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.