How to Start Drawing with a Laptop and Stylus

So you’ve decided to move on from the mess of brushes and oil, and you want to use a laptop and stylus instead? That’s a good start. Let’s take it from here and guide you on the rest of your journey.

In this complete guide, we’re going to tell you what drawing hardware to pick. Then, our next stop would be at the software and programs you should have on your drawing laptop. After that, we’re going to discuss stylus types and how they are used.

If these are the things you’re curious about, join in the ride and get ready to become an expert!

Getting Started – Pick Your Drawing Hardware

In this article, we’re focusing on two-in-one laptops and stylus instead of graphics and display tablets. The former setup is more convenient for artists since it provides all the advantages of graphic tablets with extra cherries on top.

On the other hand, a graphic tablet needs to get hooked up to a PC’s screen since it doesn’t have a screen of its own. And even a display tablet will eventually need pairing with a laptop for post-editing. That’s not the case with a laptop for drawing since they have everything in one package.

When purchasing a drawing laptop, look for the ones with high-quality displays and accurate colors. A powerful processor is a must to run your programs, and a touchscreen that translates the different pressure levels applied to it will be of great aid. 

On top of that, consider stylus laptop machines that are portable and have longer battery lives. For artists who work on the go, this is a huge benefit since they can pull their laptops from their backpacks and start working anytime without fighting with an endless sea of cables to connect them to other devices.

Some of the best two-in-one notebooks that gather all these features and more are Samsung Notebook 9 Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 7. If you’re a fan of macOS devices, the MacBook Pro makes an exciting choice too. 

Essential Drawing Apps and Software 

Now that you’ve got an idea about the hardware, it’s time to fill it with useful apps and software to help you get started. 

But before you pick a program, keep in mind that some of them work with certain operating systems only. For example, you can use Procreate on MacBook, but you can’t run it on Microsoft PCs.

Free Apps and Drawing Software

Let’s start with the free software tools out there, which we would recommend for artists beginning their digital illustration journey.

1. Krita

This is a well-designed software tool with an intuitive interface and handy drawing aids. Every feature is designed to be highly accessible and customizable so that you can shape the app to your liking. 

Although it doesn’t cost a penny to run, it’s one of the top-notch creative tools used by professionals working in the field of comics and manga.  

2. MyPaint

MyPaint is an open-source program available for Windows and macOS devices. Its digital tools stand out for being able to emulate real-life tools like dry paint and charcoal. Hence, it’s one of the best software programs to start with if you’re a beginner in this field.

3. Artwearver Free

This one is designed mainly for aspiring artists with little experience but not in any way limiting. The software boasts ultra-realistic brush effects and supports layers so that you can build your artwork in layers.

4. Sketchbook

For advanced artists, Sketchbook is a serious and professional-caliber tool developed to help visual artists, designers, and architects to create high-quality and realistic paintings. Thankfully, the full-feature version is available for everyone and can be run on any platform.

Subscription-Based Drawing Apps and Software

Next, let’s jump to the paid-for options. In this category, the choices are endless. We’ve chosen the most popular tools used by novice artists.

Note that nearly all subscription-only programs offer a trial version or demo, so before you pay your hard-earned cash, try the free trial versions first to make sure you’re comfortable with the software.

1. Adobe Photoshop

Even if you’re not an artist, you’ve probably heard about the star of all digital painting tools. Photoshop has been the number-one software for many years for being a hugely capable and powerful program updated regularly to recent trends. 

Compared to the paid options, Photoshop is relatively affordable and is the software recommended by many professional illustrators. 

2. Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer is open-source software that may look a bit complicated at first glance, but once you get used to its top-notch features, you’ll be amazed by the number of possibilities it offers. If graphic design is your next step, this reliable vector tool is your best option.

3. Procreate

This macOS exclusive software packs incredible entry-level features for beginners and hobbyists, including 130 different brushes and precise color picker tools, besides the ability to work with many layers.

Drawing Stylus Options

Whether you choose a laptop that comes with a pen or requires you to purchase a stylus on your own, you need to know that not all of them are equal in shape and function. Knowing the difference is crucial since it can be the deciding factor of whether or not you’ll be able to draw with the set. So, let’s take a look at the available options.

Capacitive Stylus

This is the simplest and cheapest type of digital drawing pens. It basically works the same way as your fingers, distorting the touchscreen’s electrostatic field. 

This means it can draw on any touchpad or touchscreen regardless of the platform, which is the only merit you get here besides its affordable price. However, it doesn’t offer additional features like pressure sensitivity and palm rejection.

Active Stylus 

These pens include electronics that interact with specific sensors integrated into the touchscreen. Hence, this type is only compatible with a few models and can only be found on high-end devices. 

Yet, unlike the previous type, it allows you to control the thickness of your drawing line by changing the pressure you apply to the screen. Moreover, it has palm rejection features, enabling you to rest your palm on the screen while drawing since it ignores any input other than the tip of your pin. 

Last but not least, you can use its other end as an eraser, which makes you feel like you’re holding a proper pen. 

Bluetooth Stylus

The last type is a pen that, instead of relying on the screen to detect the pressure, detects the pressure on its own and sends the info to your laptop via Bluetooth.

The advantage of this stylus is that you can use it with various platforms and still get the pressure sensitivity and palm rejection features. Nevertheless, it’s expensive and powered by batteries so you’ll have to change them occasionally. 

Finally, Learn How to Hold Your Stylus Correctly

Before you’re good to go, the only thing that’s left to know is how to hold your digital pen properly while drawing. While this may look trivial, it’s actually an important thing to learn early on to avoid future injuries like wrist pain and carpal tunnel syndrome

So, here are a few stylus drawing tips for beginners:

  • When drawing smooth lines, keep your wrist static as much as possible and draw by moving your elbow and shoulder instead.
  • Keep your grip on the stylus light since the extra pressure will only cause your wrist to ache after a while and won’t have any better effect on your drawing line.
  • Try not to push any weight on your palms. Instead, let the pen glide on the screen and try to move fast with your lines to accomplish the best linearity. 

Time to Get Started!

This brings us to the end of the article! We hope that by now, you have a better understanding of what you need to make digital art and what software tools and programs you can use to create realistic artwork on your laptop. 

Let us know if this article helped you get started in digital illustration, and feel free to reach out to us if you still have any questions on the topic.