Line art

Line art

Printmaking art techniques such as engraving, etching, woodcut and lithography are covered more fully in their respective articles.

Line art is any image that consists of distinct straight and curved lines placed against a (usually plain) background, without gradations in shade (darkness) or hue (color) to represent two-dimensional or three-dimensional objects. Line art can use lines of different colors, although line art is usually monochromatic.

Line art emphasizes form and outline, over color, shading, and texture. However, areas of solid pigment and dots can also be used in addition to lines. The lines in a piece of line art may be all of a constant width (as in some pencil drawings), of several (few) constant widths (as in technical illustrations), or of freely varying widths (as in brush work or engraving).

Line art may tend towards realism (as in much of Gustave Doré's work), or it may be a caricature, cartoon, ideograph, or glyph.

Before the development of photography and of halftones, line art was the standard format for illustrations to be used in print publications, using black ink on white paper. Using either stippling or hatching, shades of gray could also be simulated.

Techniques and media


As line art, an engraving can either be the end art itself, or it can be the means of producing multiple print copies of ink on paper. In printing, the engraving is made on a plate of metal. Ink rolled onto the plate is retained only in the incised lines, and then transferred to paper by pressing. The high-ground of the engraving thus represents the blank areas on the finished print.


Woodcut (block printing) is the art of preparing a suitable image onto a block of wood and transferring this by ink to a sheet of paper. Owing to the labor involved in removing the wood from all the blank areas, there is a tendency to use wider areas of solid color. Images produced by wood printing thus may or may not always constitute line art, as the proportion of the total image is filled in with ink.

See also: Etching.

Ink brush

In ink brushing, a brush is used to apply ink directly to paper. It permits great freedom of stroke form and width.

Pen and ink

In the pen and ink technique, a pointed still tipped pen is dipped in an ink bottle to draw fine lines on paper. A style appearing not unlike that produced by quality etching is common. Line width is usually constant, using instead a greater number of strokes per unit area to give density to a region of the piece. Use of cross-hatching to imply shadow or texture is common. Large areas are frequently filled in with many short closely-space parallel lines to imply darkness. Edward Gorey is a writer/artist noted for his use of this technique.

In comics illustration, the inker is responsible for refining the penciler's work into line art.


Like pen and ink, (Western) calligraphy uses pen and ink. In this technique, however, the tip of the pen is broad and flat-tipped, giving rise to different stroke-widths depending on the direction in which the pen is travelling.

Pencils and pens

To this very broad category of pencils and pens, are relegated all of the school-house-scribblings, cartoons, diagrams, penmanship, and fine-art which are characterized generally by monochromatic lines of constant-width on paper, body parts, plaster casts, and restaurant napkins (during lunch-time Eureka-moments).

Computer graphics

Line art in computer graphics may have increased in popularity since line art uses vector graphics, which require significantly less computer memory than raster graphics.

See also

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