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How to do comic shading?

Comic shading is an important technique in creating comic book art. It refers to the use of varying degrees of darkness and contrast to depict depth, shadows, and lighting effects. Proper shading can make a comic book drawing come to life and appear three-dimensional. In this comprehensive guide, we will look at the basics of comic shading and some tips and techniques to help you master this essential comic art skill.

Understanding Light and Shadow

The first step to effective shading is having a solid grasp on light and shadow. Light naturally illuminates objects and casts shadows. The way light hits an object determines where the highlights and shadows will fall. As a general rule:

  • Light comes from above – This mimics real world lighting from the sun or ceiling lights. Light hits the top surfaces and casts shadows below.
  • Shadows are on the opposite side of light – Shadows naturally appear on surfaces facing away from the light source.
  • Highlights are where light directly hits – The brightest highlights are on raised or curved surfaces that directly face the light.

Understanding these basic principles of light and shadow will help immensely when shading any subject or scene in your comic art.

Shading Techniques

There are a few main shading techniques that can be used in comic art:


Hatching involves drawing a series of parallel lines to build up tone and texture. The closer the lines, the darker the area will appear. Hatching is great for shading small details and textures like hair and clothing.


Cross-hatching uses overlapping sets of hatched lines at different angles to further darken an area and increase contrast. The more layers of cross-hatching, the darker the tone.


Stippling creates tone through a series of small dots rather than lines. Densely placed dots result in darker areas while sparsely spaced dots are used for lighter shading.


Blending refers to softly smoothing tones together to create gradual transitions between light and dark. Blending can be done with a blending stump, tissue, cotton swab, or even your finger.


Washes involve using diluted ink or paint to tint large areas with transparent layers of color. Built up washes can create nice blended tones.

These techniques can be combined and layered on top of each other to create more complex shading effects.

Shading Different Materials

The shading approach can vary depending on the texture and properties of the material you are rendering. Here are some tips for shading common subjects:


  • Use soft, blended tones to convey the smoothness of skin
  • Add highlighting to raised areas like noses, cheeks, foreheads
  • Deeper shadows in eye sockets, under the nose, under chin
  • Vary skin tone based on lighting and ethnicity


  • Use hatching following the direction of the hair growth
  • Darken areas in shadow or where hair overlaps
  • Add highlights to define individual strands
  • Use softer shading for fine, straight hair


  • Add white catchlight reflections
  • Darken the pupil and define the iris with color
  • Use hatched shading around the eyeball
  • Deep shadows under the brow and around the eye socket

Clothing and Fabric

  • Follow the fabric folds and creases with your shading
  • Use cross hatching to convey complex textures and patterns
  • Deeper shadows in recessed areas and under folds
  • Highlight raised or stretched areas


  • Use stark highlights and shadows to convey reflective properties
  • Dark cross hatching for shadowed areas
  • Bright highlights along polished edges and raised areas
  • Soften and blend on textured metals like brass or corroded copper

Practice shading a range of subjects and materials to improve your art. Study how light reacts with different objects to build your understanding.

Lighting Direction

The direction your light source is coming from will greatly impact your shading. Play around with adjusting the lighting to create different effects. Here are some common lighting scenarios in comics:

Overhead Lighting

  • Mimics natural light from the sun or room lighting
  • Creates shadows below figures and objects
  • Gives depth to the scene
  • Can be used for a neutral, grounded look

Side Lighting

  • Creates strong shadows and highlighted edges on one side
  • Adds drama and dimension
  • Good for focusing on a specific character

Back Lighting

  • Outlines the contours of a figure
  • Leaves the front in shadow
  • Creates a bold, dramatic look
  • Used to make a character stand out

Dynamic Lighting

  • Light comes from multiple directions
  • Mixes angles for visual interest
  • Creates highlights and shadows to lead the viewer’s eye
  • Engaging for action scenes

Don’t be afraid to break reality and play with lighting effects to set the mood or make key elements pop. Comic art doesn’t need to follow real world physics!

Choosing Your Drawing Implements

The drawing implements you use can impact your shading style and effects. Here are some common tools for shading comics along with the effects they are best suited for:

Graphite Pencils

  • Range from hard to soft leads
  • Softer leads blend easily for smooth shading
  • Great control for detailed textures and precision
  • Can build up dark blacks with dense layering


  • Rich blacks and bold lines
  • Easy to blend broad shading
  • Ideal for dramatic contrast and dynamic lighting
  • Can be messy requiring spray fixatives

Ballpoint Pens

  • Allow both lines and stipple shading techniques
  • Take patience to build up dark areas through dotting
  • Offer great portability for sketching and drawing on-the-go


  • Fun for coloring large areas and experimenting with effects
  • Can blend colors to create gradients
  • May require planning ahead with layering
  • Wide range of brush and chisel tip styles

Try a variety of implements and combine techniques to find tools that suit your personal shading style.

Tips for Applying Shading

Here are some helpful tips when adding shading to your comic art:

  • Start light and build up – It’s easier to gradually darken than try lightening heavy shading.
  • Blend with care – Too much blending can lose detail and muddle your art.
  • Watch your contrasts – Use a full range of values to create bold contrast where needed.
  • Shadow edges – Darker shading around the contours of elements makes them stand out.
  • Consistency counts – Keep light source consistent across panels and pages.
  • Reference photos – Study photo references to learn how light and shadow behave.

With practice, you’ll gain an intuition for where to place shadows and how dark to make them. Let real life lighting inspire you as you develop your shading skills.

Shading Faces

The human face has complex contours and features that can be challenging to shade. Here are some tips for shading faces in your comics:

  • Look for the planes and ridges that define facial anatomy.
  • Add shadows under cheekbones, the brow, and the nose.
  • Highlights along the forehead, bridge of nose, cheeks and chin.
  • Deep shadows in eye sockets, under lips and along the neck.
  • Watch shape and form – too much blending can flatten features.
  • Observe how lighting shifts the shapes of shadows.

Focus on the eyes and how light brings them to life. Add highlights to make them glisten. The shadows around the eyes, brows, and nose will add depth.

Use reference photos of faces similar to your character to see how light and shadows wrap around unique facial features. Let the shadows tell the story of the shifting expressions across your character’s face.

Background Shading

Shading is not just for characters and foreground elements. Effective background shading establishes mood, weather, location, time of day and other story elements. Here are tips for shading backgrounds:

  • Use fuzzy outlines and muted colors for distant backgrounds.
  • Crisp lines and rich shades for foreground scenery.
  • Cool blues and purples for night time scenes.
  • Warm yellows and oranges for sunsets.
  • Gray washed out tones for foggy days.
  • Light gray stippling for sparkling water.
  • Weather effects like rain or snow also impact lighting.

Look at photographic references to see how lighting interacts with different environments. Practice establishing a sense of place and time purely through your background shading choices.


Perspective impacts shading by determining how surfaces and contours are angled relative to the light source. Here are some perspective factors to keep in mind:

  • Light hits surfaces head on at higher intensity.
  • Angled surfaces appear darker as light glances off them.
  • Shadows stretch farther from objects in the foreground.
  • Distant objects have softer shadows with less definition.
  • Shading helps reinforce depth and distance for receding objects.

Shading is not one-size-fits-all. Take into account perspective and how every surface is uniquely oriented relative to the light.

Creating Mood and Atmosphere

Skillful shading goes beyond just illustrating shapes and objects realistically. It also creates mood, emotion and storytelling atmosphere. Here are some examples of using shading effects to set a scene:

  • Dramatic shadows – Deep, jagged shadows heighten suspense and tension.
  • Muted tones – Soft, hazy shading creates a calm, soothing mood.
  • Low contrast – Lack of strong highlights and shadows conveys gloominess or uncertainty.
  • Harsh lighting – Strong unbalanced lighting gives an edgy, chaotic feeling.
  • Silhouetted figures – Backlit subjects with obscured features seem mysterious.

Lighting reveals much about the inner emotional landscape. Use shading as a powerful storytelling tool for revealing deeper truths.

Using Color

Shading is not just about black and white values. Colors also have intrinsic properties including value and temperature that allow for creative colored shading. Here are tips for applying color shading:

  • Add white to tint and lighten colors for highlights.
  • Mix with black to create darker hues for shadow tones.
  • Build up layers of wash for smooth gradients.
  • Use warm colors like reds and yellows to convey light.
  • Apply cool colors like blues and purples for shadows.
  • Accent with vivid hues to make elements stand out.

Complementary color schemes applied through shading create vibrant visual impact. Don’t be afraid to expand your tonal range using the entire color spectrum available.

Shading White and Black Objects

Pure white and black surfaces may seem tricky to shade but have unique properties worth mastering. Here are tips for handling both cases:

Shading White Objects

  • Add subtle gray tones in shadow areas
  • Use a bluish hue in shadows to mimic natural lighting
  • Make highlights punchier with thick white accents
  • Avoid using true black which can look dirty

Shading Black Objects

  • Lighten up shadows with dark muted purples and browns
  • Use metallic sheens like blue, purple and green for highlights
  • Add texture through layered crosshatching in highlights
  • Outlines help define black shapes against dark backgrounds

The interplay between light and dark areas gives life and interest to even the most extreme tones. Subtlety is key in making whites and blacks convincing.

Textures and Surfaces

Varying your shading approach is key for conveying diverse surfaces and textures. Consider the unique qualities of materials as you render them:

  • Rough textures – jagged hatching, high contrast
  • Smooth surfaces – soft blending, minimal lines
  • Liquid – gradient shades, rippled reflections
  • Glossy – bright highlights, sharp falloff into shadows
  • Matte – diffused soft transitions between light and shadow

Observe real life objects under varied lighting to train your eye to translate textures into shading techniques. The possibilities are endless!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Mastering shading for comics takes patience and dedication to keep pushing your skills. But the payoff of bringing your artwork to life is immense. To improve, make sure to:

  • Study from photographic references
  • Analyze and breakdown comic art you admire
  • Experiment with new mediums and blending tools
  • Use a sketchbook to test shading techniques
  • Draw inspiration from the world around you
  • Keep on creating and enjoying the process!

With some fundamental understanding of light and shadow, knowledge of key shading techniques, and lots of practice, you can start shading comics like a pro. Just remember – art has no real limits. Break rules, follow your instincts and find joy in every new creation.


Shading is a complex skill but immensely satisfying once mastered. Start simply and be patient. Focus on accuracy of shadows and highlights at first over advanced techniques. Work your way up to conveying textures, lighting mood and atmosphere. Reference and analyze