3D graffiti is a genre that is characterized by a lack of solid outlines and the sparing use of black and white. As with many forms of graffiti, this method is highly technical and requires a high level of skill as well as a detailed knowledge of the use of light, angles, shadows, and depth. Although much of graffiti can be considered 3D, this particular form results in a highly realistic depth that appears to be tangible.
As with other forms of graffiti, a basic sketch is initially laid down on the wall. The graffiti writer then decides on an incoming source of light on which the angles, shadows, and depth of the rest of the piece will be based. Usually, two light sources are incorporated in 3D graffiti — one primary, or main, and a secondary, or reflective, light. These two light sources often come from opposing sides.
The sketch is then filled in. In 3D graffiti, the artists shade according to the light sources, with lighter shades toward the light source and darker shades away. Usually, the fill consists of three tones of the same color: a higher, lighter tone, a mid tone, and a lower, darker tone. The use of these tones lends depth and helps to render the transition of color through light and shadow.
More muted colors are used in 3D graffiti as this creates a more realistic look. Brighter color, as well as significant use of black and white, tend to make a piece appear more flat and cartoonlike. Artists apply surface detail to 3D pieces to create textures and contours. Often, this is achieved by the use of high-contrast colors.
The background of a 3D graffiti piece is often created using the darker tones of a color in the outer corners and then bringing in a lighter tone toward the center. This technique helps the piece to appear more three dimensional as it pushes the image visually forward and off the wall. Drop shadows, consisting of darker areas painted under the elements of the piece, give depth and make the image appear to stand up.
Other techniques can also help a piece appear more three dimensional, including fogging. Fogging gives the appearance of one element of the piece existing behind the other. Another is to include shadows within the elements of the piece, emphasizing depth, transition, and texture.
One of the most important aspects of successful 3D graffiti is preciseness — this makes the piece appear more realistic. Therefore, cleanup and sharpness of lines is essential. The last step is to emphasize the lights and darks in the piece to make them appear sharper. This is where the previously sparse use of white is utilized because white highlights have a much more significant effect in bringing the elements together and making the final piece stand out.