Essential Tools for a Digital Illustrator

Hello there! I’m Arkyoo, an illustrator for High Output Ventures. I began my illustration design career at HOV in April 2022. Since then, I’ve been learning from my colleagues and superiors and discovering things on my own. It’s been an exciting journey over the last eleven months.

In this blog, I will share some recommendations for your digital illustration needs. If you’re just starting your illustrator career, you should look into the essentials before upgrading your setup as your budget increases.

Photo by Dose Media

What you need

The key is to obtain the best tools available to you. Your preference should also be taken into account. Consider the factors that will help you find the right tools for you. So, without further delay, let’s get into it!

A decent computer

For obvious reasons, you’ll need a machine capable of running your software. You don’t need anything overly expensive; just something with minimum graphics specifications will do. However, if you can afford it, invest in a laptop or desktop PC with top-quality graphics; consider a MacBook Pro or Windows gaming laptop. It may be an expensive investment, but it’s worth every penny. You can even branch out into animation and video editing with higher graphics.

14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro and M1 Max chips

Software of choice

There are several options here, with the Adobe products being the most popular ones. Yet there are some alternatives may be more appropriate for your budget, such as:

  • Affinity Designer — one-time purchase software perfect for creating raster and vector graphics for Mac and Windows
  • CorelDRAW — subscription-based and or one-time purchase graphic design software for Mac and Windows
  • Clip Studio Paint — subscription-based and or one-time purchase drawing and painting app for Mac and Windows
  • Sketch — monthly or yearly subscription vector drawing tool for Mac
Affinity Designer user interface

Free options

Who doesn’t want free stuff? Before getting paid software, check out these free illustration software options. There are plenty more out there, and they are relatively easy to find, but these should give you a good head start in familiarizing yourself with the tools and techniques needed for your graphic illustration efforts.

Inkscape user interface

Pen tablet

The pen tablet is one of the cheapest drawing tools you can buy, given that you know where to look. The pen tablet is an excellent way to kickstart your graphic illustration journey. It is a reasonably inexpensive way to get your feet wet, and the pen tablet allows you to practice the fundamentals of graphic illustration without having to purchase expensive art supplies or make a significant financial investment.

Developing hand-eye coordination with a pen tablet takes practice, but with enough repetition, it will become second nature. Your muscle memory will kick in, making it feel more natural.

One by Wacom pen tablet

Pen display tablet

Get a pen display tablet if you can afford one. Pen displays give you the power to draw directly onto a screen. This may be a more comfortable method of working with digital art compared to a pen tablet. A very pricey option, but with this investment, you can improve both the quality and efficiency of your work perhaps much faster than the latter tablet.

Latest line of Huion Kamvas pen display tablets

Handheld tablet

Handheld tablets are also helpful, as they provide much of the same functionality as a pen display tablet without relying on a main computer to power it. One of the most popular handheld tablets today is the Apple iPad, which is often praised for its intuitive interface and lightweight design compared to the pen display tablet.

While the pen display may offer the most precise and comfortable experience for digital graphics and art, handheld tablets can still provide excellent results, if not better. Plus, you can take it anywhere you go. Handheld tablets offer a lot of portability and convenience that their pen display counterparts can’t match.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 | S8+

If you are taking the handheld tablet route, there are tablet versions (or similar) of the software mentioned, such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, and Affinity Designer.

It is also worth mentioning Procreate and Vectornator for the iPad as well, as they are among the most widely used illustration apps for the tablet, with the former you can download with a one-time purchase and the latter for free.


Many designers and illustrators can create stunning works of art with just a mouse and a command of the shortcut keys. If you are more comfortable creating graphics with a keyboard and mouse, you will not need the tablets mentioned above. You will save yourself the inconvenience of carrying another device. More importantly, it allows you to create professional-looking designs without spending a significant amount of money.

Logitech mice

Be wise with your investments

You don’t need the most expensive equipment to start your graphic illustration journey. A simple drawing tablet — or keyboard and mouse — and software will do. Once you have mastered the fundamentals, you can upgrade to more advanced tools and software. As your skills further improve, so can your setup. With a few initial investments, you can open yourself up to an array of possibilities in the world of graphic illustration. The best of luck to you!