In this article I wanted to explore some innovative technology that is being used in digital art software.
As well as referencing some software I’m also including some interesting links at the bottom of this article for you.
If you want to explore more options for software the site https://alternativeto.net/ is very useful for listing similar alternatives to the ones in this article.
Software is available for creating digital art using technologies such as procedural generative code, artificial intelligence and neural networks (AI) and 3D computer graphics (3D). Some software’s explore the creation of art for virtual reality (VR) as well as software’s that continue the ongoing development of digital natural art medium emulation.
Digital art owes a great debt of gratitude to science and mathematics.
I’m not a mathematician or computer scientist, but I can appreciate the efforts of these disciplines and I will try to describe these things as simply as I can in an effort to learn more about them myself and hopefully share some knowledge.
Generative art and Artificial Intelligence
In digital painting the use of generative code can create randomness, algorithmic art and amazing geometric special effects. I have no idea how all this is done, but luckily I don’t really have to know because people are developing art software that makes it easy for non-mathematicians to create these effects. Some include Black Ink, PD Howler, Amberlight and Flame Painter.
The brush engines in these software can use procedural code to create some really interesting effects from geometric to even fire and watercolor. Sometimes this is also known as particle systems. Lots of software is implementing similar effects, you can find them now in Paintstorm Studio, Krita, Photoshop and Corel Painter.
Generative art can help you create things that would be difficult, time consuming or just impossible to do manually. You could use it to help create unique randomized patterns and textures or interesting shapes to incorporate into your painting. Generative algorithms can also be useful to make randomized trees, plants and geometric shapes. Lazy Nezumi has some interesting options that can help a digital painter include algorithmic randomness to paint strokes regardless of software.
Many computer game developers take advantage of generative art technologies for creating random elements and sometimes completely procedural generated worlds. There are a lot of uses in 3D art for generative art which could also be crossed with 2D art. Andrew Price made a great video on this subject and also how artificial intelligence is being used which is really interesting to watch.
If you are interested in seeing more tools developed for game development check out https://itch.io/tools.
Artificial Intelligence goes hand in hand with generative art. Adobe is exploring the use of AI with Adobe Sensei. Clip Studio Paint has some artificial intelligence features that help an artist color in a picture. Software such as Deepart and Dynamic Auto Painter create interesting effects from images using algorithms that are designed to emulate different painting styles. There are also some new digital art software’s using AI to auto suggest fully rendered images from basic sketches such as KumoWorks for creating randomised clouds.
Randomization of Shapes
Randomization of silhouettes and the use of custom shapes is a design tool that you can employ in digital painting. Some software have brush engines that create random shapes (such as the Alchemy brush in Krita), but generally you can use specialized software to do the randomization for you or do it manually using the shape tool in Photoshop with libraries of custom shapes. WebAlchemy is a useful tool for this method. There are also tools such as ZibBasher and Brainstorm.
Most digital art programs nowadays have a symmetry feature. This enables artists to create mirrored images, rotational symmetry and kaleidoscope art effects. Some software such as Inspirit specializes in making kaleidoscope art. There are also software’s such as Repper which generate kaleidoscopic patterns from images. Rotational symmetry is another technique which can be employed by digital artists. Tessellation patterns can be created digitally by using software like Tesselmaniac.
Some digital art software uses infinite canvas so it doesn’t matter how big your image gets, some even has infinite zoom such as Mischief. Unfortunately it seems Mischief is not being actively developed any more, but Leonardo, Milton and MyPaint also has the infinite canvas feature. The technology behind Mischief may be getting a second lease of life however in the development of Kanova, a volumetric sculpting tool for VR.
Perspective Guides and Rulers
Clip Studio Paint has some of the best perspective ruler guide tools in my opinion, although I did also like aspects of ones in a software called JugiPaint I tried using a free trial version a few years ago. If you really like your digital rulers and guides then check out Lazy Nezumi.
Mixing 3D and 2D
You can read my article on this where I go into much more detail about the uses of combing 3D and 2D art.
There are dedicated digital art software’s such as Corel Painter and Project Dogwaffle (or PD Howler) which mix 3D art into 2D art workflows. Clip Studio Paint and Photoshop now have support for 3D objects.
SpeedyPainter has an experimental build for painting normal maps and software such as 3D Coat and Substance Painter can also be used to create 3D texturing effects. Check out Laigter as well if you are interested in normal map painting. I have a few articles about the uses of normal maps and depth maps for lighting 2D art around this website.
Some digital painting software uses 3D technology in their brush engines such as Expresii. Expresii is a specialized digital painting software for creating digital Eastern Watercolor effects. Expresii is quite unique from other digital painting software’s at the moment in that it has a 3D brush engine and brushes can be loaded with multiple color like their natural counterpart.
Alternatively some 3D artists strive to create a 2D look with 3D art which is known as Non Photorealistic Rendering or NPR for short. Frameworks such as MNPR are being developed that help create natural medium looks for 3D art.
Normal Maps for 2D Art
Normal maps depth maps and height maps with 2D images can be used in 3D rendering engines to create different lighting effects. Digital painting software can exploit the use of normal maps. Krita has a tangent normal map brush engine feature which some game developers use. There was a great article published on Artstation about this technique recently.
I’ve written a few articles about using normal maps on 2D art as well if you are interested in this technique.
Combining Vector and Raster
Affinity Designer by Serif is the main software I use if I want to use vector and raster graphics together. Its companion Affinity Photo also has some vector drawing tools but is primarily for raster based digital art and photo editing. Other digital art software’s also have this feature such as the new version of Krita and Clip Studio Paint. Some of the advantages of using vectors in digital painting / drawing is that you can edit the strokes after you draw them and they don’t get pixilated if you zoom in. Vector is ideal if you want really perfect lines.
I think converting raster lines into vector would be another useful approach to employ if you needed to resize an image without losing too much detail or getting grainy artifacts. You could do that with Inkscape and then import the SVG back into your painting software.
Emulation of natural art mediums
Digital painting software has long striven to create brush engines that emulate natural art mediums such as oil, watercolor, ink and pencil to just name a few.
Watercolor is probably the hardest to create digitally, or at least it used to be. Software such as Rebelle and Expresii are very convincing and unique for creating this effect at present. Verve Painter is an experimental software in development that aims to emulate a natural painting medium and also has a really amazing fluid dynamics brush engine that you can do Ebru marbling effects in. I’m hoping the developer improves the user interface to look a bit more conventional or perhaps text based but otherwise it looks really interesting.
ArtRage is very good at oil paint emulation. PaintStorm Studio also does a nice job of oil painting type brushes. If you want an all rounder natural media software and your budget is huge then Corel Painter has some interesting brushes which emulate natural media. PD Howler also has impasto brushes and newer versions of Photoshop can create 3D effects as well. There are many alternatives nowadays since this feature has always been desired by digital artists. Krita has improved its brushes to match some natural art media and Adobe is working on Project Gemini, which will be a software focusing on natural medium emulation.
Edit January 2020: Project Gemini is now called Adobe Fresco.
You can argue digital art will never beat the real thing but traditional and digital art mediums have their pros and cons so why not take advantage by using both.
I think knowledge of traditional art mediums can help develop your digital art skills and digital art can be used as a tool in the creation process of traditional art, so excluding one over the other could be somewhat short-sighted.
I’ve tried real oil paint in the past and I hated the mess and waiting for paint to dry, but I do still prefer real color pencils over digital counterparts, and watercolor pencils are really nice and as yet no one has created a digital version of watercolor pencil (not to my knowledge anyway).
Some concept artists are exploring Panoramic digital paintings as a way to present ideas in a new way. Animation and interactivity is also employed in some cases.
Pano Painter, specializes in the creation of digital panoramic 360 degree paintings. It is possible to create these type of images in other software but it is a technical process. Using 3D art software to help is a logical option though. Blender has a feature called the Grease Pencil which lets you draw in 3D space. Some artists also use 3D Coat to help them build 3D panoramas.
I think as virtual reality hardware becomes more accessible and affordable for artists this will probably be a thing to look into doing for more digital artists.
Some programs for doing art in VR are Tilt Brush.