How To Use A Value Scale, Printable Scale And Value Cards

Value Scale And Value Card PDF
Value Scale

What is a Value Scale?

A value scale is a simple drawing tool that helps you see and draw values by comparison. The scale above has a sliding range of values on one edge and ten gradated sections on the other edge.

I’m aware that other artists use a value scale that is the opposite of mine, with No. 10 as the lightest value and No. 1 as the darkest. However, I use the photography value scale. I received a lot of my fine art training in photography, and this is the scale I use throughout my site.

How to use a Value Scale

Let’s say you’re drawing a portrait of someone with blond hair. From any distance away, hold the value scale next to the hair, squint your eyes, and, see what part of the gray scale matches. Then check the value against the drawing.

Take as many “readings” as you need too. For example you could check to see what value the highlights, mid-values, and shadows of the hair are.

How To Draw A Value Scale

If you’re trying out a new brand of drawing paper, it’s very useful to draw a value scale on it using the type of hatching you plan to use. You’ll see how the texture effects each value, and you’ll get a good idea of the values you can and can’t create on the paper.

  • Draw 5 to 10 one inch squares.
  • Leave the first square blank.
  • Make the last square (No. 5 or 10) as dark as you can without squashing the grain of the paper. Here’s how:

– Fill the square using the softest pencil first (4B to 9B depending on the brand of pencil) and then go over that with the sharp tip of a harder pencil (2H to HB).

The harder lead will act like a “stump” and push the softer lead into the grain of the paper that it skipped over and make the value darker.

Repeat until the square is as dark as it can be without completely flattening the paper texture or grain.

  • Gradate the middle squares into steps using a combination of pencils grades for each step.

    – In other words, 2H, 3H,4H and 5H pencils won’t easily create one stepped value each and you won’t work like that anyway. Realistically, you’ll use whatever pencil you have in hand to start shading and then switch to another to darken the value, so it’s much more natural to create the steps with a combination of pencils.

  • You can use the hard lead over softer lead technique for all values. For the lighter values, for example a “3” value, you could hatch a 4H over a 3H lead.

Here’s a chart with pencil grades and their general value ranges. (Each brand is different though, so test your pencils to find their range.)


Mid Gray and White Value Finder Cards

In some circumstances values fool the eye. For example, look at the right side edges of the squares on the value scale. They look as if they lighten as they get nearer the darker value beside them, and darker to the left where they approach the lighter value.

That’s an optical illusion.

Actually, those squares are solid gray. Surround any of them with a single value and you’ll clearly see that.

A “value finder card” is just a piece of paper with a hole cut in it that you can use to surround a questionable value with a known value.

Note: I call these “value finders.” If they have a proper name, I don’t know what it is. :)

White Value Finder CardA white value finder is useful for finding very light values which can fool the eye because they are relative to how light the drawing paper is.

Make the white finder out of the drawing paper you plan to use, since different brands come in a fairly large range of values.

Mid Gray Scale

A mid gray (No. 5 on the scale) is a quick way to spot check values. Just hold it up to see if a value is “lighter than” or “darker than”mid gray, and then check the drawing and adjust.

About Carol

I'm an artist, an accidental author, and lover of life. I grew up in Yorktown, Indiana, and I've been writing (and drawing) this website since 1999.
This entry was posted in Drawing Technique, Fine Drawing Skills, Shading Form. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How To Use A Value Scale, Printable Scale And Value Cards

  1. Maurice says:

    Thanks Carol
    This is the most detailed tutorial on Gray Scale I have seen yet. I will be using it for drawing as well as for photography.

  2. otella says:

    This help me a lot, in drawing now thank you.

  3. Marilyn Key says:

    Trying to find ways to fix drawings that just don’t have the oomph I want them to.

    • Carol says:

      Hi Wayne,

      Probably the “punch” you’re looking for is in value difference. Sometimes you really have to pull those highlights (try an electric eraser) and punch those shadows (try an “Ebony” pencil with a very sharp point). When you’re working in grayscale, you gotta work with what you got! Good luck!

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