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Digital painting


Digital painting

Joseph Nechvatal Orgiastic abattOir (2005) computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas 112 x168 cm
Anonymous digital painting The Woman of Rock (detail) created in Photoshop CS

Digital painting is a method of creating an art object (painting) digitally and/or a technique for making digital art in the computer. As a method of creating an art object, it adapts traditional painting medium such as acrylic paint, oils, ink, watercolor, etc. and applies the pigment to traditional carriers, such as woven canvas cloth, paper, polyester etc. by means of computer software driving industrial robotic or office machinery (printers). As a technique, it refers to a computer graphics software program that uses a virtual canvas and virtual painting box of brushes, colors and other supplies. The virtual box contains many instruments that do not exist outside the computer, and which give a digital artwork a different look and feel from an artwork that is made the traditional way.


  • Visual characteristics 1
  • Place of painting in digital art 2
  • Computer generated painting 3
  • Separate carriers 4
  • Specific difficulties 5
  • Market for digital art 6
  • Standard Certificate of Uniqueness (SCU) 7
  • Digital technique 8
  • Comparison with traditional painting 9
  • Origins 10
    • Sketchpad 10.1
    • Tablets 10.2
    • MacPaint 10.3
    • Adobe 10.4
    • Kid Pix 10.5
    • Web-based painting programs 10.6
  • See also 11
  • 12 Books and articles
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Visual characteristics

The specific visual characteristics of a digital painting can be traced back to the software. They include transparency, symmetry, distortion, repetition, texture, embossing (creating 3D illusions), mathematically perfect circles, ellipses, squares and other forms, and a flat surface due to the (up to now) technical impossibility to make the brush stroke visible. The option to undo without a trace up to twenty or more brush strokes or other actions, permits a more spontaneous, intuitive way of working than is possible in traditional painting. The choice of program (or specific feature within a program) determines the output to have the characteristics of a watercolor, lino cut, screen print, oil painting etc. Thus, digital painting is not so much a new medium as a new appearance of the whole range of existing mediums, supplemented with some new features.

Place of painting in digital art

Painting is one of at least five directions that can be distinguished in early digital art: (1) 'Computer generated art' springs directly from artificial intelligence and programming. The image is the result of a string of zeros and ones, much the same as music notes on a score are not music themselves, but symbols that determine how the music will sound. (2) 'Digital photo-art' starts with a photo which is manipulated and transformed into a new image with the help of digital tools; (3) 'Digital animation' is a series of paintings or drawings, not necessarily made on a computer, manipulated and put into motion with the help of a computer program. (4) 'Video art' likewise relies on the manipulation of moving images. (5) 'Traditional digital painting' creates an image in a stroke-by-stroke, brush-in-hand fashion, but the canvas and painting tools are digital.[1]

Computer generated painting

Within the category of computer generated painting, a distinction is made between 'code-mode', and 'design-mode'. The difference can be clarified with the aid of web page design. A web designer who wants to give a web page a black background, can do so by writing, in a language that the computer can understand: . The earliest digital paintings are made in this method, where the artist writes a code, and the code generates an image. Code-mode painting offered a lot of freedom in style and idiom - though intricate forms were difficult to program.
Modern programs used for web design usually offer a 'design mode' alongside a 'code mode'. The advantage of a design mode is that it allows to build web pages without the need of programming. The designer can choose to visually construct an image and the software will generate the necessary code.
Graphics programs used for digital painting take this one step further. The design mode is the only mode. The image is translated into the codes that are needed for viewing, printing etc. without interference of the artist. Most of these programs feature a number of ready-made shapes, such as circles, ellipses, squares, and many brush points. While it is probably not possible for a human hand to create exactly identical shapes, or construct a perfect circle, for a computer this is not difficult at all. Hence the typical occurrence of regular forms and exact repetition in digital painting in general, and the designation 'computer generated' for art in which regular shapes and exact repetition dominate. It is possible to subject shapes to a variety of mathematical operations. Programs for fractal art for instance, assist the artist in creating visually complex structures of great mathematical regularity.[1]

Separate carriers

The creative process in traditional and digital painting is more or less the same, but when the digital artist is done, there is nothing to hang on a wall. The painting is on the hard disk of a computer. The usual way to make it presentable and salable is to project it on a traditional carrier, such as paper, canvas or polyester. This is commonly done by a professional printer. For an original painting, the traditional physical carrier substitutes the digital carrier, which is deleted. For a series, the digital carrier is deleted when the prefixed number of copies has been reached. For an open ended series, the digital carrier is retained on the computer.

Specific difficulties

Working with two separate carriers – the hard disk where the artwork was created and saved as a file, and the paper, canvas, etc. on which it is projected and which becomes its actual physical appearance – raises some specific difficulties for digital artists as well as art dealers. The most prominent is: how to protect the numerical uniqueness of an artwork if the source is stored in single digits in the computer and can be exactly and infinitely reproduced? Other typical problems are: how to match the colors of the projection accurately with those on the computer monitor, and how to sufficiently increase the length and width dimensions of the work without distorting lines and forms and without the file becoming unmanageable. A problem of an entirely different nature stems from the relative ease to copy-and-paste in the digital working space, which occasionally raises questions about copyright or about to what extent the artwork is a form of self-expression.

Market for digital art

The emergence of a market for digital art is currently (2013) still hampered by the fact that the original is often indistinguishable from the (cheaper) copy. As a result, along the current development path, the sale of the original painting is gradually supplanted by the sale of prints, and the market for digital art moves in the direction of the market for the printed book, where the original manuscript is mainly a tool to maximize the sale of exact copies. Prints hand signed by the artist, and certification (see below) might bring a change of direction. Whether this will lead to a mature market for digital painting is hard to predict.

Standard Certificate of Uniqueness (SCU)

In an attempt to address problems with uniqueness and copyright and to stimulate the development of a clear and trustworthy formula for the selling and buying of digital paintings, a Standard Certificate of Uniqueness[2] was drafted in 2013, that can be voluntarily adopted by digital artists and art dealers. It contains the statement of the artist that he or she is both as a whole and in parts of the artwork its only creator. The artist promises to offer only one physical representation of the work for sale, with the clearly visible fingerprint or signature in wet paint or ink at the front. In the 2.0 version (January 2015) the digital carrier and the exclusive right of exploitation of the artwork are transferred to the buyer. The artist keeps a 'display copy' for non-commercial purpose. The economic appreciation of the artist would thus be determined at a traditional market for original digital art, possibly influenced by a secondary market for prints.

Digital technique

Digital painting differs from other forms of digital art, particularly computer-generated art, in that it does not involve the computer rendering from a model. The artist uses painting techniques to create the digital painting directly on the computer. All digital painting programs try to mimic the use of physical media through various brushes and paint effects. Included in many programs are brushes that are digitally styled to represent the traditional style like oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, pen and even media such as airbrushing. There are also certain effects unique to each type of digital paint which portray the realistic effects of, for instance, watercolor on a digital "watercolor" painting.[3] In most digital painting programs, the users can create their own brush style using a combination of texture and shape. This ability is very important in bridging the gap between traditional and digital painting.

Digital painting thrives mostly in production art. It is most widely used in conceptual design for film, television and video games. Digital painting software such as

  • "The A-life Undeadening of Painting via the Digital", an essay on art digital painting by Joseph Nechvatal at Kritikos: an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image Volume 2, October 2005, ISSN 1552-5112

External links

  1. ^ a b "MOCA". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Corel Corporation - Welcome to". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  4. ^ "MyBrushes". Retrieved 2014-07-09. 
  5. ^ "Art: Traditional vs. Digital « Vindicated". 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  6. ^ "Traditional Painting vs Digital Painting". 2015-01-02. Retrieved 2015-01-08. 
  7. ^ Intuos3 12x19 – Product Overview
  8. ^ Gerchev, Ivaylo. "The Real History of the GUI [Design Principles]". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  9. ^ "Comparison chart of graphic tablets.". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  10. ^ "Links to many graphic tablets". 2014-06-05. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  11. ^ "Sue Chastain, editor about graphic tablets". 2014-05-30. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  12. ^ "Smithsonian Institution Archives". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  13. ^ Sandberg, Erik (1984-01-31). "Personal Computers; Software For The Macintosh: Plenty On The Way". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  14. ^ "Apple Lisa". 2006-11-19. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  15. ^ "The Real History of the GUI [Design Principles]". 2013-08-23. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  16. ^ "Kid Pix: The Early Years". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  17. ^ "Sumopaint website". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  18. ^ "Queeky website". 2014-04-19. Retrieved 2014-06-09. 
  19. ^ "Slimber website". Retrieved 2014-06-09. 


  • Donald Kuspit The Matrix of Sensations VI: Digital Artists and the New Creative Renaissance
  • Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito, At the Edge of Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006
  • Christiane Paul Digital Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd
  • Donald Kuspit "Del Atre Analogico al Arte Digital" in Arte Digital Y Videoarte, Kuspit, D. ed., Consorcio del Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid
  • Robert C. Morgan Digital Hybrids, Art Press volume #255, pp. 75–76
  • Frank Popper From Technological to Virtual Art, MIT Press
  • Bruce Wands Art of the Digital Age, London: Thames & Hudson
  • Christine Buci-Glucksmann, "L’art à l’époque virtuel", in Frontières esthétiques de l’art, Arts 8, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004
  • Margot Lovejoy Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age Routledge 2004
  • Brandon Taylor Collage Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006, p. 221
  • Wayne Enstice & Melody Peters, Drawing: Space, Form, & Expression, New Jersey: Prentice Hall
  • Frank Popper Ecrire sur l'art : De l'art optique a l'art virtuel, L'Harmattan 2007
  • Fred Forest Art et Internet, Editions Cercle D'Art / Imaginaire Mode d'Emploi
  • Lieser, Wolf. Digital Art. Langenscheidt: h.f. ullmann. 2009

Books and articles

See also

In recent years there has been a growth in the websites which support painting digitally online. Internet resources for this include Sumo Paint,[17] Queeky[18] and Slimber.[19] The user is still drawing digitally with the use of software: often the software is on the server of the website which is being used. However, with the emergence of HTML5, some programs now partly use the client's web browser to handle some of the processing. The range of tools and brushes can be more limited than free standing software. Speed of response, quality of colour and the ability to save to a file or print are similar in either media.

Web-based painting programs

In 1988, Craig Hickman created a paint program called Kid Pix, which made it easier for children to use MacPaint. The program was originally created in black in white, and after several revisions was released in color in 1991. Kid Pix was one of the first commercial programs to integrate color and sound in a creative format. While the Kid Pix was intentionally created for children, it became a useful tool for introducing adults to the computer as well.[16]

Kid Pix

Another early image manipulation program was Adobe Photoshop. It was first called Display and was created in 1987 by Thomas Knoll at the University of Michigan as monochrome picture display program. With help from his brother John, the program was turned into an image editing program called Imagepro, but later changed to Photoshop. The Knolls agreed on a deal with Adobe systems and Apple, and Photoshop 1.0 was released in 1991 for Macintosh. Adobe systems had previously release Adobe Illustrator 1.0 in 1986 on the Apple Macintosh. These two programs, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are currently two of the top programs used in the productions of digital paintings. Illustrator introduced the uses of Bezier curves which allowed the user to be incredibly detailed in their vector drawings. A recent development is Adobe Eazel, that allows fingerpainting in watercolor directly on the screen of an iPad, and export in a higher resolution to the larger working space of Photoshop CS5 on the pc.


The first commercial program that allowed users to design, draw, and manipulate object was the program MacPaint. This program’s first version was introduced on January 22, 1984 on the Apple Lisa. The ability to freehand draw and create graphics with this program made it the top program of its kind during 1984.[13] The earlier versions of the program were called MacSketch and LisaSketch, and the last version of MacPaint was MacPaint 2.0 released in 1998.[14] Much of MacPaint's universal success was attributed to the release of the first Macintosh computer which was equipped with one other program called MacWrite. It was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface and lost much of the bulky size of its predecessor, the Lisa. The Macintosh was available at about $2500 and the combination of a smaller design made the computer a hit, exposing the average computer user to the graphical possibilities of the included MacPaint.[15]


The idea of using a tablet to communicate directions to a computer has been an idea since 1968 when the RAND (Research and Development) company out of Santa Monica, developed the RAND tablet that was used to program.[12] Digitizers were popularized in the mid 1970s and early 1980s by the commercial success of the ID (Intelligent Digitizer) and BitPad manufactured by the Summagraphics Corp. These digitizers were used as the input device for many high-end CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems as well as bundled with PC's and PC based CAD software like AutoCAD.


The earliest graphical manipulation program was called Sketchpad. Created in 1963 by Ivan Sutherland, a grad student at MIT, Sketchpad allowed the user to manipulate objects on a CRT (cathode ray tube).[8] Sketchpad eventually led to the creation of the Rand Tablet for work on the GRAIL project in 1968, and the very first tablet was created. Other early tablets, or digitizers, like the ID (intelligent digitizer) and the BitPad were commercially successful and used in CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs. Modern day tablets are the tools of choice by digital painters. WACOM is the industry leader in tablets which can range in size from 4" x 6" all the way to 12" x 19" and are less than an inch thick. Other brands of graphic tablets are Aiptek, Monoprice, Hanvon, Genius, Adesso, Trust, Manhattan, Vistablet, DigiPro, etc.[9][10][11] All these graphic tablets have the basic functions of a mouse, so they can be used as a mouse, not only in graphic editors but also as a replacement for a mouse, and they are compatible with practically all Windows and Macintosh software.

Many artists prefer using graphics tablets to create digital paintings instead of using a mouse.



Apart from separation of carriers, the main difference between digital and traditional painting is the non-linear process. That is, an artist can often arrange his painting in layers that can be edited independently. Also, the ability to undo and redo strokes create nonlinear intervals in the creative process. Digital painting is also different in how it employs the techniques and study of traditional painting because of the surface differences and the wider variety of tools. The digital artist has at his disposal several tools not available to the traditional painter. Some of these include: a virtual palette consisting of millions of colors, (however these colors are ultimately limited by the capabilities of screen and printing technologies, whilst traditional forms of painting deal with pigment as a tangible material) almost any size canvas or media, and the ability to take back mistakes, as well as erasers, pencils, spray cans, brushes, combs, and a variety of 2D and 3D effect tools. A graphics tablet and a stylus allows the artist to work with precise hand movements simulating a real pen and drawing surface, while other programs (Adobe Eazel) are developed for fingerpainting directly on the screen. Both tablets and touch screens can be pressure-sensitive, allowing the artist to vary the intensity of the chosen media on the screen. There are tablets with over two thousand different levels of pressure sensitivity.[7]

Comparison with traditional painting


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