Digital painting

Digital painting

Nowadays it is possible to paint pictures on a PC. It is ” digital painting”. How does it work? In several articles, we describe here what prerequisites are needed for digital painting and how to paint pictures on the PC quickly, effectively and effectively. This article deals with basic tips and hints. Although it describes digital painting with Photoshop, what is said here also applies in principle to all other painting programs such as Painter, Paint.net, Gimp or Canvas.

Is digital painting also art?

Art is not dependent on technology. You can basically make art with any medium. Since this question is rather obstructive for the concrete work, it will be faded out here. Whether a digitally painted picture is art or not, you can decide anyway only if you have painted this picture.

Digital painting with Photoshop

Photoshop from Adobe is a professional image editing program. It offers numerous tools, palettes and filters with which you can create and edit digital images. It is very suitable for digital painting. The prerequisite for digital painting with Photoshop is a powerful PC, because the program requires quite a lot of memory.

Digital painting

Graphics tablet and digital brush

Almost no artist paints with a mouse. Nowadays there are graphics tablets, also called drawing tablets. Here you use a pen (brush), which you pass over a sensitive hard plastic mat. A signal is transmitted from the pen tip to the mat. This signal is transmitted to the PC. Basically, the pen is a mouse substitute. It is just much more comfortable to hold. It can also include signals such as “pressure intensity” or “tilt angle”.

In short: you paint with a digital brush. Graphics tablet: a Wacom Intous4 (PTK 849), A4 is a classic among artists’ graphics tablets. It is ideally suited for digital painting.

In addition to conventional graphics tablets, pen displays have also become affordable. Here, you draw with the digital pen directly on the monitor, which logically does not stand vertically in front of you, but lies at a 20 – 30° angle on the table – similar to a classic drawing board.

In addition to the market leader, the pen displays from Huion are especially recommended for artistic production. The Chinese manufacturer Huion is particularly popular with comic and manga artists in the Far East. Therefore, the focus here is clearly on artistic painting and drawing. Some models from the supplier XP-PEN can now also keep up with the two big ones in terms of price-performance ratio.

Both the graphics tablets and the pen displays can only really unfold their numerous functions when a suitable painting or drawing program is used. When it comes to image and photo editing, there are countless programs for this. But there are only a few drawing programs specially optimized for creative artists.

First steps – always start a little bigger

Every process starts with a blank digital sheet. As a rule, you should paint larger than the intended target format. Reason: Digital images consist of pixels. These are “point information” that are stored. You can reduce a digitally painted picture at any time without problems. But the other way around leads to a visible loss of quality.

Digital painting

Saving digital images

Probably the most essential difference to conventional painting is the possibility to save a picture. With classic oil or watercolor painting, you can never restore a past condition. With digital painting, this is possible without any problems. Those who practice digital painting should be aware of this fact and use it for their own purposes. Therefore: always save versions. If something goes wrong, simply revert to the previous version.

Painting in layers – digital painting is based on image editing.

Very helpful when painting with Photoshop are the “layers”. Here you can place a new, transparent layer over the previously painted image at any time, on which you can then continue painting. These individual image layers can then be switched on or off during the painting process or assigned different layer styles. Image generation thus goes beyond the pure painting process: digital painting is in most cases also the processing of the painting with the means of the computer or with the styles and effects of Photoshop.

In addition to various layers, which can be individually given specific color effects, separate selections, various brush tips, and effects such as sharpen or blur offer a wealth of editing options that have little to do with the conventional painting process.

Using Photoshop effects in a targeted way


Even in its basic configuration, Photoshop offers a great many options for creating “visual effects”. In addition, an almost endless number of effects and “workflows” can be purchased as extensions. You can use different brush tips, different layer styles or even the filter effects. If you start working with Photoshop, you should first take a few hours and try out all the different effects (for example, painting or drawing filters, art filters, etc.). The crucial thing is to learn how to use the Photoshop effects for your own purposes. This is because, especially in the beginning, there is a great danger of being driven to images by the effects. These images are not the images of the artist, but of the program.

You should therefore make sure that you think about which effects and filters you really need beforehand or during the painting process. Anything else is not Digital Painting, it’s Photoshop game stuff.

One advantage of digital painting is that it is relatively easy to document the painting process. You install an “autoscreen recorder” that records the changes on the screen. From the video material obtained in this way, you can then create a time-lapse video. These videos are called “Speedpaintings”. I have created a series of speedpaintings. They show how I start the paintings and how they develop. Speedpainting as an art form is no longer about the final image, but about the process of painting. Where else can you follow every moment of the genesis of the picture. Even when you paint over everything white again at the end, so the video documents this image as a work. Here you can read more about my speedpaintings.

picture idea

Also with digital painting you need a picture idea

What is the difference between digital painting and conventional painting? To put it simply: only the technical means of working. The computer is basically nothing more than a tool. The painting program (Photoshop, Gimp, Canvas etc.) and also the graphics tablet are special features/functions of this working tool. So if you want to paint a digital picture, you should not focus on the technical gimmicks. A good picture is a good picture, no matter with which means of work it was produced. You need an idea in advance. Only then can you start to paint the picture digitally. And the better you master your tools, the closer you get to your goal. Practice makes perfect.

Therefore: start, try and do not despair. In the course of time, you will gain the confidence to be able to paint real pictures free of any technical gimmicks – even digitally on the PC.