How Do You Get White Lines in a Pencil Drawing? (Without Going Mad)

How to get white lines in a pencil drawing header image. Tiger with white whiskers and two otters in sparkling water.

Ever wondered how artists draw those tiny white lines in a pencil drawing? How do you draw whiskers? It looks insanely difficult, doesn’t it? But in actual fact, it’s incredibly easy, once you know how.

There are three reliable ways of creating white lines in a pencil drawing. Score the paper with a blunt tool, shade over the indent and it leaves a white line. Use the very sharpest edge of an eraser pen to swipe the drawing to make a thin white line. And use a battery eraser pen, sharpened to a point, to draw a fine white line.

I use all three methods and each has its place. I’ll start with the indenting technique I used when I first got started, then explain why the Tombo-Mono eraser pen is far better, and finish with the battery eraser pen I use now, and that was a game-changer. Keep reading.

White line tools. A battery eraser, eraser pen, and indent tool

Make White Lines in a Pencil Drawing By Indenting The Paper

When I discovered this method I was convinced that I’d made a giant leap forward. I could now produce thin, sharp, white lines, in a way that was previously impossible.

How had I managed before? Did I really draw two parallel lines and shade around them? What a fool.

Now my work was on a different level, or so I thought.

You see this method is great when it works, and a dog’s dinner when it doesn’t. It’s inherently dodgy. Think about it, the technique involves ruining the paper itself. That’s one hell of a risk to take.

Having said that, it’s a great technique when used judiciously.

Indent (Score) the Paper

The idea is simple. You plan out the drawing beforehand and before you do any shading, you score the lines into the paper. For this technique to work properly you must know exactly where you intend to place those white lines.

The lines appear as you shade over the indents with the side of the pencil. It’s like magic. The white lines are crisp and clean. There’s no other way you can get a line to look this white.

If, later on, you want to add some white lines by rubbing out an area of graphite and scoring the paper again, the line will be a faint grey. You will lose the ‘zing’. That’s OK, if that’s what you want, but otherwise don’t be surprised if it looks dull.

My first experiments using the indent method were made using a toothpick. The lines were super fine and very effective. Take a look at the monkey below. The cheek whiskers were all drawn using a toothpick.

Monkey drawing showing how to make white lines in a pencil drawing  by indenting the paper
Whiskers were scored first using a toothpick

Can you see how I managed to lighten the tone from the top of the head to the shoulders? The gradation makes the whiskers look fuller around the lower cheeks and chin. Look how thin the lines are over the shoulders.

What Things Go Wrong With The Indent Method?

If I had used the wrong tool to score the paper, the whiskers would not look real. The point was to scale, so it worked. Judging the right scale and choosing the right size tool is tricky.

At other times I’ve used an empty Biro or a knitting needle to score a larger line and latterly I’ve used a scoring tool, which is a metal needlepoint with a tiny ball at the nib.

These things go wrong:

  • It’s not always easy to get a smooth tapering line
  • Sometimes you don’t press hard enough for the indent to work properly
  • Sometimes you misjudge where the line should go
  • Occasionally you ‘kink’ the line and it looks weird

How to Correct Mistakes With The Indent Method

If you go badly wrong at the outline planning stage, you may as well start again. The time it takes to rescue the damage is not worth the effort. Otherwise, it is possible to disguise a mistake most of the time.

Let’s say you drew a wonky line and want to get rid of it. You can’t rub out the indent so you will have to use a sharp pencil point to draw inside the grove. Be careful to match the surrounding tones which may vary along the length.

Maybe the white line was too thick. Use a hard pencil point to draw a line along the shadow side of one edge.

To correct a wonky line, or kink, rub out the shading and redraw the line lightly where it went astray. Meticulously shade around the repair, then shade over the original clean groove as before. Disguise the kink with a darker lead and hopefully the mistake will vanish.

A tiger yawning. A drawing detail. Showing white lines in a pencil drawing. Whiskers drawn using a toothpick
I used a toothpick to draw the whiskers

Make White Lines in Your Pencil Drawing By Using an Eraser Pen

Before I’d ever heard of eraser pens I achieved similar results by cutting wedges out of plastic erasers. No need to do that anymore. A ‘pen’ is so much easier.

I use a Tombo-Mono eraser pen, the smallest in the range. You use them as you would a propelling pencil; when the rubber tip gets worn, you propel it forward.

I use mine primarily to draw layers of fur or hair. I will drag the nib over the surface of the shaded area, in the same direction as the fur. I’ll shade over lightly and then do it again. Each layer adds depth until you get to the final stage. The highlights can be picked out using a sharp edge of the eraser

orangutan and baby pencil drawing, showing the texture of the hair made using a Tombo-Mono eraser.
I used a Tombo-mono eraser to create the texture of the fur

To get the very thinnest lines, you must ‘sharpen’ the nib. Cut a sliver off the tip with a craft knife for a fresh sharp edge. Use it by swiping the pen across the shading. I’ll twist the pen for a new edge and repeat the action. After a few swipes the edge will be lost and I’ll sharpen it again.

Sharpening the tip of an eraser pen with a craft knife.
Sharpening the rubber tip

If you go wrong you can draw over it and start again. You’re not damaging the paper so no harm is done. The worst thing that can happen is losing the bright white. After reworking the paper the chances are the line will be grey.

Make White Lines in a Pencil Drawing By Using a Battery Eraser Pen

This is my preferred method.

A battery-powered eraser pen is a spinning rubber nib that rubs out graphite more effectively than anything else. It removes the graphite almost perfectly. If I want to restore the sparkle in a lost highlight I will use this tool.

The idea is to sharpen the end to a fine point, just like you would with a pencil.

Sharpening the rubber nib of a battery eraser with wet and dry paper
Sharpen the nib with wet and dry paper

I’ll whittle a new nib with a craft knife and refine the point by spinning it, at an angle, on some emery paper (wet and dry). I want to make the finest point possible.

I will draw the lines with this pen.

A male orangutan drawing with a detail highlighting the effective use of a battery eraser pen
All the fine lines were drawn with a battery eraser pen

Used skillfully, this cheap battery operated eraser is a precision tool. I can make a line as thin as a human hair if I so wish. It’s insane.

The trick is to remember to keep the point sharp, it blunts very quickly. To get the most out of the tool you must develop the habit of constantly resharpening it after every few strokes. It will become 2nd nature.

You’ll get through a lot of nibs so make sure you have a good supply of refills to hand.

If you’re drawing whiskers, there’s no need to pre-plan. Leave the task to the final stages and draw them in, by erasing them out. If it all goes wrong, no problem, pencil over the mistake and do it again. And keep doing them again until it looks good.

If a battery pen is brilliant for white lines, it’s just as good for the highlights.

A detail from a drawing of two otters playing in water. All the highlights were created using a battery eraser
The whiskers, droplets, and eye highlights, were all drawn with a battery eraser pen

What happens if you draw an eye and the sparkle goes wrong? There was a time that you would never get that shine back. Now you can, with one dot of your pen – PING

I use a Jakar eraser pen. Get one, they are only a few dollars, you won’t regret it.

comparison photos of white lines using three different tools. A battery eraser, eraser pen and indent tool
White line comparisons using an HB pencil

Making White Lines With a White Charcoal Pencil on Tinted Paper

Erasing a fine line or highlight on tinted paper serves no purpose. The paper itself is your mid tone and your highlights must be added with a pencil. In such cases I use a charcoal pencil sharpened to a point with a craft knife.

Try using General’s charcoal white pencils or white chalk pencils. The charcoal pencils give you a graded range from hard to soft. The softer grades are richer but crumble more readily.

You can erase and blend them as you would with graphite.

A Final Word of Caution

Be aware:

  • You cannot scratch the ‘lead’ off the paper in the same way you can with colored pencils.
  • White pencil crayon doesn’t work over soft graphite
  • Ink gel pens are not permanent and will yellow with age.
  • Acrylic and gouache paints may flake off when painted over graphite.

Conclusion

I’ve experimented and made all the mistakes you can now avoid. Use a combination of all three techniques using these super cheap tools. They’re all you need to create fine white lines in a pencil drawing.

They can all be purchased for around $15, it’s a no-brainer.


There are more tips in the following posts:


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How to get white lines in a pencil drawing image for Pinterest.
Male orangutan drawing and two tiger drawings.