When I started as a beginner Product designer,
I always wondered how professional sketchers draw so fast and so well!
One of their main secrets is drawing these imaginary lines called: Contour lines.

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How to draw Contour Lines easily | Tips & Tricks
How to draw Contour Lines | Tips & Tricks

How to Draw Contour Lines | Tips and Tricks

What are Contour Lines

Contour lines are imaginary lines that give you information on the surface of a volume.
You can communicate on the form by drawing them very fast. You don’t have to spend time on shading with a gradient of grey or color.

This is a great time saver for designers who need to draw and show their ideas fast.

Drawing Contour lines on a cone
Drawing Contour lines on a cone

Contour lines are more than just imaginary lines.
They are powerful tools that can help you visualize and communicate the shape and form of any object in three dimensions. Whether you are sketching a product, a character, or a landscape, contour lines can help you express your ideas quickly and effectively.

In the example below you can see how you could show a bent surface by curving the lines on the surface.

What are the benefits of drawing with contour lines

1- Show your ideas fast

Contour lines are essential for designers who need to draw and show their ideas fast.
As a designer, you need to be productive. On the opposite of an artist, you have a deadline to follow.
This is why being able to drop your ideas fast on paper can be critical.

2- Save time

Contour lines can help you create realistic and expressive sketches that capture the essence of your design.
By using contour lines, you can save time and energy, and focus on the most important aspects of your design.
Plus, since you have not spent too much time on a sketch, it would not be an inconvenience to redraw more proposals for your project.

3- Contour lines help to instant visualize in 3 dimensions

Contour lines follow the curves and contours of a surface, creating a sense of depth and perspective.
They can be drawn with different thicknesses, densities, and styles to convey different effects.
For example, thicker and darker lines can indicate sharper edges or shadows, while thinner and lighter lines can suggest smoother surfaces or highlights.

Contour lines to show flat and organic surfaces fast
Contour lines to show flat and organic surfaces fast

Draw Contour Lines on a Box

To draw contour lines, we split the volume into two equal parts.
Imagine if you were chopping the volume in two!

Chopping the volumes in half with contour lines gives a sense of balance to your drawings.

Contour lines and basic cross sections
Contour lines and basic cross-sections

We use simple rules of geometry to divide and subdivide the volume if necessary.

Subdivide volumes if necessary
Subdivide volumes if necessary

Draw Contour Lines on Organic Forms

You can divide organic forms as well.
In the picture below we can see how I subdivided the “bean” form in 3 in the vertical direction.
The height being proportionally more elongated, the bean appears more voluminous.

Create 3D Organic forms fast with contour lines
Create 3D Organic forms fast with contour lines

I like to add some facial expressions to some of my random forms.
The bean form reminded me of the cartoon LARVA.
Try it! It is pretty fun.
Use the middle contour line as the axis of symmetry.

Organic form basic section and Larva cartoon :)
Organic form basic section and Larva cartoon 🙂

Drawing Contour Lines on Cylinders

Contour lines for cylinders
Contour lines for cylinders

Draw a slanted section drawing an ellipse that uses the contour lines as ‘touching points’

Cylinder oblique cross-section
Cylinder oblique cross-section

Imagine you apply a force to your volume.

  • Imagine you are punching it, and it gets deformed.
  • Draw the contour lines to express that 3D form modification.
  • Add some extra contour lines all around to create a “Wireframe”

Contour lines wireframe
Contour lines wireframe on cylinder

With the contour lines, you can easily signify if it is a bump or a hollow.

Practice drawing 3D volumes using the wireframe
Practice drawing 3D volumes using the wireframe

Draw Contour Lines on a Cone

When you draw your basic volumes with contour lines, practice cutting them with sections.

  1. First, draw the full volume trying to understand how it works. Your lines may be stiff, it’s ok.
  2. Then redraw it and highlight the part you would like to keep.
  3. Then redraw only the section part with confidence. Your lines should be more fluid.
Study with a "stiff sketching style".
Studying a form with a “stiff or clumsy sketching style” is ok.
Then only you can start drawing with a “smooth sketching style

Contour Lines Practice Time!

Explore all kinds of forms to apply your contour lines.
Feel free to add some facial expressions to make it more fun!

Practice drawing contour lines as much as you want!
Practice drawing contour lines as much as you want!

Let me know in the comments or by email
if you want to learn more about this powerful technique, so I can create more video tutorials on it.

  • I remember how much easier drawing became for me using contour lines.
    And I believe it will be for you too!

Draw a maximum of ideas fast

As you might know, time management is essential for a professional designer.
He needs to deliver his work on time, and come up with a maximum of ideas!

This tutorial is also a great application of contour lines for random forms.

I invite you to go next with this sketching tutorial:
Create Infinite Drawing Ideas |with the Random Product Technique

 Random Product Technique

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