How To Add Shadows To Your Letters: Make Your Letters Pop

shadowed words

Do your letters seem a little too boring and flat? Are you looking for a way to add depth and interest to your hand lettering? If so, then you should try adding shadow to your letters! This blog post will teach you how to do just that and give you tips on choosing the right colors and shadows for your project. Let's get started!

Why Do We Add Shadows to Letters

The main reason to add shadow to letters is for aesthetics. It can add depth, make the lettering look three-dimensional, and add visual interest. They can also be used to create an optical illusion of movement or change the direction of the viewer's gaze. Let's take a look at the images below and see what differs.

shadow words written in different styles

So, what do you think? Which of the two writing samples do you like? The first one, with no shadows, looks flat and boring; the second one, however, looks livelier because the shadow gives more depth to the letters. As you can see, adding shadows to letters can bring life. However, there are some reasons why some people don’t like adding shadows: they may find it challenging to read the texts easily, they will find it time-consuming to create, or they won’t be able to mix and match it with other fonts or typefaces effectively. 

colorful markers

When adding shadows to your letters, you want to ensure that the colors you choose complement each other. Here are some of the tips for combining colors with your shadows.

3 color palettes

How to Create Different Types of Shadows 

Before you start adding shadows to your letters, there are a few things you need to know, including the different kinds of shadows you can add. To discuss that, there are five different kinds of shadows you can add to your letters, and these are:

  • Simple
  • Drop
  • Cutting
  • Colored
  • Overlapped

Simple Shadow

a word hello on a white paper

Simple Shadow Text - Image by How to Hand Letter

This is the simplest way to add a shadow to your letters, and it usually only needs one color. For this style, a grey marker or pencil to add a shadow behind your letters will suffice.

What You'll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil or pen
  • A grey marker or pencil


Step One

Gather all your supplies.

colorful pens and pencils

Step Two

Using your pencil or pen, draw the letters you want to add shadow to on your piece of paper. Please make sure the letters are large enough that you can add a shadow around them easily.

a woman writing on a paper

Step Three

Once your letters are drawn, it's time to add the shadow. Using any color marker or pencil, add a shadow on the opposite side where the light is coming from. Start with a light line and then darken it until you're happy with the look.

a woman hand lettering
Simple Shadow Text - Image by Hand Lettering

Step Four

Experiment with different techniques and see what looks best to you. You can add shadows around the entire letter, just on one side, or even in a pattern. Just remember to keep the shadow light so it doesn't overpower.

Simple Shadow Text - Image by Hand Lettering
Simple Shadow Text - Image by Hand Lettering

Drop Shadow

a sample of a drop shadow and a  white marker on a white surface

You want to add a little more depth to your text. In this case, you can add a drop shadow to your letters. You can create this by adding a darker shadow below and to the right sides of the text. This will create an illusion that your letters are floating on paper.

What You'll Need

  • Black brush pens/markers
  • Sheets of paper (thin)
  • A pencil


Step One

Start by writing a word using a pencil, black pen, or marker. Then outline the word with a pencil.

a man writing on a white paper
Drop Shadow - Image by Rivers of Steel

Step Two

Add the drop shadow by filling the space with a black marker. Ensure that the marker is completely dry before erasing any pencil lines or adding highlights.

a man writing on a white paper

Drop Shadow - Image by - Rivers of Steel

Step Three

Finally, erase the letter patterns to make them look clean. 

man erasing patterns on his lettering
Drop shadow - Image by Rivers of Steel

Cutting Shadows

a sample of cutting shadows

Cutting Shadows - Image by Made by Mighty

If you want to spice up your shadows, consider cutting them. This style is generally used in digitized lettering, but it's also effective in analog forms! Rather than pasting letters normally, this method involves cutting gaps out of them to create the illusion of shadows. 

What You'll Need

  • Drawing pen
  • Black pens to use for outlines
  • Black markers/brush pens


  1. Using your marker, write any word you like.
  2. Make the letters big so that it's easier to cut out later.
  3. Once you're done, use your pencil to draw a line around the outside of each letter.
  4. Now, start cutting out gaps in each letter. The bigger the gaps, the more pronounced the shadow effect will be!
  5. When you're finished, go over your letters with a black pen.
  6. And that's it! You've created a simple yet effective shadow effect in your lettering.

Colored Shadows

a word with colored shadows

Colored shadows - Image by Singing and Lettering

The method of adding colored shadows is almost the same as the simple shadow. But instead of using grey, you may try any color.

What You'll Need


  1. Prepare your tools.
  2. On your paper, draw the letters you want to include a shadow using a pencil or pen. 
  3. After drawing your letters, it's time to add the shadow. Using your colorful marker or pencil, add a shadow around the outside of your letters.
  4. The shadow can be as simple or as intricate as you like.
  5. Once you're satisfied with your shadow, add some color to the paper around your letters. This will help make the shadows pop and add extra interest to your work.
  6. Experiment with different colors and combinations until you find something you like.
  7. And that's it! You've created a simple yet effective shadow effect in your lettering.

Tip: When doing the colored shadows, choosing a darker tone of the same hue is best. However, you may also go with something within the same color family.

Overlapping Shadows

a sample of overlapping shadows

Overlapping shadows - Image by Spoon Graphics

In this style of shading, only one color is used. The shadows create the illusion that certain parts are on top of others.

What You'll Need

  • A set of brush pens in the same color family (at least one light, medium, and dark). 
  • A pencil
  • Instead of thin paper, you will need to use at least 200 grams in weight


  1. Write a word with the lightest color in your collection. The base color is the palest hue of ink in your set.
  2. Decide which pieces should be on top. As a guide, use a pencil to mark them.
  3. Next, add a layer of medium shade.
  4. Be sure not to go over the lines you've already drawn - this will result in a muddy color.
  5. Now add shadows with the darkest hue.
  6. Start at the bottom of each letter and add strokes that come to a point.
  7. Remember to add more pressure as you get closer to the top of the letter.
  8. You can add as many layers as possible, but let each layer dry before adding the next.
  9. You can now see that some of them overlapped the others.

Tips When Adding Shadows to Your Letters

Use a Light Source

When adding shadows to your letters, it's important to think about where the light is coming from. This will help you determine how dark or light it should be. In general, the lighter the light source, the lighter the shadows will be. Conversely, the darker the light source, the darker the shadows will be.

Choose Your Colors Carefully

The colors you use for your letters can also have a big impact on the overall look of your design. For example, using a light color for the lettering and a dark color for the shadow will create a more subtle effect. To make your shadows stand out, try using a light color for the shadow and a dark color for the lettering.

Pay Attention to Detail

As with any design element, paying attention to the details is important when adding shadows to your letters. Be sure to adjust the opacity of your shadows so they're not too light or too dark.

Be Consistent

To create a beautiful, harmonious design, you should always be consistent! Use the same colors for all the letters and ensure they are properly aligned. If you add shadows to some letters, add them to all the letters in that word or phrase. Inconsistent use of shadows can create a messy and unprofessional look.

Experiment with Different Looks

Don't be afraid to experiment! Try different techniques and looks until you find something that you like. You can experiment with anything that you think will make your letters pop. For instance, try different colors for shadows, don't just stick to grey and dark colors. And who knows, you may just come up with a new trend!

Adding Shadows to Letters FAQ

a word shadow

Shadow to Letters - Image by Seven Brush Strokes

What are the other ways to add depth to letters?

In addition to shadows, you can also add depth to letters by changing the lettering color or adding a gradient. For instance, if you want to make a 3D effect, you can use two similar colors but have different lightness values. 

The darker shade will appear closer to the viewer, while the lighter color will appear further away. You can also create a gradient by fading one color into another. This will give the illusion of depth and make your letters appear more three-dimensional. 

Experiment with different color combinations and gradients to find the perfect look for your project. With a little practice, you'll be able to add amazing depth and dimension to your letters.

Do all shadows have to be dark?

No, shadows can be light or dark, depending on the look you're going for. This is something people make mistakes with when adding shadows to letters. Making all shadows dark can end up looking heavy-handed and unbalanced. 

Instead, try using a mix of light and dark shadows to create more depth and dimension. Light shadows can highlight the curves of letters, while dark shadows can add contrast and give the lettering more presence. Experimentation is key - don't be afraid to play around with different shadow placements until you find a look you love.

Are there any special tools needed to add shadows?

There's no need to spend extra money on tools to add shadows - all you need is a pen and paper (or any other material you can write on). However, if you have a budget, you can try investing in some high-quality art supplies like pencils, pens, and paper to help you create better drawings overall. 

Can I add shadows to digital lettering?

Adding shadows to digital lettering is easy to take your lettering game up a notch. It adds dimension and interest, but it can also be used to create a more whimsical look. The best part about adding shadows to digital lettering is that you can do it in Photoshop! 

If you're new to Photoshop, don't worry - there are plenty of tutorials online that can walk you through the process step-by-step.

Can I add style and shadows at the same time?

In addition to adding shadows to your letters, you can also add embellishments such as flourishes or borders. You can also try different font weights. For instance, adding a thick border to your letters can give them a more formal look, while adding a thin border can give them a more delicate look. 

If you want something more playful, you can try adding flourishes to your letters. And if you want to add some contrast, you can use a heavier weight for the shadow and lighter weight for the lettering itself. There are endless possibilities for adding interest to your lettering, so don't be afraid to experiment until you find the right look for you.

What type of writing tool is best for adding shadows to letters?

Any writing tool can technically be used to add shadows to letters. However, some tools may be better suited for the task than others. For example, brush pens may be easier to use because they will give you more control over the thickness and darkness of the shadow. 

Alternatively, you could use a pencil or pen to add shadows by adding short, consistent strokes around the outside of the letter. 


So, what do you think? Are you inspired to try adding shadows to your letters? It can be fun, and the results can be really impressive. Remember to start with something easy as you get comfortable with the different styles. Slowly work your way up to a more complex dimension. 

Do you have any questions or suggestions about the topic? Let us know in the comments below - we would love to hear from you!

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