How to Crosshatch

You’ve seen that cool way of shading in comic books using lines.  Grab a pen or marker.  Today you will finally learn how to crosshatch!

Some Background: Ink vs. Graphite

When you shade with a regular pencil, which by the way is a graphite pencil, it’s fairly easy to get the values you want.  Some of the most intuitive ways of controlling value with a graphite pencil is simply through pressure.  Pressing harder will give you darker marks.  Using less pressure on the pencil will result in lighter marks.  It doesn’t take long to discover that you can also apply layers of graphite to achieve your value changes as well.  The more you layer your pencil, the darker your drawing becomes!  There’s also the different grades of pencils one can draw and shade with.  Shading with a 6B pencil will give you darker values when compared to the same marks created by a 2H pencil.

When you draw with an inking tool such as a pen or marker pressing harder is not too effective at changing the value of the mark.  Most pens or fine markers come in one variety…black!  Layering a pen may work, sort of,  but not in the same way we would layer our values with a graphite pencil.

This problem of controlling value with a drawing tool that contains ink was a problem that perplexed the earliest artists.  The solution they came up with was crosshatching!


Learning to Crosshatch

Assuming your pen can only make a single value, that value being black we can use a clever system of lines to create the illusion of different values (tones) from far away.  That’s what crosshatching does!  Crosshatching is using parallel sets of lines that overlap at different angles to achieve an area of value.  This can indeed be thought of as “layering” the pen but it is distinctly different from the pencil layering that you are used to.  In fact our crosshatched lines will have to be well structured and thought out in advance.

Let’s use the square below for our crosshatch testing ground!  We’ve drawn a square and we want to shade it darker using a pen.  We don’t want the square to be pure black so we are going to crosshatch the square to arrive at the desired value.  By desired value I mean somewhere in between the white we have now (bare paper) and the black we would get if we were to fill in the square completely with the pen.

How To Crosshatch | Step by Step Lesson | STEP 0


To begin we can add a set of diagonal lines.  Notice that we are confining these lines to the area we want shaded in.  You’ll also notice that great care has been made to keep the lines parallel and evenly spaced.

How To Crosshatch | Step by Step Lesson | STEP 1


Up until this point we really only have hatching.  Crosshatching begins with the application of our second set of lines.  We want to draw another set of lines only this time we want these lines to be on a different angle.  Notice how great care was still used for keeping the lines parallel and evenly spaced!  Crosshatch your second set of lines…

How To Crosshatch | Step by Step Lesson | STEP 2


As you would expect we can repeat this process.  We can continually add more sets of lines on top of the previous sets of lines we have drawn.  Now it’s time to draw our third set of lines.  This time let’s use a set of lines that all run horizontally.

How To Crosshatch | Step by Step Lesson | STEP 3


Let’s crosshatch just one last set of lines.  With our pen we are going to draw all of these lines so that they are vertical in nature.

How To Crosshatch | Step by Step Lesson | STEP 4


Do you see what’s happening?  The more sets of lines we use the darker the value becomes.  Of course you can see the lines up close but crosshatching is meant to be drawn very small with thin lines and viewed from farther away.  Crosshatching is a clever way of making a drawing tool that only yields black or white appear to have more values (half-toning).


Should I Use A Ruler to Crosshatch?

That’s really a matter of personal preference and your ability to draw semi-straight lines by hand.  I have seen great examples of crosshatching accomplished with and without the use of a ruler.  When drawn by hand your lines will wobble a little bit.  As long as they don’t wobble too much and don’t veer off course so that they are no longer parallel to the other lines in the crosshatched set, you can expect good results.  Fortunately as long as your inked lines are “good enough” it’s the totality of the lines working together that makes crosshatching effective.  Try crosshatching with a ruler and without a ruler and see which way you prefer.


Some Basic Crosshatching Tips

Parallel Draw one set of lines at a time and keep those lines parallel to one another.

Spacing – Keep all your lines the same distance apart.

Shielding – You can use scrap paper to block out other areas that you want to avoid.  This helps you avoid accidentally drawing a line too far.

Rotate Drawing – Sometimes is easier to rotate your drawing and draw your  crosshatched sets of lines the same way.  How do you like to draw lines?  Once you realize this, simply rotate your drawing for each new set of lines and draw lines on an angle most comfortable to you.


Is this your first time crosshatching?  I’d love to help…ask a question below.





  1. Thank you for the tips!
    Using a T-square, elbow, ruler…. is there a special technique to get your lines evenly spaced and parallel, that is fast? a special ruler maybe? i’m just starting uni and hatching is taking me forever!!! thank you

    1. John Morfis says:

      Most people do it by eye as far as I know… but if you wanted precise spacing you could hold a ruler perpendicular to your hatching and mark off your spacing with a series of pencil dots I suppose. That can get a bit mechanical though. Must of the charm of hand made art is that it is hand made and has subtle variations!

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