The best types of shading techniques in Art

Types of shading techniques

What is shading?

We are going to be talking about various types of shading techniques but before we start we really need to know the meaning of shading and what it is about.

Shading means adding values to your already drawn art work to show dept, contours and the position of light. The major difference between three-dimensional objects (3D) and two-dimensional objects(2D) is the presence of light and shade. Three-dimensional objects reflect light in the areas where they are closest to us. Without shading your drawing will look flat. There are different types of shading techniques. The combination of different types of shading techniques actually makes your work realistic. Every complicated stuffs are often made up of tiny simple things, it’s all about knowing the right application.

Values are known as the degree of darkness or lightness of shade. Values are made of tones. The combination of these tones gives a 3D effect. Before you go ahead with types of shading techniques, you should make a nice outline or sketch, if possible show clearly where to shade dark and light tones.


How professional your art looks depends on the materials you choose. Your materials affect your work either negatively or positively. Before you get all excited with picking materials you have to understand and choose a medium that you can handle.

A lot of people have this issue, they see somebody using graphite, they go for graphite. They see others use charcoal they change their mind, and maybe another day, they want colours and they see someone doing well with acrylic and they want to do it and another time they see pastel and they are changing their mind. Learning new things is healthy but you have to start from somewhere. Be decisive, understand yourself and pick a medium you are most comfortable with then progress from there.


types of shading techniques

Picking the right supplies is very crucial. The cool thing about pencils is that it goes well with most types of shading techniques. There are two categories of pencils I want to talk about:

  1. Graphite pencil
  2. Charcoal pencils

1. Graphite pencil:

They are the most common types of pencil. These pencils are made out of the combination of clay and graphite. Their ratio is according to the softness or hardness of the pencil. This means the more the clay composition the harder the pencil. Graphite varies from hard to soft. They are categorized into hard and soft.

  • Hard pencil:

These types of pencils are known as the “h” category. The “h” stands for “hard”. These types of pencils are hard and light. They are most suitable for sketches and light shade. They give your work a very neat look since it doesn’t smudge easily. Examples are: h, 2h, 3h, 4h, 5h, 6h, 7h, 8h and 9h. The higher the “h” the harder  and the lighter the pencil.

  • Soft pencil:

These pencils are soft and darker. They are suitable for darker values. They easily smudge away, making it easy to blend. Examples of “b” pencils are: hb,2b ,3b, 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b, 8b, and 9b. Soft pencils produce darker tones with little effort. This also makes it much easier to blend.

2. Charcoal pencil:

Charcoal pencil is made when charcoal is mixed with binder and compressed into a stick. The amount of binder used determines how hard or soft the stick will be. There are three types of charcoal pencils, which are :

  • Hard: They are hard and lighter. Suitable for lighter tones.
  • Medium: They are softer and darker than hard charcoal but not as soft and dark as soft charcoal pencil
  • Soft: This is the softest and darkest of them.

Most professional artist prefers charcoal than graphite, because it gives darker tones. Another advantage about charcoal pencil is that it doesn’t reflect like graphite when shaded on paper. Did I mention you need fixative? Fixative is a spray that is used to prevent pencil strokes from smudging.This is to prevent further smudging of your work. It also preserves your work.

Ballpoint pen

Bic biroBic biro for different types of shading techniques

If you are a “pen” kind of artist, be sure to go with ballpoint pen. Ballpoint pen is one of the easiest medium to get art supply for. It is available and cheap. It goes with almost any type of paper. But for better result go for smooth thick papers that are acid free. For ballpoint pen tutorials click here

Blending tools

Blending tools -for different types of shading techniques

If you choose pencil as  a medium then you also will need a good blending tool for your art. Blending tools are known as tools used to add texture to your art. It is a material used to smudge your pencil shade. So many people use fingers, not bad but if you want to maintain a neat work then you have to get a tool for that. If you can’t afford blending tortillons you can make use of ear bud, handkerchief, paint brush, tissue etc.


Pastel- types of shading techniques

If you love colours then you should definately try out pastels. Pastels are great media for producing colourful artwork. It’s easy to use. You don’t need brushes, palettes or water to mix. There are different types of pastels: Soft and hard pastels, oil pastels, pastel pencils, and water-soluble pastels.


For those who don’t know what sketching is about, sketching is the use of lines to create an image. See it this way, every shape is made of a line and every line is made up of several dots lined up together. No matter how complicated an art subject may look it can always be broken to something simpler. If you understand this concept you’re going to improve your art very fast.

Sketching tips

There are different media for sketching. Some people use pen, pencil, pastel, brush etc. for beginners it is recommended to use pencil to sketch. Use thick drawing papers for sketching and shading. Here are some useful sketching tips:

  • Make sure your pencil is well sharpened.
  • Use pencil with light tones for sketching. When you sketch make sure you make your sketch very light so it will be easy to erase if there’s any mistake.
  • Do not put too much pressure on your pencil when you sketch, as much as possible try to be subtle with sketches.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to finish your sketch, give attention to details. For example, if you’re sketching the face of a very old person, make sure you give detail sketch of all the wrinkles, sometimes it’s not about how fast but how well.
  • Learn to be quick with sketching. I know this point seems conflicting with the previous point. There is a huge difference between being quick and being in a hurry. You can be quick and still give attention to detail, it all depends on practice.
  • Always practice: you can never improve if you don’t practice. Sometimes you can put a stop-watch and time how long it takes you to sketch.

Tones and value

To make a very realistic art work, you need to understand the concept of value. Value is the degree of lightness or darkness of a shade. You should under stand where and where to apply the different shading tones on your work. The following are tones of shade you should know:

  • High light

This is the part of the subject where light is intense. So when shading you, you should make sure you don’t shade the highlighted areas.

  • Light

This is the area that has light but not as intense as the highlight. When shading this area use very light shade.

  •  Mid-tones

Mid-tones are areas on the subject that has little light. In most cases, the mid tone is the actual shade or value of the subject. Make it a little bit dark here, but not as dark as core shadow.

  • The core shadow

This is the area on the subject where light is prevented from touching. Core shadows are typically darker values of the local color. Use dark shade here

  • Cast shadows

Are locations of darker value that result on surrounding objects or surfaces. Light is blocked from reaching these areas completely because another object is reflecting much of the light away. When shading use really dark shades.

Colour Shades

Shading with colours is a little bit diffrent from pencil. This types of shading techniques that involves using an original colour with another colour either black, white, grey or another complementary colour to show depth contours and position of light. Normally a shade is darker than the original colour. 

Colour tones are formed when black or white is added to an original colour . A certain amount of black or white are added to make the original colour lighter or darker. sometimes grey are added to give tonal value. Tone can be achieved when an original colour is mixed with a hue-scale color (e.g. brown scale / sepia).


Types of shading technique

There are different types of shading techniques in art. We are going to look at the basic shading techniques. The following are list of shading techniques:

types of shading techniques


  • Hatching:

This involves the use of straight parallel lines to make tonal values, either vertical, horizontal or diagonal lines. This is known as the basic of them all. When making these lines you don’t need ruler, use your free hands.

  • Cross-Hatching:

This is a types of shading techniques that makes use of straight parallel vertical and horizontal lines to make tone values. Cross hatching is like hatching only that the lines cross. The closer the lines the darker the tones and vice versa.

  • Diverse hatching:

This is like the elder brother to cross-hatching. This is the use of straight parallel horizontal, vertical and opposite facing diagonal lines to make tones. It’s like cross hatching with diagonal lines.

  • Circularism:

Just as the name implies, It’s the use of circles to make shade. It is a type of shading where shades are made moving your pen is a circular motion to achieve value. circularism can be use to make skin texture and hair texture.

  • Scribbling:

This technique seem similar to circularism only that scribbling doesn’t really have a defined pattern. It looks like drawing in a hurry. Scribbling can give professional touch to your work.

You can combine multiple types shading techniques to get what you want depending on the subject you are drawing. The above stated list of shading techniques are the basics, there are other types of shading techniques that can come in handy.

Pen and Ink shading Techniques

This is a types of shading technique that is really unique thou the major disadvantage unlike pencil drawing is that it’s difficult to erase when you make mistakes. Thou it’s really comfortable and good if you really get use to it. The advantage of pen shading technique is that it gives a neat look to your work because it doesn’t smudge off like pencil, so you definitely don’t need fixatives.

Pen shading can work with the previous stated shading techniques, but it works better with some shading technique. Here are some unique types of shading techniques for pen and ink:

  • Cross contour shading:

This technique is similar to the cross-hatching technique, only it is not a straight parallel line but a curved parallel line. It follows the shape of the object. If it’s a ball it goes like a round curve in the shape of the ball. The closer the lines the darker, the farther the lines the lighter.

  • Stippling or pointillism:

This is the use of tiny dots to make tonal value. The more clustered the dots are the darker the value and vice versa.  It’s fun but very tedious. The dots should be precise and not like tadpoles.

  • Ink wash

This is a types of shading techniques is a bit different, unlike ballpoint pen art, it uses diluted ink with the help of a brush to make shades. It is similar to painting, only it involves ink. A lighter layer is applied first for light and for darker tones more layers are applied to get desired result.


Paint Shading Techniques

Colour media are a bit different from the normal pencil shading. Colour mediums involves oil paints, acrylic paint, water colour, pencil colour, pastel etc. To work with colours you have to understand your colour wheel. You should understand how to tint, tone or shade through mixing.

There are three primary colours which are Red, blue and yellow. When you mix two of these primary colours you get secondary colours. Mixing secondary colours gives tertiary colours. These are the common painting techniques

  • Tinting Technique

colour tint-types of shading techniques
Adding white to white to blue to create a tint

Tint has to do with adding white to the colour to create a lighter value of the colour. How it works is that you add white colour to the existing colour or a diluted version of the colour and then blend with your palette knife or brush to get desired tint.

  • Toning Technique

colourToning-types of shading techniques
Adding black to green to cause a tone in colour
colour tint-types of shading techniques
Adding white and black to colours tones them

Tone means adding black and white to achieve the darker version of the colour. It works on clothes foldings, shadow cast or other darker areas.

  • Complementary Colours

types of shading techniques
Adding blue to orange to get brown and black

This involves the mixture of unrelated colours to make shade. For instance orange and blue can create brown, green and red can also give brown or grey.

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