A Comprehensive Comparison of Digital Art Tools: Procreate, Photoshop, and Illustrator

Have you ever found yourself pondering over which digital art tool would be best suited for your creative projects? The realm of digital art is vast, and making the right choice among tools like Procreate, Photoshop, and Illustrator can be overwhelming. In this blog post, we will delve into the differences between these tools, their specific uses, and how you can leverage each one in your journey as an artist.
Please keep in mind: There is no "one fits all" solution and there is no "right or wrong" choice. But if you know the differences and the ins and outs you can make a good decision!

Raster vs. Vector: Understanding the Basics

Before we explore the individual tools, let's establish the fundamental difference between Raster and Vector file formats.

  • Raster Files:Raster images are composed of pixels, limiting the ability to scale them up without losing quality due to the fixed number of pixels.

  • Vector Files:In contrast, vector files use mathematical equations to define shapes and colors, allowing for infinite scalability without compromising resolution.

Procreate and Photoshop primarily handle raster files, while Illustrator operates with vector files. While vector files are not always necessary for professional surface design, tools like Procreate and Photoshop can suffice as long as file sizes allow for scalability without a loss of quality.

Graphic Sets: Raster and Vector based available

Just a little hint that, no matter what you go for, both raster and vector based graphic sets are totally fine. But when you purchase a graphic set make sure that it suits your needs. There are both kind of packages (raster and vector ones) available and usually the designer lets you know which files you get.
Here are two examples:

This is a package with PNG files which means that it is raster-based. On the bottom right of the image you see three symbols: The files can be best used in Photoshop, Procreate and even Affinity Designer (although it is vector-based) because the program also has a "Pixel-Persona" which lets you use PNG and JPG files..

"The International Brand Collection" by Julia Dreams comes with JPG, PNG and AI and EPS files. While you already know that JPG and PNG files means that these files are rater-based AI and EPS are vector files you can use in Adobe Illustrator as well as in Affinity Designer. You can see Affinity Designer gives you the ability to work with any file.

The product images are property of Pretty Little Lines and Julia's Dreams and are used with friendly permission by the designers.

Since by now you know about the basic differences between vector and raster based images we'll dive into a comparison of three of the most important programs you should conquer as a designer.

Photoshop: The Swiss Army Knife of Digital Art

Photoshop is renowned for its versatility in editing raster files and enhancing photographs. Here are some key uses of Photoshop:

  • Creating Repeat Patterns: Photoshop's robust tools are ideal for designing intricate repeat patterns, seamlessly tiled to cover large surfaces like textiles, wallpaper, or stationery.

  • Recoloring Artwork: The extensive color correction and adjustment capabilities in Photoshop enable artists to experiment with different color schemes, creating variations of a design to cater to different preferences.

  • Digitizing Analog Illustrations: Photoshop is essential for digitizing hand-drawn sketches or paintings, transforming them into versatile digital assets ready for further refinement.

  • Removing Backgrounds: Removing backgrounds is crucial to create graphics with transparent backgrounds, especially when working with scanned or photographed artwork.

Pros of Using Photoshop:

  • Remarkably powerful in image editing with a wide range of tools and features.
  • Built-in Pattern Preview streamlining seamless pattern creation.
  • Offers unparalleled layer versatility for non-destructive editing.
  • Cons of Using Photoshop:

  • Produces non-vectorized files, limiting scalability without a loss of quality.
  • Steep learning curve due to its extensive feature set.
  • You need to pay for the program monthly
  • Procreate: A Digital Artist's Companion

    Procreate is a user-friendly digital painting app designed for creating hand-drawn digital illustrations. Here are its primary uses:

    • Crafting Standalone Illustrations: Procreate's intuitive interface and natural drawing experience make it perfect for creating standalone illustrations.

    • Drawing Elements for Patterns: Procreate is ideal for creating pattern elements due to its ease of use, which can later be refined in tools like Photoshop.

    • Creating Art on the Go: Portability is a standout feature of Procreate. Coupled with an iPad and Apple Pencil, artists can create artwork anywhere inspiration strikes.

    Pros of Procreate:

  • User-friendly and accessible to artists of all skill levels.
  • Highly portable, making it an excellent tool for artists on the move.
  • Seamless integration with the Apple Pencil for a natural drawing experience.
  • Cons of Procreate:

  • Layer limitations based on canvas size and iPad processing power.
  • Constraints on canvas size, affecting the level of detail achievable.
  • Not suitable for intense editing tasks.
  • As you can see from the list of pros and cons Procreate and Photoshop are great partners. One can compliment the other!

    Illustrator: Precision and Scalability

    Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based design software tailored for creating scalable and precise illustrations and graphics. 

    Crafting Clean, Digital-Looking Artwork: Illustrator's vector-based nature allows for the creation of artwork with precise lines and shapes, resulting in clean digital designs.

    Pros of Illustrator:

  • Vector-based format enables infinite scalability without losing resolution.
  • Produces exceptionally clean and sharp artwork.
  • Offers amazing tools, one unique tool definitely is image trace which allows you to turn raster images into vectors
  • Cons of Illustrator:

  • Steep learning curve similar to Photoshop due to its complexity.
  • Vectorization may remove some organic, hand-drawn qualities present in raster files.
  • Illustrator is also a subscription based program.
  • Another Vector based program: Affinity Designer

    Although I haven't listed Affinity Designer in this list of programs I don't wanna close the article without letting you know that it is also an exceptional digital art tool to create vector graphics. If you buy the program it comes with the huge advantage of a one-time fee. Beside that you get it not only for Mac or Windows but also for your tablet which I personally love.
    You can definitely do a lot of tasks with Affinity Designer. Sure it doesn't come with all the tools Illustrator has on board but for many occasions you are totally getting along with Affinity Designer. Especially as a beginner Affinity Designer comes with the huge advantage of being not subscription based.

    In conclusion, each of these digital art tools has its unique strengths, catering to different artistic requirements. Whether you choose the versatility of Photoshop, the convenience of Procreate, or the precision of Illustrator, the best tool is the one that empowers your artistic vision. Don't be afraid to experiment and explore these tools (and combine them) to bring your creative ideas to life. Remember, success in designing doesn't hinge on a specific tool – use what resonates with you and helps you achieve your creative goals! If you're looking to level up your illustrations, starting with Photoshop can be a powerful choice due to its extensive capabilities in creating raster-based seamless patterns. I believe that, combined with Procreate, it definitely has all you need.
    There is no reason though not to dive into  vector art later or start with it if you prefer the style!

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