There’s no better time to start learning digital design than right now. It’s easier than ever to sell website templates, design premium iconsets, or teach digital painting on sites like Gumroad.
And if you don’t have the necessary skills for any of these tasks you’re in luck! The Internet makes it much easier to teach yourself with bountiful learning resources and freebies at your disposal.
In this post I’d like to share my favorite websites and resources to help aspiring artists & designers master their chosen skillset. Most digital design work can blend into digital art and vice-versa. So no matter what you’re trying to learn just remember you have a growing community of designers and artists online every day willing to share tips and advice to help you improve.
Custom Icon Design
There are many types of icons from simple flat icons to detailed app icons. You can learn all of these styles, but to get into more detailed icon techniques you’ll need to start with the basics first.
This often relates to design principles such as lighting and perspective. These are not easy to learn but if you study basic art fundamentals it’ll make your job easier.
Now studying is always great, but understanding icon design is best done through practice. I recommend starting with pencil sketches to improve your skills. You don’t need to be amazing at art but you should be comfortable enough to put your icon ideas onto paper.
Work to build a consistent habit of sketching to get yourself comfortable drawing each one of your icon designs before opening Photoshop or Illustrator.
Once you have this down you’ll want to pick a style and work to master it. This can involve line icons or flat icons or anything similar. When you get into more technical concepts you can even do realistic icons if you have the temerity.
The best icon designers study art fundamentals and know how to put these to good use. Don’t let any of this scare you off the path. Just be willing to keep trying and learn from your mistakes along the way.
To get started with basic icon designs check out the TutsPlus icons category.
If you like all the flat illustration work popularized in modern web design then you may want to try your hand at creating some yourself. The best software for this task is Illustrator because it works with vectors and offers a clean approach to the design process.
Once you understand how to use Illustrator properly it’ll be so much easier to get into digital illustration work. But again this subject is easier to learn if you know how to draw.
Some illustrators like Spovv have a little of both skillsets. The mix of traditional sketching + digital illustration grants a unique style to the work.
I would not recommend using anything besides Illustrator for this kind of work. I do love Sketch for UI design and it can be nice for basic icon design too. But custom illustrations are a different beast that work best with the Adobe Illustrator interface.
Once you understand how vectors work and how they can be organized to create illustrations you’ll be able to “see” these shapes in vector work around the web.
If you need ideas try browsing through Dribbble illustrations to see what other artists have created.
- Get started with vector illustration in 10 easy steps
- 10 Essential Tips & Tools All Adobe Illustrator Beginners Should Learn
- 30 Must See Character Illustration Tutorials
This may sound similar to digital illustration but it’s ironically the exact opposite.
When you create digital illustrations you’re working with vector shapes. However digital painting refers to painting with a brush tool in a program like Photoshop. This uses pixels rather than vectors so the results can be much more precise, but the work takes longer to complete.
To get into digital painting you’ll need a graphics tablet and some experience with art. This is perhaps the most intensive digital technique you can study—but the results can be incredible.
Digital paintings can be used in website headers, brands, logos, character designs, and even for icons if you don’t want to create them with vector shapes. You can find tons of examples on ArtStation if you’re willing to browse around.
I’ve recommended TutsPlus a lot in this article because their tutorials are genuinely the best resources available. They have a painting 101 article which can get you up to speed on the basics of tablets, painting techniques, and the brush tool.
But I also recommend Ctrl+Paint which is perhaps the ultimate painting blog for digital artists.
No matter what type of work you want to create this site can help you get started. The founder Matt Kohr is a professional artist with years of experience painting digitally.
Since you already need artistic experience to paint it can be one of the most difficult skills to teach. I recommend starting with the fundamentals first so you can learn the basics of art like form, perspective, and lighting. These skills can be applied to design work too so they’re incredibly valuable.
Many people recommend starting traditional first since drawing/painting with “real” materials quickly translates over to the digital world.
But you can start with a tablet and zero prior experience if you’re dedicated enough to learn. Just put in the hours and you’ll get there.
With that said, how do you know where to start? Here are some of the best resources and practice routines to get you on the path to digital painting.
Lastly is the unique skillset of animation combined with interface design. Most digital designers rely on tools like After Effects to create these UX animations.
But recently other programs have popped up like Principle which are cheaper and easier to use.
However the actual UX animation process is not an easy thing to learn. You need to study what other animators are doing to learn how they create realistic microinteractions that encourage user interactivity.
By studying other animations you’ll learn how to copy and pick up techniques by cloning their animations.
The technical side is understanding how to actually animate elements in your design mockups. For that you’ll want to study the typical UX workflow and how it applies to digital animation.
There are many guides on this topic but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone just getting started. The first step is to pick your software of choice. I’d honestly recommend After Effects just because it’s more established, but you can get by using Principle.
Then browse through some beginner tutorials and try them out!
You can even find animation freebies and download them to study how they’re created. This is a fun technique to see how others structure their animation files. However when you build something for yourself you’ll learn a lot more about how it actually works.
Here are some great tutorials to get you started with UI/UX animation:
- 15 UI Animation Tutorials
- How to Use After Effects for Web Animation Prototypes
- First UI Animation with Principle (Video)
The digital design world changes rapidly and the techniques used in digital projects seem to change as well. Whether you want to build custom icons, design mobile apps, create digital paintings or craft beautiful UI animations, the tips in this post should help you get started.
And if you can somehow study all of these areas you’ll become a tremendous asset to any creative team you join!