A Guide for Teachers
Digital art can seem like a huge expense. Maybe you want to incorporate it into your media arts class, but the school board doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on an Adobe subscription or on multiple Clip Studio Paint licenses along with art tablets. But not only are art tablets not as expensive as you might think, some of the best digital art software is completely free! Here are some of the best free digital art programs that you can incorporate into your media arts class!
Not too into reading? Don't worry -- we have a video on the topic as well, summarizing all the best free digital art programs and their functions!
✔️Simple and easy to learn interface
✔️Small learning curve when switching to industry standard programs
✔️Great range of default brushes
✔️Works on any device, including Chromebooks and Android/IOS devices
❌Not ideal for photo manipulation, text or graphic design
❌Need an account to access many functions
Medibang Paint Pro is a simple to use program that’s perfect for beginners! As someone who uses both Photoshop CC and Clip Studio Paint, when I was told to make a beginner’s tutorial I was pleasantly surprised that MediBang is fairly similar to both programs! The pen tool is sharp, the correction is wonderfully balanced, and all the icons are easy to read and figure out if you play around with the program enough. Medibang is perfect for raster illustration, which means it works in pixels. This also means that it's not ideal for graphic design, but it can still be used to create beautiful illustrations. While the default tools are fantastic as well, you have the ability to download more. However, an account is needed in order to access them, which may get tricky in a classroom setting. But lessons can be taught with nothing but the default tools, so it’s not too big of an issue.
✔️More advanced tools and functions
✔️More advanced interface
❌Huge learning curve between it and other programs
Krita is a wonderful program that works in raster for students who are a little more advanced, or if you want to teach a slightly more advanced class. It holds more tools than other free programs, and holds functions that are of the same level of some industry standard programs. Krita also has animation capabilities, so you can learn both digital drawing and digital animation! However, the learning curve on Krita is steep -- many of the shortcuts and functions are very different compared to Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint. Students may find it difficult to switch from this program in the future if they choose to do so one day. However, default shortcuts can be changed and switched around if you so desire.
✔️Perfect for users who have never touched a digital program before
✔️Small learning curve for shortcuts
✔️Easy to read UI
✔️Chromebook compatible as long as the Chromebook is compatible with installing Android apps
❌INCREDIBLY simple -- limited functions
❌No cloud access
❌Big learning curve for functions
FireAlpaca is the perfect program if you’ve never even looked at a digital art software before. Its layout is easy to read and very user friendly. It works in raster as well, making it ideal for simple drawing. However, its functions are incredibly limited. FireAlpaca has no cloud access -- you either need to create your own brushes and assets, or have some handy to upload. The shortcuts and some functions are similar or the same as many other digital programs, however, because they’re so limited, it can be intimidating to switch one day. But if your students are much younger, this is a great program to get them started when it comes to learning digital for the first time.
✔️Easy to use interface
✔️Easy to follow tutorial
✔️Great for beginners
❌No desktop app -- only available as a tablet/phone app
❌Not similar to how industry programs work
Ibis Paint X is an Android and IOS app, which you can download onto any phone or tablet. With cloud or storage saving options, it’s a fantastic program to use on the go. If your school already has a tablet cart, you can easily download this app onto them so you can also avoid needing to buy separate drawing tablets. Upon opening the app, an easy to follow tutorial occurs immediately, making it easy to learn right from the get-go. However, this program doesn’t have a desktop version, and is very limited in its functions. While it isn’t hard to learn, it isn’t similar to how most industry standard programs function. So if they do switch programs one day, students may find it difficult to learn all the new functions and shortcuts that a desktop program brings. But if your school is tight on expenses and already has access to IPads or other tablets, this is a fantastic solution!
✔️Easy to access for everyone
✔️Works very well for collaborative projects
❌Not ideal for digital drawing or painting
❌Free version limits the amount of users
Figma is a fantastic collaborative graphic design website that can be used similarly to how Google Docs works. Figma files can be edited live with other people, and no download is necessary to use it. All you need to do is log into the website on your browser, and you’re good to go! Figma works in vectors, meaning that it's also perfect for graphic design.
However, Figma isn’t suitable for painting -- its drawing tools are limited to vectors only. However, vector illustrations can also be appealing with its simple and flat style. At Winged Canvas, we use Figma to illustrate avatars of our staff, and even create animations with different plug-ins! With Figma, images can be easily inserted into projects. Figma is the perfect tool if you were to teach a lesson about graphic design, and wanted to monitor your student’s progress! Try Figma for free.
Figjam, another branch of Figma, is a collaborative brainstorming and planning tool that your entire class can enjoy! At Winged Canvas, our teams use Figjam to create schematics for video planning, business planning and workflow. It's like a digital whiteboard for teams! Try Figjam for free.
✔️Great for photo editing and manipulation
✔️Very versatile and advanced
❌Can be intimidating for beginners
❌Digital drawing tools are somewhat rudimentary
Gimp is a fantastic replacement for Photoshop if you want to teach about photo manipulation. It has many advanced filters and colour management capabilities, making it a fair contender for a great photo manipulator. However, the user interface can look a little intimidating to a new user. If I’d opened this for the first time, I’d have no idea what to do! But if you’re a more seasoned digital artist, you can easily lead your students through a quick rundown of how the program works.
✔️Used by pros everywhere
✔️Just as good as its professional counterparts
❌Not beginner friendly
❌Needs a more powerful computer
Blender is a 3D modelling and 3D animation software that’s used by professional 3D modellers everywhere. 3D modelling is a medium that’s felt unattainable for years, but Blender makes it possible to use at a professional level! With poly modelling and sculpting capabilities, Blender is a powerhouse of a free program. However, this program can be INCREDIBLY intimidating to beginners -- I’ve used Autodesk Maya in the past so I was able to navigate the software somewhat, but with no prior knowledge I’d have a tough time figuring out where to begin. Luckily, there are TONS of free tutorials about how to use the program, so as long as you follow one of those, it should be no issue.
Other honourable mentions:
Gravit - For graphic design using vectors
Canva - For social media, poster, and presentation design
Vectr - For vector design, online and as a desktop app
Photopea - For vector and raster design and photo manipulation
Pixlr - For photo editing on your browser
There you have it! Digital art is an efficient and advanced art medium that’s taken the world by storm, and as an art medium of the future it’s almost necessary to teach it to students. 10 years ago, the digital art space was dominated by Adobe. It was difficult to teach students how to use the rising art medium, whether that was because of the steep price or the lack of knowledge. Now, there are tons of free programs that make it accessible to everyone with a digital device, so not only can your students learn digital art, but you can too!
If you’d like to check out more resources for getting started with digital art, check out our digital art resources section on our website for more tutorials and tablet recommendations! If you’re looking for your class to learn digital art but don’t know where to start, why not let us take the lead with our school programs, where we’ll teach an art lesson of your choosing to your classroom!
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