convincingly metallic textures in drawing takes careful observation, planning and a masterful use of media. Use the right materials and take the time to gradually build up reflective effects. Map your lighting, accentuate edges, and balance highlights and shadows. With practice, you can impart a stunning metallic realism to your drawings.