Is digital painting easier than traditional?

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

It seems to be a common misconception among beginner artists that digital painting is easier than traditional. However this is simply not true, and I say this as a traditional artist first and foremost.

Of course, digital art can be much more forgiving when you have the power to undo all of your mistakes which is incredible helpful when a particular stroke doesn't go the way you want it to. Something I often lament after botching an eye deep into a traditional drawing! But you also have another realm of issues when learn digital that you wouldn't have to worry about using a traditional medium:


I've only been painting digitally for about a year now and I can say with confidence this one of the most confusing things to wrap my head around when I first started! So many different ways to use layers, the different filters you can run through them it takes a lot of experimentation to find out what they all do and how you should approach each of them. Something I'm still figuring out myself!


Another point of confusion I had when drawing digitally were the brushes. So many brushes, all of them doing completely different things. Personally after trying and failing so many of my initial paintings, I'd recommend sticking to one or two basic brushes until you get used to the software. Its good to keep things simple.

All of the brushes I use in krita
Brushes in Krita


This brings me to hardware. What tablet is best? There are so many to pick from. So many variables to choose from when getting your first tablet; Size, active area, pressure sensitivity, wireless capability, express keys, multi-touch technology. It's a lot to take in.

Using a tablet is very different from using pencil and paper, many people complain about the disconnect between hand and eye, this is doubled if you're using a tablet without a screen. This may just be a personal preference but the feel of a tablet screen is hard to adjust to when you're used to paper, many screens are glossy. You can however buy matte screen protectors to rectify this.


Knowing how to use your program itself is another skill on it's own. Just like navigating any other new piece of software you need to locate each button and find out what is does, and there are a lot of them. It's best to find a decent tutorial if it's your first time using a program, these can be easily found on Youtube and it can save you a lot of desperate soul-searching.

It can be expensive.

Price may not directly correlate to the difficulty of the medium, but it does make it less accessible if you're not flush with cash. With the cost of a decent graphics tablet ranging anywhere from £100-£2000, plus the cost of the software you need like Photoshop or Illustrator at £10 a month. There are of course ways to avoid these with a little perseverance and street-smarts. Software such as Krita and GIMP offer free alternatives to Photoshop and have many of the same features. I would recommend a cheaper tablet to begin with while you practice, you can always invest in better kit once you're a master and really you can do most of the same work on a budget tablet as an industry tablet. (Just make sure you get one with decent sensitivity settings!)

Tablet prices
Tablet prices

Losing files

One of the most frustrating things about digital. It's nigh impossible to lost a drawing or painting indefinitely (if you're like me they're probably tucked away in a drawer somewhere to gather dust). Digital on the other hand, if you forget to save intentionally and work into a a painting for 4-5 hours and your computer decides it wants to crash you're in for a real treat. I've had this happen to me a handful of times and it can be soul crushing if you've stayed up half the night working on something. I like to remember ASS when I start a new digital piece Always Save, Stupid.


Of course if you master the medium there are a huge variety of different methods and techniques you can utilise where traditional mediums would be much more limited. However most of us aren't masters. Digital paintings when you're starting out can look very disjointed and unnatural.

  • With such a huge array of vibrant colours, it's much easier to get everything looking over saturated.

  • The digital 'canvas' has no texture unlike traditional media, as such all of your drawings or paintings can look flat.

  • Layers can make sections of your paintings look like they're floating on top of each other if not painted correctly. With traditional methods you'd have more overlap of pigments meaning this is much easier to avoid.

You still need to know the basics!

There are many features in digital programs designed to enhance your work, but it doesn't fix any underlying issues. You still need to learn the art fundamentals before you can make a successful digital piece! This is something that is often overlooked when this discussion is brought up and it's why I believe digital to be a more challenging medium than traditional drawing. You need to have a decent handle on these principles; perspective, form, value, lighting, form, colour theory, perspective & composition PLUS all the added difficulties of digital as a medium. Many of these traditional skills are easily transferable to digital, which is why most experience artists recommend drawing with good ol' fashioned pencil and paper first, this doesn't mean you can being using a tablet it just helps to keep things simlpe and conquer one thing at a time.


This post wasn't made to dissuade you however! Get out there and try it for yourself if you haven't already it can be a lot of fun once you get a basic understanding the tools at your disposal.

If you're a beginner, I'd recommend practicing the art fundamentals drawing on paper first before you move on to a new medium like digital, much like oil painting you don't want to add too many new elements when you're starting out

To experienced artists, I would totally recommend practicing digital as a medium. There are many shortcuts in each software designed to save you time and can produce similar results. I often spend half the amount of time painting a digital piece compared to my traditional ones with no reduction in quality. The tools at your disposal are limitless and you can master them all with a 'little practice'!

I'm just waiting until 3D painting hits the mainstream so I can imitate the thing that I miss about digital, the physical texture of an oil or acrylic painting. That and the smell. :)

Which do you think is easier?

Do you practice traditional, or digital? Are there any particular issues you've come across with either that make you want to curl up and cry? Help others avoid these issues using your experience if so!

I'll be writing some new tutorial processes and more tips'n'tricks in the near future, subscribe if that's something you'd be interested in!

I'm Focusing heavily on this blog this month, I've been slacking on my studies and I'm using it as an excuse to learn more about theory and talk through new ideas.

Watch my latest digital process video here!

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