3 Tips to Help you Shade with Colored Pencils

Shading is one of the most fundamental of coloring techniques as it can give drawings depth as well as extending a colored pencil’s color range. In the following post, we’ll simplify some of the most common shading techniques so you can take your coloring to a new level.

Grade-Based Performance

The first rule of shading is knowing which colored pencils to use and how each different type will perform- quite literally- under pressure.

Novice, or student-grade colored pencils are known for their shelf-life and durability. This is because they are generally reserved for use in the classroom and unlike their higher-grade counterparts, are not made for more sophisticated coloring techniques. That being said, a novice grade colored pencil is an excellent practice tool and their shortcomings can be masked by personal skill.

Professional grade colored pencils are made for artists who can wield them, which is to say that they enable highly skilled coloring techniques such as blending, shading and layering. Even across brands, professional grade colored pencils are consistent in their quality. High pigment content, a range of core mediums, and superb lay down make premium grade colored pencils a versatile and highly coveted coloring tool.

The Basics of Shading

Shading, simply put is a very basic drawing and coloring technique used to add depth and dimension to a drawing. Mastered, this technique can be used to simulate shadows, texture, and highlights.

Shading is a very important technique to master because in all its simplicity of execution, it is responsible for creating that 3D or realistic look we all strive for in drawing.

There are a couple (actually three) different ways of physically applying shade, these are:

Cross Hatching

Cross hatching is a shading technique that involves layering alternating diagonal and horizontal lines to “build a shade”. While some like the sketchy look of this technique and use it as an element of their personal artistic style, it was developed for a utilitarian reason; cross-hatching is a hack- it extends the darker range of a colored pencil without applying too much pressure.

You can control the look of your finish by making your lines far apart (rough) or close together (smooth); the thickness of your pencil’s core will also make a significant difference in the finish- aim for a thinner core for a smooth finish. A thicker core will produce a blurred effect that can be masked as a blend.


One of the challenges of using a pencil for creating an image is producing the illusion of seamlessness. Circulation is the technique used to conquer that challenge.

Instead of shading with a line motion, circulation involves making tiny, circular motions that disguise rough texture with the simple illusion of a dispersed pattern.


Stippling, also known as pointillism, is mainly used with more intensely pigmented tools and ink or gel-based pens. That being said, you can still benefit from the technique using colored pencils, especially if you are using water-soluble or oil-based cores.

Stippling is simply building up shade by pecking your page with tiny dots. Think of each dot as a pixel that lends substance to your drawing. The closer together the dots, the darker the shade. While some find this technique infuriatingly tedious, it is an effective way to produce intricately detailed tone.

Bonus Shading Hack

Okay, so you’ve used the techniques listed above and still can’t manage to get that intense tone you were striving for. There are a couple of reasons for this and yes, all of them have to do with the type of colored pencils you used. Your drawing can be executed with the utmost of skill, but that “pop” you were looking for comes from the pigment quality of your pencils. Don’t worry, there’s a way to fix that:

If you’re working with lesser quality pencils or simply want to add  extra vividness to your drawing, there is a very simple way to intensify the strength of your shade. Simply go over your drawing with a darker color. This layer works like a filter, making certain elements pop and is a very useful hack for creating quality work.