Cel shading

One art style I have a particular interest in is Cel shading. Cel shading is a technique used in 3D video games to attempt to invoke the style of more traditional forms of media such as traditional animation and Illustration (EG Comic books).

Most lighting engines attempt to replicate the way lighting works in the real world, which can create fantastic looking scenes with good contrast and emphasis. However, Cel shading tells the engine to work differently to create a more simplistic lighting effect which invokes an almost cartoon like aesthetic with exaggerated lighting effects for stronger contrasts. This can work well for both establishing a more light hearted/ cartoon like art style and also for lowering the requirement of high fidelity art assets. Cel shading often allows assets to focus less on high poly counts and use texturing for their main detailing.

Initially, I had the misconception that Cel shading also including adding an outline to non background (And sometimes background) Objects to help them stand out. This was in a similar fashion to the way both comics and traditional animation do to help objects in motion stand out from detailed backgrounds. However, I remembered (And was pointed towards at the same time) Zelda : The Wind Waker that used a Cel shaded art style with no outlines. Looking at the majority of other Cel shaded games, I have noticed that outlines are popular with the style, but not indicative of it.

One use of the technique I particularly admire is Telltale game’s “The wolf among us”.

A comic book style made stronger by the use of Cel shading

Using both heavy Cel shading and outlines both as a 3D element and throughout their textures, Telltale created an art style
that looked almost exactly like a comic book in motion. Whilst the animations themselves lack some impact in many areas, I found this style visually appealing and it certainly used its Cel shaded lighting to great effect.


I was originally going to question whether or not the style could be used for more serious games due to its inherent cartoon like stylings. However, I quickly realised that games such as Borderlands and Mad world have proven its not only possible, but also very effective if used correctly. It, when coupled with good effects and tonal lighting can really set a good mood with both light and dark tones depending on requirements.

I enjoy the Cel shaded style greatly and despite it being used less in the current generation, I imagine it will always have a place if used correctly.







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