Outsider’s Starter Guide to Digital Illustration

A blob of watercolour paint

Being one of the most highly sought after digital skills in 2020, digital illustration has evolved tremendously over the years. Before digitisation took place, illustrations were done simply using pen and paper, and a piece of artwork may take up to a few days to complete. As technology developed and we progressed towards a digitised world, illustrations have become more convenient and easy to create.

So how simple and convenient exactly is illustration in a digitised era? Here’s a starting guide to get you introduced to digital illustration, with tips involving hardware to the variety of applications and resources.

The Hardware

The first thing you will need to get started on creating your very own digital artwork would be the hardware. There are 3 main options available, namely graphic tablet, graphic display, or an all in one tablet.

Graphic tablet

A graphic tablet is a computer input device that works like a mouse, where you can connect it to your computer. The surface of the tablet reflects the screen of your laptop where you can hand draw graphics with a stylus, similar to a user drawing with a pen and paper.

Note: when purchasing a graphic tablet, here are a list of things you may want to consider:

●  Screen size and active area

●  Resolution

●  Pressure sensitivity

●  Controls

●  Wired or wireless


  • One by Wacom, best for beginners
  • Huion Inspiroy H610 pro, best for value
  • Wacom intuos pro (M), best for professionals 
  • Ugee M708, best for paperlike screen

Graphic display

Similar to a graphic tablet, a graphic display also allows you to input your hand drawn graphics into the computer. The difference lies in the input location, where users can draw directly on the device itself. This option is suitable for users who find it hard to adapt to drawing on the graphic tablet and would prefer having a screen on their drawing pad.

The sizes of the screen for a graphic display ranges from 11.6 inches to 21.5inches. Sizes of the screen up to 15.6 inches can be considered as portable while any other sizes beyond that would require a permanent space on the desk considering its bulkiness.

Note: Similar to the graphic tablet, here are a list of things you may want to consider when purchasing a graphic display:

●  Screen size and active area

●  Resolution

●  Pressure sensitivity

●  Controls

●  Wired or wireless


  • Wacom Cintiq 16 (add in specifications, price, review, purchase link?)
  • XP-PEN Artist 15.6 pen display
  • Wacom one
  • Huion KAMVAS GT-191

All-in-one tablet

Unlike a graphic display or tablet, an all in one tablet is already able to function on their own without having to connect to a PC or laptop. Drawing applications, free or paid, can be downloaded on the device and users would only need a stylus pen to get their creation going. The best part about this hardware is its portability. Users have the option of bringing it out anywhere and start drawing, no matter if it is on public transport or at a cafe.


  • Apple iPad pro
  • Microsoft surface pro
  • Wacom mobile studio pro
  • Samsung galaxy tab

Stylus pen

Definitely a must-get for users to draw precisely on any all in one tablet screen. Something to take note before making your purchase is to check the compatibility of the stylus pen and your tablet. You would not want to risk spending tens of dollars purchasing a stylus pen that does not work on your tablet. Another thing to look out for is if the stylus pen comes with pressure sensitivity, as having it will give off a much more natural feel when drawing.


  • Apple pencil
  • Adonit Jot pro
  • Surface pen

The software

Other than the hardware, you will also require a software or an application to get started on your digital art creations. The prices of a digital painting software can range from totally free to really expensive. Also, the choice of the software you will use will also depend on the hardware as not all software is compatible with all the devices in the market. Example: Procreate can only run on iPads and photoshop can only run on PCs/laptops and Microsoft surface pro.

Free software and applications

  • Adobe illustrator draw (Android, iOS)
  • Tayasui Sketches Lites (Android, iOS)
  • Autodesk sketchbook (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)
  • Adobe photoshop sketch (Android, iOS)
  • Krita (Windows, Mac)

Paid software and applications

  • Procreate (iOS)
  • Adobe photoshop (Windows, Mac)
  • Adobe illustrator (Windows, Mac)
  • Fresco (iOS)

The lessons

As the world moves into a digitised space, there is no shortage of online resources. We can easily learn a skill or two with just a simple click. To save you the hassle of searching through the internet, we have compiled a list of online resources that you can refer to to pick up the skill you want.


Paid courses


Mainly targeting the professional adults and students, Udemy is an online course marketplace which aims to help individuals reach their goals and pursue their dreams. With over 150,000 courses and 57,000 instructors available, users are sure to find courses that fit their criteria. Udemy charges through a pay-per-class model for courses on their website, and users are entitled to lifetime access to the courses that they have bought, including content upgrades.

Something users have to take note before purchasing a course off Udemy is that most of the courses available on the marketplace are not accredited as it is not an accredited learning institution. Consumers should also look through the reviews before making a purchase on the platform, just like making any other purchase to identify if you would enjoy the class.



Founded in 2012 by 2 Stanford computer science professors, Coursera specialises in massive open online courses (MOOCs), specialisations and degrees. On Coursera, you are able to take certified courses from the best universities and companies around the world.


Although Coursera provides free online courses for all, graded assignments and a course certificate can only be obtained if the user pays for the course. It would be advisable for users to pay for the course if they wish to add the skillset to their resume. Whereas users that are taking the course out of interest and simply explore the different curriculum within the platform.



Skillshare is an online learning platform suitable for people who are keen in picking up some hard or soft skills through educational videos. There are 2 versions of the platform available, basic and premium. The basic version of the platform is free, allowing users to access about 2,100 free classes with videos and tutorials while the premium version is available through a subscription basis. The premium version offers users unlimited access to 26,000+ ad free online classes along with offline access to download on mobile devices.

The downside to skillshare is that unlike pay-per-class learning communities such as Udemy that was mentioned above, users would not get lifetime access to the learning materials. Once users stop their membership, they would no longer be able to view their past learning materials. Another downside of skillshare is that it is an online learning platform formed by experienced individuals and professionals, but they are not certified instructors. Hence, skills learned via skillshare are not accredited.

Free courses


YouTube is a well-known one-stop video-sharing platform with a wide variety of genres ranging from cat videos to educational ones. YouTube also has a sub-section, YouTube EDU, which provides access to more than 500,000 educational videos from Khan Academy, Stanford University and TED. All of the videos are free of charge and easily accessible. The tutorials are also catered to different levels of proficiencies.

Users are reminded to cross-check the credibility of all sources as not all information provided are accurate. Some may be opinions of individual content creators, which are still useful as long as the user takes the necessary precaution.

What’s Next?

After learning about all these tips for digital illustration, we hope it will be easier for you to start the journey of drawing out your beautiful graphic creations. Once you’re confident in your skills, you can make this hobby a part-time hustle by doing up digital illustration tasks on Outside. Download Outside today to find out more, and you might just find yourself your first-ever paid digital illustration assignment today! 

Outside is a community-tasking app that connects users to help each other out for their daily inconveniences. Since its launch in 2017, the app has gained recognition for its work through media features and competitions, where it has won multiple awards. Currently, the app boasts over 10,000 users and is officially supported by Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY)’s #SGUnited and Majurity Trust’s #SGStrong.

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