HOW TO ADD SHADOWS TO YOUR LETTERING (5 AWESOME WAYS)

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)
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Welcome back people!

After a long summer vacation we are back with a new AMAZING tutorial that will instantly improve your lettering game!

We’ve teamed with a talented artist from the Philippines with a unique lettering style to teach you how to add shadows to your lettering and make it pop! (pun intended) 

RK Sanchez will be teaching you everything you need to know about how to add shadows to your lettering pieces, and you will be guided step-by-step throughout the process.

A huge thanks and massive respect to RK for taking the time and investing  A LOT of effort creating this tutorial, which is packed with value!

Without any further delays, grab your tools and

Enjoy the tutorial!

Hey, creative people!

I’m RK Sanchez, also known as Skribsinner on social media. I am a self-taught lettering and modern calligraphy artist from the Philippines.

I started my modern calligraphy journey in May 2016 and since then, I haven’t left a single day without creating anything with my pens, trying to be better than my “yesterday” self.

With the help of constant practice, along with all the bloody experiments and frustrations (lol), I am here to teach you the basics of shadowing and the techniques that I discovered (but not invented) over my two-year journey.

Here are the things that you will learn after reading this article:

  1. What are shadows and why do we put them on letters?
  2. The source of light
  3. The 5 types of shadowing

Pin me!

types of shadowing

Also:

We are going to have some step-by-step instructions so it’s better to have your writing materials ready, such as brush pens/markers and paper, throughout this article.

Here are the usual materials that I use:

But of course, you can use the materials that you are most comfortable with.

Let’s get started!

What are shadows and why do we put them on letters?

Before explaining anything, let’s check these two figures out:

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

They are the same word written by the same person, using the same strokes.

But there is a big difference between the two: The first figure looks good but plain and flat, whereas the second one seems to be more realistic with its 3D effect.

This funky 3D look of the second figure is made possible with the help of shadows.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Shadows are basically the area where the light can barely enter or cannot enter at all.

Try to look at all the stuff around you right now and imagine they only had one pigment just like the first figure. Isn’t it dull and unrealistic?

This is why we apply shadows to letters.

Shadows make our letters come to life. They make them more appealing and stay connected with the viewer, and this is because they look realistic, just as real as the things around you right now.

Disclaimer:

I don’t want you to think that shadows are all we need to make our lettering piece look good.

Of course, other aspects such as the letter forms, kerning, etc. are important. It also doesn’t make you a bad lettering artist if you don’t apply shadows to your letters.

Shadowing is just a technique that we do because we want to do it. It’s the artist’s choice and style.

 

The good news is we don’t need some mathematical formulas for us to understand shadowing in letters.

Unlike in other mediums and forms of visual art, the shadowing techniques that I’m going to teach you are easier to understand and apply.

The source of light

Shadows cannot exist without light. Where there is light, there are shadows.

This is why it is necessary for us to know where the source of light is when shadowing.

This is the first thing that you should decide before putting the shadows.

And yes, you saw it right. It’s you who decide where the light source should be.

The basic rule:

The shadows should appear on the opposite side of the light source.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)
  • If your light source is on the left side, the shadows should appear on the right of the letters. 
  • If your light source is on the right side, the shadows should appear on the left of the letters.

The same thing when your light source is above the letters, your shadows should be beneath the letters.

If you’re familiar with my work, I mostly use the same light source which is on the upper left hand (around 10 o’clock) of my pieces. Hence, my shadows appear on the lower right (around 4 o’clock) of the letters.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Remember:

Consistency is the key to have a successful 3D illusion for your lettering piece.

You can decide to put the light source on the left for something you do today, and put it on the right side for another piece tomorrow.

But where you put the source of light doesn’t really matter, as long as you consistently put the shadows on the same side all throughout the piece you’re working on.

The 5 types of shadowing

Enough for all those technicalities! We finally arrived here and we’re all set for you to learn how to put the shadows. Here are the 5 shadowing techniques that I commonly use.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

3.1 Basic Shadow

Just like what the name says, this is the most basic shadow you can put on your letters. This is great for those who have never tried shadowing before!

You can apply it either on the left or the right side, depending on where the light source is.

Let’s try this having the source of light on the left.

What you need:

  • Brush pens and paper
  • A light gray brush pen/marker
  • A pencil

Step 1:

Draw/write a word like how you normally do. Any color would do.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 2:

Determine where to put the shadows. You can use a pencil to mark where the shadows should appear. 

(It’s okay to disregard this step once you get used to where the light source and the shadows should be placed.)

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 3:

Apply the shadows using the light gray brush pen/marker.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Optional:

Erase the pencil marks if they are too obvious. This will make the shadows look neater.

Reminder:

Don’t forget to apply shadows inside the letters and on thin strokes, too! This is something that most beginners tend to miss.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

3.2 Dark Shadow + Basic Shadow

Now, let’s double the fun and add a darker shadow, which results to a stunning 3D effect.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

What you need:

  • Brush pens and paper
  • A black fine tip brush pen/marker (I usually use Tombow Fudenosuke Soft Tip or Pilot Petit 3. These are brush pens so the width of the shadow will be consistent using a single stroke)
  • A light gray brush pen/marker
  • A pencil

Step 1:

Draw/write a word like how you normally do.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 2:

Mark where to put the shadows using a pencil.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 3: Apply the shadows carefully using the black fine-tip brush pen/marker.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Tip:

Leave the black ink and let it totally dry for a couple of minutes. It could spare us from the nightmare of seeing it bleed or smudging it when applying the lighter shadows. (But it could be a good effect for Halloween, lol)

Optional: Erase the pencil marks if there are still any. Do this only when you’re sure that the black ink has totally dried.

Step 4: Add another layer of shadows right next to the dark shadows using the light gray brush pen/marker.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Looks fun, right? 😀

3.3 Overlapping Shadow

I use this in monochromatic (means using only one color) lettering pieces.

The shadows create an illusion that some parts are on top of the others.

You also need to imagine that the source of light comes from the viewer’s eyes.

So the shadows should appear on the parts that are NOT on top.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

What you need:

  • A set of brush pens (at least three) with the same color family (at least 1 light, 1 medium and 1 dark). For example: green, light green, dark green

You may also use colors in analogous harmony. For example: orange, vermilion, red

  • A pencil
  • At least 200gsm paper (we don’t want to ruin the work with a thin piece of paper because we’re going to apply layers of ink)

 

Colors that I’ll use:

  • Base: Orange(Sakura Koi)
  • Medium: Vermilion (Sakura Koi)
  • Dark: Red (Sakura Koi)

Step 1:

Write a word using the base color.

The base color is the lightest shade of color you have among your set of pens.

So if you have red, orange, vermilion, you must use orange as your base color.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 2:

Decide which parts should be on top. Mark them using a pencil as a guide.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 3:

Apply the colors on the shadow area starting from the darkest.

We need to blend the colors carefully. The darkest should blend with the medium one and do it until you reach the base color.

In our example, apply red starting from the pencil guide.

Then gradually going farther from the pencil guide, next is vermilion, which should blend with red, and lastly orange, which should blend with vermilion.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)
How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)
How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Tip:

You can use a little of black or brown as the darkest shade, except when working with neon colors like yellow, apple green, etc.

I added a little brown (Sakura Koi) here:

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Now, we can see that some parts overlap the others. 😀

3.4. Ribbon Style

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

This may be a little more difficult than the others at first, but when you finally get the knack of it, it will be super fun and addictive.

Here’s the thing:

You have to understand how real ribbons are spiraled and how the curves produce shadows.

When ribbons are spiraled, they look like this:

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

And there we can see that the “back” of the spiral ribbon produces shadows.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Now, we will combine this concept with the concept of thick and thin strokes of calligraphy to create the ribbon illusion.

To sum it up:

The thick/down strokes will be the “front” of the ribbon, and the thin/up strokes will be the “back”.

What you need:

  • The same materials we use for Overlapping Shadows

Colors that I’ll use:

  • Base: Fresh Green (Sakura Koi)
  • Medium: Yellow Green (Sakura Koi) and Yellow Green (Artline Stix; this is a little darker than Sakura Koi)
  • Dark: Green (Sakura Koi)

Step 1:

Write a word using the base color.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Tip:

The back and front of spiral ribbons have the same width. Hence, when doing the ribbon style, try writing the up and down strokes using similar or the same width. This will make the ribbon illusion more successful.

Step 2:

Using a pencil, mark all those twists and transition sections between letters.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 3:

Put the shadows on the up strokes. Apply the darkest color starting at the pencil guide. Blend the darkest with the medium shade and lastly, blend the medium with the base color (just like what we did in Overlapping Shadow).

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Tip:

Notice the letter ‘C’. Don’t you think this ribbon looks thin?

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Notice the letter ‘E’. Don’t you think this ribbon looks thick?

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

The farther the shadow area from the curve is, the thicker your ribbon will appear.

3.5. Cutting Shadow

 

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

I mostly use this technique in digitized lettering but this is also great in analogue ones!

Here, we “cut” some spaces from the letters, to form an illusion of shadows, instead of normally applying them.

This also creates an illusion that some parts are on top of others.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

What you need:

  • Your usual writing tools
  • A pencil
  • Any black drawing pen (fine liner) for outlines
  • Any black marker/brush pen

Step 1:

Write a word like how you normally do.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 2:

Using a drawing pen, trace the outline of each letter.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 3:

Make another layer of outlines, but make them thicker this time.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 4:

Fill in the white spaces between and inside the letters with your black marker.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 5:

Using a pencil, determine where to put the cutting shadow.

Remember:

Put them on parts that you want to look on top. They are usually found in intersecting parts of letters.

 

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 6:

Fill in the cutting shadow using a drawing pen.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

BONUS: Drop Shadow

Basically speaking, when a light is blocked by a thing and that thing is a little far from a surface, a drop shadow can be formed on the surface.

 

Drop shadow is a common technique that is also great for beginners. So here’s the easy trick that I discovered in making drop shadows that have the exact same size as your letters.

What you need:

  • A black brush pen/marker
  • A colored brush pen/marker
  • Thin sheets of paper (below 100gsm)
  • A pencil
  • Cotton balls or cotton swabs

Step 1: Write a word using a black marker.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 2:

Place the paper where you wrote the word under a new thin sheet of paper. Trace the word using a colored pen.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 3:

Move the paper with the colored word sideward and/or downward, depending where you want to put the drop shadow. Then trace the outline of the word using a pencil.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 4:

Shade the inside of the shadow using your pencil.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

Step 5:

The shadow looks sloppy at the moment. So using a cotton ball or swab, smudge it until it’s smooth.

How To Shade Your Lettering (5 AWESOME Ways - 2018)

… and voila! You’ve got an awesome and neat drop shadow.

General Tip:

If you don’t have a light gray pen, you can always use a pencil! It’s a great alternative. Just like what we did in the drop shadow technique.

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Now we want to see you in action!

#learning2gether​

Congratulations! You’ve just finished this crash course in shadowing letters. 😀

Which technique is your favorite so far?

I hope you learned something new today.

Now, the rest is in your hands… literally!

For you not to forget what you have learned today, you have to practice as much as you can. Apply these in your next lettering/calligraphy pieces.

And don’t forget to explore new ideas. You can even discover another shadowing technique and be a shadowing expert someday!

Don’t forget to tag me on your posts once you’ve tried these. Have fun and stay creative! 😉

Grab the tools and start practicing your lettering shadows by following this tutorial. Once you are done be sure to post it properly on Instagram (and other social platforms) use the #learning2gether , and tag us on your post so we can give you some feedback on your work 🙂

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31 thoughts on “HOW TO ADD SHADOWS TO YOUR LETTERING (5 AWESOME WAYS)”

  1. I have just come across this post. Thank you for taking the time to explain this shadow technique in so much detail. I have saved it and am going to use it a lot! Once again, top post!

  2. Rodyard Torrevillas

    Best shadow tutorial so far. It has so many techniques with so much details. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the talent. Calligraphy has been my hobby for quite a while but I can say it isn’t a thing I can excel. I can make “ok” pieces but I lack creativity. Nevertheless, thank you for this, I will try this when I have time.

    1. Lettering Daily

      Thank you for your comment Rodyard! I really appreciate it 🙂 I think that talent isn’t something you are born with, but rather something you develop through life with proper and consistent practice. Creativity can sometimes be tricky and not consistent, however, i would be happy to help you out. Are you on Facebook? You should consider joining our official Facebook group where we constantly give feedback and help out people to learn, improve and push their skills to the next level.

  3. The article is described with so much details and to the point content..
    I love the way how shadow makes lettering so attractive…?

  4. I’m from the same countryyy, this is very helpful!!!! Can you please teach that kind of style of the letters, it’s so cool!!! Please reply:>

  5. Wow, you really go above and beyond with your information! This is not just a simple experience but you took the time to give so many examples and in depth. You are a true find. Thank you ! I can’t wait to put these to paper.

    1. Thank Lisa! RK really did an amazing job. We wanted to create a tutorial that anyone could easily follow, and im glad we managed to achieve that 😀

  6. Hiii Lettering Daily! I’m so glad you post this up. This is very beneficial and encouraging for beginners especially! I love your positive vibes and care to share information and knowledge! Thank you for your dedication and effort! Followed your instagram indeed!! Your works are very much appreciated. I look forward to more lessons and tips hehe!❤❤❤?

    1. Hey Natilya!
      Thank you, im really glad you are enjoying the content. Definitely check out RK’s profile for more inspiration as she is the one responsible for this awesome tutorial 🙂
      Cheers!

    1. Thank you! be sure to give it a try and tag us on social media posts, we would love to follow people’s progress 🙂

  7. WOW!
    thankyou for this super “how to”
    can’t wait to start trying all the different styles you have in this demo
    what a great email to open up the first thing in the am

  8. This is fantastic. I love your work. Thank you for the time and effort you taken to write this lesson. I haven’t read it all yet, but I will and I can see it’s going to be really helpful for me. Nicky from @nickys_ink

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