The Ten Commandments of Digital Painting

Good Advice for You
Here are 10 quick tips to get you started with creating artwork on your computer. In my experience, they result in better images, less headaches, and faster learning. Use these as rules of thumb as you are transitioning into the digital art world.



  1. Thou shalt use a tablet.
    If you are just getting into digital art and are considering whether or not to get a tablet, stop debating. A tablet is the only way you will be able to draw sufficiently on the computer. Go ahead and get the cheapest one if that is all that you can afford. I worked on a Wacom 4×5 Graphire tablet (available for under $100) for a couple years without any complaints or problems.
  2. Thou shalt not work any lower than 300 ppi.
    This is the standard print resolution. If you want to be able to use your image for portfolios, postcards, mailers, brochures, or prints, you will want to work at 300 ppi or higher. You can always scale down your image later, but you will never be able to scale it up without losing some quality.
  3. Thou shalt put as much RAM on your computer as you can afford.
    If you are thinking of buying a computer for your digital illustration needs, the most important feature to look for is probably your RAM (I would probably go for 1 GB or more). Also look at the processor speed. This will make sure your computer will run fast without skipping while you are painting. This especially helps for people like me who are known to run Mail, iTunes, Firefox, Quicktime, Newsfire, and Photoshop all at the same time (probably a bad habit, but it happens nonetheless).
  4. Thou shalt not use the computer before you have learned to draw.
    If you are trying to learn all this digital stuff and have never picked up a pencil, back away now!
  5. Thou shalt not get carried away by Photoshop’s tools and forget good design.
    Concentrate first on creating a great image. Filters, effects, and layers can be nifty, but mean nothing if your painting looks awful in the end.
  6. Thou shalt not use the soft-edged brush.
    If you want to create a soft edge, gradually build up your blends with a hard-edged brush at a lower opacity. Sure, there are a few good uses for the soft-edged brush, but don’t make it a habit of using it as your main painting tool. A lot of ugly digital paintings can be attributed to an artist’s addiction to the soft-edged brush.
  7. Thou shalt not use too many layers.
    If you are going to make a new layer, have a good reason for doing so. Don’t get in the habit of using dozens of layers just for the heck of it, or because you can’t commit to your painting. It is too much of a hassle to keep track of all of them, and your file sizes will be ginormous.
  8. Thou shalt use filters sparingly.
    The software isn’t going to magically create your painting for you. Learn how to create painterly effects on the computer through patience and practice, not by taking shortcuts.
  9. Thou shalt honor thy brush and thy paint.
    Don’t forget to go back and practice your traditional skills every now and then. Your digital paintings will be better because of it.
  10. Remember to backup thy files for they are holy.
    If you do not keep this law, destiny says that you will probably end up regretting it.

What do you think of these commandments? Is there something highly important that I missed? Do you disagree with one of my rules? Let me know.

Just getting started in digital painting? Check these out…
The Photoshop and Painter Artist Tablet Book: Creative Techniques in Digital Painting

Digital Texturing & Painting

Digital Character Design and Painting: The Photoshop CS Edition (Graphics Series) (Graphics Series)

Digital Fantasy Painting Workshop

Digital Fantasy Painting