Digital versus Traditional questions

  • How do artists that prefer traditional media fare in the illustration world? Is digital the way to go? What are the advantages/disadvantages? What would a good set up look like (programs, equipment, etc) for someone starting out? I am asking as an art teacher to high schoolers and as a person seeking possible to enter the field and build up my portfolio. All help will be appreciated.

  • SVS OG

    @chrisaakins There are many illustrators working in traditional media, and I think they do quite well.

    While my background has its origin in traditional media, I’ve mostly used digital for many years primarily due to the advantages of being able to more easily make edits or multiple iterations (e.g. make something in multiple color options), not to mention not needing to scan/photograph it in. Of course, I am feeling a growing yearning to do more traditional media. Likely I will do a hybrid.

    Photoshop (and Illustrator if you do/need vector) are pretty standard; though, there are lower cost and even free options (like

    A pen tablet or pen display (like a Wacom Intuos or Cintiq) are extremely helpful (almost necessary) to paint digitally.

    The iPad Pro (and Surface too, I think) are powerful enough to do production art in many cases, with apps like Procreate which is similar to Photoshop and Affinity Designer which is similar to Illustrator that are much less expensive too. BTW, I’ve seen a rumor on LinkedIn about Adobe making a full version of Photoshop for iPad Pro too (here’s one link:

    I think that—aside from what others have to offer here—more answers may come from knowing what kind of illustration you and your students are looking to do (Picture Books? Editorial? Surface Textile Design? Product Packaging? Character Design? Concept Art? Textures for 3D Models? etc.) This may allow more specific answers as to whether traditional media or digital would be more preferred and what tools would be best.


  • Thanks for the input. Maybe I can use your advice to talk my wife into a Surface Pro (Hehehe). I think right now most of my students would be more interested in comic book art, character design, and/or manga/animation stuff.

  • SVS OG

    @chrisaakins Sure! haha yes I need lots of wife-convincing too! I think all of those areas your students are interested in can use traditional quite a bit — maybe apart from comic book colorists, which may be more on the digital side now (not sure how @Jake-Parker colorized his new graphic novel: but I think it was digital based on his Instagram post:, but the pencil art and inking would/could all be traditional media work; though inking could also be done digitally. Also, the Anime could use a bit of digital, but the Manga would be similar to American-styled comics with pencil & ink.

    Regarding Character Design, I have been enjoying this quarterly magazine by 3DTodal:

    It is a bit of money (especially if outside of the UK like I am), but I think they're pretty nice.

    Of course, SVSLearn has multiple courses on the above 🙂

  • @chrisaakins

    I work primarily in watercolor, a medium that no digital program or engine has successfully replicated yet, and every time I show my work that is what people notice and separates me from others. I don't have much professional experience but I know for a fact that my traditional painting is what landed me my current internship, although the other two interns in my department use digital programs almost exclusively. That being said, those two are heavily encouraged to integrate the use of traditional media, and my knowledge of Photoshop is essential to my work (editing, planning, etc). I also have the ability to paint digitally, even though I do not prefer it.

    I'd say the advantage to working digitally is the ability to edit things and to work more quickly (usually, though it does depend on style), and not have to scan things in. Unfortunately, lots of digital work can look really similar, especially without fundamental training or any traditional background, which makes an artist appear less unique. Working traditionally gives work a certain quality that many strive to replicate with those digital tools. The 'artist's hand' is something that one must be careful to preserve and celebrate when working digitally. I can usually tell when something is inked, painted, or drawn on a physical surface, and I feel most people even non-artists, can to a certain extent as well. Traditional also gives you a tangible piece of art which, for better or worse, holds more value than a digital file because it is the only one.

    Both are the way to go in my opinion, although it greatly depends on what part of the industry they are pursuing. Digital is preferred in say television and film because of quick turnaround time. In comics, books, children's publishing, and the like, it doesn't really matter as much, and becomes more of a personal preference. Are they hiring you for your ability to draw and generate ideas or for your specific style and voice?

    At least for me, trying to maneuver a digital program at the same time I was trying to learn basic drawing and painting techniques was incredibly difficult. But that's just my experience. Digital is just another medium, although with a higher entry level of difficulty (in my opinion).

    I am a better digital painter because I started traditionally, and I am a better traditional painter because I can approach things with a digital mindset. I'm currently working on a project where I create multiple assets traditionally and input them into PS and then build the final artwork digitally with everything separated on layers.

    (As an aside, learning color is so much easier traditionally. So much faster and allows you to bring that knowledge into digital. Allows you to choose richer colors as well.)

    Digital set up:

    • Graphics Tablet (Huion, Monoprice, Wacom, etc) or Pen Display (Wacom Cintiq, iPad Pro, Surface Pro, etc)
      -Software (Krita, GIMP, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Clip Studio Paint, Paint Tool Sai, Procreate, Affinity Photo, Corel Painter)
      -A computer that will run the software

    All these things will run a different price point (i.e. Krita is free, Huion tablets are cheaper than Wacom tablets, etc), it just depends on what you can get. Although Photoshop is the thing to know at the moment if you ever desire to work in-house in a studio.


    • Pencil
    • Paper
    • Erasers
    • Sharpeners
    • The rest really depends on whatever media you want to use (watercolor, acrylic, inks, oils, etc)
    • I'd invest in a scanner regardless, as most stuff ends up in a digital file one way or another.

    Hope I answered your question at all and sorry for rambling! I just love talking about this stuff 🙂

  • @teju-abiola Rebelle is so close for digital water color

  • @rcartwright I saw something about that, but there's just something attractive to me about the way the pigments float and settle into the paper, ya know? One day, they might be able to replicate the unique properties of each pigment, but for now, I can still tell that stuff is digital. Even though people can do really sweet things with it.

    Ultramarine just does different stuff than Chromium Green or Naples Yellow; different pigments react differently when mixed with each other. And let's be honest, I just like the ritual of painting with watercolor a heck of a lot 🙂 It'll be really cool to see when they finally figure it out though!

  • Thank you so much for the input! I especially like the point about learning the basics before trying to digital work. That is something I had not considered.

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