A lot of people assume that artists use computers as their main tool to create illustrations. That is not entirely true! Before digital technology, most artist either made things by hand or used pencils and paper to produce work. Some would then scan their drawings into a computer for editing and re-drawing before printing or creating a new piece.

However, drawing is still an integral part of what many artists do these days. Technically speaking, anyone can pick up a pen/brush and put down designs or shapes onto a surface. What makes someone special is how they apply their artistic skills to inspire others.

In this article we will be looking at some of the history of digital illustration. We will discuss when artists first started using Photoshop and other similar software programs to enhance their craft. There are also several examples of famous illustrators who did not use a computer in the process of producing art.


As mentioned earlier, before there were tools like photoshop, artists had to learn how to take pictures with a camera and edit them in a photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop. They then had to draw their images from those pictures!

Luckily, technology has advanced so you no longer have to go through all of that effort. Now you can simply upload your artwork onto the program yourself and quickly publish it. This changes the way professional artists approach production and creativity.

There are many ways to make use of software outside of just designing directly from the app itself.

The birth of digital illustration

As we can see, digital art has existed for quite some time now- but most people didn’t realize it! Before Photoshop and other software designed to create images, there were very few tools available that allowed you to make your own illustrations.

Many artists would either use computerized drawing programs or find other ways to draw. Some even made their own materials by inking a pen onto paper and then scanning into the computer.

But it was not until the 1990s when things really took off. Technology had advanced enough so that creating digital artwork became possible without having to do any of the previous steps first.

Now anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection is able to produce beautifully realistic imagery quickly and easily. It is this ability to go beyond simply drawing pictures that makes digital art so interesting.

There are many different styles that have emerged from digital artists, and new technologies such as photogrammetry allow us to expand what kind of designs are feasible.

Popular digital illustrators

digital illustration history

There are many artists who have made their career off of creating beautifully crafted illustrations. These individuals’ work is usually characterized by bold shapes, bright colors, and elaborate designs. They may even use unconventional or non-digital mediums to produce their works.

Many people gain inspiration from these professional artists and want to try out some of those styles in their own art. That is why it is important to recognize the contributions that influential artists have given us by studying their style.

There are several well known artists whose styles we can study and learn from. Many of them mastered multiple styles and genres which influenced other artists. Some of these include:

Kawaii (Japanese Style)

Early computerized drawings used simple geometric patterns and shapes to convey moods or messages. More recent examples use manga styled artwork or kawaii (anime/ Japanese cartoon like features) such as rounded corners, soft pastel colors, and very detailed lines.

Artists who practiced this technique included Shynola, Daniel Raven, and Vanna Su. All three adapted different styles depending on what genre of illustration they were working on.


A few early masters experimented with futurist styles such as Raynor Heiter. His pieces mostly feature technology taking over our lives and space traveling being popular themes.

Future stylists often draw inspiration from his work.

Great digital artists

digital illustration history

There are so many ways to describe what makes someone great as an artist, but one of the biggest is creating something that leaves a lasting impression. As you read this article, I would like you to compare yourself with these artists’ work.

It can be hard to do this because some people write very beautifully, use very rich colors or styles, create scenes and narratives – all things that really set them apart.

But if you take a look at their stills or illustrations, you will not find much going on. It is mostly white space or shapes surrounded by color. Or it could be a picture of just a person with no context.

These types of images make for strong works, but they lack anything special. They are pretty, but they are not engaging anyone else beyond themselves.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course! A few artists have stuck around due to their talent, but most do not. That is why we have to learn from others to achieve greatness as professional artists.

Here are some famous artists who fit into this category. Their artistic style may not change too quickly, but they do not add much to the field either.

Top digital art movements

digital illustration history

There are many different styles of illustration, but there is one style that almost every illustrator works to at least some degree in their career. That style is characterized by very tightly controlled linework with solid colors or shades of color. It is typically referred to as Color Pencil Art.

Many artists use this type of drawing heavily in their work. A famous artist who uses this style quite frequently is Chappo Romero. He even made his own line of gel pens called “ChappoColor” which feature his favorite colors! [He also has a book about his process.]

There are two main reasons why most people choose to do color pencil drawings. First, it is relatively easy to learn how to do if you already know how to draw. You can pick up tricks for doing color pencillings quickly. The second reason is cost-effectiveness–you get great results at a lower price tag than other methods like oil painting or watercolor.

Examples of digital art

digital illustration history

There are many ways to describe what makes an illustration digitally artistic, but perhaps the most important thing is that it is not painted. An artist creates their image using computer software or a tool designed for just that purpose.

Illustrations have been analogues to painting since they were first made. Artists would use graphite (for pencils) or charcoal (for crayons) to draw upon a piece of paper, then ink was used to paint over the drawn shapes.

The term “digital” did not exist until 1971, when Douglas Lowe coined it as a way to refer to creating pictures by manipulating black and white pixels on a screen. Since then, there has been almost no other style!

Some artists still create illustrations using traditional tools like pens and brushes, but the majority now use computers exclusively. A lot of people credit this shift to technology becoming more accessible through apps and laptops being in every home.

What is vector illustration?

digital illustration history

While some might consider it, digital illustrators do not actually draw pictures or images of things- they create vectors! This is an important distinction to make because “drawing” could mean many different things.

Digital artists typically use computer software that allows them to manipulate shapes and forms into illustrations. These programs often have colloquial names like Photoshop, InDesign, or SketchUp. The term “illustration” is sometimes used interchangeably with “design” which can be confusing since there are other types of design such as graphic (or type) designs and interactive or mobile design.

But really, what matters most about how we describe the work of an artist is that they apply concepts related to shape, form, color, and texture to create illustrations or graphics. An artist may choose their medium (pencil, brush, computer program), but it does not matter so much what tool they use as long as they understand the basics of shape, proportion, and unity.

Vector art was invented in the 19th century when computers were very expensive and technology was limited. Since then, vector has become the norm and everything else is pixelated or traced-vector artwork. Many think that all modern day digitally made imagery is totally comprised of vectors due to this shift.

The birth of digital vector illustration

digital illustration history

Before digital drawing, most artists used traditional tools to create illustrations. You would start with a pencil, then progress up using watercolors or oils, and finally move onto brushes and inks before completing your piece!

Digital art is not like this at all. With digital art, you begin by creating an outline or shape directly in a computer program such as Adobe Photoshop or Manga Studio.

Next, you need to pick a style that fits what you want to convey. For example, if you wanted to draw a still life picture, you could look up how to do that first and use that as a template.

After that, you can add colors to it and blend some parts together to make it seem natural. You can also go back and forth changing things around, adding new layers, and moving pieces around to see different effects.

Popular digital vector illustrators

digital illustration history

There are many ways to develop your illustration style, but one of the most important things is learning how to draw or paint from nature. Artists have been doing this for centuries, so it makes sense to look at their work as inspiration.

A lot of famous artists produced incredible works that have influenced other artists today, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri de Montherlant. Both painted realistic scenes with complex figures, strong colors and experimented with mixed media painting.

Picasso even designed his own graphic logo in the 1970s! That’s very impressive because he was more than 60 years old when he made it. He eventually went back to drawing from life, though, which is why you may see some similarities between his artwork and his later projects.

If you enjoy looking at paintings and drawings, try experimenting by doodling or taking notes.


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