Digital Painting Fundamentals

Digital Painting Fundamentals

By Pamela Park |
July 3, 2022

If you’ve ever dreamed of having a crash course in digital painting, here’s a video you don’t want to miss. Proko instructor, Jon Neimeister, teaches you the fundamental skills, digital techniques, and a concrete process for creating compelling illustrations from initial concept to final execution.

You’ll learn about some of the pros and cons of choosing digital over traditional, get an overview of the software and hardware that you’ll need, and learn some basics on hotkeys, tools, and document settings.

By the end of this course, you should have a solid grasp of all the tools and fundamentals required for digital painting, which you can practice and improve upon throughout your entire artistic journey.


0:00 – Introducing Your Instructor 6:29 – Software and Hardware Tools
2:12 – Pros and Cons of Digital Painting 10:16 – Shortcuts and Hotkeys
4:46 – Health Tips for Digital Artists 12:23 – Setting Up Your Canvas


Pros and Cons of Digital Painting

If you’re new to painting in general, or you’re a traditional artist thinking of branching out into digital, the first thing to note is that digital painting is not a shortcut and requires just as much skill as traditional painting. Some things are easier in digital painting, like making large changes to a piece halfway through the process, but some things are harder like creating organic textures and interesting brushwork.

At the end of the day, the quality of your paintings depends entirely on your creativity and fundamental skills, not what medium you choose to work with. You should also consider your career goals when deciding whether to focus more on traditional painting or digital painting. If you want to work in entertainment, like films and video games, digital painting is the standard and most clients will require you to work digitally. Entertainment pipelines require lots of flexibility, and most assets are repurposed in different ways which require the character to be separated from the background to be used somewhere else. Even if you’re primarily a traditional artist, it’s immensely helpful to have a digital workflow for putting finishing touches on your pieces and applying challenging feedback in a timely manner.

The great thing about digital art is that it has a very low barrier to entry: you don’t need a top-of-the-line computer or a huge studio space, and you don’t have to re-purchase materials when you run out. Oil paints can be expensive.

Digital Painting Setup

All you need to start drawing digitally is a decent computer, some digital painting software like Photoshop or Clip Studio Paint, and a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet or display like the ones I personally use from Wacom. I recommend Wacom tablets myself as I’ve been using them exclusively since I started painting digitally in 2004. Wacom tablets are also the industry standard in practically all studios and workplaces.

My personal favorite is the Wacom Cintiq, as it allows you to draw directly on the screen which I find to be much more natural and intuitive, especially if you’re used to drawing traditionally.

In this course, I’ll be using the Wacom Cintiq Pro 32, but there’s a whole variety of Wacom Cintiq sizes including the Wacom One which is more affordable if you’re just starting out with digital painting.

Some artists prefer screenless tablets like the Wacom Intuos, and they work just as well. It all comes down to your personal preference and your budget. Bear in mind that this is a tool you’ll use for many years, so it’s worth investing in a long-term solution.

Health Tips for Digital Painters

As a digital painter, it’s very important to have an ergonomic workspace, especially if you’re working on a Cintiq. Be sure to have your chair and desk set up in such a way that you can sit comfortably upright with your feet on the floor or a footrest, and be sure you can draw on your tablet with your arms at a comfortable 90-degree angle without hunching forwards. Additionally, be sure to stand up and stretch at least once every hour or so. Throughout your day, try to do overhead stretches to flex your back. 

You can also stretch out your hands with this super easy exercise:

hand exercise

Start by extending one of your arms, grab your fingertips with your opposite hand, and pull your fingers back toward you. Just until you feel a nice stretch. Hold this for about 10 or 15 seconds, and then flip your hand the other direction, grab the back of your hand and again pull towards you just enough to feel a stretch. Repeat this with your other hand. Keeping your muscles relaxed and your joints in motion is immensely important to your health and wellbeing as an artist.

Many artists have had their careers interrupted or hindered significantly due to back and wrist pain, so for a long and healthy career, it’s just as important to take care of your body as it is to develop your painting skills.

Also try to keep your painting workday to an 8-hour maximum, as working for 10 or 12 hours a day can cause serious strain on your body and result in repetitive stress injuries.

Software and Hardware Tools

 Now that we’ve discussed digital painting as a medium, it’s time to dive in and get a feel for the tools we’ll be using throughout the course. I’ll be using Photoshop, but virtually all digital painting software has these tools, though some are named slightly differently.

Brush Tool

The Brush Tool

 This is our primary workhorse and it will constitute 90% of our digital painting workflow. While there are other techniques that can be used to create digital art, this course will be approaching digital painting from a very traditional, hand-painted perspective, so the Brush Tool is our best friend.


The Eraser Tool

The Eraser Tool, as you might guess, allows you to erase anything on your current layer. You can use any of your Brush Tool brushes with the Eraser Tool, allowing you to erase out a variety of textures and edges.


The Eyedropper Tool

This allows us to select colors directly from our canvas and references which can then be painted with the Brush Tool. This is a great time-saver and is very useful for blending. Also, you can toggle the Eyedropper by pressing [Alt/Option] while using the Brush Tool, which allows you to switch seamlessly between the two while painting. I recommend binding this shortcut to your tablet pen.

Smudge Tool

The Smudge Tool

The Smudge Tool allows you to “smear” the pixels on your canvas as though they were soft charcoal or oil paint, which is immensely useful for blending and edge control. You can also use any of your Brush Tool brushes with the Smudge Tool, but I prefer to have a set of brushes specifically designed to work with the Smudge Tool to get the results I want.


The Zoom Tool, The Hand Tool, and the Rotate Tool

Working digitally generally requires high-resolution images, so you’ll often find yourself zooming in to work on certain parts of your painting. For this you can use the Zoom Tool [Z] to zoom, the Hand Tool [H] to pan, and the Rotate Tool [R] to rotate your canvas. Additionally, you can hold [Spacebar] at any time to use the Hand Tool to pan, and you can use [Ctrl/Cmnd + =] to zoom in and [Ctrl/Cmnd + -] to zoom out. I recommend binding all these shortcuts to your tablet buttons.

Move Tool

The Move Tool and Transform Tools

In addition to moving your view of the canvas, you’ll also often want to move and adjust the contents of your painting. For this we have the Move Tool [V] which moves the contents of a layer and the Free Transform tool [Ctrl/Cmnd + T] which allows you to scale, distort, and warp your layer. You can hold Shift to switch between free transform and locked ratio transform and hold Ctrl/Cmnd to skew any point freely. You can also right-click the transform box for a variety of other options, including Perspective and warp transform.

Selection Tools

Digital painting also offers us a variety of selection tools which are useful for masking out certain areas for painting.

Marquis Tool

The Marquee Tool [M] allows us to create square and circle selections; hold [Shift] to create a perfect circle or square. You can also set a specific aspect ratio for your selection in the options bar.

Lasso Tool

The Lasso Tool [L] allows us to create organic shaped selections; either freehand using the Lasso Tool, point-by-point using the Polygonal Lasso Tool, or intelligently using the Magnetic

Lasso Tool. To switch between the different modes of these tools, click and hold on the tool in the toolbar until other options appear, or hold [Shift] while pressing the tool’s hotkey repeatedly.

Jon Neimeister

Jon Neimeister

Jon Neimeister is a digital painter, illustrator and concept artist in the games industry for over a decade, working on IPs like SMITE, League of Legends, Hearthstone, and many others. Jon’s specialty is high-level marketing and splash style illustration.

Art Station 



Proko’s drawing lessons are approachable enough for beginners and detailed enough for advanced artists. Proko’s philosophy is to teach timeless concepts in an entertaining way. When you are having fun, you learn better and Proko takes pride in producing high-quality videos that you will enjoy watching and re-watching.

Related posts:

Shop the Wacom eStore*

When you shop on the Wacom eStore you get access to discounts, financing, extended warranties, and our industry-leading customer support team.

Connect with Wacom on Social

With a mix of illustration and 3D, @kentushi shares with us his #WacomWorkspace, and even recreates how he was making it! ✨✍️⁣
Zoom in to see all the fun details! 🐕✏️⁣
#MadewithWacom #digitalart #art #deskspace #wfh #officegoals
1214 7
When our inner critic arises, it’s difficult not hear it 😭

Sometimes our internal voice criticizes, judges and makes us doubt of our work telling us that we are not good enough. It happens to all of us!

But it’s all in our heads, trust the progress you’ve made so far and don’t give up!

Have you ever felt this way? 👇

#Artistslife #Innercritic #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth
433 9
Who's your favorite Pokémon? 💦🍃🔥⚡⁣
Some nostalgic friends for #FridayFanart with amazing art by @philipsue_art. If beautiful landscapes, process videos, and art tips are your thing, Philip's page is the place to visit!⁣
#MadewithWacom #digitalart #animation #art #artprocess #fanart #pokemon #pikachu
6348 26
Digital kitchen time! 
Here's the last of @patrick_4d's digital burger tip series. We hope you tried making your own burger or at least went out and got one for sustenance 🍔🍔🍔
Thank you Patrick for making us the most delicious digital burger we could have wished for. 
607 16
This is a reminder for you to embrace your geek side! 🚀

For those who spend hours designing a new skin for their character, creating 3D models of their favourite video game or programming special effects for movies.
Your art makes us proud!

How are you going to celebrate? 👇

#GeekPrideDay #Geek #ArtistsLife
857 5
Tag your other half. ✨💕⁣
We had to share the love with @yuyo.psd's heartwarming illustration. 🫶⁣
If you like the flow and colors of Yuyo's design, make sure you check out their page for more colorful artwork! 💜⁣
#MadewithWacom #digitalart #illustration #art #graphicdesign
700 8
From concept to reality, @pixebo’s home office is brought to life to create a cozy place to sit down with their Wacom Cintiq and get to work! ✨✍️

#WacomWorkspace #digitalart #homeoffice #deskgoals #wfh
1732 13
Discover the technology behind #CintiqPro24 🚀⁣
The #WacomProPen2 provides state-of-the-art creative pen technology, meaning every stroke, every move of your hand is followed with unerring accuracy. 💫⁣
Want to discover how it feels to draw with it? Check the link in bio!⁣
#Cintiqpro24 #CreativeProfessionals #CintiqPro
711 14
Colorful creative portrait by artist @valerie.loves.colors to start off your week. 🌈☀️🍃⁣
Valerie finds that people and colors give her the most inspiration. She points out that everyone is unique and vibrant in their own way, much like the color spectrum! 🎨⁣
#MadewithWacom #abstractart #digitalart #art #portrait #illustration
475 6