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[Drawing] Edges

category: Design | course: Drawing | difficulty:

One of the biggest issues people have with drawing is that they don’t know what lines they should and shouldn’t draw. Should I draw lines at every spot the object changes colour/texture? Or should I draw lines everywhere there’s a change of shape? Or should I solely draw the outlines? These questions have no definite answer, but a few approaches can be used.

Hard, Soft and Lost Edges

We can identify three different types of edges: hard edges, soft edges and lost edges.


Hard Edges signal a sharp or sudden edge. For example, buildings often have lots of hard edges because of their “squaredness”. Likewise, a line that separates one object from another is also hard, as you can’t smoothly transition between two different objects.

Soft Edges signal a subtle, smooth or curved edge. For example, wrinkles in clothes are soft edges as you can’t really create sharp folds in cloth.

Lost Edges are, well, edges that are lost. When two objects next to each other have (almost) the same colour, the edge between them disappears.

It’s your job to determine the edges in your drawing, and most of all determine their type. Really, it comes down to personal choice


Even though the course has just started, we’ve already reached a topic that hugely influences the style of your drawing.  Simple cartoons and comics, for example, usually have only hard edges. Realistic paintings, on the other hand, try to employ a lot of soft and lost edges for realism or artistic effect.

Besides personal choice, what you’re going to use the drawing for also has an impact. If you’re designing characters for a game, you can’t use lost edges as the characters will be moving around, and you’ll probably use hard edges to make the character stand out amongst all sorts of backgrounds. If you’re creating a background drawing for a website, you’ll want to use as little hard edges as possible, because it shouldn’t scream for attention.


In the end, you’ll only learn to use edges well by experimenting and looking at art in the style you’re after.

A Different Approach

If this seems vague to you, there’s another approach I think is useful to know. Here it comes: edges are lines shared by two shapes. When trying to find your edges, look for shapes that are colliding. If they are radically different, there’s a good chance it’s a hard edge. It they are similar, there’s a good chance you should go for a soft or lost edge. Next chapter will be all about shapes, and will hopefully clarify this statement of mine.

Pointy Edges

It’s important to understand that hard edges are not equal to pointy edges, which are used for things such as spikes or knifes. You can’t really draw such sharp points with one stroke, as you’ll end up with a way to smooth corner. Instead, draw these points as two lines intersecting, and perhaps erase some of the thickness at the end.

Open Video


To practice giving your lines more meaning, look at the images below, and draw each one of them two times.  The first time, copy the image exactly and identify the types of edges. The second time, change one edge to another type.


Test your knowledge with the quiz!
What are the properties of Hard Edges?
Reduces complexity and increases unity
Signals sharp and sudden edges
Signals subtle, smooth or curved edges
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