Digital painting

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A digital painting by David Revoy.

Digital painting is an established art medium that typically combines a computer, a graphics tablet, and software of choice.[1] The artist uses painting and drawing with the stylus that comes with the graphics tablet to create 2D paintings within a digital art software. There are multiple techniques and tools that are utilized by digital artists, the first being digital brushes.[2] These come standard with all digital art programs, but users can create their own by altering their shape, texture, size, and transfer.[3] Many of these brushes are created to represent traditional styles like oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, and airbrushing, but not all.[4] Other effective tools include layers, lasso tools, shapes, and masks. Digital painting has evolved to not just mimic traditional art styles, but fully become its own technique.

Digital painting is used by amateur and professional artists alike. Its use is particularly prevalent in commercial production studios that create games, television, and film.[5] There are multiple reasons for this which applies to amateur artists as well. Digital painting enables artists to experiment with different techniques and colors easily as its use of layers, the undo function, and save files, make it a non-destructive work process.[6] Artists can always return to an earlier state within the art piece so nothing is ever truly lost. This not only saves time but also materials while giving the artist more freedom to create.

Comparison with traditional painting[edit]

There are multiple differences between traditional and digital painting. The first is that traditional painters paint on a surface such as a canvas or paper and digital artist paints on a screen. This is a big difference because there’s a gap between the stylus nib and the screen sensor. This is called parallax.[7] Newer tablets have reduced parallax to a minimum level resulting in very little displacement between the nib and the results of the nib. Traditional painters also have to be more intentional, having to plan their surfaces and media to get the size and effect that they want, whereas digital artists have the freedom to alter their paintings throughout the entire process. Digital painting also takes up much less space. With traditional painting, it’s typical to have an easel, a palette, a place to put brushes, water to clean the brushes, rags, etc.[8] Whereas with digital painting all that’s needed is a tablet, which is often small enough to fit in the painter’s lap.


Digital painting requires one of two types of hardware. The first is with a graphics tablet connected to a computer and the second is with a standalone tablet. Graphic tablets can then be broken down into two categories: tablets without a screen and tablets with a screen.[9] The first don’t have their own screen, so the surface area of the tablet is mapped to the computer display. These can be more difficult to use as there’s a disconnect between the surface that’s being drawn on and the screen displaying the image.[10] The second have screens, which are typically easier to use, but are considerably more expensive. Tablets can also have both pressure sensitivity and tilt-response.[11] Meaning both the pressure and the angle of the stylus affect the digital brush. There are many companies that produce graphics tablets, the most notable being Wacom, XP-Pen, and Huion.

Standalone tablets have increased portability as they don’t need to be tied down to a computer, but they are usually smaller than equivalently priced graphics tablets. Some tablets that can be used for digital painting include iPads, Microsoft Surfaces, and the Wacom Mobile Studio.


There are many different types of software that digital painters utilize. These range from programs that are intended to mimic traditional painting programs such as Corel Painter to image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop. There are different benefits to each digital painting program so it depends on how the artist wishes to work and which tools are important to them. It also depends on the cost of these programs with many switching to a subscription based model instead of a single once off purchase such as Clip Studio Paint, formerly known as Manga Studio.

Many of the digital painting software for computers have an app version for standalone tablets, but there are also apps designed entirely for them. Procreate is one of these apps.

Hybrid techniques[edit]

There are other methods in which artists digitally paint too; they can range from using different programs to achieve different effects. As in doing certain aspects in one program and then transferring to another for another aspect, this is typically more how 3D artists work. More commonly practiced would be doing the initial stages of a painting on a piece of paper or canvas and then photographing or scanning it into the digital painting software to then further complete the piece.

A Digital painting using Drawing Tablet By Sai Sundar



Many artists prefer using graphics tablets to create digital paintings instead of using a mouse.

The earliest graphical manipulation program was called Sketchpad. Created in 1963 by Ivan Sutherland, a grad student at MIT, Sketchpad allowed the user to manipulate objects on a CRT (cathode ray tube).[12] Sketchpad eventually led to the creation of the Rand Tablet for work on the GRAIL project in 1968, and the very first tablet was created. Other early tablets, or digitizers, like the ID (intelligent digitizer) and the BitPad were commercially successful and used in CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs. Modern day tablets are the tools of choice by digital painters. WACOM is the industry leader in tablets which can range in size from 4” x 6” all the way to 12” x 19” and are less than an inch thick. Other brands of graphic tablets are Aiptek, Monoprice, Hanvon, Genius, Adesso, Trust, Manhattan, Vistablet, DigiPro, etc.[13][14][15][16] All these graphic tablets have the basic functions of a mouse, so they can be used as a mouse, not only in graphic editors but also as a replacement for a mouse, and they are compatible with practically all Windows and Mac software.


The idea of using a tablet to communicate directions to a computer has been an idea since 1968 when the RAND (Research and Development) company out of Santa Monica, developed the RAND tablet that was used to program.[17] Digitizers were popularized in the mid 1970s and early 1980s by the commercial success of the ID (Intelligent Digitizer) and BitPad manufactured by the Summagraphics Corp. These digitizers were used as the input device for many high-end CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems as well as bundled with PC's and PC based CAD software like AutoCAD.


Main Artictle: MacPaint
An early commercial program that allowed users to design, draw, and manipulate objects was the program MacPaint. This program's first version was introduced on January 22, 1984, on the Apple Lisa. The ability to freehand draw and create graphics with this program made it the top program of its kind during 1984.[18] The earlier versions of the program were called MacSketch and LisaSketch, and the last version of MacPaint was MacPaint 2.0 released in 1998.[19] Much of MacPaint's universal success was attributed to the release of the first Macintosh computer which was equipped with one other program called MacWrite. It was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface and lost much of the bulky size of its predecessor, the Lisa. The Macintosh was available at about $2500 and the combination of a smaller design made the computer a hit, exposing the average computer user to the graphical possibilities of the included MacPaint.[20]


Another early image manipulation program was Adobe Photoshop. It was first called Display and was created in 1987 by Thomas Knoll at the University of Michigan as monochrome picture display program. With help from his brother John, the program was turned into an image editing program called Imagepro, but later changed to Photoshop. The Knolls agreed on a deal with Adobe systems and Apple, and Photoshop 1.0 was released in 1991 for Macintosh. Adobe systems had previously release Adobe Illustrator 1.0 in 1986 on the Apple Macintosh. These two programs, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are currently two of the top programs used in the productions of digital paintings. Illustrator introduced the uses of Bezier curves which allowed the user to be incredibly detailed in their vector drawings.

Kid Pix[edit]

In 1988, Craig Hickman created a paint program called Kid Pix, which made it easier for children to create digital art. The program was originally created in black in white, and after several revisions was released in color in 1991. Kid Pix was one of the first commercial programs to integrate color and sound in a creative format. While the Kid Pix was intentionally created for children, it became a useful tool for introducing adults to the computer as well.[21]

Web-based painting programs[edit]

In recent years there has been a growth in the websites which support painting digitally online. The user is still drawing digitally with the use of software: often the software is on the server of the website which is being used. However, with the emergence of HTML5, some programs now partly use the client's web browser to handle some of the processing. The range of tools and brushes can be more limited than free standing software. Speed of response, quality of colour and the ability to save to a file or print are similar in either media.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is Digital Illustration?". Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  2. ^ "Digital Painting Tips: How to Pick the Right Brushes". Design & Illustration Envato Tuts+. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  3. ^ "Creating and Modifying Brushes".
  4. ^ "How To Create Traditional Art Brushes For Digital Art? –". Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  5. ^ "Digital Media and Animation: Bringing Art to Life". Spring 2019, Volume 11 – Issue 1. 2019-01-25. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  6. ^ "Learn Non-Destructive Workflow in Photoshop". Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  7. ^ SweetMonia (2019-09-06). "What is parallax? And is it really bad in a pen display like Cintiq or Kamvas?". Sweet Drawing Blog. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  8. ^ "A Complete List of Oil Painting Supplies that every Beginning Oil Painter needs". 2007-08-17. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  9. ^ "Drawing Tablets Without a Screen - Advantages and Disadvantages". Drawing Tablet World. 2019-07-11. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  10. ^ "Must-Know Tips to Improve Your Tablet Drawing Experience". Art Rocket. 2019-09-04. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  11. ^ "Tilt sensitivity and rotation in Stylus: Do you really need it?". 2019-03-21. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
  12. ^ The Real History of the GUI [Design Principles]
  13. ^ Graphics table comparison chart Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine Comparison chart of graphic tablets.
  14. ^ Articles related to graphics tablet[dead link], Archived 2014-07-15 at Links to many graphic tablets.
  15. ^ Sue Chastain, editor about graphic tablets.
  16. ^ "The 10 Best Drawing Tablets of 2021". Lifewire. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  17. ^ Smithsonian Institution Archives
  18. ^ Personal Computers; Software For The Macintosh: Plenty On The Way - New York Times
  19. ^ YouTube – Apple Lisa
  20. ^ The Real History of the GUI [Design Principles]
  21. ^ "Kid Pix: The Early Years". Archived from the original on 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2019-07-25.

Further reading[edit]

  • Donald Kuspit The Matrix of Sensations VI: Digital Artists and the New Creative Renaissance
  • Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito, At the Edge of Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006
  • Christiane Paul Digital Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd
  • Donald Kuspit "Del Atre Analogico al Arte Digital" in Arte Digital Y Videoarte, Kuspit, D. ed., Consorcio del Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid
  • Robert C. Morgan Digital Hybrids, Art Press volume #255, pp. 75–76
  • Frank Popper From Technological to Virtual Art, MIT Press
  • Bruce Wands Art of the Digital Age, London: Thames & Hudson
  • Christine Buci-Glucksmann, "L’art à l’époque virtuel", in Frontières esthétiques de l’art, Arts 8, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004
  • Margot Lovejoy Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age Routledge 2004
  • Brandon Taylor Collage Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006, p. 221
  • Wayne Enstice & Melody Peters, Drawing: Space, Form, & Expression, New Jersey: Prentice Hall
  • Frank Popper Ecrire sur l'art : De l'art optique a l'art virtuel, L'Harmattan 2007
  • Fred Forest Art et Internet, Editions Cercle D'Art / Imaginaire Mode d'Emploi
  • Lieser, Wolf. Digital Art. Langenscheidt: h.f. ullmann. 2009