What Is Lineweight?

How to Vary the Strength of Your Lines

Women drawing in an artists studio

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At its most basic, the term 'lineweight' indicates the strength of a line. This is how light or dark the line appears on the surface. By varying the lineweight within your drawings, you can add dimension and importance to certain elements. Various materials and the pressure you put behind it will affect the the strength of your lines.

What Is Lineweight?

Lineweight is sometimes spelled as two words: line weight. It is a term used frequently in art to describe the relative 'weight' of the line against the background or support. In simpler terms, lineweight refers to the strength, heaviness, or darkness of a line.

Lineweight is governed by the pressure on your drawing tool as you make your line. If you apply less pressure on the tip, the line will be light and it darkens as you increase the pressure. This is because the pencil leaves behind more medium on the paper as the pressure increases.

You can also alter lineweight by altering the angle so that more of the tip is in contact with the paper. To see this, pick up a pencil and draw a line while holding the pencil at a 45-degree angle. Now, make another line with the pencil standing straight up, using only the very tip. Do you see how the line changes?

Lineweight by Medium

You will find that you cannot always alter lineweight with the same pencil or pen by varying pressure or angle. While there may be a change, sometimes you want more. That is why artists have a variety of options available for a single medium.

For instance, trying to get a dark line out of a hard 5H pencil is nearly impossible without drawing multiple layers. This is where you'll want to pick up a softer pencil like a 2H or even opt for a black like a 2B.

You may also struggle to get significant variation out of a ball-point pen or 5H pencil. You will find that making a switch to a softer pencil or a flexible gold-nibbed pen gives you more flexibility. With these two options, you can lift off for the faintest marks or press hard to get a nice, strong line.

When working with charcoal or a chisel-point pencil, varying the angle of the tip can create a great variation in line width.

Don't Forget About Context

Art is all about perception and the surroundings of a line will affect the perceived lineweight. For this reason, context is also important.

You can relate this to the way you perceive volume when there is background noise versus how loud it seems in a silent room. In a similar manner, a gray line will look heavier on bright white paper than it does on a middle-gray paper. That same line will also appear heavier when surrounded by delicate marks than it would in a field of strong, energetic marks.