After comparing the pros and cons of traditional art versus digital art I felt like the next step was to follow it up by going over digital art tools and software. It can be just as difficult to choose traditional tools but depending on where you live you have the advantage of going to a store to see, touch, and possibly test some of the tools you’re interested in using. However, deciding what digital tools will work best for you can be less clear, especially if you don’t have anything to compare it to.
Before we start comparing software or brushes, let’s go over hardware. If you’re getting into digital art you may or may not have a computer already. I don’t want to assume everyone has a computer because not everyone has one. Choosing your computer and accessories will be based on two factors, portability and affordability.
Do you want or need something you can take with you and what you able to afford? From there, we can break it down into three categories desktop, laptop, or tablet. Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional, if you’re just getting into digital art and you don’t have a computer the best route to go is laptop or tablet. Being able to create anywhere can be very helpful. In no particular order, here’s a list of devices is based my experience and research.
- Microsoft Surface Pro
- Microsoft Surface Book*
- Lenovo Yoga 920
- Lenovo Yoga Book
- Samsung Notebook 9 Pro
- Apple Ipad Pro
- Apple MacBook Pro*
* = Devices I’ve personally used for digital art
Without diving into specifications (specs), these devices standout as good options because of their performance capability and pen display use. I put the Apple MacBook Pro on the list despite not having a pen display because combined with a third-party pen display or graphics tablet it is a very useful machine.
As for general specs, when dealing with graphics intense programs you are going to want 8-16 GB of RAM, at least a 256GB hard drive, and at minimum an Intel® Core 2 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor; 2 GHz or faster processor (explaining processors can be confusing so we're going to leave it at that). I prefer a large internal hard drive but also have external drives for backing my work up.
If you’re interested in reading more about any of the devices listed above, here are a few links.
Now that we’re over that mountain, onto software. There are a variety of free and paid options. For the most part you get what you pay for, however, when it comes to the paid options you’re usually paying for continuous product support, updates, compatibility, and security.
I started my digital art journey using Adobe Photoshop. During my high school and early college years I had the software available to me at school. However, for home use, I pirated the software because I couldn’t afford software that cost upwards of $1K. After transferring to an expensive art school to study graphic design the software was made available to me legally through a partnership between the Academy of Art University and Adobe. Shortly after Adobe announced the Creative Cloud, a subscription-based model. This made their software more affordable but there are other options listed below.
Open Source and Free Options
- Clip Studio Paint*
- Procreate (iPad)
- Autodesk Sketchbook
- Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo
- Corel Painter
* = Software I’ve personally used for digital art
Most of the paid software offer free trials. However, the free options are a great place to start because most of the software has a similar user interface and you can upgrade to a paid option in the future.
The computer you have will determine what accessories you may want. Those accessories could include a second monitor, graphics tablet or pen display.
Why would you want a second monitor? A second monitor can be great for displaying reference photos while creating art. It’s not practical to carry a second monitor when traveling but it’s great for your home studio. In the past, I would connect my laptop to a second monitor. However, today I primarily use my desktop with my pen display as a second monitor. When I'm using my laptop I don’t pair it with a second monitor.
A graphics tablet or pen display will be useful for you if your laptop doesn’t have a built-in pen display like the Surface Book. What exactly do I mean by graphics tablet? A graphics tablet is an input device consisting of a flat, pressure-sensitive pad that allows you to draw on it with a special stylus, to guide a pointer displayed on the screen. This will take some getting used to because you’ll be drawing on a surface but looking at your screen. (I actually wrote a blog post reviewing a graphics tablet I've used.)
That’s where pen displays make digital drawing easier to comprehend. With a pen display you are looking at the surface you’re drawing on similar to traditional art. The main downside to these devices is the cost. A pen display can cost you anywhere from $600-$5000. When I got mine I choose a lesser known brand that makes a middle of the road product. Before that, I had owned inexpensive and higher quality graphics tablets. Below is a list of the two from low to high is cost and quality.
- Turcom TS-6610 Graphic Tablet
- XP-PEN Star 03
- Ugee M708 Art Design Graphics Drawing Tablet
- Huion H610 Pro Graphic Drawing Tablet*
- Wacom Intuos*
- XP-Pen Artist Series (Available Sizes 13” and 15”)
- Ugee 1910B Graphics
- Huion KAMVAS GT-156HDV2
- Huion KAMVAS GT-191
- Huion GT-220 V2* (I use the V1)
- Huion KAMVAS GT-221
- Wacom Cintiq 13HD
- Wacom Cintiq 22HD
* = I’ve personally used for digital art
There are a lot of options for devices, software, and accessories. My biggest recommendation to you getting started with digital art is keeping it simple and lean as possible. No one starts out with the best or latest and greatest gear. I like technology but I often wait until I need to replace something or it’s more affordable because there’s a newer version.
I hope this gives you an idea of how to start your digital art journey. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below.