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The Three Best Pieces of Software for Digital Artists

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The first time I tried drawing on a tablet, I’ll admit that it was a little off-putting. I’d been sketching and drawing my whole life with pencil, pens, and colored markers, but the first time I put a stylus to the screen and starting sketching, it was a little jarring. There was a slight delay between the time I made a stroke and when the line appeared on the screen, and there was a slight offset between where I physically placed the pen and where my lines would appear. But otherwise, it was just like the traditional sketching I’d done my entire life…except, y’know, better.

I didn’t have to buy paper and other art supplies constantly. I wasn’t worried about smudging my pencils. I didn’t have to fret over spilling ink bottle, or having a sudden jerk of the wrist send blotches all over drawing. In short – discovering the digital way of drawing was an absolute revelation! After I got the hang of it, I found I was faster, more efficient, more willing to experiment, and had much more fun playing with all of the different features that my tablet included.

I was hooked.

And I’m not alone.

In the past decade, digitally produced art has taken off in a big way. The early adopters were folks working in the concept art industry, and for them, it was a godsend. Previously, they’d have to produce dozens if not hundreds of pieces by hand, and if the art director or producers didn’t like the drawings, they had to start all over. Drawing digitally gave them the ability to make minor tweaks and corrections based on feedback, saving them time and energy. Before long, everybody from illustrators to comic book artists were getting in on the action.

Today, digital drawing is the predominant way of producing artwork in the entertainment industry, and many art programs and universities are starting to offer courses focused exclusively on digital art. It’s a great time to be an artist, and while computer programs can’t replace the hundreds of hours you’ll need to spend studying anatomy, perspective, color theory, and many other facets of art, it can certainly speed up your progress immensely.

To help you get started in crafting your digital art masterpieces, I’ve compiled a list of the best programs available to get you started on your road to artistic freedom. As you take advantage of these programs, and learn the techniques and settings that work best to achieve your style, I’d highly encourage you to start your own blog or website, where you can share your tips for using the software, provide demonstrations and tutorials, and build up a strong portfolio to showcase your work.

Manga Studio 5 Pro

Manga Studio is quickly becoming the go-to program for sequential artists the world over, and it’s easy to see why. Boasting a host of features that are great for customizing your style, generating awesome graphical effects, and setting up your on-page layout, Manga Studio is simply impossible to surpass.

Now, don’t let the name fool you – Manga Studio isn’t just for making manga (Japanese Comics). The program is phenomenal whether you want to make make American, European, or Japanese style comics, create fully realized digital paintings, or just improve your anatomy with sketching. In addition to great drawing tools, the program allows you to create a complete and ready-to-publish comic, using a host of great features. You can select the printed paper size, binding style, reading format, and other aspects. It even includes staples of comics-focused art products, including blue guidelines to aid in layouts and identifying the trim line, pre-made panels to layout your page, as well as the ability to create double-page spreads.

If your artistic dreams focus around making a living from the ‘funny pages,’ manga studio simply can’t be beat.

Adobe Photoshop

One of the first digital image creation platforms, and also one of the most popular, Photoshop has long been the program of choice for many aspiring and professional digital artists everywhere.

While originally developed as a program for altering and touching up photos, as the name implies, Photoshop has evolved into a piece of software that caters towards creating any sort of digital image. Whether you prefer paints, inks, pencils, charcoal, or any other medium, Photoshop has a tremendous assortment of tools and textures that you can use to achieve the look you want.

In my mind, Photoshop stands apart from the crowd for two primary reasons:

  • Customization

Just about every single aspect of Photoshop is customizable to the user experience, from the tools you use to the interface. Its customizable settings are so advanced and extensive that you can craft a digital brush that’s nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. You can also adjust the layout of your workspace to streamline your process and increase efficiency, rather you prefer to use quick keys to change tools, and fill your screen with the drawing alone, or want to have every tool in your digital toolbox ready to go instantly.

  •  Image Quality

While Manga Studio is definitely better at creating comics, for image quality, nothing beats Photoshop. Photoshop has a nearly infinite combination of settings and tweaks you can make to improve the overall quality of your render. In addition to the staples of photo editing, including adjustment for contrast, hue, and tone, Photoshop will also allow you to tweak your resolution, scaling properties, conversion ratio, image scale, and more. In short – it makes beautiful images better than any other program out there.

ArtRage

The newest addition to the list, and a program I’ll admit I haven’t spent an extensive amount of time with, ArtRage has left me absolutely stunned nevertheless. While Manga Studio and Photoshop chose to cater to every type of artist out there, ArtRage focused on one aspect, and did it better than anyone else – mimicking real painting textures as closely as possible.

I’ll put it like this – 99% of the time, I know when I’m looking at art that was created digitally. There’s little giveaways you’ll catch, like a pixelated streak here or there, or a slight difference in a stroke of digital ink that lets you know the artist forgot to set their layer’s transparency back to normal. With ArtRage, I had to look twice to be sure. And even then, I had trouble telling.

Simply put – this is the best software available for aspiring and professional digital painters. Other programs focus on imitating just color primarily, but ArtRage beats everybody else out in generating not only amazing color, but replicating the look and feel of different types of paints. Whether watercolor, oils, acrylics, or any other medium, ArtRage is the closest you can get to true-to-life paintings without a real canvas and brush.

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