If you’ve been lettering for a while, you’ve probably tried adding shadows and highlights to your lettering to give it a pop and some 3D magic. It’s one — well, two! — of the things that can easily add a little pizzazz to your lettering. So let’s talk about how to do it!

Adding Shadows

The first (and most!) important thing for adding shadows to your lettering? Your light source!

There’s no shadow without light, so figure out where your light is coming from, then add the shadow. To help you visualise, I drew a tiny sun. So imagine the sun is shining directly to the left of the lettering.

The shadow cast is on the right of the letters, so just use a grey marker and add it on! Don’t forget shadows are proportionate — the shadow on your downstrokes will be thicker than those on your upstrokes.

Shadows at an angle

Let’s level up a little and try adding shadows at an angle. Imagine the light is coming from the top left corner of your paper. I sketched in a little sun again.

The shadow cast will be to the right and below the existing lettering. That’s easy enough to figure out a straight line, but curves are harder.

This is where tracing paper comes in — stick with me long enough and you’ll come to love it as much as I do!

Trace your lettering on the tracing paper in a different colour. Here my original lettering is in maroon, so I went over it in turquoise for contrast.

Once you’ve got that, just bump it over to the right and down a little and you’ll know where your shadow should be! This trick will work for all angles too.

Vary the colour and size of your shadow!

In the previous two examples, I used Tombow Dual Brush Pens for both lettering and shadow so they are about the same size, but you don’t have to do that!

You can use a different sized brush pen to create different shadow sizes — my favourite is the Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen in grey. But you aren’t limited to just grey for shadows either! I used a light purplish blue here for a lighter look, but you can also use brighter colours against black for a Pop Art vibe!

Adding highlights

While shadows help your letters pop off the page, highlights can make your letters look more three-dimensional.

Think of those cartoon drawings of balloons: they all have that sliver of white at one side so we think of the circle as a globe-like shape — it has to be round for light to bounce off the side like that, right?

The same goes here, so just grab a white pen (my personal favourite is the Uniball Signo Broad) and add those little slivers to just one side of each stroke! This is also how to make bubble letters more bubbly, if that’s what you’re into!

Vary the colour of your highlights

Just like you varied the colours of your shadows, you can do that for your highlights too. In the photo below, I used a gold pen instead of white for a more luxe vibe to complement the purple.

You can also change the shape of your highlights. Some people accent the lines with a dot or three below. Others turn them into little triangles. The options are endless!