How well do line drawings depict shape?

Forrester Cole, Kevin Sanik, Doug Decarlo, Adam Finkelstein, Thomas Funkhouser, Szymon Rusinkiewicz, Manish Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


This paper investigates the ability of sparse line drawings to depict 3D shape. We perform a study in which people are shown an image of one of twelve 3D objects depicted with one of six styles and asked to orient a gauge to coincide with the surface normal at many positions on the object's surface. The normal estimates are compared with each other and with ground truth data provided by a registered 3D surface model to analyze accuracy and precision. The paper describes the design decisions made in collecting a large data set (275,000 gauge measurements) and provides analysis to answer questions about how well people interpret shapes from drawings. Our findings suggest that people interpret certain shapes almost as well from a line drawing as from a shaded image, that current computer graphics line drawing techniques can effectively depict shape and even match the effectiveness of artist's drawings, and that errors in depiction are often localized and can be traced to particular properties of the lines used. The data collected for this study will become a publicly available resource for further studies of this type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number28
JournalACM Transactions on Graphics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 27 2009
EventACM SIGGRAPH 2009, SIGGRAPH '09 - New Orleans, LA, United States
Duration: Aug 3 2009Aug 7 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


  • Line drawings
  • Non-photorealism
  • Shape perception


Dive into the research topics of 'How well do line drawings depict shape?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this