Gvaat’s guide on hardware and software options to start painting digitally.
We will go over:
In this guide we will go over the best tools for Digital Artists. We will cover various software and hardware options, and I will show you what I use to paint and draw digitally daily. Without further do, let’s get to it!
Top devices for digital artists.
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Most versatile mobile devices for digital painting. Both a computer and a pen display, runs full version of Photoshop, not bulky. Pen technology not nearly as great as Wacom and iPad.
This category is led by Wacom tablets. They provide great pen feel but on a tablet and not on the display. Least expensive option.
iPad pro and the apple pencil paired with Procreate app provide an amazing drawing experience. But it’s not desktop Photoshop.
At the high end, Wacom Pen Displays are professional tools when paired with Photoshop. Most expensive also. There are many manufacturers making these at discount, but the quality does not seem to match Wacom.
There are a lot of products in this category, but I hope to provide clear advise that will make it simple to choose the best digital tool for you:
If you want to learn Photoshop, don’t get the iPad. Get one of the other options. If you want to be as mobile as possible while learning Photoshop get the Surface Pro. If you are on a budget, get a screen-less drawing tablet from Wacom. If the budget is not a barrier, get the largest Wacom Pen Display you can.
If you want a pleasant drawing experience, and don’t care about Photoshop, definitely get the iPad Pro and Procreate combo. Nothing else really comes close to how well they work together.
Top drawing apps for digital artists. Picks you see below are my personal preferences for digital art. Descriptions are based on my experience.
This is the standard in digital painting. If you really want to learn Photoshop, or want to expedite your workflow in Photoshop, there is no better place to start than to learn Photoshop shortcuts. Click here for a list of top Photoshop shortcuts for digital artists.
Procreate is the top painting app on iPad. I use it as a supplement to desktop Photoshop.
Krita is my top free choice for painting software.
Widely used among comics/manga artists with many features.
Geared at concept drawing and sketching and has a free version.
Focused on making digital media feel and look like traditional paint.
Desktop painting software from a Japanese publisher with a great brush engine.
An app similar to procreate made for tablets with a great brush mixing engine.
Another free offering, try it if Krita is not to your liking.
Adobe released Photoshop on iPad together with Fresco, a Procreate competitor. Fresco and Photoshop can be used together, and can share desktop Photoshop brushes.
As you can see there is a lot to choose from. I suggest trying as many digital painting programs from this list as you can. If I had to pick just one, in most cases it would be Photoshop (the desktop version).
If I had to pick just two, I would pick Photoshop and Procreate. I use them both the most.
And if I had to pick one more product to join the two above, I’d choose from Clip Studio Paint, Easy Paint Tool Sai, or Corel Painter.
Here are some of the tools I use for digital painting.
The surface pro pen does a pretty good job in Photoshop. However, there is a significant amount of jitter when drawing slow, something that almost never happens on iPad pro. For better line quality and desktop Photoshop, look to Wacom tablets.
As a tool for digital artists, the Surface Pro is not the best, but it is most versatile. It is extremely portable. It runs the full desktop version of Photoshop.
Surface Pro, Surface Pro pen and mouse.
Wacom Intuos Pro.
Intous tablets are great if you are ok with not drawing directly on screen. You draw on the tablet but look on the screen with this set up. Paired with a nice big screen and desktop Photoshop, a Wacom Intuos Pro line of tablets are my top choice for screen-less tablets.
iPad Pro, in case with apple pencil and Uppr pencil grip.
Apple pencil and iPad pro feel most natural for drawing. There is virtually no lag and the pen is so precise that it’s very close to drawing on paper. I use the iPad pro with Procreate for almost all digital sketching. If you don’t care for desktop Photoshop, this set up is definitely my top choice as a digital tool for artists.
Amplify digital painting workflow with accessories.
You can get all sorts of keyboard covers for iPad if you plan on using it for more than drawing. Procreate comes equipped with keyboard shortcuts to speed up workflow. My favorite is this Logitech’s iPad Pro cover. With the cover folder under the iPad, it gives the iPad the angle I need to draw for long periods of time without wrist pain.
If you are trying to optimize for space, you will need a smaller keyboard for Photoshop shortcuts. (Some tablets come with buttons to preprogram shortcuts for Photoshop and other programs). I like the keyboard best. A small one I have is by Arteck. It has great keys and is super sturdy and the battery lasts forever. The Arteck keyboard is a great all around keyboard for digital artists, and it’s easy to pack with you due to the compact size too.
I recently came across a mechanical keyboard I absolutely love. It is the IQUNIX F96.
Large drawing displays require lots of desk space, plan accordingly.
iPad (any tablet) stand.
A stand for iPad with adjustable angle is super helpful if you want to change the angle quickly. I spend most of the time drawing on iPad while it is in the Logitech cover, but placing in on a stand like this one can provide a good break and a fresh look at things.
Logitech multi-device keyboard.
Logitech makes great keyboards that switch quickly between devices. I have the Ergo K860. It’s ergonomic design is great for artists with wrist pain. It has great keys and feels super sturdy.
Surface Type Cover – while a great accessory, not great for digital artists.
While Surface keyboard covers are some of the best keyboards I’ve used, mine disconnects from the Surface once it is taken off the device. It doesn’t use Bluetooth and uses the physical connector instead. (This is true on my Surface which is not the latest model).
Keep in mind that if you will be using the Surface with Photoshop you will want a keyboard to the side of you to use with your non-drawing hand, having it on the device does not help. Check out other keyboard options on this list.
Noise cancelling headphones.
I live in a place that can get pretty noisy and very distracting at times! Nothing seems to get me to focus like noise-cancelling headphones. I use ones from Bose, but there are many options on the market. Super important and definitely a key tool for digital artists.
This is an evolving guide about getting into digital drawing and painting and I will update it from time-to-time. Get in touch with me and provide feedback at this link.