Digital Art Tools For Beginners

By: Dawid Michalczyk

Digital Art Tools For Beginners

Every now and then I'm asked what art tools I can recommend. I certainly understand how anybody new to the field might have trouble finding the right tools.

These days there is a lot of art software out there. From tiny tools that will only render you a logo, to
large, multi-purpose, expensive and complex programs that can do almost anything.

They all look great on the outset and have plenty of cool features. But which tool is right for you?
How much and what functionality do you need? How much are you willing to pay for it? This article will help you find answers to such questions, and hopefully save a lot of time and hassle.

Art tools

Generally there are two types of art tools: 2D and 3D. 2D tools let you paint or draw on a flat surface just like painting or drawing on a piece of paper or canvas. 3D tools are different. Here you create in three dimensions. The best way to understand how this works is to simply try it yourself. Download a demo of any 3D tool along with a basic tutorial, and experiment.

For a beginner, it's better to start with an inexpensive, popular tool that will teach solid fundamentals of the digital art creation process. Popular tools have larger user base, introduction books, many free tutorials and forums to turn for help. Therefore I decided to concentrate on the more common tools that cost less than 1000 USD. These are quality tools that will provide you with plenty of creative power.

The software I suggest here are mature tools that I either use(d) myself or know they are solid through their reputation. Generally they all do the same thing - help you create images. The main difference between them is how they work and how much they cost. I won't cover vector-based tools as I have no experience in that domain.

2D painting tools

There is no point in writing much here except that sooner or later you will need one of those. If only to do minor fixes to your 3D renders. Starting with Gimp might be a good idea since it's free and is available for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. Photoshop and Painter are probably the most popular 2D tools among digital artists.

• GIMP - many effects and filters; free; working in hi-resolution can be slow.
• Painter - targeted at digital painters; famous for its rich set of natural brushes; can be slow when working in hi-resolution.
• Photoshop - the most popular photo editing software on the planet; fast; many free and commercial plugins available.

All-round 3D tools

You should get one if you are serious about learning 3D art. An all-round 3D tool will teach you how to create and think in 3D. Any of these will let you do almost anything: characters, architecture, landscapes, objects, special effects, etc.

• Blender - available for many operating systems; free; documentation can be lacking in some areas; somewhat unusual interface.
• CINEMA 4D - somewhat easier to use; not nearly as feature rich as the others; flexible interface.
• Lightwave 3D - a rather unusual interface (no icons, only text buttons); famous for its high rendering quality; used in production of many Hollywood movies.
• SOFTIMAGE - XSI Foundation - the low-end version of Softimage; widely used in the film, gaming and advertising industries; a limited and watermarked version available for free.

These are powerful tools that take time to learn. Master one of them and you probably won't need to learn another one.

Special purpose 3D tools

There are many 3D tools which specialize in particular domain, like character or landscape creation. Because they are highly optimized for doing one thing, the end result can be better, or at least easier and quicker done, compared to an all-round tool.

They are typically much easier to use and get started with. Frequently providing the user with pre-fabricated ready to use assets that can be easily manipulated. This allows for a very rapid development process and saves plenty of time and effort.

There is a flip side to this however. The high specialization factor makes such images often have the same overall look and feel. The wide use of pre-fabricated assets further eliminates originality. The ease of use makes such tools accessible to anybody - artist or not. As a result many online galleries are literally flooded with endless, similarly looking, unoriginal images that get quickly boring to look at.

Having said that, there certainly is a special place for such tools in 3D artist's tool box. If used wisely, they can act as a valuable supplement to your all-round 3D tool. I have often used Bryce for landscape creation, rendered the rest in 3DS Max and combined it all in Photoshop. Such procedure, if done well, will enable you to create unique work that is original and bears no apparent resemblance to the special purpose tools involved.

3D landscape tools

• Bryce - sleek interface, but not very practical; renders quite fast; easy to use.
• MojoWorld - fractal-based; generates whole worlds, as opposed to single landscape; rendering not that fast.
• Terragen - very realistic rendering; a freeware version available for non-commercial use; slow rendering.
• Vue Infinite - quite realistic rendering; advanced lighting and atmosphere features; very capable at generating landscapes with plants.

3D character tools

• DAZ - Studio - easy to use; limited; rather slow interface;
• Poser - easy to use; sleek interface, but not very practical; unstable;

Final thoughts

There are of course many other tools out there. I feel that the tools I described here are mostly suitable for beginners. Once you become more experienced, you'll know your needs much better and will find your way to other tools.

While trying these tools keep in mind that we are all different. A tool that works great for one person may not work at all for another. Every tool out there has been created by people who them selfs have preference/biases regarding how a tool should work, look like, behave, etc.

So the best strategy is to download a demo and try it for some time. If it doesn't suit you, try another one until you find one that you like.

Finally, remember that all software are merely tools. It's the user of those tools that makes all the difference. A novice, even when given the most powerful software in the world, will still produce poor results. On the other hand, a talented, experienced and dedicated user can produce great results using low-end tools. The more skilled you become, the more you can use that to your advantage.

About the Author:
Dawid Michalczyk is a freelance illustrator and an artist. He has been making computer graphics since the early 90's. He loves riding a bicycle and taking long walks in the outdoors. To see examples of his work and other writings visit his website at http://www.art.eonworks.com.


Q&A: Digital tools I'm currently using ~ Frannerd



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