Monday, November 27, 2017

Digital painting is a method of creating an art object in a computer. It adapts traditional painting medium such as acrylic paint, oils, ink, watercolor, etc. and applies the pigment to traditional carriers, such as canvas, paper, polyester etc. by means of computer software driving printers.

Visual characteristics

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Visual characteristics derive from the power of a computer to attach geometrical formulas to lines, shapes and forms. While it is impossible for a human hand to create exactly identical shapes, or to construct a perfect circle or a perfectly straight line, for a computer it is difficult to do anything else. Formula-based forms are easy to recognize by a degree of perfection that is literally inhuman. Other specific traits are: transparency, symmetry, regular distortion, exact repetition, perfect circles, squares and other shapes, embossing and other 3D illusion, very smooth gradients, and perfectly monochrome color planes. The sharp and bold appearance of formula-based 'vector' forms reminds one of paper cutouts and stencil art. Alone or in combination with stroke-by-stroke 'raster' painting, it creates a language of color and form that is entirely new and could in no way be expressed with 'real' paints and brushes.

A further characteristic is the total flatness of the physical representation, due to the technical impossibility of translating brushstrokes to surface texture. Although many art lovers still prefer the artisanal appearance of real paint on canvas, a digital artwork has a look of straightforwardness and clearness that gradually becomes more accepted, in particular on mediums that support rather than conceal these qualities, such as fine art paper, brushed aluminum, xpozer, perspex, etc.

Prints only

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Since forms and shapes that are characteristic of digital painting cannot be transmitted to a physical carrier by hand, a digital painting, in its physical representation, is by definition a print. When the artist projects the digital painting on a physical carrier and re-paints it by hand, thereby using the computer as a preparatory device and sacrificing some or all of the digital characteristics, the artwork is categorized as a 'traditional painting'.

Uniqueness and limited editions

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There is a common misunderstanding that a print cannot be a unique work of art. The number of possibilities to effectively protect originals and limited editions is steadily increasing. A primary protective measure is to hand-sign or fingerprint the work and mention the edition on the artwork itself. A certificate has become good practice. Although a Certificate of Authenticity offers no technical protection against duplication, it is possible to attach an individual watermark or hologram containing the name of the artist and the edition, of which a clone is then attached to the artwork. Security holograms are difficult to forge because they are replicated from a master hologram which requires expensive, specialized and technologically advanced equipment. They are used in banknotes, passports, credit cards as well as identification cards. Online registration at a trusted third party is at the time of writing (2017) only possible for prints on paper.

Digital and physical carrier

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When the digital artist is done, the painting is on the hard disk of a computer. To make it presentable and sale-able it is transferred to a physical carrier. Since the flatness of the representation is close to photo art, photo carriers (e.g. dibond, fine art paper, aluminum) are most widely chosen as physical carriers. What happens to the digital carrier depends on how the artist wants to offer the painting. For an original, the digital file is deleted, with or without prior transfer to the buyer. For a limited edition, the artist deletes the file once the prefixed number of copies is sold. For an open edition, the file remains on the hard disk of the artist. Certificates that accompany the artwork usually inform the collector about the status of the file.

Main directions

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Based on differences in method and appearance, four directions can be distinguished:
- Computer generated painting: Characteristics of digital painting are present. The resolution is optimal (the highest printable) and size is flexible (the largest printable).
- Raster painting: Characteristics of digital painting are largely absent. Resolution and size are fixed.
- Vector painting: Characteristics of digital painting are present. The resolution is optimal (the highest printable) and the size is flexible (the largest printable).
-Vector-raster painting: Characteristics of digital painting are present. Resolution and size are fixed.

Computer generated painting

'Computer generated' refers to an indirect procedure that goes back to the early days of artificial intelligence and programming. The artist doesn't create the artwork by hand but instructs the computer how to do it - like a composer creating music, not by playing it on an instrument but by writing music notes on a score. The earliest of such prescriptions were given in programming language. Every form or line was manually described by a mathematical formula. This offered the artist a lot of freedom, but intricate forms were difficult to program.
Since the 1970s, the code mode has evolved into a design mode. Paining programs allow the artists to visually select a set of parameters. The mathematical formulas and calculations needed to construct the forms are taken care of 'behind the screen', evaluated by the artist and changed if desired. Programs for fractal art for instance, assist the artist in creating visually complex structures of great mathematical regularity.

Raster painting

Both in procedure and in appearance, a raster, grid, or bitmap painting most closely resembles a traditional painting with real brushes and paint. The image is created on the screen with a virtual brush in a spontaneous, stroke by stroke manner. Colors and lines are registered pixel by pixel. They are not summarized and translated into formula's. As a result, forms and lines preserve all the characteristics of the individual painter's hand. A main disadvantage is that the image resolution is fixed. Often, the length and width of the creation is as small as a (mobile) computer screen and the resolution as low as the standard of 72 dots per inch on the web. If a raster image is to be transferred to a physical carrier of a customary size, it has to be enlarged considerably. Enlargement entails manual correction, a process that is complicated by the size of the file which grows with enlargement and becomes difficult to handle.

Vector painting

A vector painting is based on vector graphics. It is made by choosing basic shapes like circles, triangles and squares, or by painting them freehand, and manipulating and transforming them with special tools. The somewhat elaborate process is less suitable for intuitive, spontaneous work than raster painting. All lines and shapes are captured into geometrical formulas, with no room left for characteristics of the individual painter's hand. The advantage to the artist is that files are small and can be enlarged to any size that the printer can handle without loss of sharpness. The resolution is always the maximum printable. Formalized shapes and forms obey to all kinds of one-click operations such as change color, make transparent, emboss, flip, group, cast shadow, etc. The mahematical basis for smoothing and manipulating lines and forms are Bezier curves, named after a French engineer who in 1962 developed a practical application of the Bernstein polynomial to improve the design of automobile bodies at Renault.

Vector-raster painting, smoothing

Vector-raster painting combines the individual characteristics of raster with formula-based lines and forms of vector. Full control and a visual contrast between vector and raster forms is obtained by working on separate layers or in separate programs for vector and raster, respectively. The raster elements loose sharpness when enlarged, which necessitates manual correction.
Some painting programs (e.g. ArtRage) use Bezier curves 'behind the screen' to smooth all lines and curves without intervention of the artist. The painting procedure is spontaneous, stroke by stroke, and the output is a fixed resolution raster file. The smooth, non-raster, non-vector appearance of the painting reflects the hybrid basis. An advantage for the painter is that smoothing reduces the loss of resolution when the image is enlarged.


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A stylus can be just as sensitive to the pressure of the hand as a 'real' brush. This pressure can be made visible on the screen, but not be translated into surface texture on a print. A printed artwork is entirely flat. Over the centuries, art lovers have felt the hand and the mood of the painter in brushstrokes and paint. Artists have various answers to this problem. One is to project the digital work on a physical carrier and paint it over by hand, thereby using the computer as a handy preparatory device and sacrificing some or all of the digital characteristics. Another is to apply layers of clear glazing gel to the physical carrier to recreate the brushstroke. Others chose to adapt by aiming at an illusion of texture and using a carrier that accentuates rather than conceals digital characteristics.

Painting or photo

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Since the introduction of digital painting, photographers use largely the same programs for editing photos as artists do for creating their paintings. The shared toolbox establishes a transition zone between photography and painting. If the photo is used as input in a creative process that leads to an individual artwork, classification is not always easy. The photo can be projected on a physical carrier and painted over, in which case the digital characteristics are largely lost and it becomes a 'traditional painting'. If the creative process is carried out on the computer and the work is printed, it is generally classified as 'digital photo art', 'new photography' or digital 'photo painting', depending on the kind of operations and the toolbox that the artist has chosen.

Collecting digital art, assessment

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Essential qualities, such as technique, resolution and color, can be evaluated online from a 1:1 detail of the artwork. For this to be effective, it is necessary that the screen of the collector is adjusted to color response by way of color calibration. In addition, many collectors would like to distinguish what comes out of the app from what comes out of the artist. The emergence of a wide array of painting apps makes this an area of sound expertise. Many styles and seemingly impressive technical skills are an attribute of the software. It is considered good practice to mention the software used in the description of the artwork.

Market for digital painting

The market for digital art is slowly maturing. Collectors start to realize that digital painting is a new visual language with characteristics that could not be realized with traditional means. The first online auction, by the UK auction house Phillips in cooperation with Padle8, took place in 2013. Many technical problems have been solved. Color representation has become fairly reliable, thanks to the use of the ICC color profile and calibration. The risk of duplication can never be excluded, but with standard precautions is now acceptably small. There are several large online galleries where both originals and prints of digital paintings are shipped worldwide with good sales conditions.
Major issues are traditional gallery representation and exhibition opportunity. Digital painters almost exclusively depend on (few and costly) juried art fairs for showing their work in physical form. In addition, most rely on online galleries to get their work out of the computer and delivered to the collector. If the printing process is contracted out, they have no opportunity to personalize their work with a signature. To evaluate, and if necessary adjust, the color representation of the print - something only the artist can do - is also not possible.

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 for Limited Edition (or 'i/n') and Open Edition ('∞') that can be voluntarily adopted by digital artists and art dealers was drafted in 2012. A Standard Certificate of Uniqueness for numerically unique prints ('originals' or '1/1') was added in 2013. The 5.0 version (2017) contains a description of the artwork, a copyright declaration, and a statement by the artist that the digital carrier will be deleted at the sale. The artist is entitled to a smaller 'display copy' for representational and promotional purpose. The economic appreciation of the artist would thus be determined at a primary market for original digital art, possibly influenced by a secondary market for limited and open editions.

Digital technique

All digital painting programs, with the exception of programs for vector painting, 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 oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, pen and media such as airbrush. There are also certain effects unique to each type of digital paint which portray the realistic effects of, for instance, watercolor. In most digital painting programs, the users can create their own brush style using a combination of texture and shape. Digital techniques are widely used in conceptual design for film, television and video games. Painting software such as Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop, ArtRage, GIMP, Krita, MyBrushes and openCanvas give artists a similar environment to a physical painter: a canvas, painting tools, mixing palettes, and a multitude of color options.

Different procedure, tools

The feature of many painting programs to undo brushstrokes permits a much more spontaneous painting method than is possible in traditional painting. Another notable difference is the possibility to put an existing image on the easel instead of starting out from a blank canvas. The painting process can be nonlinear: the artist has the option to arrange the painting in layers that can be edited independently. The procedure is also different in the wider variety of tools, including the possibility to create texture and other optical surface differences. As primary painting 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 (e.g. 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.



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). 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.


The idea of using a graphics tablet to communicate directions to a computer emerged in 1968 when the RAND (Research and Development) company developed the RAND tablet that was used to program. The early 'digitizers', as they were called, 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. They 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.
WACOM is the industry leader in tablets which can range in size from 4" x 6" 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. 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.


The first commercial program that allowed users to design, draw, and manipulate objects was the MacPaint program. 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. The earlier versions of the program were called MacSketch and LisaSketch, and the last version of MacPaint was MacPaint 2.0 released in 1998. 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.


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 released 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 unprecedently 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.

Kid Pix

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.

Web-based painting programs

In recent years there has been a growth in the websites which support painting digitally online. Internet resources for this include Sumo Paint, Queeky and Slimber. 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.

See also

  • Art software
  • Computer art
  • Computer graphics
  • Computer painting
  • Digital Art by Microsoft
  • Digital illustration
  • Digital photography
  • Electronic art
  • New Media
  • Software art
  • Tradigital art

Books and articles

  • 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. 75â€"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


External links

  • "Digital Painting, a complete survey", Digital painting explained and illustrated for artists and collectors
  • "Certificates for digital painting."

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