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Digital vs. Traditional Art: The Pros and Cons

A thumbnail with two blurred images in the background. White text on it says "Digital vs. Traditional Art - The Pros and Cons."

Growing up, we were used to seeing art kids with portfolio tubes, huge bags to fill art supplies, and paint splattered outfits. But nowadays, with advancements to technology, all an artist really needs is a tablet and a stylus. The question then remains -- which is better? Is digital art even “real” art? Isn’t traditional too much of a burden? In this blog, we’ll break down the pros and cons of both types of artwork, and debunk some of the common misconceptions when it comes to digital art and its place within the art world.

The Pros and Cons of Digital Art

To start off, let’s talk about the pros and cons of digital art. While I’ll advocate for it constantly, just like any medium, it comes with its number of advantages and detractors. Let’s start with the pros of digital art:

  • Digital art is far more cost effective. You’ll think I’m bluffing after you take one look at the high end tablet prices, but no one needs to start with the best. Some beginner drawing tablets can cost less than $50! That $50 can last you years, which is far cheaper than the constant need to replace mediums with traditional art. If you’re reading this, you most likely already have access to technology with a screen. Digital art can be done from a phone, a tablet, or from a computer. Some artists even use a mouse or a trackpad to draw, but I’d recommend getting some kind of stylus to save your wrist.

  • Digital art creates less waste. Think of all that paper and all those pencils and paint bottles you go through while doing traditional work. The waste adds up over time! With digital art, you don’t have that issue -- your paper, ink, paint and graphite is unlimited.

  • Digital art is far more efficient. Gone are the days of carrying around heavy material and being afraid of your pages scuffing. In order to get feedback, you’d have to drag your art back and forth between studios and working areas, or if you were collaborating you would have to let the piece travel back and forth between artists and pray that it wouldn’t get damaged. A digital illustration is generally much faster to create and send than a painting on paper that needs to be photographed and colour corrected. It takes a few seconds to send your working files and have professors and other artists take a peek through your artwork to see your process.

  • Digital is the new industry standard. The vast majority of artists within the entertainment art industry are digital artists, whether they work in comics, animation, graphic design, etc. Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, Toon Boom, Unity, Unreal Engine, and many other digital art programs are now what’s considered required to work within the arts. Thus, commercial artists and designers are expected to create artwork via a digital medium.

But digital isn’t all good -- just like every medium, again, it has its disadvantages. Here are some of digital art’s cons:

  • Technical difficulties are always present. Program crashes, hardware issues, troubleshooting, and incompatible file types will always be an issue. With traditional art, you don’t have any of these issues -- you can get right into painting or start sketching on a sheet of paper. But digital art can be quite a feat to accomplish for those who aren’t very tech-savvy.

  • Digital art can never replace traditional art. While it can certainly try, all digital art that attempts to replicate the feel of traditional mediums fall just a little short of the real thing. If you want to learn to work with traditional mediums, nothing will replace the feeling of real pigment on a physical surface. There will also be no original, tangible piece that someone can own that is truly one of a kind..

  • It’s incredibly easy to copy. One big issue that a lot of artists face is theft of their work, and digital artwork is the biggest source of it. With a lot of digital artists working within the online space, reposts and companies reselling designs is a very real risk when it comes to being a digital artist. With traditional work, you’ll have proof of an original copy, but it can get tricky with digital files.

Is digital art real art? Does it have value?

A woman using a Macbook and an IPad.

This is a question that tends to be brought up fairly often. The short answer is yes, digital art is real art. For a long answer, you can think of digital art as just another medium (which it is, by the way). For example, a graphite drawing is just as real as an oil painting. They both use different techniques and need different materials to use, but they’re both still completely valid forms of art. The same can be said for digital. It uses different techniques and needs different materials, but it’s just as much of an art form as any other medium is.

A common misconception is that digital art takes no effort at all, which is completely untrue. In fact, if digital was so easy, then everyone would be able to do it! Some digital pieces can take months to create, just like a painting or a traditional illustration. Keep in mind that digital artwork only makes some things easier, not everything. Just like how it’s easier to blend oil paints than acrylics, or how you can erase pencil and not ink, digital has its limitations and advantages.

If my kids start learning digital art, does that translate to traditional?

5 different spheres shaded using different techniques.
Value and shading can be taught with any medium!

It can! All art fundamentals can be learned regardless of medium -- the elements of art and principles of design are present in every visual art form. Digital can also leave a little extra room for experimentation because it’s such a forgiving medium -- almost anything can be erased, altered and undone.

The things that can’t be translated are medium specific techniques. However, this applies to every medium of art as well. Watercolour techniques are different from pencil crayon techniques, and oil pastel techniques are different from gouache techniques. Thus, digital art techniques are different from traditional art techniques. For instance, digital art doesn't need to constantly mix new colours, which is a huge advantage, but it can limit one's experience with colour mixing. The main difference is that digital attempts to imitate some traditional mediums, so there’s a chance they could pick up some of those techniques, though of course it can’t replicate it perfectly.

Is digital art bad for my kid’s eyes?

It’s as bad for your kid’s eyes as watching television or doing online school. The difference is that your kid is using the screen to create, and that should be encouraged! Regulate it like you would regulate other screen time in your household, but I’d recommend being a little more lenient when it comes to digital artwork. It is a form of good screen time, after all!

How young is too young to learn digital art?

Two illustrations of Kirby, the one on the left being fairly rudimentary and done in Microsoft paint. The illustration on the left is far more complete, and was illustrated in Photoshop CC.
These two illustrations of mine have a 10 year gap...I've been drawing for a long time!

Just like there’s no such thing as too old to learn art, I don’t think you can be too young to learn digital art either. I usually tell people I first started digital artwork when I was thirteen, but in truth that’s just when I started to take it seriously. I first started working digitally when I was around seven on MS Paint on our old family computer. I still have some of those ultra old files, where I just liked to play around with all the fun effects and draw what I wanted.

At the end of the day, what’s most important is that your child is having fun and being creative -- talent isn’t really important. Learning digital art at seven is no different than learning traditional art at seven (in fact, it may actually save your wallet in the future). So long as your child is enjoying themselves, that’s what matters!

Should my child learn both digital and traditional art?

Two paintings. The first on top is gouache, while the second below is digital.
A gouache painting (top) vs. a digital painting (below) of to keep both skills sharp!

Absolutely! I learned to balance both -- digital was just a minor part of my upbringing as an artist. I started by working very heavily in traditional work alone, my favourites being marker, graphite, ink, and watercolour/gouache paints. In fact, I even had a prejudice against digital art until I began to work in it. Even though digital art is what drives my occupation nowadays, I still like to work traditionally when I can.

Even if digital art is the future, traditional art will always have a place in the art world. It’s still extremely important -- there’s a reason that it’s still taught so heavily in schools! Though digital is now considered industry standard, it’s still incredibly important to learn in tandem with traditional work. As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, digital art is unable to replace traditional art -- while it can try, it will always fall just a little short.

Though traditional work isn’t as efficient as digital, don’t give up on it! Learning traditional art in tandem with digital art can help improve your art significantly by teaching you different techniques. Digital art is what helped me improve my speed and style, and traditional art is what taught me the basics. Even if digital art seems completely different from traditional art, they’re both visual art forms, and should be celebrated and practiced all the same.

If your child is a budding digital artist, check out our digital art for beginners class so they can learn all the required basics, but if you’re still unsure, consider taking a trial class and reading our free tutorial on the basics of MediBang Paint Pro, a free digital art software! If you’re an educator, check out our school workshops, where we’ll host an online art lesson for your classroom!

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