Getting Started with Digital Art
Hey you! You with the ambitious look in your eyes!! Are you looking to get into digital art? Well you've come to the right place.
Whether you're someone who's never once drawn a thing in your life, or you're a traditional artist looking to learn the digital ways - I'm going to try and cover enough options to help you get started.
So first off, you need something to actually draw with. The mouse is incredibly painful to use as a pen! Let's take a look at some nice graphics tablets.
There are two main kinds of graphics tablets: one with a screen and one without. The ones with a screen are much, much more expensive, as you'd expect. These usually plug into your computer.
Additionally, there are also portable screen tablets which can be fantastic but expensive.
COMPUTER PLUG-IN TABLETS
Huion, as far as I can tell, is the cheapest brand of tablet without losing too much quality. They seem to be quite a popular tablet overall from what I've seen with online reviews.
The main Australian store appears to be Hinterfield Australia. At the time of writing this, most of them are out of stock without a price listed, the cheapest one in stock being $69.99AU.
However, the US website actually has a section where they allow you to choose an Australian adapter! So you can still get in on those sales.
Wow, these are crazy cheap you CRAZY AMERICANS. YOU'RE SO LUCKY!!
The Huion KAMVAS Pro 13" is $399US, currently on sale for $299.25US. If you wanted to treat yourself to a nice big 21.5" tablet, they start at $659US. Damn that's a bargain.
Looking at the Australian Huion store, they sure do have a lot of tablets out of stock or only available for preorder. They have the 21.5" KAMVAS GT-221 Pro for $1,119AU though, which is still cheaper than Wacom's Cintiq 22HD by a long shot but it still seems almost better to just buy the tablets from the official US store and order the AU plug!
Parblo tablets are something I've only heard of in the past 6 months or so. I've been seeing reviews pop up a fair bit on Youtube speaking highly of these, it's making me really want one!
The US Parblo store has the A609 tablet for $51.99US, not too bad of a price in my opinion. They also have tbe A610 and A610s for not much more.
Unfortunately for Aussies, the best I could seem to find was one on eBay for $75.99AU, shipping from China.
According to the website, the Coast 22 21.5" tablet is just $499US!?
Maybe I should move to the US...
For Australians....ugh, so far it's mostly just eBay posting them from China. There's a Coast 13" tablet for $599AU and a Coast 22 21.5" for $785.99AU. Since they're shipping from China, the power cords are likely not Australian. We might be better off waiting until this brand is popular enough that they have Australian power cables.
Wacom is typically seen as the industry standard. However, they have a tendency to get pricey. If you want 100% guaranteed quality and can afford it, you can be pretty confident with the quality of Wacom brand tablets.
If you want one in Australia, JB Hi-Fi tends to be pretty great when it comes to deals. You may want to keep an eye on a sale or see what they can do for you if you want to bundle it with something else. You could also simply not want to wait for postage and just go pick one up in store. I think Officeworks has some, too.
Wacom's Cintiq tablets are usually considered the best of the best. They come in a few sizes and they also now have "Pro" versions. I'll just list the prices for the regular 13HD and the 22HD since they're the most affordable.
I personally own a 13HD and I really love it.
HONORABLE MENTION: YIYNOVA
Yiynova is another brand, however I'm not entirely certain on their quality levels above the rest of the tablets listed here, which is why I won't go into detail about them. They appear to only have screen tablets, but they're about as affordable as Huion.
Apple iPad Pro
The US store has the 10.5" tablet from $649US and the 12.9" tablet from $799US.
The AUS store has the 10.5" tablet from $979AU and the 12.9" tablet from $1,199AU.
For Apple products, this seems surprisingly low priced to me honestly.
Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft's Surface Pro is a pretty sturdy little 12.3" tablet-PC. I personally have a Surface Pro 3, which I still use as a portable workstation or when my PC is cracking a wobbly. These tablets have touch-screen capabilities and full Windows 10, so they can install any art program that a regular PC can.
The Surface Pro (newest version) starts with Intel Core m3 / 128GB SSD / 4GB RAM is $799US.
The Surface Pro (newest version) starts with Intel Core m3 / 128GB SSD / 4GB RAM is $1,199AU.
Seemingly the same price as a 12.9" Apple iPad Pro!
Wacom Mobile Studio Pro
Wacom actually have their own version of tablet-PC, similar to the Surface Pro. They come in two different sizes, the 13" and 16". They come with Windows 10.
The website boasts 3D capabilities, so it seems like quite a powerful machine. Being a Wacom tablet, they are significantly more designed for digital art than the Surface Pro is, but this also comes at a price.
The 13" starts with Intel® CoreTM i5 / 128GB SSD / 4GB DDR3 / Intel® IrisTM Graphics 550 for $1,499.95US.
The 13" starts with Intel® CoreTM i5 / 128GB SSD / 4GB DDR3 / Intel® IrisTM Graphics 550 for $2,649AU.
I can already hear my wallet weeping in despair.
What I recommend...
If you're a beginner artist, unsure how far you'll go with digital or are someone looking to buy a tablet for your child, you probably want to either get a regular screen-less tablet within your budget, or stick with cheaper brands like Huion or Parblo for screen tablets if you absolutely want a screen. You don't want to spend so many hundreds or even a thousand dollars on something that you may not end up using and may need to sell later for less.
If you're a professional traditional artist and/or you're keen to get professional with digital art, I highly recommend sticking to screen tablets if you can afford one. They are much better for long-term use, both when it comes to physical comfort and the general art-making process.
It's much easier to paint on a screen as you would on paper than it is to use the screen-less tablets and look up at your monitor. I hurt my wrist quite badly in 2013 from working too much on my Intuos Pro, as my wrist had to rotate at much harsher angles. The awkwardness of it can also make your work process slower. If you simply can't afford one though, I recommend trying to get a Wacom brand screen-less tablet as you can guarantee the quality.
As for portable tablets, unless you already want an iPad Pro or Surface Pro for general tablet reasons, I wouldn't recommend getting one of these specifically for art alone. Unless your home PC is very slow and can't handle digital programs, getting a tablet that plugs into your home computer or laptop is probably the best option. The Wacom Mobile Studio Pro is seemingly more aimed at working professionals who want a portable workstation.
If you DO just want the iPad Pro or Surface Pro anyway though, they can be really fantastic. Especially when it comes to travelling. Or perhaps you already own one and you're keen for the next part of the article!
I also HIGHLY recommend shopping around online for all of these tablets to see if you can get a better deal somewhere like Amazon or eBay, or perhaps a local store having a sale.
Now that you're equipped with your painting weapon of choice, you need a program to actually make the art with!
There's quite a large range of programs available for PC, MAC, Linux and portable tablets for a range of prices.
I'm going to cover quite a number of them so that I can try and help you find the best program suited to your needs!
PC, MAC AND LINUX
Krita is a fantastic, completely free program. The website has plenty of tutorials and resources to help you get started. It seems great for beginners and a few of my friends even use it professionally.
Price: $19US ($25AU)
Paintstorm Studio seems like a really affordable, very capable digital painting program. I have not personally tried it out yet, but this artist I love seems to mostly paint in it and gets great results.
CLIP STUDIO PAINT
Price: $49.99US ($66AU)
Clip Studio Paint, formerly known as Manga Studio 5, is popular among manga and comic artists in particular. I personally used it for a full year and it's fantastic for painting as well. For a professional program, it's really affordable.
Price: $9.99US /mo ($14.29AU /mo)
Adobe Photoshop CC is, in general, the industry standard. Most companies use Adobe products and many of the worlds top artists use it. It is available on a monthly subscription in the "Photography" plan for cheaper than it is on a plan by itself.
COREL PAINTER ESSENTIALS 6
Price: $25US ($35AU)
Corel Painter Essentials 6 appears to be a simpler, significantly cheaper version of the full Corel Painter program listed below. It seems to lack a lot in comparison to the full program, but the price is very very nice!
It advertises being great for beginners.
(The US price may not be accurate as it refused to show it to me)
COREL PAINTER 2019
Price: $429US ($614AU)
Corel Painter 2019 is quite expensive, however it seems to be the best program for replicating real life paint. If you're a professional painter with oils or acrylics and you're looking to go digital, this might be the program for you.
(The US price may not be accurate as it refused to show it to me)
Maybe try out a free trial of both Corel Painter Essentials 6 and Corel Painter 2019 for comparison before spending the money!
iOS AND ANDROID
Available on: iOS and Android
Price: FREE (in-app purchases)
Adobe Sketch is basically a free, simplified tablet version of Photoshop. In 2018 they updated the program with brushes by my favourite Photoshop brush maker,
Kyle T. Webster.
Available on: iOS
Price: $9.99US ($14.99AU)
Procreate is making me want an iPad Pro, seriously. Many artists have done incredible stuff and the built-in timelapse feature is also super awesome. The price is very affordable for seemingly such a great program.
There are many more programs, but since Adobe Sketch is free and available for both iOS and Android, I'm not going to bother mentioning other programs. Have a look on Youtube or the app store for more programs if you want to experiment!
What I recommend...
If you're a complete beginner or getting a program for your child, I'd recommend sticking to free programs to start with, such as Krita or Adobe Sketch. If you're really keen on a bigger program though, I think you should at least stick to the cheaper programs like Paint Storm Studio, Corel Painter Essentials 6 and Procreate unless you can easily afford the others.
If you're a professional digital artist or someone wanting to get professional with digital art,
I recommend searching the web for reviews of all of these programs, particularly comparison videos and download the free trials of the programs that stand out to you the most. I think you should settle on a program before spending too much money, unless you feel really certain about the program or can afford to lose the money if you don't end up using it.
I have personally chosen to use Photoshop CC professionally for reasons mentioned here.
You've got your tablet and your program of choice, now what do you do with it??
There are many places to find resources for absolutely free. It's the internet, it's incredible how much content is out there for free.
I'm going to list a few of my favourite places for searching useful things.
Youtube is one of the best places for learning. You can find practically any tutorial video for anything at all. Youtube is also fantastic for finding reviews, which should help you in your search for the perfect tablet and art program. Search for beginner tutorials with your chosen art program, tips and tricks of digital art or even learn the basics of art itself if you're completely new to art. I am constantly on Youtube searching for digital painting videos to help improve my work.
DeviantArt is a fantastic place for resources. Loads of artists upload tutorials and their own personal brush sets for all programs. There's plenty of stock photos for use as reference as well as groups you can join where you can get feedback on your work.
Pinterest is great for not only tutorials, it's also my favourite place to hunt for inspiration and reference images. I love making boards to save pins to for later.
This one should probably be obvious, but sometimes we just don't think to Google stuff! Google is a great place to hunt down tutorials and other helpful resources. Alternatively if you feel like spending money, you can also do some shopping for things like books and art reference dolls.
GENERAL DIGITAL ART TIPS
For those completely new to digital art, I want to list a few tips that should be relatively the same across the board for all art programs.
Getting used to the advantages and disadvantages of digital art that's different to traditional media can be tricky, but it's well worth it once you get the hang of it.
Tip 1 - SAVE OFTEN
The only real way to completely lose a traditional painting is if you accidentally spill some kind of liquid all over it, your dog eats it or it gets burned down in some freak accident. If you can avoid those things, you usually won't have any problems losing your work.
This is one downside to digital art. Technology is incredible, but it is often prone to crashing.
If your program or computer crashes and you haven't saved, you will lose all of the work you just did, or at least since your last save.
CTRL+S is the usual shortcut for most programs. You can also usually go to File > Save, or find the "Save" option somewhere in your program of choice.
Some programs, such as Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint have auto-save options that save every 'x' amount of minutes or hours that you set it to, which will load up automatically from the last save point if the program crashes. This can be extremely handy as it's easy to forget to save when you're really into a painting and time is flying past you.
Tip 2 - LAYERS ARE AWESOME
When it comes to traditional art, the only real way to have "layers" is probably with transparent paper of some kind. Usually though, you've just got the one sheet of paper, canvas or board.
Digital art has the wonderful option of using layers. You can put your linework on top of your colours, or if you're unsure about painting something, just add it on top with another layer to see if it works. If it doesn't, you can just hide or delete it! You can even have your characters separate from your backgrounds! If you want a layer to be more transparent, simply adjust the opacity. There's so many uses for layers! Just make sure you always have the correct layer selected before you draw!
Tip 3 - LAYERS HAVE MODES
So not only does digital art have layers, but you can also change the mode of the layer. This can be a bit complicated to explain without demonstration, but commonly used layer types are Multiply, Overlay and Colour Dodge, for example.
Multiply can be fantastic for linework and shading layers, whereas Overlay and Colour Dodge can be used to change the colour of something or add glowy lighting effects, as seen in many Ross Draws videos.
Have a search of Youtube for some tutorial videos in your program of choice and have fun experimenting with them yourself!
Tip 4 - CTRL+Z IS LIFE
You know when you're drawing or painting traditionally, and you make a tiny mistake that's really annoying and you have to either erase it carefully or paint over it? Perhaps your pen just accidentally let out a big drop of ink and ruined your linework? Too much paint came off the brush? So frustrating.
One of the best things digital art has to offer is the option to "Undo". For most programs the shortcut is CTRL+Z. You can undo, and undo and undo and undo!! If your program allows it, you can undo almost as many steps as you like! It's brilliant.
Tip 5 - ADJUSTMENTS
Another advantage digital art has over traditional is the ability to make quick adjustments. There are many ways to adjust and I recommend searching for tutorials on the specifics. I'll briefly explain a few though.
For one, you can select a specific area if your drawing and move it or resize it. Is that eye 2mm too high? Is it too big in comparison to the face? Is the head too big on the body? I kind of want that arm to be bent more in that direction... just use the lasso/marquee tool and you can do all of these things!
Another advantage is adjustment layers. Is your image too bright? Too dark? Too contrast? Not contrast enough? Does it need more blue in the shadows? Maybe it's too saturated, or you've just decided that blue scarf should be red. Just find the correct adjustment type and with a simple click and drag of some sliders, you can do any of these things!
Tip 6 - MASKING
The closest thing to masking with traditional media is probably masking fluid.
If you want to "erase" something without losing the original, or cut out something from a flat image, masks can be of fantastic use. There's many uses for masks and I recommend searching for tutorials on how to use them properly!
Tip 7 - YOU CAN MIX TRADITIONAL WITH DIGITAL
If you're coming from traditional art into digital, it can be a really tough transition. One way to make it easier, which many artists do, is to do your sketches or linework traditionally and then take a photo or scan them into your computer.
If the scan or photo is clean enough (which can be adjusted with Brightness/Contrast to clean up), you can set the pictures layer mode to "Multiply" which will turn anything white invisible. Then you can colour on a layer under it, or even add a layer on top and trace over it digitally.
You might adjust to digital drawing much faster this way!
That concludes my long, in-depth article about getting started with digital art. I hope this has helped you in some way!
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