The best tools for digital illustrators

There are plenty of tools to help you work digitally without sacrificing that hands-on feel. Christopher Phin explains your options...

When we say 'tools used by digital illustrators', we don't mean pencil, paper and scanner, or even caffeine. We mean tools that can help you create artwork entirely digitally, while still working with your hands – things that can genuinely make you more productive. Fortunately there are thousands of them, so let's sketch out a few of your options.

Before you go out and buy stuff, note that you might have a decent little digital sketchbook in your pocket already. Samsung's Galaxy Note tablets come with a stylus, and while most people would want more power and flexibility, it can be good enough for jotting down some quick initial ideas.

The iPad is far more popular, of course, and there are plenty of styluses available for it. It's a bit of an awkward option, mind you; the iPad was never meant to be used with a stylus, so some have had to come up with slightly inelegant compromises in order to work properly, plus the slipperiness of that shiny glass Retina screen can be off-putting.

Quick sketches

Still, if you have an iPad, load it up with apps such as Procreate and Paper, buy a stylus and you've got something that you can at worst use as a sketchbook for initial working.

You could buy a cheap or basic stylus if you're not sure it's going to be right for you, but even with basic styluses there are interesting options; Cosmonaut by Studio Neat is fab, for example. It embraces the imprecision of the thick nibs basic styluses have, giving you a thick, chunky stylus that's reminiscent of a whiteboard marker.

You could also get a smart stylus, though – one that connects via Bluetooth. A popular one is the Pencil by FiftyThree, which uses that Bluetooth connection for palm rejection so you can sketch in detail or broad strokes.

The unique tip on FiftyThree’s Pencil is shaped to create lines of all sizes without any settings, leaving you more screen space to draw

Alon Chitayat, founder of Animishmish Creative Studio, is a fan: Along with an iPad and the Paper app, it's the only digital alternative for a sketchbook.

"Choosing a stylus is the same process as buying a pen or pencil in an art store. The user experience for me is mostly about the way it feels in my hand, the friction and drag, and the pressure sensitivity. I was searching for a digital tool that would feel as close as possible to sketching on paper."

It's also definitely worth checking out the iPad styluses from Adonit. They make a wide range, from simple styluses with rubber nipples, through the clever Jot Pro, which fakes a very fine point with a surprisingly effective plastic disc on the tip, to the Jot Touch with PixelPoint. This advanced stylus is pressure-sensitive too, mimicking the kind of control you'd get with a traditional Wacom graphics tablet.

Next page: more tools for digital illustrators