Digital Illustration Software Workflow

I’ve used a lot of different software over the years in search of a digital illustration workflow that I really like, for various reasons. I still like a sketch book, but when I’ve got tools like undo, layers, resize, and more, I actually find myself feeling a little more free from the dreaded “fear of the blank canvas” block,  and notice that my drawings exhibit more creativity.

Until recently, I had just decided that I would never be satisfied with a wholly digital process. My computer was just where my drawings ended up when it was time to color them, mainly because of weaknesses in the inking phase. Now, though, I think I’ve found something that will satisfy me in those times when pens aren’t an option.

Illustration Workflow

Here is the pipeline I’m using, with some other comments:

INPUT DEVICE: WACOM TABLET
First of all, it kind of goes without saying that if you want to do any serious digital hand-drawn illustration, you’re probably going to want a pen tablet. Any of them will work well, with varying levels of benefit, but the real formula is just “the bigger, the better.” After working my way up through virtually every stage of tablets, the smallest to the largest (all of which were helpful), I’m finally using a Wacom Cintiq, and I’ll never look back. Even if you only get a 6″x8″ tablet, though, you’ll love it.

PENCILS: PHOTOSHOP or PAINTER (ESSENTIALS)
This one is almost a tie. I’m definitely more familiar with Photoshop, which is a plus, but I really think that Painter edges out PS in the short time I’ve used it.  All I can really say is that it “feels” better.

Another great program that I tried was Alias Sketchbook Pro. I can’t say enough about how smooth the demo was for sketching.  Honestly, if I felt like dropping the cash, I would probably use this one exclusively for penciling, but it’s hard to justify when I’ve already got multiple pencil solutions. And multiple real pencils.

INKING: PAINTER (ESSENTIALS)
This was my unicorn. I felt like I had tried everything for inking, and the only solution I mildly liked was Flash, which is a weird way to ink, but I liked the vector tools it offered.

Then I found Painter. While I still can’t stay it’s the answer to all of my prayers, the “Fine Point Pen” does give me a result with which I’m satisfied. There are some anti-aliasing issues I’m not thrilled about, but I can usually remedy them by working larger than I need and then downsizing in Photoshop.

So far, I use Essentials, the inexpensive version, which has all I need. I’m sure that the full version would offer more flexibility.

COLORS: PHOTOSHOP
Photoshop all the way. Clipping masks are a life saver, and Photoshop’s post processing tools are hugely beneficial for giving my illustrations a little extra character.

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Nothing will ever replace the feel and the look of a pencil in your hands or of real paint on a canvas – and most of the time, I try to use as many real world elements as I can – however, digital illustration offers a lot of perks, so a solid pipeline can be invaluable.