I've been trying to learn how to achieve more organic drawing and shading styles in my illustrations. The attached drawing is a good example of what I'm trying to accomplish. Do you think this was done by hand? If not, how do you suppose the artist achieved this style in Illustrator? I've seen this style in a lot of digital illustrations. I've tried using grain texture on a black to white gradient but it always comes out looking very cookie cutter and digital.

Dot Shading

  • It's hard to tell if that's jpg artifacting in the blacks (pants & shoe) or if it's light spots from uneven coloring like you might see in a drawing. I want to say this was done by hand, but I'm not certain.
    – Manly
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 17:15
  • Looks like pointillism. Whether it was done by hand or not, I'm not sure. But there's usually a filter out there for everything (for better or worse) so I'd look at some "pointillism filters".
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 17:21
  • That was almost certainly done by hand. However you could try searching for "distressed halftone patterns" for either photoshop or illustrator. If you want a more handmade feel, get a black fineliner and draw a lot of tiny dots on a larger scale. This way it'll look better as a whole. You could use live-trace on illustrator to refine your drawing also.
    – johnp
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 19:43
  • @johnp I'm unclear on the second part of your answer. Starting at, "If you want a more handmade feel." Can you elaborate? I'm not sure what you mean. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 14:32
  • @JonathanBuck Sorry if I was unclear. A fineliner is an inking pen: they come in different widths. Staedtler is the most common brand where I am. They give your drawing a flat, even finish. The benefit of this is: if you live-trace the drawing with illustrator from a scanned image, the live trace should give accurate results. Once vectorized, you can then add other textures easily. Some artists create their own illustrator swatches from handrawn patterns to incorporate into their digital drawings.
    – johnp
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


This was almost certainly penciled in and inked with pen and marker. You can achieve that sort of stippling in Illustrator if you want - zoom in and use the 'Blob Brush' like you would a pen.

  • and if they use a stylus or a touch screen, it will be a less tedious.
    – Yorik
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 17:52
  • @FirstDraft I was hoping for a less tedious approach. But I forget that tedious portions of an art piece are sometimes what sets your work apart the rest. I'm looking into a Waycom Intuos to enhance the outcome of my digital illustrations. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 14:30
  • @JonathanBuck There's definitely ways to generate a stippled gradient with software, but I can guarantee that it won't look "organic" to the eye. Compare artists like Noli Novak and Randy Glass to the research that cites Adrian Secord's work and you'll see the difference. A drawing tablet may help capture more character than using a mouse, but it still doesn't match up to the irregularities you get with ink on paper (and no undo option) Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 20:33
  • Of course there's a place for generated / composited textures too, but each tool has a different timbre Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 20:37

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