How To Draw 3D Shapes That Look So Realistic, They Pop Off the Page

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If you want your drawings to leap right off the page, you need to master 3D shapes. Implying multi-dimensional form with just paper and a pencil is a simple skill, but also a crucial foundation for realistic drawing. Once you know how to do it, you can apply your knowledge in endless ways.

You don’t need any special tools to draw in 3D ( get a great video tutorial on 3D drawing here! ). I’m using the standard pencil and paper, but feel free to try pens, colored pencils, crayons — whatever inspires you.

Tips for Drawing 3D Shapes

  • Straight lines are key, so use a straight edge whenever you can. Rulers are a go-to but anything flat and sturdy will do.
  • Be aware of the angles of lines. Cubes, for instance, require parallel lines to give them their shape, while cones can have a variety of angles. Compare angles by holding your pencil up to the lines. If they match, you're probably okay. If you want to get really technical, you can use a protractor.
  • Whenever possible, draw with pencil to get the angles and lines correct. Remember that erasers are your friend.

1. How to Draw 3D Triangles

There are two types: prisms (above left) and pyramids (above right).

1. When drawing a prism, start with a simple, flat triangle and a small horizon point at the side (it doesn’t matter which side). Where you place the horizon point determines the length and angle of your prism.

To create a pyramid, you'll be drawing three lines. In the center should be a straight line. From the top of the straight line, draw two angled lines of the same length. It's okay if the angles aren't exactly identical.

2. Give your prism a 3D appearance by drawing two lines: one off the top corner and one off the base corner of the triangle, closer to the horizon point. Draw the lines lightly all the way to the horizon point. Then, close the prism off with a single line that’s the same angle as the nearest side of the triangle. Erase the lines extending to the horizon point.

For the pyramid, you'll finish the drawing by connecting the three lines at the bottom. Draw a dotted horizontal line to connect the two angled lines. Then use angled lines to connect each of the other two angled lines to the center line.

2. How to Draw Cubes

You can draw cubes in lots of ways; here are two.

1. To start the first cube, draw two squares that are the same size. They need to overlap, but how much is up to you.

Draw the second cube much like you did the pyramid. This time, you'll make three parallel vertical lines of the same size. The two outer lines should start and end at the same point, and the middle one should be shifted down a bit on the page.

2. Now it's all about connecting corners. On the first cube, use a straight edge to draw angled lines to match the corresponding edges. So you'll connect the bottom right corner of the first square to the bottom right corner of the second square. Repeat this will all four corners.

For the second cube, connect the top points of the three lines with angled lines; repeat with the bottom points. Draw a point directly above the center line — the distance between the top of the center line and the point should be about the length of the center line. Connect the tops of the outer two lines to the point with angled lines.

3. How to Draw a Cylinder

1. Start with an oval. Don’t worry if you can’t draw one perfectly right away — I had to redo mine many times. You could also trace a flat oval-shaped item instead.

2. After you have the oval down, draw two straight, perpendicular lines at either end. These lines can be as long as you want and can go in any direction.

3. Connect the straight lines with a curved line that mimics the roundness of the oval.

Tip: To make sure the bottom and top of your cylinder match, try turning the paper upside down. It’ll change your point of view, and any inconsistencies will stand out.

4. How to Draw a Sphere

You can draw a sphere in a bunch of ways, ranging from simple to highly complex. No matter how much you want to challenge yourself, a drawing of a sphere will always start with a simple circle. Draw one freehand, or trace a stencil or household item.

Simple Sphere

A sphere looks best when it has shading, but you can also make it appear 3D by drawing contour lines from top to bottom. Make sure the curves mimic the curves of the circle, with less exaggeration as you get closer to the middle.

More Complex Sphere

While drawing a realistic sphere is worthy of its own tutorial, I do want to show you one quick and easy way to do it with shading. This method looks more lifelike than the simple sphere above, but it's also much faster than drawing a super detailed sphere.

If you want to try simple shading, try a gradient from light to dark across the sphere, as in the example above. It looks as if the light is coming from the left, so the lightest point is on the left of the sphere and the darkest is on the right. See how it looks more spherical?

5. How to Draw a Cone

A cone is a cross between a cylinder and a pyramid. So let's take what we know from both shapes.

1. Start with a horizontal oval. It doesn't have to be perfect.

2. To finish, draw the two sides of a triangle. The line for each side should start at either edge of the oval, and the two lines should meet in the middle above the center of the oval.

Drawing Other 3D Shapes

Whatever shape you draw, remember to check your angles and make straight lines. Here's how I made the ceramic polygon shape above come to life.

1. By starting with a straight edge, I was able to draw the outline of the shape.

2. I drew the inside of the shape to convey its multi-dimensional feel. Comparing angles — from the object itself — helped me when drawing. I still had to go back and fix some lines, though.

3. To give the shape even more presence, I shaded parts of it based on the angle of light. This conveys the different surface planes and sense of form. Shading is a complex subject, and it's definitely worth taking the time to learn more about it.

Take a few minutes to practice your 3D skills anytime, anywhere, and try to mimic objects you see everywhere you go. Soon your drawings will be (almost) popping out of your sketchbook, and you'll be on your way to drawing just about anything you can imagine.

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