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What Are the Different Types of Digital Art Software?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Artists can create both simple pictures and elaborate masterpieces on the computer by using digital art software. Many different types of digital art programs exist, each tending to favor a particular artistic leaning by including functions that would be better for some art projects than for others. Illustrating, or vector art, is useful for lines and curves, while bitmap and raster programs are best for adding elaborate effects. Painting digital art software works to emulate real paint strokes, and three-dimensional (3D) art programs make models. Some programs blend the features of several types to help the digital artist create a wider variety of projects with a single program.

One type of digital art software that is sometimes called an image editor or bitmap program is generally known as raster software. A raster program is one that saves every bit of information in each shape and layer of the art project, making the image more memory-heavy, but also allowing the use of effects. These programs are based on pixels, so they can turn out pixilated if printed at an expanded size. The advantage this program offers is that many layer effects can be used, and there are typically many features that allow the artist to warp shapes to look textured, glassy or metallic.

Illustration software is usually considered the opposite of raster software, because this digital art software only saves the dots, lines and color of the image. Each individual pixel is not saved, so the image takes up less memory, there will be no blurriness from printing at expanded sizes, and the pictures themselves tend to look cleaner. The disadvantage of illustration software is that it can only include line and color information, so the ornate effects that are possible with raster programs are impossible in this arena.

Painting digital art software is for those who want to mimic real paint strokes. There are digital paintbrushes that create the appearance of oil paint, water paint, dry paint and many other paint types and techniques. There often is the ability to control drying and wind direction, to help the picture look more realistic. While very similar to actual painting, artists new to the world of digital art may find it difficult to work with all the different tools and features.

With 3D digital art software, artists are able to make 3D models, usually from a wireframe or an image reference. By taking shapes and manipulating them, artists will be able to create 3D scenes with characters, environments and architecture. This is more technical than other art programs, and the models have a tendency to look blocky when created by an amateur or novice.

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Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Sep 21, 2014

Something I would recommend for anyone who wants to really get into making digital art is a drawing tablet. You can get a good one for relatively cheap these days (although it won't be very large) and it can really open up your abilities.

I found it cut my drawing time in half, just because I was much more concise with the stylus than I ever was with a mouse.

By MrsPramm — On Sep 20, 2014

@Mor - The nice thing is that you can get free digital art software that approaches the quality of the expensive types for both raster and vectors. I use GIMP and Inkscape myself and they are both capable of producing professional quality work, even though they are completely free to use.

If you are hoping to get into making video or decent GIFs you might need to go a little more upscale though. It's possible to make these with GIMP but a lot more fiddly than if you have a dedicated program for it, or even just PhotoPaint.

By Mor — On Sep 19, 2014

I would suggest that if you're starting out in digital art that you get some practice in with vector art before anything else. The nice thing about creating shapes in vector art software is that they can be re-sized over and over without losing any quality and that can be an important detail for people who are just starting out and don't know how to manage their files properly.

If you accidentally save something as a small file in raster software, you will never be able to re-size it because it will get blurry in bigger sizes. I always do my bases in vectors and then, if I need to, I add special effects with raster software.

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