How to Shade Basic 3D Shapes Tutorial

This tutorial explains how to shade basic 3d shapes such as cubes, spheres, cylinders and cones. These shapes can considered the “building blocks” for drawing more complex objects.

Three dimensional shapes shaded drawings
Three dimensional shapes drawing examples

Learning to correctly draw and shade basic three dimensional shapes is very important for beginner artists.

For this tutorial we will be using a very basic lighting setup. There will be one main light source coming from the top left and slightly to the front of each object.

If you were to have one of these in front of you in a similar lighting setup then the light would be coming over your left shoulder.

Before getting started on this tutorial you may want to learn about different types of strokes by looking at:

Shading Techniques and Stroke Types Drawing Tutorial

For a more detailed breakdown of shading a simple object you may also want to see:

Egg Step by Step Basic Shading Tutorial

Shading a Cube

Shaded cube drawing
Shaded cube drawing

First thing you will want to do is to make a light line drawing of the cube in perspective. You can see the Perspective Drawing Tutorial for Beginners for help on doing this.

When it comes to shading the cube there are two important things to be aware of. One is that generally cubes tend to have a light, medium, and a dark side. Another is that each side will also tend to have a gradient. This gradient is caused by two things. One is the reflection of the main light source from the surface that the cube is sitting on and the other is the contrast between the light and dark sides. The reflecting light will make the bottom of the cube lighter and the contrast between the (in this example) lighter top and darker sides will make the two side areas darker towards the top.

Finally if you are shading the cube using a pencil try do it using a cross hatch stroke with one set of lines parallel to the shape of the cube and one set that is angled in relation to the first set. Doing so will help reinforce the shape of the cube.

Shading a Sphere

Shaded sphere drawing
Shaded sphere drawing

Start drawing the sphere by simply drawing a circle.

As a sphere has no sharp edges it will have smooth gradient transitions so be sure to shade accordingly.

For the “one light source” basic setup we are using for this tutorial the sphere will gradually transition from light to dark and then to light again due to the light reflecting from the surface it’s resting on.

The light of the reflection won’t be as bright as that from the main light source to shaded the reflection area darker than the area that is lit up by the main light source.

The darkest area is basically the point at which the curve of the sphere faces the farthest away from both the main light source and the reflection. This area will move depending on the light source. If for example the light would come from directly to the left of the sphere then this dark area would move closer to the middle.

When shading the sphere try and do it with a set of cross hatch strokes that somewhat curve around the shape of the cube. You can also blend your strokes to the point where they are almost invisible.

Shading a Cylinder

Shaded cylinder drawing
Shaded cylinder drawing

Start by making an in perspective drawing of the cylinder. For detailed instructions on this you can see the How to Draw Cylinders in Perspective Tutorial.

Shading the cylinder will be a combination between the sphere and the cube. In the lighting setup described earlier it will have a light top and a transition from light to dark and then to light again going from left to right.

Similar to the sphere as the curve of the cylinder gets farther away from the light it will become darker. The darkest area will be the one that is the farthest from both the main light source and the light reflecting from the surface it’s resting on.

For shading the cylinder you can use a curved or straight cross hatch stroke.

Shading a Pyramid

Shaded pyramid drawing
Shaded pyramid drawing

The pyramid is very similar to the cube.

For instruction on making a perspective line drawing of a pyramid you can see:

Shading the pyramid as in this example is fairly simple as there are really only two sides. Make the side facing towards the light lighter and the facing away side darker.

Keep the shading of each side lighter towards the bottom as these will also be illuminated by the light reflecting form the surface the pyramid is on.

Shading a Cone

Shaded cone drawing
Shaded cone drawing

The cone is similar to the cylinder but without the top area.

For drawing an in perspective cone see:

How to Draw a Cone in Perspective

Shading the cone is very similar to shading a cylinder the only difference is that everything will get narrower as it goes up towards the top.

Just like the cylinder you can shade it with a curved or straight cross hatch.

Shading an Octagonal Prism

Shaded octagonal prism drawing
Shaded octagonal prism drawing

The octagon prism is a slightly more complex object to both draw the shape of and to shade.

For drawing the prism you can start by drawing an in perspective rectangle and then sort of “trim” it’s sides to get the prism.

You can again see the Perspective Drawing Tutorial for Beginners for help.

You can still apply the same principals to shading it as to shading the cube the only difference is that there are more sides. The sides will get darker the further they turn away from the light and each side will still have a gradient going from lighter (bottom) to darker (top) due to the light reflecting from the surface it’s sitting on.

For a more practical example of shading this type of shape you can see:

How to Draw a Realistic Banana Tutorial

Conclusion

These 3d shapes are the basic building blocks of many more complex objects. It can be a lot easier to shade a more complex object if you view it’s different parts as separate shapes.