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When in vertex paint mode - the object being painted is displayed as shadeless. This makes painting on a complex model difficult - as you cannot really see what you are doing. You can use dirty vertex paint to make the geometry visible - but this is not ideal.

This is improved in the Blender render textured view using multitexture shading which gives you a shaded view.

In cycles the object remains shadeless in both shaded and textured mode.

Can this be shaded so it is not shadeless when using cycles?

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    $\begingroup$ @Garrett Your screenshot looks shadeless to me (as in there are no dark/light areas dependent on light sources). $\endgroup$ – gandalf3 Mar 7 '14 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ @gandalf3, thanks, I was confused there. I've deleted my comment. Also, I have made an edit to OP's question which probably doesn't make sense and I can't figure out how to delete my edit (which has yet to be reviewed) $\endgroup$ – Garrett Mar 7 '14 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Garrett No worries :). The edit will probably be rejected, but if it isn't it can be rolled back later. $\endgroup$ – gandalf3 Mar 7 '14 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ Since 2.71, you have to select Blender render to have a shadeless model without a wireframe. $\endgroup$ – ChameleonScales Sep 20 '16 at 15:13
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This was changed in 2.71, now solid view is displayed with shading, and wireframe view is shadeless:

enter image description here

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