Getting Started with Digital Art: What You Need

If you are completely new to digital art, getting started can be an intimidating process. The good news is, unlike traditional art, you do not have to constantly replenish used supplies. The bad news is that the upfront costs are enough to close the gates on many artists wanting to experiment with digital media. Not to mention, whatever you end up buying is what you're stuck with for years. With so many options to choose from, finding the perfect match for your needs can be a difficult process. If you're ready to take the leap into digital media, here's a bit of general guidance for picking your perfect match.


Hardware

First let’s talk devices. There are plenty of brands competing for your money, and most all of them now offer desktops, laptops, tablets, or 2-in-1 touch-screen laptops. In a sea of pricey options, how can you narrow it down?


Keep in mind you do not need a fancy $5000 device, especially when you’re first starting out. Honestly, if you already own a laptop or desktop then your goal should be to make that work for your digital art! But if you’re looking for something fresh out of a box, some specs to consider are screen size, performance, and storage.


Different screen sizes offer different pros and cons. Get something really big and that means you’ll have a nice-sized canvas to work with! This would especially be a plus if you’re used to working on large physical canvases. But go too big, and you’re limited with how much your digital art can travel with you; plus that screen really saps the life out of your battery meaning you’re tied to an outlet at all times.


10” should be your minimum and 14” just about maxes out portability, but there’s really no upwards limit for a stationary setup. (Of course, you end up paying for every inch of screen that you get which is yet another thing to consider.) Ultimately, you have to look at your lifestyle, your art style, and how much money you can really spend on a device, big or small. For someone who only draws at home, a big laptop or even desktop will work wonders; but for the traveling artist, tablets will be your best friend.


Less up for debate is performance. Art programs are taxing on any computer, so if you’re going to spend money specifically on a device that you’ll be using to create digital art then don’t compromise on its performance. Some things to look at are processors, memory, graphics, and hard drive. At minimum, you’ll want an Intel® Core™ i5-1130G7 Processor (or equivalent), 8GB of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 graphics processing unit, and 250GB of Solid State Drive storage. You’ll have to decide what you want to splurge on and what you can settle for. Personally speaking, I aim for higher RAM because I always have too many tabs open but can’t stand a laggy computer!


Last but not least is storage, which I already mentioned with performance but keep in mind there are many ways to store digital art. Unlike a canvas or sculpture, you can have numerous copies of your digital art. If you’re on top of storing your files on a USB, external drive, and/or cloud drive (which you should be!), then you might not need to be as concerned about having 1TB of storage on your actual device. One thing to keep in mind is the more complicated your canvases get, the more space they’ll take up on your device. As someone who is addicted to creating new layers, I can attest to how quickly files grow in size!


Look at your lifestyle, your art style, and how much money you can really spend on a device.

My personal recommendations: Apple iPad Pro for a tablet, Dell XPS for a non-touch laptop, or Lenovo Yoga C940 for a 2-in-1. There are plenty of choices out there though, so don’t hesitate to shop around. And when you can: check it out in store! It really helps to see just how big (or small) those dimensions really are.


Tablets & Pens

We’re not necessarily done with hardware yet! If you’ve settled on either a tablet or a 2-in-1 then you can most likely skip this section, but for laptop and desktop users it’s time to research drawing tablets and digital pens. Personally, I have only ever used Wacom Intuos tablets and they have always treated me very well, but there are plenty of even more affordable options to look into. If you’re rolling in cash, you can even check out Wacom Cintiqs which let you draw directly on the tablet surface.


On that note, one thing to keep in mind is the learning curve that comes with drawing on a tablet while staring at a computer screen— lots of hand-eye-coordination to learn there! But it’s completely doable and something you’ll master in no time with practice.


Another consideration is digital pens. Apple’s iPad Pros do not come with anything, so you can expect to drop at least $100 on their pencil. Some 2-in-1’s come with pens and others don’t, but either way you might find yourself searching for a better quality item. Wacom pens come with spare nibs, but if you’re heavy-handed and wear too many down then that will be an added expense as well. (Still probably less expensive than buying new paints or pastels for every piece you create though!)


Software

Once you narrow down your device(s), it’s time to figure out what software to use. My biggest piece of advice: do not give any of your money to Adobe Suite. Their new subscription-based plan is a serious crime against all artists. Instead, consider what it is you want to do with your digital art and buy a program catered to that. As a comic artist, I can’t get enough of Clip Studio Paint which can be affordably purchased with a one-time fee for PC users and a minimal subscription fee for tablet users. You can opt for standard or pro, but in my experience the standard works wonders. (This is coming from someone who has used Photoshop for over a decade: Adobe can’t hold a candle to CSP.)


For iPad users, Procreate should be your first step into the digital art world. With its simple set up, powerful tools, and ridiculously affordable price, that app will keep you busy for months. The nice thing about its layout compared to other art programs is that it’s almost impossible to feel overwhelmed by it. And yet once you start to dig, you can find just about all the same features and tools as any other expensive art program! Procreate has been my go-to for illustrations since 2018 and I’d be hard-pressed to leave it now.


If you’re really new to digital art and you’re nervous to shell out any money for something you might not enjoy at all, MediBang Paint Pro is a free tool that will give you a good taste of the digital life. But just like the hardware you’ll be using, don’t be afraid to look around because there are plenty of options out there.


Your total comes to…over $1000

No matter how thrifty you are, starting your digital art adventure always comes with a hefty price tag. But again, if you can get past that (huge) initial hurdle with un-fancy tools, sales, or even giveaways, you’re totally set up and can create as many canvases as you want! So MAKE SURE you get your money’s worth and create lots :)


Next week, I’ll go over a few basic do’s and don’ts for when you’re new to digital art that might smooth out your learning curve just a bit. Stay tuned!