Illustration: Learn About Shading Styles

Beginner level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop

First of all: What is shading?

Shading is nothing more than applying shadows to our drawings and illustrations, no more mysteries, as simple as that, but! “Everything that glitters is not gold” they say, it’s not just taking a tone darker than the color you want to shade and done. No, we have to think on what we want to tell or the effect we want to get and depends on what we are looking for we will choose a color or other.

Shading with black

I’m sure that most of you, as kids, when thinking about shading you would use black because it’s “the shadow’s color”, right? Well no, my friends, shadows are not black... well some of them are, but most are not.

When shading in black you have to be very careful, because black, more than shading will DIRTY your drawing*. Black, being a very high contrast color, will have a lot of presence wherever you put it and you will get a very edgy, cold and spooky effect, so in what type of scene would we use black for shading? In a horror scene, a miserable dirty and dark one, for example... never on a huggable, adorable plush advert.

An interesting alternative to black, are colors like very dark greens or blues, almost black. You will get a similar effect as if you were using black, but with much more richness. Personally, if I had to make a “dark” scene I wouldn’t use black, I would go for some of these other options.

*Fun fact: Did you know that Ariel (from Walt Disney’s Little Mermaid) was originally blond, but they changed her to red-haired because when you try to shade yellow it turns in to a very dirty and ugly green.

Same color different tone

This is a classic and probably the easiest and safest way of shading a drawing. It’s everything in the title, basically, you grab a light blue and you shade it with a dark blue. As a result, you will get a very neutral image, very low contrast, perfect for something fashion or kids related.

Fun fact: To achieve a realistic flesh color, you must NEVER shade with a dark “flesh” tone, you would ALWAYS use green (I didn’t get it at the beginning either). If you look people closely, you will see that it’s like that and this is because of the veins and everything we have underneath.

Shading with analogs

This one is very similar to the one before, but this time instead of using the same color, you shade with its chromatic circle “neighbors”. For example, you would shade a yellow with different shades of oranges until we got to red or even pushing it a bit more you could even get to purple. 

This type of shading is still quite soft, but you will get a higher contrast.

Illuminated Shadows

The concept “illuminated shadows” is a bit contradicting itself, but we make art for some reason, right? To bring something new.

To create this effect, you would normally use turquoise, red (hot pink would do too) or even an acid green and you create a very high contrast shadows. You must “burn” the shadows (saturate) and you get a brightness that will give your work a fantasy feeling.

You will see this type of shading in tattoos because of the high visual impact they have.

Fun fact: I’ve got none, but I would tell you to take a look at Jorge Sefy's work. It’s from who I learned this.

Shading the color black

And maybe now you are thinking...can you shade black? Well of course, but how? From my point of view, you have two options: Illuminated shadows or don’t use the color black.

With this second option I'm not telling you to delete black from your work, no, what you should do is use, as a base color, a grey very dark (which would be black 80/90%) and then shade in black! (This would be same color different tone) and you are done!

Shading in Photoshop

Well we have already types of shading (I've probably left some out, my knowledge is not infinite, so if you know more please, leave it in the comments section below) now we can see the options Photoshop gives us.

Note: For this tutorial, we are going to work with a soft and more natural type of shading, we won’t be using a strong edge shadow as we would do in a more vector style (we will see that in further tutorials).

First of all, choose an appropriate brush. For shading, you would normally use a soft-edged brush. I personally like to work with textured brushes, because they give a more natural sense.

Before you ask, I really don’t remember where I got the brush I’m using, I just remember that I downloaded from a chalk effect brush set.

Do you have a brush? Then let’s start!

Clipping mask or blocking transparent pixels

When we start putting in the shadows, we must decide if we want to do it “traditionally”, I mean, with no restrictions, that wherever the brush touches it will paint, or if we prefer restricting a bit the space, so it’s easier to stay “inside the line”, which is a bit complicated in digital media.

Clipping mask

Create an empty layer on top of the one you want to add shadow and right click → Create Clipping Mask. So, as you see, the layer that is on top has a little arrow, which means that whatever you paint on that layer, will only affect what’s underneath.

Block transparent pixels

This is my favorite method. To use it, go to the layer panel and click on the little icon with the grid (to know more, go to TUTPAD'S course Basics of Photoshop) and as before paint over and see how it only works over what’s already painted.

So, what’s the difference between these two methods, when the results are the same? Well, the only difference is that if you want to remove the shadows, in the first method you only have to turn off the layer and you are done. With the second method, you would have to cover everything, maybe losing other details like lights.

Low opacity brush

Surely, one of the first shading methods that come to your head is lowering the brush opacity, and probably you will always use it combining it with others.

Basically, you just take a brush and lower its opacity to a 30-50%, and you go slowly adding color layers until you get the intensity you want.

Instead of going over and over the same spot, paint on different spots to get more tonal richness.

Low opacity layer

Here you will only get a shadow tone. Grab the color you want to shade in and paint with it on another layer and when you have it like you want, lower the layer's opacity until you get where you want.

It’s a very limited method, but if you combine it with the previous one, you will have total control over your shadows.

Multiply mode

And to finish, taking advantage of what digital media gives us, let’s see the blending modes. For shading, I usually use the multiply mode, but you could also use Darken, Color Burn, Linear Burn, Darker Color. To change the brush's blending mode, click on this menu:

And now just shade normally!

And if you prefer, instead of changing the brush's blending mode, you can change the mask's.

As you see, I've shaded with the same base color, I just changed the blending mode.

Blending modes are usually a bit unpredictable, so you should try them all if you are not sure of what you want.

And that’s all! I hope you have enjoyed and that’s it’s been of some help to you. See you next time!

What do you think of this tutorial?


6 months ago

Hi! Thanks for this wonderful tutorial, but one thing how to create that "grains/noise-like brush" like what you have there? or can you just make a short tutorial out of it? I've tried to re-create the brush but it did not look so good.Thank you :D

6 months ago

Hi TastyDragon, thank you for your suggestion we will try to offer tutorials on that topic soon! :) 

6 months ago

Thank you!

Hi! In this new tutorial, we are going to explain different shadings and how to use them depending on the results we want to achieve and take our work to the next level. Are you ready?

Tut Details

Beginner level 30m 9,708 views