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8 Digital Art Workflow Tips to Speed Up Your Process

An image of a Photoshop window. Jessie's avatar is on the right, while the text "Digital Art Workflow tips and tricks" is on the left.

Switching between working traditionally and working digitally is a huge learning curve. With all the new possibilities that come with a digital medium, sometimes it can feel overwhelming. In the beginning, you’ll probably be working way slower than you anticipated -- wasn't this supposed to be the efficient and fast medium? Even for seasoned digital artists, we can pick up habits that can really slow us down, and make our illustrative process much harder than it needs to be. With that being said, here are 8 digital art workflow tips to better organize your digital space and speed up your art process!

1. Name your layers and your files

An image of 3 comic panels with the layers for the piece displayed on the right.

Sometimes we name our files and layers with keysmashes, or leave them as the default given name. But this can really harm your organization! It’ll be tricky to find files again, and it’ll be tricky to find specific layers that you may need again. Whether you come up with your own shorthand or name everything as the full word, taking a few seconds to name and organize your layers can save you lots of time and frustration later!

2. Use folders to group layers

A gif of the layers within folders being opened and closed.

Keeping all of your layers the same area can get crowded very quickly, and can be annoying to manage even if you name them all. Instead, group layers within folders so that they’re easier to refer to later on! Folders can hold multiple layers within them, and they can be opened and closed to hide whichever layers are inside. That way, if you don’t need a specific set at that moment, you can hide them within a folder, and they won’t take up as much space.

💡 Tip: Group your layers based on their function! Whether you need a folder for all your background elements, all your colour layers or all your effects layers, group them so that everything that’s similar is together!

3. Memorize shortcuts

An image of a keyboard glowing pink and blue.

Whether they’re keyboard shortcuts or quick digital art tricks, memorize your shortcuts so you don’t have to spend time constantly clicking the icons off to the side. They don’t seem like they take a long time to click, but that time adds up! Memorizing those shortcuts makes your digital art experience much more efficient!

💡 Tip: Not everything has a keyboard shortcut, so create your own shortcuts by going into your program’s settings. You can even change the default shortcuts if you don’t like the ones the program has!

4. Program your tablet buttons

A legend of the programmable buttons on Jessie's keyboard.

Most digital art tablets have extra buttons either built in or as a separate accessory. Programming these to have your most essential keys (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Spacebar, etc.) will save you time constantly! Some people prefer to use their keyboard over the programmable buttons, and that’s another quick way to have quick access to your hotkeys! But in this case, you can also program a combination of keys onto your tablet buttons, so you can get that combination of keys by clicking once! For instance, I have the horizontal flip function programmed directly onto my keyboard, which is Ctrl + Shift + H. But instead of reaching over to my keyboard to click that combination, I just click the single button on my tablet, which is far faster!

5. Create personalized swatches

An image of many swatches.

If you find yourself using the same colours over and over, like making comics or illustrating the same characters, create swatches in your program’s colour picker! That way, you can reference those colours over and over without having to constantly colour pick other art pieces. Some programs even have the ability to put swatches in folders, so you can easily organize your colours based on the piece you’re working on!

6. Take advantage of special brushes

An image of a few personalized brushes.

Using specialized brushes for background elements or to get certain textures is one of the biggest advantages to digital art that many digital artists seldom take advantage of! Using special brushes for grass, clouds, trees and so much more can make your digital art experience much faster compared to you attempting to draw it all from scratch. Download free brushes or purchase brushes that are compatible with the program you use, and take advantage of their capabilities!

💡 Tip: Some programs allow you to have folders for your brushes! Organize them the way that you see fit for easy to find textures or patterns!

7. Stay zoomed out

A gif of a sketch of a gecko being drawn.

Sometimes, you’ll get caught up on little details if you stay too zoomed in while working. There’s nothing wrong with a detailed piece, but not every aspect of a piece should be completely rendered -- you’ll waste a lot of time trying to make every aspect of a piece perfect and in full detail, and it’s rare that someone will actually zoom into your piece. Think of staying zoomed out like stepping back from a physical canvas -- the big picture is far more important than the perfection of singular leaves on a bush. Staying zoomed out the majority of the time, especially with sketching, can make your digital art process far faster!

8. Set a stretching timer

This is for desk work in general, but if you’re bent over a tablet and drawing for a really long time, you’ll tire yourself out a lot quicker. Set a timer for 20-30 minute intervals so you can give yourself a stretch break to walk around your area, do some wrist exercises, or look somewhere other than a screen. Your personal wellbeing is just as important to your workflow as any digital shortcut that’s out there!

There you have it! By using these tricks, you’ll notice how much time you’ll be able to save on your next art piece. If you found this article helpful, check out our library of other digital art resources on our website!

If you’re a complete beginner when it comes to digital art, consider checking out digital art classes to learn the fundamentals of digital artwork using the free program MediBang Paint Pro! But if you’re a little more advanced and would like to learn even more tips and tricks for digital art, take a look at our digital art camp and art mentorship, aimed at furthering that digital art experience.

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