Improve Your Cartoon Shading: Practical Tips and Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. Learn the basics of shading
  2. How to use textures in shading
  3. Practical tip for shading clothing
  4. How to shade cartoon faces
  5. Shading technique for cartoon hair
  6. Tips for shading cartoon animals
  7. How to use color in shading
  8. Technique for shading backgrounds
  9. Improve shading with light and shadow
  10. Practice makes perfect

If you've ever wondered how to improve shading in cartoon drawings, then you're in the right place. Shading is like the secret sauce that adds depth and dimension to your cartoon art, making your characters pop off the page. In this blog, we'll walk you through some practical tips and techniques to take your cartoon shading to the next level. So, grab your sketchpad and let's get started!

Learn the basics of shading

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of specific shading techniques, it's important to understand the basics. No matter what you're drawing, whether it's a cartoon character or a landscape, shading follows the same principles. So, here are some key things you need to know:

  1. Light source: Before you start shading, decide where your light source is coming from. This will determine where the shadows and highlights go. If the light source is above, the shadows will be under; if it's to the side, the shadows will be on the opposite side.
  2. Value: In art, 'value' refers to how light or dark something is. When shading a cartoon, you'll use different values to create depth. For example, areas that are closer to the light source will be lighter, while those further away will be darker.
  3. Gradation: This is the process of gradually transitioning from light to dark. In cartoon shading, you'll often use gradation to give the illusion of roundness or depth.
  4. Texture: While we'll cover this in more depth later, it's worth mentioning here. The texture of an object can greatly affect how you'll shade it. For instance, shiny objects will have sharper transitions between light and dark, while fluffy objects might have softer transitions.

So, that's the basics covered! Remember—shading is all about creating the illusion of depth and dimension. It's not about getting it 'perfect', but about having fun and experimenting. Now that you've got a grasp on the basics, we can delve into some more specific techniques on how to improve shading in cartoon art.

How to use textures in shading

Now that you've got a handle on the basics, let's talk about textures. The texture of an object can make a huge difference in how you shade it. Think about it: a rough, bumpy rock will cast shadows and reflect light differently than a smooth, shiny apple. So, how can you use textures to improve shading in cartoon art? Here are some tips:

  1. Study real life: One of the best ways to understand how different textures affect shading is to study real objects. Look at how light interacts with different materials, like fabric, metal, or fur. Notice the patterns and try to replicate them in your shading.
  2. Use different strokes: The way you apply your shading can also help suggest texture. For example, short, choppy strokes can suggest a rough texture, while long, smooth strokes can suggest a smooth texture.
  3. Consider the surface: Different textures will reflect light differently. For example, a shiny object will have a strong highlight and a sharp shadow, while a dull object will have a softer highlight and a more gradual shadow.

Textures can add a lot of interest and realism to your cartoon art. So, don't be afraid to play around with different techniques and see what works for you. Remember, improving your cartoon shading is all about experimenting and having fun!

Practical tip for shading clothing

Shading clothing in cartoon art can be a bit tricky, but it's definitely doable. Clothing has a unique texture that's different from skin or hair. It's affected by folds, wrinkles, and the material of the clothes. So, how can you improve how you shade clothing in your cartoon art? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Observe the folds: Clothing isn't flat; it has folds and wrinkles. Look at how the cloth falls and folds on a body, and where the shadows appear in these folds. This can hugely improve your shading.
  2. Understand the material: Different materials reflect light differently. Silk will have a sharper highlight and shadow compared to cotton, which will have softer transitions.
  3. Use lines wisely: Lines are a great way to suggest the texture of clothing. You can use them to suggest wrinkles, folds, or the weave of the fabric.

By paying attention to these details, you can make your cartoon characters’ outfits pop off the page. Remember, the key to improving shading in cartoon art is observation and practice!

How to shade cartoon faces

Shading faces can add depth and dimension to your cartoon characters, making them feel more alive. But, where to start? Don't worry. Here are some steps to help you improve shading in cartoon faces:

  1. Spot the light source: First, decide where the light is coming from. This will determine where you place the shadows and highlights on the face.
  2. Know the facial structure: Even in cartooning, understanding the basic structure of the face can help. Cheeks, brows, and nose cast shadows, while areas like the forehead, cheeks, and chin catch the light.
  3. Don’t go overboard: Remember, cartoons are stylized versions of reality. You don’t need to shade every detail. Keep it simple and effective.

Shading cartoon faces might seem challenging at first, but with practice, you'll see improvement. So, grab your tools and start shading!

Shading technique for cartoon hair

When it comes to shading cartoon hair, the devil is in the detail. Hair is not just a mass, but a collection of individual strands, each reflecting light in its own way. So how do you improve shading in cartoon hair? Here are a few tips:

  1. Understand the hair's volume: Recognize that hair has volume. It's not flat. So, your shading should reflect this. Consider the hair as a series of volumes and shade accordingly.
  2. Define the light direction: Like shading faces, you also need to determine the direction of the light. This will help you decide where to place the shadows and highlights.
  3. Use different tones: Hair is not just one color. There are various tones that you can utilize to give it more depth and make it look more realistic.
  4. Don't forget about the texture: Different types of hair have different textures. Straight, curly, wavy—each has its own way of reflecting light, so keep this in mind when shading.

Shading cartoon hair can seem complex, but with these tips, you can take your cartoon hair shading to the next level. Remember, practice is key!

Tips for shading cartoon animals

Shading cartoon animals can be a fun and challenging task. Let's explore some tips on how to improve shading in cartoon animals.

  1. Study the animal's anatomy: Understanding the animal's structure can help you apply the shading correctly. Pay attention to the animal's muscle structure, fur length, and other physical features.
  2. Consider the fur texture: Like human hair, animal fur has its own texture. Short fur reflects light differently than long fur. Use this knowledge to your advantage when shading.
  3. Pay attention to the light direction: This can't be stressed enough. The direction of light will help you figure out where to place the shadows on the animal's body.
  4. Use various tones: Don't just stick to one color. Be adventurous and use various tones to add depth and realism to your cartoon animal.

Don't forget, your goal is to make the animal look three-dimensional on a two-dimensional surface. So, keep practicing and experimenting with different shading techniques. You'll see improvement in no time!

How to use color in shading

Color is a powerful tool in shading. It not only brings your drawings to life but also adds depth and emotion to them. So, how can you improve shading in cartoon by using color? Here are some tips:

  1. Understand color theory: Get to know the color wheel. Understand how complementary colors work together. This knowledge can help you choose the right colors for shading.
  2. Consider the mood: Colors can set the mood of your cartoon. For example, cool colors like blue and green can create a calm atmosphere, while warm colors like red and orange can evoke feelings of excitement or even anger.
  3. Try gradient shading: This is where you gradually transition from one color to another. It can give your cartoon a more realistic and three-dimensional look.
  4. Experiment with different color combinations: Don't limit yourself to black and white for shading. Try using different colors to see the effects they can create.

Remember, there are no strict rules in art. Keep experimenting with different colors and techniques. See what works best for your style. That's how you improve shading in cartoon with color.

Technique for shading backgrounds

Now, let's talk about another important part of any cartoon image: the background. The way you shade your background can greatly affect the overall feel of your cartoon. So, how to improve shading in cartoon backgrounds? Let's dive in!

  1. Remember perspective: Things in the distance should be lighter and less detailed, while objects closer to the viewer should be darker and more detailed. This creates depth and realism.
  2. Use gradients: Gradients can help create a smooth transition between different parts of the background, like the sky transitioning from a bright blue at the horizon to a deeper blue at the top of the page.
  3. Add texture: Backgrounds aren't just flat colors. Add texture by using different shading techniques. For example, cross-hatching can give the impression of a grassy field.
  4. Consider the light source: Always think about where your light is coming from. It will affect the color and intensity of your shading.

Mastering background shading is a surefire way to make your cartoons stand out. And remember, practice is key. The more you experiment and refine, the better your shading will get!

Improve shading with light and shadow

Light and shadow are the cornerstone of shading. They add depth and dimension to your cartoons, making them pop off the page. So, how to improve shading in cartoon with light and shadow? Here are some tips:

  1. Understand your light source: Before you start shading, decide where your light is coming from. This will affect where shadows fall and how they look. Is it a strong, direct light or a soft, diffused light? Your choice will make a big difference.
  2. Use different tones: Shadows aren't just a darker version of the original color. They can have different tones. For example, a red apple doesn't just have dark red shadows—it might have purplish ones.
  3. Consider the shape of your objects: Shadows aren't flat. They change and warp depending on the shape of your object. Round objects have soft, curved shadows, while square objects have sharp, angular ones.
  4. Don't forget cast shadows: These are shadows that objects cast onto other objects. They help anchor your objects in the scene and make them look more realistic.

Remember, light and shadow aren't just about making things look 3D. They're also about setting the mood. A scene with soft, gentle lighting will feel very different from one with harsh, dramatic shadows. So, play around and see what works for your cartoon!

Practice makes perfect

Shading in cartoons can make a huge difference to the overall look and feel of your work. But like anything else in life, it requires practice. So, how to improve shading in cartoon through practice? Here are some tips that can help:

  1. Set a regular schedule: Consistency is key when it comes to practicing. Whether it's every day, every other day, or every week, find a schedule that works for you and stick to it. You'll be amazed at how much you can improve with regular practice.
  2. Try different techniques: Don't just stick to one shading technique. Experiment with different ones to see which you like best and which work best for different situations. You might find that you prefer cross-hatching for clothing and stippling for skin, for example.
  3. Don't be afraid to make mistakes: Mistakes are part of the learning process. They help you figure out what works and what doesn't. So, don't be disheartened if your shading doesn't look perfect right away. With time and practice, it will improve.
  4. Ask for feedback: Sometimes, it's hard to see where you need to improve when you're looking at your own work. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback from others. They might spot something you've missed or give you a new perspective.

Improving your shading in cartoons isn't something that happens overnight. But with patience, practice, and a willingness to learn, you can make great strides. So, pick up that pencil and start shading!

If you want to take your cartoon shading skills to the next level, be sure to check out Carolina Vázquez's workshop, 'How to Bring Your Illustrations to Life.' This workshop will provide you with practical tips and techniques to give your illustrations depth, dimension, and a professional finish.