A detailed post with links to other helpful resources and art tutorials with advice on how to approach digital art as a beginner–from hardware, to software, to workflow. Learning how to draw can be daunting, but hopefully this guide streamlines your study.
Hardware for Digital Artists
I recommend you invest in a graphics tablet. You don’t need a cintiq or something, just a basic one without a screen will do. If you want to get a Cintiq, go for it though! There are also many decent competitors in the graphic monitor space! Check out the Graphic Monitor Drawing Tablet Review: Artisul D13S if you’re interested!
You could also get a pen tablet PC (Surface) or an iPad Pro. I tried a cheap tablet pc, but the micro USB thing broke off pretty quickly, so I recommend going big or going home w those, or just sticking to a non-screen one.
That would be nice but those are a bit more $ than just getting a low priced Wacom or one of its alternatives. Update* the new iPads can be purchased for pretty cheap and support the awesome apple pencil.
The one I used have is the Bamboo Capture, and I liked it. I now use a XP-PEN Deco 03 and Artisul D13S.
I also have a few other product recommendations related to digital art (and others).
You probably do not want to paint with a touchpad or a mouse…
Digital Art Programs & Software
There are a few contesnstants for the title of best digital art software for beginners, and all of choices come with a learning curve of some sort. Once you learn one, though, the others are mostly similar enough that it’s not hard to switch to another one. You just need to learn what layers are, what effects you can do with them, and learn words like opacity and flow.
If you want to start without a huge upfront price, I’d say go for Krita, which is an amazing choice in the sea of art software programs.
- Adobe Photoshop - offered now in a subscription model, but you can get CS6 or CS5 forever for a steep, upfront cost.
- Pros: Often considered the industry standard , has tons of brushes, textures, and resources to use –as the community is huge.
- Affinity Photo / Designer - great programs, though pretty new. I currently love them. Both are much cheaper than Adobe’s offering.
- Designer can use raster/vector brushes, though AP might be a bit more similar for painting to PS if you’re used to that. You could try free trials for both and decide then.
- Krita - Free & Open Source - a fine example of free and open source software killing it. Great community, brushes, textures, UI, price! Geared more for painting than alternatives like GIMP.
- MyPaint - has a lovely, endless canvas (raster) & nicely done brush engine. Free & open source. Can require some technical knowledge to install on macOS (use MacPorts).
- Corel PaintShop Pro - have not used, have heard good things about it though!
- ArtRage- known for its natural/traditional looking brush engine; have not tried, but has good reviews.
- GIMP - free & open source a bit buggy, but now much better, comparable to PS but with a trickier to use UI. Though you can mod it to look like PS.
- FireAlpaca & MediBang Paint which are both free digital painting and manga creation software that are close to Paint Tool SAI.
- As for sketching programs, there are options in Autodesk’s Sketchbook, Mischief, and others.
- For now, I think it might be easier to start off learning one of the above first.
Now that you made a choice, I recommend reading the user guide of whatever software you installed. Or perhaps go find a video that allows you to run through the basics really quickly.
Or if you don’t feel like doing that, here are a few essential things to know when, since digital painting for beginners can seem overwhelming.
- Learn how to create a document and probably set your DPI at 200/300.
- Learn how to adjust your brush settings – especially to enable pen pressure
- Learn opacity
- Learn brush hardness – I recommend painting with a hardbrush. Soft edges kind of look messy & blending isn’t as good with a soft brush, unless you’re painting like the sky. Even then, clouds are better looking with hard edges, but blended.
- note: do not go crazy looking for brush packs. The basic, default hard brush is a great brush & people do amazing things with it. It’s great to learn how to use this before moving on and experimenting with random brushes.
- Learn layers & modes, starting with normal, multiply, and overlay. I wrote this, and I recommend reading @drawmaevedraw’s posts.
- Learning how to use masks is also very helpful
- Learning keyboard shortcuts is helpful for speeding up your workflow.
- Learn the fundamentals of art in general that apply to all mediums, such as:
- Structure & form
- Lighting & Value
- Color Theory
- Anatomy (if drawing people/animals)
- Try out a physical anatomy reference, such as this drawing mannequin.
- Frustrated with trying to find your style? Try experimenting and just letting yourself discover it as you learn to draw more.
There are so many different ways to paint. Here’s just an example of how you could start if you are feeling overwhelmed, since the process of how to start digital art can seem daunting . [For traditional to digital, scroll down. ]
- Start with basic, rough background.
- On a new layer, create a rough sketch of a subject in
- Optional, lower opacity of this layer, create a layer on top of it to do linework, then hide or delete(if you’re edgy) the sketch layer
- Once you are happy with the sketch(or line layer), decrease opacity.
- On a new layer below the sketch, paint with basic colors (no shades/highlights) the shapes of your subject
- On a new layer set to multiply, start putting in your details and your shadows. Use colored shades, optimally, not just adding black to the base color. That will look bad and unnatural.
- On a new layer set to overlay, put in some highlights. Do not overdo it, and watch where your lighting source is & keep it consistent.
- On a new layer, blend some colors together using eyedropper & a brush to make smoother transitions, but do not overblend.
- On a new layer, add some finishing touches as you see fit
- Sign & export
It’s a good idea to periodically save your work. If your file is too huge, you can merge layers, but be careful with this.
Transitioning from Traditional to Digital
You can take traditional sketches, modify them, then paint over. Advice on how to do that here & here.
You can also start directly in digital. It’s kind of your personal preference. I recommend learning how to do both and then do whichever one suits you at the moment.
For example, maybe the inspo strikes you and you doodle traditionally. Now it’s a good to learn how to transfer that sketch to digital, if you wanted to.
Great Beginner Resources
I hand picked these sites because they have great, comprehensive art tutorials for beginners. These resources are pretty awesome, and include a lot of comprehensive information that I think you should check out before buying courses or paying for online art classes. Thanks to lovely internet creators, there’s amazing digital painting lessons available for free. And since they are free, you will be more motivated to learn how to draw digitally today.
- CTRL+Paint is my favorite website for digital art videos. Definitely check these out!
- Aquasixio’s Digital Access Code - tons of lovely tutorials on concepts ranging from color to composition to brainstorming ideas.
- Draw A Box - nice drills & lessons! Also links to reddit critique thread.
- Sycra - a lit youtube channel with great tutorials & speedpaints.
- Tuts+ -I love this site. Has such great tutorials on concepts & helpful walkthroughs.
- Concept Cookie - has free & paid great tutorials
- Cube Brush’s Tutorials - free & paid options
- ConceptArt.org- a legit forum community
- High Quality Stock Images
- Unsplash, free stock images
Solutions to common frustrations
Drawing smoother lines is a real challenge, for many of us! Here are a few quick tips for drawing smoother lines.
- For smoother lines, try not to draw from your fingers and try to draw from your elbow or shoulder. This might require a change of grip.
- This is a great comparison of hand positions for drawing.
- Try ghosting the stroke in the air before you commit.
- When practicing ovals, circles, and lines, go fast. You also want to do linear relatively fast.
- f you’re doing it traditional, try using a lightbox so you don’t damage the sketch when doing line art. This way you can practice lining faster and smoother with a lot less stress.
Digital Options/Software Assistance
- Digitally, all you need is another layer. A lot of digital art programs also come with a brush stabilizer as well, which can be super useful. Krita and Photoshop have it built in.
- You can also install a program like Lazy Nezumi for Windows or Hej Stylus for Mac. These are both paid, polished options by Indie Devs.
I hope this helps you! If you liked it, please consider sharing this post with your friends so more people can see it!