Digital illustration is the technique of using a computer to produce original artwork. Digital illustrators use a combination of illustration software and image editing software to create computer art. Digital illustration is not merely the manipulation of images with software; it is the actual creation of new art with digital tools.
An artist might use a graphics tablet or a mouse to create digital artwork. A graphics tablet is an input device that connects to the computer and has a tablet, or pad, with an attached pen. The artist uses the pen to draw on the tablet. The resulting image is saved to the computer, where it can be enhanced and refined. Some artists use a mouse for digital illustration, but many find that they can control images better with a pen than a mouse. Graphics tablets also usually have some degree of pressure sensitivity, which gives artists more flexibility in the way they draw.
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The software used for digital illustration can be either vector-based or raster-based. Vector-based software draws paths—shapes and lines based on mathematical principles. The paths it draws are fully scalable. Making them larger or smaller does not affect them or make them "fuzzy," like bitmap, or raster, software does. Raster-based, or bitmap, software creates images from pixels, which are small rectangles that make up an image on a screen. Because each pixel might contain bits from different parts of an image, the image gets fuzzier as it gets larger, so there is a limit to how much a raster-based image can be scaled. Typically, drawing software is vector-based, while image editing software is raster-based.
Someone who wants to become a digital illustrator generally needs to be extremely familiar with both vector- and raster-based software. There are not very many vector-based software packages; Adobe® Illustrator® is by far the most commonly used by professionals. There are a number of raster-based applications, but Adobe® Photoshop® is preferred by many illustrators. A digital illustrator may or may not have a background in traditional art, but will often have a background in design.
Digital illustration is used in nearly every area of graphic design and illustration. It is used extensively in web design and software design, as well as in the creation of posters, t-shirts, computer animation, and advertisements. Digital illustration is often combined with traditional illustration, especially in books and comic books, to produce a truly unique style of art.