In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of digital drawing, including what you’ll need to get started, how to choose the right software and tools, and some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your digital art experience.
So let’s get started!
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What supplies do you need for digital drawing?
The first thing you’ll need for digital drawing is, of course, a computer or tablet. Any relatively recent model should do the trick, but if you’re looking to do more complex or detailed work, you might want to invest in a higher-end device.
Devices like a graphics tablet or stylus can be helpful for achieving a more natural drawing feel, but they are not necessary to get started.
The Wacom Cintiq Pro is one of the most popular artists’ graphic tablets on the market. It’s suitable for professional artists due to its incredible features. It has a 4k display that goes up to 32″ and perfect colour accuracy.
For artists looking to create digital drawings on a budget, there are plenty of cheap graphics tablets that you can buy. The Huion H610 Pro V2 small and lightweight and has fantastic stylus sensitivity. It doesn’t come with a screen and you will need to connect it to your laptop or computer.
If you prefer Apple products, the iPad Pro is a powerful and lightweight tablet. You can run art apps like Photoshop and Procreate on it, which are both perfect for digital drawing. Use it with the Apple Pencil to achieve perfectly calibrated pressure and tilt sensitivity. Choose your favourite brush packs to create professional looking masterpieces.
Macbook Pros are another great choice, with Liquid Retina displays and the ability to smoothly run creative software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. If you have an iPad already, the Macbook and iPad can make a great pair for drawing. However there are cheaper devices available, check out our review of the best art laptops for a deep dive.
There are many different digital drawing software options available, ranging from free programs to more expensive professional ones. Some popular options include Adobe Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, Procreate, Krita, and GIMP.
Adobe Photoshop is a go-to for many digital artists, as it has a wide range of features and is suitable for both beginners and professionals. However, it can be pricey if you don’t already have a Creative Cloud subscription. Procreate is a cheaper option similar to Photoshop, but it’s only available on iPad.
Clip Studio Paint is the perfect software for comic book, anime and manga artists. With an extensive library of comic framing templates and the ability to create 3D models, it provides endless possibilities for designers and artists.
Corel Painter is a program that stands out in its intuitive feel and its ease of learning to use. It comes with 900 different brushes, many of which emulate the look and feel of traditional mediums like graphite and charcoal.
Digital drawing brush packs
It’s possible to make digital drawings that look like traditional graphite, ink and charcoal drawings. When creating a digital drawing, adding new brushes to your art software program is one of the best ways to customise your setup and the look of your finished piece.
This ink brush set has 36 different ink brushes, that replicate the feel and look of ink drawing. The brushes have been created from real China ink samples, so you can create glazing effects, pressure sensitive line art and more.
The Hand Drawn brush set includes 20 Photoshop brushes that create realistic drawing effects. Choose from the marker brush, pastel brush and more!
To find more brush packs, check out the selection on Creative Market.
Digital drawing ideas
One of the best ways to improve your digital art skills is through daily practice. Consider setting aside time each day to work on quick sketches or draw from life or reference photos. This will help you to refine your technique and come up with new ideas for future drawings. If you’re stuck for ideas on what to draw, here are some starting points:
Create a new character, starting with their personality traits and physical features. Experiment with different body types, clothing and hairstyles to bring them to life.
Head outside or use reference photos to draw a landscape scene. Practice capturing the textures of trees and grass, or play around with adding in different elements like buildings or animals. Look out your window or find reference photos online to draw the scenery around you.
Choose an everyday object and focus on depicting its shape and texture as accurately as possible.
Draw a portrait
Challenge yourself by drawing a portrait of a friend, family member or celebrity. Reference photos can help with capturing their facial features and expression accurately, but also consider adding your own creative flair to the piece.
Digital drawing styles
Before you start drawing, it can help to look at different drawing styles for inspiration. Take a look at traditional drawing styles as well as digital drawing styles, as they can influence how you approach using your digital medium. For example, you can use similar compositions, subject matter and value transitions as the Academic Drawing style, by using high contrast and realistic drawing techniques.
Digital drawing process
Find some references
Finding reference photos from stock sites can improve the detail in your artwork, especially if you’re drawing a complex scene. For example, if you’re drawing a street scene, get some reference images of cars, lampposts and the kind of landscape you want to draw for the background. You’ll also need some figure references to help you place the people in the scene.
One great tool for portrait or character drawing is a mannequin. There are lots of different types of mannequins available to digital artists, that you can pose, alter the angle and lighting to get your desired reference image. One great tool, that is completely free, is the mannequin software Magic Poser. All you need is an internet connection to create your reference poses.
Plan the composition
To create an artwork that is completely unique, designing the composition is an important step. Think of how you will bring balance to your artwork and how the different elements will relate to one another. Most successful artworks have a focal point and will lead the viewer’s eye in. Consider the angle or perspective you want to use, and how much of the scene you want to include.
Optionally, you could draw some thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook. If you’re planning on including lots of different elements in your piece, it can be helpful to map out how they will fit together. Create several different versions, then choose your favourite one.
Set up your artboard
The first thing to do when creating a new document is to set the colour profile and dimensions of the artboard. In the preset dialogue box, enter the details you need for the design. For example, if you’re drawing a design for print, make sure to set the document to CMYK, the resolution to 300 pixels per inch and set the dimensions to inches or cm.
Sketch the outline
On the first layer of your drawing, draw out the rough composition of the piece and place the different elements. This first drawing doesn’t have to be exact, you can delete this layer later once the drawing is complete.
Refine the outline
In the same layer, clean up the edges of your sketch, use the eraser tool to remove any sections that make it look messy.
Optionally, you can create a new layer and draw over the initial outline with more accuracy, to create sharper lines.
Establish a lightsource
To add depth to your drawing and make it look more realistic, consider incorporating a lightsource. This can be done by adding shading in the appropriate places, such as darker shadows on the opposite side of where the light is coming from. Choose one or multiple light sources in the drawing. For example, if you’re drawing the scene of a room, the lightsource would be coming from the window and from any lamps inside. Visualise where the light is coming from throughout the drawing process, as colours and tones will look brighter and higher in chroma depending on the proximity to the source.
Choose a colour scheme
Look at your reference photos and choose colours from there if you want to make the colour scheme realistic. Alternatively, you could alter the colour palette to make it more surreal, for example make certain elements more saturated, or certain elements more muted.
A great way to pick a colour scheme is to use Adobe Color. Choose from complementary schemes, triadic and more. You can choose a colour to start with, then find complementary colours to include. Using a colour scheme in a drawing is a great way to create a sense of interest.
Colour the drawing in layers
Colour the drawing section by section and compartmentalise these sections into layers. That way, you can isolate parts of the drawing. This makes the artwork easier to edit and mistakes easier to correct. For example, if you have a sky, a mountain in the far background, a street scene in the foreground and a man as the main subject, you could separate all these layers in order to complete each one separately. When it comes to blending colours between layers, it’s possible, just use the mixer brush tool in Photoshop. It makes most sense to work from the back ground to the foreground.
When colouring the image, pay attention to the light source, to the value range of the drawing and where the lights and shadows are going to be. Some artists find it easier working from the midtones, then increasing the contrast. As this can help achieve a realistic look.
For shading tones, keep it greyscale to create a tonal drawing, or choose a colour palette to stick to.
Once you have finished drawing all the elements of your composition, choose whether to add texture using a digital brush, or to render the drawing using shading. Both techniques will add dimension to your artwork and make it more realistic.
Experiment with different brushes and shading techniques until you find the style that best suits your piece. Texture creates the appearance of detail. You could find a texture brush on Creative Market to suit your piece, for example grass or leaf texture to speed the drawing process up. This will save you valuable time of drawing ever tiny detail and element.
Finish with the details and highlights
Finally, add in the finishing touches with highlights and small details to complete the drawing. These could be tiny specks of light or white reflections on metal objects. This is the last step before saving and potentially sharing your artwork online or printing it out.
Using the brush tool
Drawing in Photoshop and other art software is as simple as selecting the brush tool, choosing your colour and size, then just drawing on the canvas. It can feel intuitive and natural if you’re using a graphics tablet or iPad.
You can also create and edit your own brushes. This allows you to further personalise your digital drawing and add unique touches to it. Experiment with different brush settings such as the shape, spacing, scatter and opacity until you find a brush that works for your style. Alternatively, look on Creative Market for your perfect brush to install on Photoshop or Procreate. Premade brushes are a great option as it saves hours of fiddling around with settings to perfect your brush style.
A crucial aspect of digital drawing is layer management. Make sure to separate different elements with layers and be mindful of switching layers when drawing. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re in the flow of creating and forget to switch layers, but try to make it a habit as it could save your artwork later on if you need to isolate the edits on a particular section. Label layers and create groups to organise them better, so you can locate and edit sections of your drawing quickly when it becomes more complicated.
Saving and exporting your work
When you’re happy with your final drawing, save it as a PSD file to keep all the layers intact. To export and share your work, save a copy in JPEG or PNG format for sharing online or printing out. To create a quality art print, make sure that the resolution is set to 300 pixels per inch and is in CMYK colour mode. Then print it yourself, or send it to a professional printer.
Digital drawing tips: Summary
- Get the right equipment: a graphics tablet can improve your art creation process dramatically
- Work in layers and learn to organise your layers
- Use a mannequin or 3D mannequin software to create reference poses
- Plan the composition before you start
- Experiment with different brushes and textures to find your own style
- Pay attention to lighting, value range and shading for a more realistic result
- Add the finishing touches with highlights and small details last
- Always save a PSD file to keep all layers intact, and export in JPEG or PNG format for sharing online, or TIFF for printing
Practice makes perfect, so don’t get discouraged if your drawings don’t come out exactly as you envisioned at first. Keep experimenting with different tools and techniques, and always keep learning and growing as an artist. If you’re interested in doing some further reading, we have. a review of the best books for digital artists!