Four basic tools for creating digital art


When drawing for drawing’s sake, I really prefer using traditional mediums. Nothing can beat the texture, control and final product of a drawing made with ink, graphite, and paper. That being said, I have yet to find a process that can bring that into a good final product for digital use. I don’t have a super nice scanner and I don’t have the expertise to photograph art effectively. So when it comes to creating something that needs to live on the screen, here’s the tools I use and what they cost:

1. Macbook Pro

I’m a Mac guy. Nothing shocking here. I’m sure that Windows would do the job just as well and probably be a lot cheaper.

2. Wacom Intuos Pro tablet

I have an older version of this tablet. I believe it retailed for about $250 when I bought it about three years ago.

(I originally bought it when I was going through a DeviantArt phase and was captivated by timelapse videos of people creating amazing art in Photoshop with seemingly magical ease. I ponied up and bought a tablet thinking that digital art fame and glory would immediately follow. It didn’t. I quickly realized a few things: creating great digital art requires the same amount of practice and skill as creating great traditional art. Sure there are a few advantages and shortcuts but owning a tablet is not a silver bullet.)

Overall I don’t love drawing with the Wacom. The disconnect between my hands and the result (drawing on a tablet, results on the screen) is difficult to get used to. The Cintiq tablet would probably fix this but I’m not ready to shell out more money. Also the drawing area on my tablet is very small and restrictive. I’m constantly running up against the edges of the tablet and having to zoom and readjust my position. It makes loose, smooth gestures almost impossible. On the positive side, the tablet and the stylus are amazingly pressure sensitive and give you such subtle variations and can even detect the angle at which you’re holding the stylus. Also, I love that the stylus doesn’t require batteries or charging. Cons aside, the tablet does the job.

3. Adobe Photoshop

I’ve been using Photoshop for fifteen years, that’s the only reason I use it. The commands and interface are all muscle memory to me. Photoshop itself is amazingly powerful and can do just about anything you want. That being said it’s also bloated, surprisingly buggy, and way too expensive. The bloat is probably the biggest problem: Photoshop is a tool for photographers, web designers, digital artists, game developers, print designers, you name it. It’s super powerful but also incredibly unfocused. If you just want to do digital art, Photoshop has a ton of features that you’re not going to need and the learning curve will be high. My recommendation: If you’re just getting started in digital art I’d recommend finding something cheaper and more focused. If you simply must have Photoshop, I recommend buying it on their photography plan which will cost you about $120 a year.

4. Photoshop Brushes by Kyle T. Webster

The final (very key) component in creating digital art in Photoshop is finding good brushes. The brushes that they give you out of the box, frankly, suck. So you’re either going to need to figure out how to navigate Photoshop’s complicated brush settings or you can download some pre-built brushes and use those (do it!). When I’m looking for a brush, I’m looking for something that will get close to a natural looking texture and line, i.e. a want a digital drawing that looks like it was made with a 2b pencil. I’m also looking for a brush that will work with my tablet and respect things like pressure sensitivity and stylus position. I’ve found that hands-down Kyle Webster’s brushes are the best. They’re also very affordable, the most expensive collection being $14.00. That’s a steal.

That’s it. Overall my setup costs about $1,730 by far the most expensive item being my Macbook Pro. If you already have a decent computer, you can probably get started for about $300-$400. Just remember going digital does not make you a better artist. Personally the biggest struggle I have with drawing digitally is to get it to match the quality of traditional art. The biggest advantage is that it’s easier and quicker to get an end result that is ready for production.

What do you think? Have you tried out these tools and know of something better? Let me know in the comments.