Colored Pencil Shading in 5 Easy Steps

Whether an illustration is a pattern, abstract, or still-life, shading can give it dimension and depth – some “life.” And yes, shading with colored pencils is easy!

When I first started adult coloring, I did not use any shading. All of my work had the look of a flat, two-dimensional comic. For example, when coloring in a flower, it looked much like this:

Shading in Adult Coloring
Source: Public Domain

As I got more experienced with adult coloring, I did want to start “upping” the quality of my finished work with some dimension and life. I wanted that flower to look more like this:

Shading in Adult Coloring
Source: Wiki

Enter shading.

Besides improving the look of my coloring, I learned that shading makes it seem like there are more colors in my set of pencils just from using different pressures and layers of the same color.

In this post, we’ll look at the easiest way to get beautiful shading on any design: Weighting. Weighting is simply adding a layer of color inside the lines and on every cross-section of the lines in an element of an illustration. It can make the difference between a flat image and an image that “pops,” as you can see in this example:

Shading in Adult Coloring
Weighting: Before (L) and After (R)

For this tutorial I made a quick printable (go here to print your own: Weighting Printable); alternatively, you can use an illustration from any adult coloring book you have.

Step 1: Lay down your first layer of color.

When starting to fill in a piece in an illustration, such as a single leaf or geometric shape (what I call an “element”), you will get the best results by laying down a very light layer of color. On this layer, you can build many layers before the paper becomes too saturated, and you are also less likely to put dents in the paper or even tear it. As a comparison, think of how you paint a wall: many light layers will give you a better result than a single heavy layer. So when you do use heavy strokes remember you won’t be able to do many more layers of color in those areas. Best to leave the heavy pressure strokes for your final touches.

Adult Coloring Shading
Click to Enlarge

For the first layer of color on a larger element, hold the pencil sideways, so a larger area of the tip is in contact with the paper. This position allows you better control in laying down a very light base, gives you a smoother color and minimizes unsightly lines and banding.


Step 2: Add a thin second layer of color inside the element’s lines.

Adult Coloring Shading
Click to Enlarge

Use a bit more pressure than you did with laying down the first layer of color.



Step 3: Using very light and tiny circles – scumbling – “pull” some of the color from the lines towards the center of the element, smudging it a bit and softening any obvious lines.

Adult Coloring Shading




Step 4: At any spot where lines intersect, draw a small triangle-shaped “fan” of color with light, short strokes. 

Adult Coloring Shading
Click to Enlarge





Step 5: With a very sharp tip and a bit of pressure, add a thin line of color just inside the outline of each element.

Adult Coloring Shading
Click to Enlarge





And there you have it, shading with colored pencils in 5 simple steps! For all of you looking for shading tips for markers, I’ll have that for you soon!

Do you have any colored pencil shading tips or challenges?  Share them with us in the comments section below!

3 thoughts on “Colored Pencil Shading in 5 Easy Steps”

  1. There are those of us who instinctively know what to do with color and don’t need 5 easy steps. Usually those people/artists are long past the coloring book stage, although I must admit that I’ve seen some absolutely phenomenal artwork on several coloring books sites.

    Then there are the rest of us – myself included and maybe foremost – who fervently wish they had some artistic ability – even just a smidge.

    That’s why, when I see your articles, apply what you teach, and actually can tell the difference in my befores and afters, I could just hug and kiss you!

    Thank you so, so, very much!! You make my day.

    1. Maddy, you have made MY day! I really enjoy doing “how-to” posts and your feedback is so appreciated – makes the effort so worthwhile.

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