In this page from Sin City by Frank Miller, the image is shaded perfectly to contrast the light and dark, illuminating only eye features, in this case the mans eye.
Figure 1. In this page from Sin City by Frank Miller, the image is shaded perfectly to contrast the light and dark, illuminating only the man’s eye.

Chiaroscuro is an artistic lighting choice used in comics and film in which the focus point or subject of a scene is brightly colored and/or contrasted with a dark background. The purpose of chiaroscuro is to increase the scene’s dramatic tension by exaggerating the subject’s importance using color contrast.

In the comic book world, chiaroscuro is centered around creating sensational effect. In Figure 1,  chiaroscuro is used to “trick your brain into feeling more emotion” (Riojas.)  The dark shading around the man’s eye allows it to stand out and gives it a dramatic aura.  Chiaroscuro is also used to draw the eye in an intense way. An example of this type of use is in shown in Figure 2; the Bat Symbol is clearly illuminated against the background, making a clear visual aid for the action.

This page from Batman and Robin Commission, drawn by Ronan Cliquet, shows off chiaroscuro by the illumination of the Batman symbols in the sky and on his chest.

Chiaroscuro is not only used for drama, however. It can also give the impression of realistic features to the scene or characters (Sauvaget & Boyer). In addition, it can be used to “enhance visual contrasts between objects in a scene” (Sauvaget &Boyer). The effect can be used to outline a shadow in a frame, a knife in a kitchen, or an important person in a room full of people. The technique of chiaroscuro is used in expressionism to “achieve a heightened illusion of depth” (Njuguna).

This use is also apparent in Figure 3. The moon is illuminated by the dark sky and the shading contributes to the high contrast between the two objects.

This frame is from Flex Mentallo Man of Mystery by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is a good example of chiaroscuro by the focus of the man shaded in black.
Figure 3. This frame, from Flex Mentallo: Man of Mystery (by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely), nicely exemplifies the use of chiaroscuro to contrast the light of the moon with the dark of Wally Sage.


Njuguna, Y. (n.d.). THE USE OF CHIAROSCURO LIGHTING IN FILM (Noir). (with images, tweets) · YvonneNjuguna. Retrieved December 6, 2015,

Riojas, E. (n.d.). Film from a clearer world. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from

Sauvaget, C., & Boyer, V. (2010). Stylization of Lighting Effects for Images. Retrieved September 30, 2015. IEEE Xplore Digital Library.