Is Tracing Cheating In Art? 10 Pros And Cons

Is it Considered Cheating if you Trace in Art?

This is something many artists tend to ask, especially when starting out, and the answer isn't precisely as straightforward as you think.

Essentially, it isn't cheating to trace when doing art. There is no such thing as cheating in art, unless you are outright stealing someone else's work or idea and selling it as your own. Tracing can be a great way to get an artwork started, and it can also be a great way to improve your skill as an artist.

Many great and established people in the world of art were admitted to tracing, especially when they were starting out. It can help you get an accurate depiction of the object you're trying to draw, and it can speed up the process significantly. While many people begin their artistic journey by tracing things to use as a guide, they also usually stop tracing once they've developed the skills needed to draw an object the way they want it without tracing.

If you've been asking yourself if it's okay to trace when you're doing art, you've come to the right place. In this article, we take a look at whether tracing is okay in art and some pros and cons that come with making tracing a part of your process. Read on to find out more.

Is Tracing Cheating In Art?

Is Tracing Cheating In Art? 10 Pros And Cons
Is Tracing Cheating In Art? 10 Pros And Cons

The short answer? No, it isn't.

This is because tracing has been used by many successful and memorable artists for years on end. It is a great way to speed up making an artwork and ensure that the final output is accurate and correct to form. There are many people out there who are quick to call the process cheating as it is a shortcut to accurately drawing specific images.

It's also said that cheating hinders improvement, especially when it comes to their observational skills and translating what they observed to their canvass. That being said, there are so many artists out there who regularly use tracing as part of their process.  

They obviously don't believe that it's cheating. After all, in the world of art, the final output tends to have more gravity than the process of how it was made. So as long as you're not outright stealing someone else's art and passing it off as your own, you are definitely not cheating.

Tracing is an excellent practice for artists, especially when they're starting out. In fact, some people will recommend using the tracing technique in your art until you reach the point that you don't need to anymore. There's nothing negative about tracing, but as an artist that's starting out, you'd eventually want to reach the point where you can make your art without needing to trace anything. However, there are artists out there who still use tracing in their creative process as it benefits them and their art style. And that's completely fine too, especially if the art that you're creating is creative and still uniquely yours.

While it isn't precisely cheating to trace when making art, it does come with some pros and cons, which we'll get to in the next section.

The Pros Of Tracing In Art

In this section, we take a look at how tracing can be an excellent technique for people to use in making art. Read on to find out more.

  1. It Allows You To Directly Produce A Drawing

This may be the most obvious benefit with tracing. Having a direct reference that one can trace over when sketching or creating art can help you produce an accurate and relatively easy image. After all, you can't have a much clearer drawing guide than an image to trace over.

Observational skills and being able to accurately depict what's being observed is a crucial skill in art. But it doesn't come easily nor does it come quickly. So, while developing their skill, they can get tracing paper and trace over images to practice getting things accurate.

  1. It Allows You To Copy Things Quickly

It's essential to take time and not rush your art, but sometimes, some things need to be done more quickly than others. And when you're pressed for time, it may not be the best idea to start entirely from scratch.

Through tracing, you can work much quicker. This works incredibly well if your artwork is going to have a lot of elements that you don't necessarily have time to draw from scratch. If that happens to be the case, you can simply trace over something so that you get an accurate sketch quickly, giving you more time to work on other aspects of the artwork.

  1. Tracing Allows You To Be A More Prolific Artist

As it is with any art form, the best way to grow is to keep creating. And that rings especially true with visual arts. Being able to produce a lot will help you generate a following since you will have more art for people to enjoy. Art takes a lot of time, and building a full portfolio might take a while for artists to start out.

And as mentioned earlier, tracing can significantly speed up the creative process without sacrificing quality. One of the best ways to get better as an artist is to continually make something, honing your skills, and tracing can be an excellent tool for any artist, beginner, or not.

  1. Tracing Paper Is Affordable And Easy To Use

Art materials can be costly, in fact, it should be no surprise that artists invest a lot of money into their equipment. After all, good equipment doesn't make a good artist, but it can definitely help them make the art they want to easier. And while a lot of art equipment is expensive, tracing paper isn't.

You can quickly get tracing paper in a local art store without spending too much, and using it is very easy. All you have to do, really, is place the paper on top of whatever you want to trace and get to work. A lot of artists will recommend having tools that are easy to use and easily accessible as that will allow you to work quicker and more frequently, altogether producing more art.

  1. Modern Light Panels Allow You To Change The Brightness

Back in the day, the only way artists could really trace was to use tracing paper and get to work. Sometimes, they'd build a complicated setup to have a backlight shining through the table to make things a bit easier. But now, we have light panels that can make things much more manageable.

These light panels serve as a surface for artists to trace on. In essence, it's a lightbox that a person can draw on. The light from the panel is projected through the surface that makes it easier for one to see the image they're tracing. And with modern technology, you can now adjust the brightness on these tools to give you more or less light. This will make tracing way more manageable, but it can also give you more room to customize your setup and working environment.

  1. You Can Draw A Subject Flawlessly

This is probably where a lot of the controversy from tracing comes from. But let's face it, being able to draw an image correctly without spending too much time and effort is an excellent plus for artists, and tracing allows you to do that. You can't have a reference that's more direct than an image to trace. Using the tracing technique, you can see all the minute details that you might not be able to see or draw without tracing.

Many people will say that this is why tracing is cheating, but in actuality, it's actually one of the reasons tracing can be a great technique for artists. It allows them to produce accurate and aesthetically pleasing images quickly and without too many mistakes and imperfections. Ask just about any accomplished artist out there and they will say that tracing is an easy and quick way to draw a perfect and accurate image.

The Cons Of Tracing In Art

Now that we've gone over the pros, it's time to go over some of the negatives that come with tracing.

  1. You Aren't Learning About Proportion

Learning how proportions work in art is integral. Translating a 3-dimensional image onto a 2-dimensional canvass is one of the most valuable skills an artist can learn. And while tracing will allow you to draw accurate proportions, it can also be a shortcut to getting things right. Artists and students spend a lot of time and effort carefully studying proportion to allow them to translate what they see and observe into a piece of art.

And if you're tracing, you skip out on learning the subtleties of drawing proportions that may hinder you from developing your skills in the long run.

  1. You Aren't Developing Observational Skills

One of the most common practices in art school is observing a subject and drawing, painting, or sketching. This will help improve how you see things and how that is translated into your art. When tracing, however, you aren't necessarily observing anything and copying it. In fact, all you're doing follows a line with a pencil or a pen, which stops you from getting better at observing subjects that you want to turn into art.

  1. Tracing Outlines Is Not The “Proper” Way

Traditionally, one learns how to draw by observing subjects and drawing them onto a canvass. This also involves carefully studying proportions, shapes, colors, and lines. Tracing takes all of that away as you're merely copying something and going over the lines, which is far from the “right” way to learn art.

That being said, there is no right way to learn art and one can do it any way they want, at whatever pace they want. Veering away from traditional techniques is one reason tracing gets a lot of flack, especially for purists and traditionalists.

  1. Tracing Paper Can Produce An Inverted Image

While you may be producing an accurate copy when tracing, there are times when the final product is inverted. This could be because of the way you were tracing or the way your guide was placed. An inverted image may be nice to look at sometimes, but it can also be distracting and disorienting, and that can make or break an artwork.

Alternative Ways To Trace

Here are some methods you can use if you decide to trace in your art.

  1. Tracing Paper

This is the most straightforward method, as well as the most cost-effective. Simply get tracing paper, place it nicely and securely on top of the image you want to trace, then get to work. The only downside to this is that tracing paper has a distinct look that may not always fit your vision for your artwork. Click to check the available price of tracing pads at Amazon.

  1. Light Panel

This method was mentioned above, and is a great way of tracing that allows you to use various canvasses. While they may cost some money, light panels provide a table where you can draw and sketch while tracing. It does this by shining a light through both the image you're tracing and the paper you're tracing on. This light is adjustable, which is great for artists who work with various canvasses and styles. Click here to view the best light panels available at Amazon.

  1. Image Load Projector

These are also known as the analog projector and would probably be more familiar to us older folk. These are the same projectors we saw in grade school as a kid. They allow you to trace very quickly, but the downside is that you'll need a physical copy of the image you want to trace. This can also result in you tracing inverted images. Click to check the available price on Amazon.

  1. Digital Projector

This is a great way for artists to trace, but it could be costly. Digital projectors can cost a significant amount of money, but it will give you the option to trace just about any image you want accurately and effectively. If you've wanted to up your tracing game while also honing your traditional art skills, a digital projector is a great way to go. Click here to see the best digital projectors on Amazon.


Tracing in art is definitely not cheating. And while it may be great for you to develop your skills to a level where you don't need to trace anymore, it's important to remember that many successful artists trace images when doing their art for their whole career and are still successful.

What's more important for artist is to remember to stay creative and not to steal artworks. If you make sure to do that, then, by all means, trace as much as you want. Just remember to develop your art skills naturally as well, and you might find that one day, you can produce an even better image without needing to trace at all!

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Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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Is Tracing Cheating In Art_ 10 Pros And Cons