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How to Create Digital Illustrations

Digital illustrations can help take your website to the next level. Learn how to create digital illustrations in this how‑to guide.

Making a positive first impression on those who view your artwork and designs is essential, whether you are trying to establish a reputation as an artist or if you are attempting to market a product. Digital artwork can take many forms, and creating digital illustrations is made possible by intuitive tools, programs, and techniques.

Before you can learn how to design a beautiful website, you will need to understand digital illustration and how to go about creating illustrations for your business and brand. In our guide below, we’ll cover all the basics of digital illustrations, including why they’re important and how to create digital art, as well as provide answers to frequently asked questions. Whether you’re an emerging or veteran digital illustrator, read below to continue honing your skills.

What is digital illustration?

Digital illustration is part of the UI and UX design process in most instances, as most brands today use an illustrated logo of some sort in order to represent their business and the products or services they provide. A digital illustration is a sketch, drawing, or painting of an object, person, or abstract idea with the use of a digital program and/or drawing tablet. While digital illustration techniques can and do vary widely, they typically involve the use of a digital design program, such as Adobe Illustrator or GIMP, as well as tools like a stylus, mouse, and keyboard.

Why is digital illustration important?

From reading about the 8 things to know about digital marketing to diving right into illustration, understanding why artwork and digital illustration art matter is essential regardless of where the illustrations are used and for what purpose. Some reasons digital illustrations are considered highly important include:

  • Improved content: Using digital illustrations is a way to significantly improve the overall quality of the content you produce, especially when you are using unique digital illustrations. Implementing illustrations throughout your blog design is also a way to boost the quality of your site and its content and is a ranking factor by many search engines like Google, which can increase your online visibility.
  • Engage users: Well-designed digital illustrations will keep your visitors interested in your content while also helping to encourage them to engage with your website's content or any active promotions you are running at the time.
  • Making complex content digestible: The use of digital illustrations goes beyond branding. In fact, it is possible to put your digital illustrations to work for you by informing users of your content and guiding them through your website with the use of your illustrations and graphics. Visual graphics and aids go a long way toward establishing a brand's image and ability to reach a particular audience or demographic online.
  • Persuade readers: The use of digital illustrations can also help to persuade readers to learn more about a specific product you are promoting while also encouraging them to finalize a sale they are interested in. Properly designed illustrations and graphics can have a significant impact on how others view and interpret your brand, for better or worse. Using low-quality, grainy, and outdated graphics can cause users to feel as though your brand is out of touch or lagging behind in terms of quality and keeping up with today's trends, which can result in a loss of a sale and, ultimately, revenue.
  • Build your brand: Graphic design and digital illustrations are extremely useful tools for establishing and building brands, especially those in highly competitive and saturated markets. Using digital illustrations can also help others to remember your logo and brand colors each time they visit your website or attempt to search for products and services you offer.

How do you create digital art?

Creating digital art is not difficult, even if you are unfamiliar with the process or if you are unsure of where to begin. In addition to traditional software that can be used to create digital illustrations, there are also online tools and resources that can help to smooth the process of creating graphics and digital illustration art of your own.

1. Choose a digital art software

First, you will need to find a digital art software solution that is right for you. This can include traditional programs, free programs, as well as online resources. Some of the most well-known digital art software solutions today include:

  • Adobe Photoshop: Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular graphic and illustration design programs available around the world. Photoshop is known for its extensive and robust system that provides immense flexibility when it comes to graphic design management.
  • GIMP: GIMP is another one of the world's most popular design programs, and it is completely free of charge. GIMP is optimal for those who are interested in working with raster images rather than vector illustrations, as well as beginners who are just starting their digital art career.
  • Procreate: If you are searching for an Adobe Photoshop alternative that offers a premium subscription plan and hundreds of additional brushes, Procreate plans begin at $9.99 per month and work best on tablet devices like an Apple iPad.
  • Affinity Photo: Affinity Photo is another alternative piece of design software that requires a one-time payment of $49.99. It is extremely similar to Adobe Photoshop in all of the features it has to offer.
  • Adobe Fresco: Another drawing and painting solution from Adobe is Adobe Fresco. Adobe Fresco is highly advisable for artists who prefer to paint when designing their digital illustrations and creations.
  • Adobe Illustrator: Adobe Illustrator is highly recommended for illustrators who want to take their craft seriously. Adobe Illustrator is the pinnacle of digital illustration design, and provides many opportunities to implement a range of digital illustration techniques, whether you are drawing in-program or with the use of a graphics tablet.

2. Create a sketch

Whenever you are thinking of creating a digital illustration, it is best to begin by sketching the idea you have in mind by hand. Sketching your logo, graphic, or animation on a piece of paper is useful for making changes and edits before you begin transferring the final draft to your computer or preferred working platform.

You can then scan your sketch or take a digital photo of your sketch with the use of a mobile smartphone if the quality is high to transfer your photo(s) to your preferred digital illustration software.

Keep in mind that a sketch is just that. There is no need to concern yourself over specifics and details, as you will refine the sketch later on once it has been scanned or transferred into your preferred illustration program.

3. Design on several layers

Once you have launched your preferred illustration program and opened or launched a new project, it is highly advisable to work on multiple layers. Creating a new layer for each aspect of your project is highly recommended to avoid damaging the original file of your sketch or merging them together too quickly.

Use separate layers for each part of your sketch. For example, a few layers that you may create for your digital illustration art might include:

  • Background/base layer
  • Sketch layer, which is where the original sketch is scanned or saved
  • Linework layer
  • Base layer/skin tones if you are coloring and painting individuals
  • Coloring layer(s)
  • Detail layers, etc.

4. Draw with colors

After you become familiar with working with the pen tools and sketching tools in your preferred digital illustration program, you can then begin coloring your illustration. This works best if you are using the layer system, which provides an easy solution for coloring "within the lines," which simply requires you to add a new layer beneath your linework layers.

You can then begin painting your sketch beneath your linework using the traditional paintbrush included in your preferred software program or custom brushes, pens, pencils, and paint cans, which can help complete the style of digital art you’re going for.

5. Delete the sketch layers

As you begin to feel comfortable with the way that your illustration looks, especially after you complete the linework and coloring of your graphic, you can then delete any sketch layers you were using or currently have in place. Deleting the sketch layers of your graphic will let you have a sneak peek at the final version of your creation.

Note: If you delete your sketch layer(s) and find that you are missing important linework or additional coloring details, simply undo the process using the 'Undo' button, feature, or shortcut from your preferred illustration program.

6. Add final details

Add any final details to your illustration once it is complete, such as shadows, top linework, and gradients. This step will help finalize your piece and ensure it meets your or your client’s standards.

7. Save your digital illustration

Save your digital illustration using the format that you prefer or that is suitable for the type of art you have created. Saving your file as a standard vector or illustration file will permit you to make future edits, but the graphic will be incompatible as a standard graphic online.

The most common file formats used when saving and exporting illustrations include PNG files, JPG/JPEG, and GIF files.

Digital illustration FAQs

What industries do digital illustrators work in?

Digital illustrators are widely in demand today, working in a range of industries, including:

  • Film industry
  • Fashion industry
  • Video game industry
  • E-commerce industry
  • Advertising industry

What are the different forms of digital illustration?

As a digital illustrator, your work will likely never feel boring, especially with the many forms of illustration that are used commercially today, such as:

  • Film, TV shows, and commercials: Illustrators may be required to develop characters, animated graphics, and even branded icons for commercials and clips on television.
  • Web design: Digital illustrators are responsible for branding, buttons, banners, and more.
  • 3D modeling: Developing 3D models, character sketches, clothing, accessories, and high-res textures.
  • Video games: Texturing, landscape design, character development, clothing, accessories, environmental design, and aesthetics.
  • Book illustrations: Managing the design and overall aesthetic of a book from start to finish to ensure cohesiveness and flow.
  • Magazine covers and graphics: Handles design, color scheme, as well as typography and promotional placements.
  • Fashion design: Assists with fashion sketches, design ideas, measurements, and converting sketches into reality.
  • Advertising: Branding, logo design, color schemes, targeting specific demographics with the use of color psychology, digital illustration, and graphic design

What equipment do digital illustrators need?

Getting started as a digital illustrator is possible with a sketchbook and a few electronics, such as:

  • Computer or laptop: You will need a computer or laptop that is capable of handling your preferred digital art software and scanning program(s).
  • Graphics tablet and stylus: Using a tablet and stylus is highly recommended for professional illustrators and graphic designers who prefer smooth linework.
  • Scanner: A scanner is extremely advisable to easily transfer scans of artwork into your preferred illustration program.
  • Digital illustration software: The digital illustration software of your choice can have a massive impact on how efficiently you are able to illustrate, scan, and work.
  • Memory card or flash drive: Using memory cards and flash drives allows you to save and store work while backing up completed projects with ease.

Design websites with Mailchimp

Once you are familiar with web design vs. graphic design, you can begin implementing your own digital illustration art directly into your website, social media pages, blog, and online presence. If you are looking for an all-in-one solution that is suitable for designing websites, adding illustrations, and marketing your content, Mailchimp is one of the best choices for both individuals and businesses alike.

With Mailchimp, streamline the process of designing, managing, and launching your website from one central location.

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