How to Shade Graffiti Letters

Written by alana armstrong
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How to Shade Graffiti Letters
Expertly shaded graffiti letters should pop out from their background. (David De Lossy/Valueline/Getty Images)

Once you have your graffiti letters outlined, it's time to make them pop by shading them in with colour. It's best to start by learning how to blend different shades of the same colour. Working with one colour will help you create seamless gradients that fade from dark to light in any direction. Once you have the technique down, you can start blending different colours to shade the letters. Letters can be shaded with a combination of red, orange and yellow for a fiery look; purple and blue for a sci-fi tone; or green and yellow for a radioactive look.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • paper or sketchbook
  • illustration markers (three shades of the same colour)
  • spraypaint (three shades of the same colour)
  • medium-fat caps ("Rusto", "New York")
  • fat caps ("Pink Dot", "Orange Dot" or "24 Karat")

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Instructions

    With Markers

  1. 1

    Make a horizontal line through the letters with the lightest colour you're working with. Ideally, the line will be placed about 1/3 of the way from the top of the letters. This will mark out the first blended edge, where the lightest shade will meet with the medium shade.

  2. 2

    Use smooth, even strokes of the lightest marker to outline and fill in the top 1/3 of the letters.

  3. 3

    Use the medium marker to make a line 2/3 of the way from the top of the letters.

  4. 4

    Use smooth, even strokes of the medium marker to outline and fill in the middle 1/3 of the letters.

  5. 5

    Pick up the darkest shade and use smooth, even strokes to outline and fill in the bottom 1/3 of the letters.

  6. 6

    Use the lightest shade to go over the edge of the medium shade to further blend the two together. Use slow horizontal lines to encourage the inks to bleed together slightly.

  7. 7

    Do the same with the medium marker, over the edge of the darkest shade. The edges should now look more like a gradient that starts with a dark bottom that becomes bright at the top.

    With Spray Paint

  1. 1

    Fit all of your spray paint cans with fat caps. If your letters are about three feet high, use cap with a medium spray diameter, such as a "Rusto" or "New York" fat cap.

    If your letters are much larger, use a cap with an extra wide spray diameter, such as a "Pink Dot", "Orange Dot" or "24 Karat" fat cap.

  2. 2

    Start with the darkest colour at the bottom. Outline and fill the bottom 1/3 of the letters with this colour.

  3. 3

    Outline and fill the middle 1/3 of the letters with the medium shade of spray paint.

  4. 4

    Outline and fill the top 1/3 of the letters with the lightest shade of spray paint.

  5. 5

    Pick up the medium shade of paint. Hold the can further away from the wall than when you were filling the letters and apply the paint in a smooth, horizontal motion over the line where the dark and medium shades meet. The line should now appear seamless.

  6. 6

    Pick up the lightest shade of paint and apply paint in a smooth, horizontal motion over the line where the light and medium shades meet. Continue until the line appears seamless.

Tips and warnings

  • When working in a sketchbook, place a scrap piece of paper, called a blotter page, underneath the page you're working on to prevent the marker ink from seeping through to other pages in your sketchbook.
  • Don't go over lines more than once with markers or they may bleed.
  • Your gradient lines (there lines where two colour blend together) should follow the curves of the entire piece.
  • Find graffiti colouring pages online, such as the free PDF book put out by Fakeproject Corporation of America, so that you can practice your shading with markers.
  • When using a new can of spray paint, release the first 1/5 of the paint in the can.
  • Only use spray paint in well-ventilated areas or outdoors and always wear a protective mask to reduce the inhalation of toxic fumes.
  • Do not apply graffiti to public or private property without the authorisation of the property owner. It is illegal.

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