Digital Painting Tools

Photoshop CS5 Box

I often ask what I use to do my digital paintings so I figured I would post up a personal review. Keep in mind these are all my opinions, feel free to have your own. There are many programs out there and I’ve tried a ton of them and I recommend you do the same. When it comes to digital programs in often comes down to the “feel” of the program and which one best suites your feel. Most of the programs out there have very similar features and when it comes to digital painting you often don’t even need all those features but more of a knowledge of the elements and principals of design.

You will talk to many digital artists, including me, and they will often tell you they use only a few brushes and only a few tools like the Photoshop warp tool. All that power yet only a few key tools is all you need. You can’t expect the program to make good art for you, that will mainly be from studies and experience that brings you good art but the programs can definitely be a valuable tool to quickly make that art once you learn how.

Most of these programs I have listed in my side bar if you want quick access to them.

Photoshop CS5 Box


My personal favorite out of all the programs I’ve used. I use Photoshop in my digital painting, graphic design, and photo manipulation also, it’s a very well rounded program. The reason I like this is mainly it’s responsiveness, it response quickly even on large scale canvases. I will usually see a bit of slow down when I flip the canvas when I’m working on a large document with a lot of layers but other than that, it is faster than all the other programs I have.
You can download many different brushes for this but that takes us back to what I mentioned above, the brush isn’t going to make good art, you are going to make good art. However, the brushes can be nice for quickly adding texture to your paintings and getting away from that digital look you often get in digital paintings.
Corel Painter 2011 Box


Corel just released Painter 12 but I am still on 11. Painter is another great program for digital painting and I absolutely love it. It’s brushes are geared to feel more like traditional mediums which is a huge advantage. I feel that they are much more intuitive than the realism brushes that Photoshop recently added. Though they look and feel very similar to traditional mediums it does in fact come with a price and I’m not talking Benjamins. Painter is by far the slowest and least responsive of all the programs on my computer but there isn’t anything quite like the feel of Painter.
Often, I will begin a painting in Painter, modify it and as it slows I will jump to Photoshop since they play nicely together. After I progress the painting further in Photoshop I will jump back into painter to give it the finishing touch. You can see this technique in my warlock painting.
Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 2011 Box


Sketchbook is a fun program with a lot of power. Though I rarely do a full painting in this program I will often use it for sketching out my ideas and working out compositions. It has a very nice pencil tool to aid in sketching and a very intuitive art board.


Wacom has a lot of great products. I have yet to get a Cintique but I will admit that it is on my wish list. In the meantime I work on a Intuos 3 Large for my 27″ iMac and a Intuos 4 Small for my 15″ MacBook Pro. I try to somewhat match the screen size with the tablet size. If you work on a large tablet on a small screen you will probably find it somewhat cumbersome but when you match your screen sizes there is much more comfort.
The Bamboo is a nice little product but if you are looking for a better drawing experience I highly recommend going with the Intuos. It’s not much more in cost but the feel and benefits are huge. I own a Graphire which came before the Bamboo and I will still use it sometimes but once I had a taste for the Intuos the Graphire collects dust most of the time.
Gimp Image


Last but not least is Gimp. It’s a GNU licensed program that is completely free. Though I don’t use Gimp very often I have seen people create some
outstanding work in here. It has many of the features of Photoshop and Painter and as I mentioned, I don’t use all the filters and additional things that these programs come with. If you are short on cash or just starting out then Gimp might be a good program to get some baring in the digital painting realm. Since it’s free, you might as well give it a try.