Start Drawing Faster, With Greater Accuracy — No Extra Tools Required!

November 18, 2019

Using the transfer method to draw your layout has the advantage of not requiring any special tools. Just grab your 4B and 4H drawing pencils.

It's also one of the simpler methods to learn, as it basically works like carbon paper.

Here's the short version of how it works:

  1. Use a 4B pencil to apply a dark, even coat of graphite across the back of your reference image.
  2. Tape your reference image to your drawing paper.
  3. Trace the edges of the reference image everywhere you want an outline on your drawing paper.

To get the best results…

...I suggest the following tips and tricks.

You will need to print your reference image at the same size as the drawing you want to make. Most regular copy paper works fine.

The graphite that you put on the back of your reference image will be transferred to your drawing paper to make the outlines. This means that the paper for your reference image should be fairly smooth to allow the graphite to have the best contact with your drawing paper.

It must also be paper that you can draw on with pencil. Photo paper or other coated papers won't work.

When applying graphite to the back of your reference, use a scrubbing motion with the side of the 4B pencil. You'll want to build up a good coat of graphite so that your outlines will be transferred to your drawing paper clearly and without needing to apply too much pressure.

A trick to minimize the amount of graphite you use is to put your reference image on a well-lit window or glass door. With your reference illuminated, you can see the exact edges of the outline you want to transfer and add graphite to those spots only.

Once your graphite has been applied to the back of your reference image, position the reference on your drawing paper in a place that feels balanced and well-composed.

To attach your reference image to your paper, I strongly recommend an acid-free removable artist's tape. It is much easier to take off this tape without tearing your paper or leaving any adhesive residue.

Run a strip of tape along the top edge of your reference image to fix it to the drawing paper. Be sure to tape only on this one edge so that it will work like a hinge. This way you will be able to flip up your reference image as you're tracing the outlines and see which lines you've already transferred to the drawing paper—and how well they've transferred.

If at all possible, don't remove this reference image until you've completed all of your outlines. If you absolutely must remove the reference, make a light pencil line on each corner of the paper that runs over the reference and onto your drawing paper. When the reference is replaced, simply realign the paper so your lines match up.

With your reference in place, use your 4H pencil to lightly trace the outline of your subject. The keyword there is “lightly.” Pressing too hard will dig into your drawing paper below and leave a noticeable indentation.

The pressure from your 4H pencil will transfer the dark, loose graphite on the back of the reference to your drawing paper, leaving you with a carbon copy that you can bring to life!

When you've finished tracing the outline, remove the reference image and clear away any excess graphite from your drawing paper with an eraser. If your transfered lines are a bit dark, use your kneaded eraser to gently lighten up the lines, bringing them to where you can see them just well enough to stay within the lines.

That was easy, right?

Now you're ready to focus on the fun of adding depth, dimension, and true-to-life detail to your drawing—and you didn't even have to pull your hair out trying to nail proportion and perspective!

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Meet Darrel Tank

Darrel Tank is a professional artist and educator with over 45 years of experience. His greatest strength lies in his ability to demystify and declutter the art of drawing, making it fun, formative, and completely accessible to anyone!

His drawings and illustrations have been featured in over 400 publications and his unique 5-Pencil Method drawing DVDs and online classes have inspired countless artists from around the globe.

Darrel invites you to pick up a pencil, grab your paper, and discover the joy of drawing for the first time or all over again!

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