Traditional vs. Digital Drawing

My final 2000 word essay

“Traditional Vs. Digital Drawing”

(Pen & Paper vs. Pen Tablet)


(Pen & Paper VS. Pen Tablet)

Year after year technology advances with amazing speed.  It’s interesting to see the effects of the speed of change in art and design and more specifically in drawing. Drawing is the process or technique used, while the medium is the actual material used to create the artwork. There are different media that can be used to create drawings. Each medium has different characteristics and produces different effects. Nowadays, the two basic mediums are the traditional pen and the graphic tablet. In this essay I will explain the differences and the commons between traditional drawing, digital drawing and the tools you use in each one.

First of all, information about these two methods of drawing and the tools they use, but also their history are useful. In many ways, drawing is the basic art form on which all others built. The oldest drawings ever found were on the walls of caves and dated to around 32,000 to 30,000 years ago. Those drawings were the basis of what we have seen from that age until today. Different materials were used, different styles, different methods. Naturally, as years passed, technologies and techniques came to improve new styles of drawing.

The term drawing is used about art works for which different techniques have been used. It’s difficult to find a specific definition, because it has been conceived in different ways at different times. During Renaissance the term ‘disegno’ meant drawing both as a technique to be distinguished from colouring and also as the creative idea made visible in the preliminary sketch. The current ‘Shorter Oxford Dictionary’ defines drawing as: “the formation of a line by drawing some tracing instrument from point to point of a surface; representation by lines; delineation as distinguished from painting…the arrangement of lines which determine form.”

    Often, when people hear the word “drawing” they think of a simple sketch, usually drawn by pen or pencil. The interesting part of drawing though, is that there are lots of drawing techniques that give you different results and effects. Some of the drawing techniques are: graphite, charcoal, coloured pencils, chalk Pastels, oil pastels, pen and ink, markers.

I believe it is useful to include more information about digital painting, because not so many people know about it. Technically, digital art was born when the first IBM computer was used in conjunction with a digital printer to make a photo out of asterisks. Digital painting is when you draw or paint directly into your computer. The idea has been with us for quite a while, with older programs like MS Paint. This occurred in the late 1960s. Since then many other programs and mediums came out, until the first graphic tablet officially was presented in 1964. What a graphic tablet does is it copies the moves of your hand while you are drawing with a stylus on a digital tablet and convert them into bits and bites, so that computers can read them. That means that with a graphic tablet you would be able to draw a picture straight to a computer screen.

   Nowadays, artists are creating digital drawings using graphic tablets for posters, book covers, illustrations, video games, and even matte paintings for Hollywood blockbusters. The foundations of digital painting are in traditional art skills, rather than filters or design techniques. It’s a very simple process, and many people use nothing more than the paintbrush tool and eraser tool. Once you are familiar with a few basic techniques, you don’t have to worry about anything. The only limit is the amount of time and practice.

The techniques of digital drawing are similar to the traditional drawing techniques. That’s because you have the opportunity to use a big amount of tools and plug-ins, which replace the traditional ones. For instance you can use different brushes, which give you the results common brushes would give you in a traditional drawing.

Now that we have seen some historical and practical information about traditional drawing, digital drawing and their tools, we can analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each of these tools and methods.

   The advantages of traditional drawing may not be so many, but I believe they are essential, fundamental to the learning process for new artists. When you draw on a paper, you have the maximum control over the medium that you use. There is only the brush or the pen between the artist and the work, nothing “strange”, nothing electronic. Moreover, it’s extremely flexible and easy to work with. In my opinion the biggest advantage of drawing on a paper is the sense of working with natural materials such as paper, pencil, watercolours. Also, you don’t need any special knowledge on computers. Only natural materials are used, which are much more accessible to humans. The rules of the “game” are simple.

On the other hand, there are some important disadvantages. It’s easier to ruin the drawing when you draw on paper. Mistakes are difficult to correct on canvas. Even if you find a way to correct them, it would be a waste of time. A big disadvantage is the fact that coloured drawings becomes dull after some time and that could be a disaster for an artist. After it’s been used a lot and as time passes, you might lose some details of the original artwork and that might affect your final work. It could also be difficult to carry it anywhere because the size of the paper is too large sometimes. In general you have to be very careful when you take an artwork from a place to another, because there is a risk you damage it.  Sometimes it might cost you a lot to transfer, for example, your portfolio to a gallery or in a storage room.

Digital painting has also it’s own advantages. Tablet PCs and portable drawing devices make it easy to draw wherever you are. When you need to make quick edits or sketches on the go, this technology gives you the opportunity to store and share your work quickly and for free. Computer drawings can be systematically erased and edited, leaving you with only the lines and shading you want to show. People are looking for small solutions to help save the planet, but few would think that computer graphics are “green.” Think though…you save paper and other drawing supplies when you create, store and manage images digitally. Computer drawing software enables you to use one device and achieve thousands of different results. There is no need to carry different tools with you, such as pens, pencils, inks and charcoals if you draw with a computer. Your stylus can easily switch from one effect to the next. Another useful feature of graphics tablets is that they are usually pressure sensitive. Many graphics programs (such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Illustrator) have been designed to detect this pressure difference and express it on the canvas. When you draw with a tablet in a computer it’s like you making a collage of different pictures. With the graphic tablet we have the ability to create foreground and background drawings at the touch of a button. We are also able to delete each layer at any given time and add it at later stage. Also there are more details in the digital drawing experience than that of traditional methods. You are able to pick the quality and zoom in and out to see and draw more details. Furthermore, with the pen tablet you are able to correct your mistakes easily by just pressing the undo button and go back as many steps as you want. When you draw a line, that doesn’t mean that is your final line in your artwork. You are able to draw a line as many times as you want, until you get the result that you want.

Of course, digital painting and pen tablets have some disadvantages. In digital painting, sometimes you might feel limited by the size of the digital drawing tablet and the computer screen, as well as the tools within the tablet and the computer, which may feel overwhelming. Another important disadvantage is that computer hardware and software are expensive and require people to spend lots of money to buy good equipment in order to have the desired result. One more important disadvantage is that you don’t look at what you are drawing. You are looking at the screen while drawing in front of you. That might make you lose the sense of drawing, but also damage your eyes because you stand in front of a computer for many hours. Many artists who use natural materials can create masterpieces while traveling which differs from the graphic tablet, as this needs constant power for artists to create a graphic piece. You are not able to draw for many hours without electricity, because even if you have a laptop and even if the tablet is portable there is only a certain amount of time before the buttery runs out.

In this area of expertise “the most important thing is what you can produce with your talent and skills, of course, the right tools help a lot, but you need to improve your skills every day to be independent of the digital weapons” (De Lara, 2010). It is a fact though that learning how to draw takes years, but learning a new digital medium only takes days. As you can understand, in order to create a masterpiece it isn’t only a matter of the medium that you will use. It’s also matter of skills and techniques. “Even drawing gray hair at all is difficult to render in black and white.” (Bechdel, 2006). If someone knows the basics of drawing, it’s easy for him/her to combine traditional drawing and digital drawing and create whatever he/she wants. We live in a century that is good for us to be open-minded human beings. We are living in an age of technology and this technology is growing at a rapid pace and this could mean that we can’t afford to be shortsighted about what tools we use. Especially an artist should be open to any new mediums, technologies and techniques that are presented to him/her; he/she should try to experiment with them and try to create something different, something new and unique.

There are many advantages and disadvantages of traditional drawing and digital drawing. I am not sure there is a “better” or a “worse” way to draw. I can say though, that it depends on what you want to achieve in your final piece of art. There are similarities and differences. In my opinion the best way to create a piece of art is a combination of both ways of drawing. That’s how I work, but it doesn’t mean that it is the right way to do it. You can scan a traditional drawing and finalize it with digital drawing or you can do the opposite; create something on the computer, print it out and then finalize it with some live drawing or other techniques. There are many ways you can combine these methods of drawing. You can join their forces and create something miraculous. It comes down to the imagination of the artist.

I don’t believe you need to choose between the two drawing methods. Every medium has advantages and disadvantages. It isn’t about right and wrong; it’s about what makes you feel comfortable and happy when you create your graphic. Probably the choice between traditional drawing and digital drawing is one of the decisions that every designer might have to make in his career. It’s not a final decision though, because things might change during their lifetime; but it’s good to know towards what direction they’re moving. If you have to choose, your decision depends on different facts and circumstances. Whatever your choice is, you should always remember what Banksy said: “…maybe art is a bit of a joke” and that’s why we must have fun with it!



Bayschoolsf (2011) “What is drawing?”, available:

Bechdel, A. (2006), Fun Home. U.S: Mariner Books

Buser, T. (2006) “Chapter One: Prologue”, Historyofdrawingcom [online] available:

Carol, H. (2010) “Digital Drawing Tablet to Traditional Drawing on Paper”, Iowa State University, College of Design, United States, [online] available:

Clooney, C. (2011)  “Advantages Of Drawing Computer Tablets”,, [online] available:

De Lara, C. (2009) “Cris De Lara Interview”,, [online] available:

Exit through the gift shop. (2010). [DVD] Banksy. UK: Paranoid Pictures

Matthew39arch  (2009) “What is Drawing?”, available:

Oxford Dictionaries, (2002). Shorter Oxford Dictionary. USA: Oxford University Press

Timo (2009) “Digital Painting compared to Traditional Media”, Digital Paint Magazine, [online] available:


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