Want to add a shadow to your calligraphy or hand lettering to lift it off the paper?
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to add shadows to lettering that look good and make it stand out!
There are lots of different shadow techniques used for calligraphy and hand lettering.
For this post, though, I’ll keep it simple and give you some extra shadow ideas at the end.
If you’re new to doing lettering shadows, this is where you should start!
How to add shadows to your lettering
Here’s how to add basic shadows to your lettering.
- Choose position of light source.
Imagine a light source positioned somewhere near the lettering.
- Use a contrasting color.
Use a color that’s different from the lettering (e.g. a lighter or darker color).
- Decide whether to leave space between or not.
Leave a little white space between the letter and shadow, or make the shadow be directly next to the letters.
- Add shadows on the opposite side of the light source.
Put shadows next to your letters on the opposite side of where the imaginary light source is positioned.
- Follow the shape of each letter.
As you draw a shadow alongside a letter, follow its shape as smoothly as you can.
- Make shadows the same width as letters.
If the lettering has lines that are both thick and thin, it looks best to make the shadow have the same varying widths.
What pens to use?
You can use just about any pen to do lettering shadows as long as it’s a color that will stand out from the letters.
Light gray shadows are most common, but you can have fun with colors, too.
Brush pens are great for adding shadows because you can easily follow the shape and width of your lettering.
I usually use light gray brush pens to add shadows, or a black fine tip pen.
Here’s a grayscale set of Tombow brush pens (affiliate link) that I have.
Extra lettering shadow tips
Making letters look like they have shadow is a great way to make them stand out.
But it can be a little hard to figure out where to put the shadow.
If it helps you, try shining your phone flashlight on some little things around you and notice where the shadow goes as you move it around.
Here are some more helpful tips for you if you’re new to doing shadows:
1. Easy shadow trick
Having trouble getting the hang of shadows?
Use tracing paper or a light box to put a second tracing of your lettering underneath, and shift it slightly to one side.
That will show you exactly where to put the shadow without having to guess!
If you’re working in Procreate, you can duplicate your lettering, lighten it, and shift it to the side for the shadow.
2. Mark placement in pencil first
If you want to make sure to get the placement right, one idea is to lightly mark where the shadow lines would go with a pencil first.
This would be a good way to figure out the placement of the shadows before doing it in ink.
Lightly erase the pencil lines before going over it with a pen.
(Or you could just skip the ink and only use pencil – more on that below.)
3. Leave enough space
Make it easier on yourself by spacing out the initial lettering enough before adding shadows.
It’s much easier to put in shadows when there’s enough space between the letters!
Leaving enough space inside the letters (like inside the closed part of an e) is especially important, too.
4. Pick one placement
I recommend picking a shadow placement and sticking with it for the most part.
This just makes it so much easier to remember where to put shadows.
It can get really confusing if you’re always switching up which side the shadow falls on.
I always put shadows on the right and slightly below my letters. I’m so used to it that I have to think pretty hard to put the shadows on a different side!
(Of course, you can still change it if you want to.)
5. Mistakes are okay
Making lettering have a shadow isn’t always as straightforward as simple shapes like a square or circle.
There will probably be some confusing parts here and there, because lettering is more complex (especially if it’s a calligraphy or script style).
It takes some practice to get used to, so don’t worry too much about making a mistake.
I doubt anyone will notice if you don’t put a shadow in exactly the right place!
Sometimes I’m still unsure where to put the shadow, and sometimes I mess up and put it on the wrong side.
Trust me, someone will only notice if they’re looking for it (which they most likely won’t be)!
Different lettering shadow ideas
Once you’re comfortable with doing a basic shadow, here are some ideas of ways to change it up and make it even more unique.
1. Use different colors
Try switching up the colors you use for the shadows to do some colorful lettering.
2. Value gradient shadow
A value gradient shadow starts darker right next to the letter and fades out lighter as it gets further away.
You could use dots, hatching, or just scribbles for the shadow and fade it outwards.
Or you could layer more ink on top to make it darker in one area.
Make it dark and concentrated right next to the letter, then gradually transition to lighter and more sparse.
3. Use a pencil
You don’t have to use a pen. A pencil works great for gray shadows!
There are lots of ways you can use a basic pencil to get really neat shadow effects. It’s also really fun to do value gradients with a pencil.
And a bonus is that you can erase anything you don’t like.
4. Color gradient shadow
This one is a little more work, but looks great.
You’ll need some water-based pens for this so they blend nicely. Pick two colors, a light and a dark one, that will blend well together.
- Start adding a shadow part of the way with a light color
- Finish adding the shadow with a darker color
- Use the light color or a blender pen to blend the two together
- Go slowly so you don’t color outside of where the shadow goes
You could do this with more than one color, too.
5. Monoline shadow
A monoline shadow is probably the easiest shadow of all.
Instead of varying the weight, you can just draw a single, one-width line for the shadow and it still looks great!
Leave some white space between the letter and shadow lines for it to look best.
This is perfect for when you want to quickly make some lettering “pop.”
6. Black line with light shadow
This shadow idea is a combination of a monoline shadow outline and a basic shadow.
Use a black fine tip pen to draw shadow lines right alongside the letters, then use a light-colored pen to add a shadow as usual.
(Or do it in whatever order you want.)
7. Use a metallic pen
An easy way to make a shadow even more special is to use a metallic pen.
Here is a set with silver and gold metallic gel pens (affiliate link).
And here’s a set of sparkly glitter gel pens in different colors (also affiliate link).
8. Outline with shadow
This shadow technique makes a nice, bold shadow that really emphasizes the letters.
First, outline your lettering with a fine tip pen.
Then draw in the shadow, following the width of the letters.
(I have found that this effect looks really cool when you use a black pen around gold lettering.)
For many more lettering embellishment ideas, read this post: 21 Easy Ways to Embellish Hand Lettering
So, are you ready to lift your calligraphy or hand lettering right off the paper?
Go start adding some shadows!
And save this post if it was helpful ⬇️