Computer Illustration Software on the Cheap

Computer Artist by Leo Hartas

I’ve been using computers for my illustration work for many years starting out with Delux Paint on Amiga. On the whole the paint program I have relied on for most of that time was Adobe Photoshop for one reason only, that it was the only program that would guarantee speed and stability while working on large print resolution files. All other software would either not have the features I needed or would grind down to a snail’s pace at anything larger than A5 at 300 dpi with more than a handful of layers. In the last year I’ve dropped Adobe totally, because I’ve found a small collection of programs that give me all the flexibility and reliability I need for everyday illustration, and save me a load of money.

Cheap does not mean rubbish. All the following programs are 100% legal, and work for me every day producing art and design for books and publications that are professionally printed and end up on the shelves of shops, or sometimes video games, websites and advertising. You can go entirely free, with plenty of open source offerings such as Gimp, or Krita, but I find they can have weird interfaces, or stability and speed issues that make them awkward to use professionally.

Why be a cheapass? You may think that you need the market “standard” of Adobe to be a professional artist. This just isn’t the case. The end users of your work, the publishers or the children that eventually read your books can’t tell, and don’t care what program you illustrate in. With all the software I mention below there are no compatibility issues and export and import all the major file formats. The money I saved can go into Marketing, or to buy time to work on developing my own projects. And the money stacks up with Adobe. As I use all three main program types, paint, vector and publishing, I would need to complete suite which is £50 a month or £600 a year. The options below all come easily under £200 for a one off payment.

Another factor is that the Adobe suite has become hugely bloated with endless features that you most likely will never use. These features have been built of aging technology often which requires a fast and costly computer to run on. Programs such as Serif’s Affinity suite have been built from the ground up for speed, reliability and to make use of the latest advances in hardware.

2016 - Electric Pencil - Leo Hartas

Windows 10

A persistent myth has arisen that serious illustrators can or should only use Apple Macs, probably arising from their release of the first graphical interface. I’ve always bought and used PCs, (well, after having Amigas first) only because at the time I also wanted games that the Mac was somewhat lacking in. I’m amazed I had any time to play them! I also had a slightly nerdy interest in computers, and to this day still build my own desktops. Beyond that going the PC route over the years has saved me a ton of cash over the equivalent Macs, but perhaps with a few more technical problems than the average Apple user suffers. I have no beef about either system, as you can produce great work whatever you use, and although I’m not crazy about Windows 10 it does what I need.

Clip Studio Paint

£40 $49.99 USD

I came across this about a few years ago and have never looked back. For illustration, both drawing and painting, it is way ahead of Photoshop. It has dedicated features that illustrators will love like layer referencing, where working on a layer above you can refer to a layer below to make selections. The brush engine is hugely flexible and the rulers are worth the asking price alone. What makes it stand out is that the features you need are so logically laid out, and far more to hand than Adobe’s offering. It is also 100% stable with large many layered high resolution files, even several in memory at once. It’s also fast.

I know that the learning curve associated with switching software is what puts most off, but it’s not that different to Photoshop, and I found the change pretty easy. Look out for half price deals deals if you sign up to their newsletter. This is a one off, you own it, price, unlike Adobe’s annual subscription cost. It also loads and exports multi-layered PSDs. HINT: Visit Flyland and Frenden to build your collection of excellent natural media and special effects brushes. They also have a lots of excellent Manga Studio tutorials.

Serif Affinity Suite

£48.99 Each application PC and Mac

One particular feature of the full suite that stands out is that each app can communicate directly with eachother. So if, for example you are editing a book in Publisher, and you want to make some changes to an illustration you painted in Photo you can do it instantly from within Publisher because they all share the same file type. This is instead of constant saving and loading of files. This one feature is a massive time saver that Adobe lacks.

Affinity Publisher
There are many tasks in illustration that I find easier to do in DTP, perhaps arranging some text or planning a page design, to then export out to work with Manga Studio. I now offer a full  service designing and processing a book to a print ready file. This works well for some clients, gives me more control and allows me to charge for the design work which in Affinity Publisher takes little time. It has a fully professional interface and feature set and outputs quality documents for ready commercial print.

Affinity Designer
Although I don’t often use vector based software I have recently been supplying logos and titles for books and find using Designer a lot less confusing than Adobe Illustrator.

Affinity Photo
Worth looking at. I don’t use it becasue I’m happy with Clip Studio, but reports from other illustrators say that they were able to get results equal to Photoshop.

And that’s it! All my illustration produced with a collection of programs costing less than £200!

Cat Paint by Leo Hartas

To round off my cheapassness here is a list of ancillary stuff I use for the business generally.

Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Documents (word processor and spreadsheets), Google Keep (Notes)
I’m probably becoming a Google drone, but who cares, it’s all free and works on my phone too.

Kaspersky Antivirus
There are good free antivirus’s but they tend to nag you to buy their premium products. I like Kaspersky because I can forget about it, It doesn’t slow my system down, or hassle me all the time like Norton or McAfee. You only need to go for their antivirus. £29.99 per year.

Wisecare 365
Ok, I have this because Windows isn’t quite as hygienic as Mac OS. Wisecare 365 goes through my system daily brushing up unwanted files, polishing the registry, etc. and generally keeping Windows running smoothly. I picked Wise Care at random, but it seems to work well. £27.34 per year. I was on their mailing list and took advantage of a special offer of about £40 for a lifetime upgrade.

I designed my website using WordPress for free. It was quite a painful learning curve despite loads of people online saying it’s easy. However, there are plenty of excellent YouTube tutorials that walk you step-by-step through building a smooth and clean portfolio site. I teamed up with a pal to split the cost of unlimited hosting on Hostgator, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t band together with a few more people to reduce it further. Hostgator Baby package 3 years: About £100 (they throw lots of deals around, and you can hunt for vouchers online that can bring the price down further)

Elegant Themes
This is a luxury. Elegant Themes are high quality WordPress themes that make your site look really slick. Bizarrely, I won a years free subscription from them in a sweepstakes they were running on their newsletter, which I then upgraded to a lifetime membership at about £175. (but I got it cheaper on a deal they sent out in their email newsletter)

2016 - Paint Tubes - Leo Hartas

Time Flies When You’re Not Having Fun

7HartasLI just thought I’d put up this render to celebrate my website finally getting nearer to, “finished”. I can’t say it’s been a great pleasure putting it together, particularly learning the vagaries of WordPress. What was annoying was that I decided to go with WordPress for it’s much lauded, ‘ease’ of use, and I was seduced by the flashy themes everyone seemed to be using.

I’d been concerned that my old site, made in my much loved WYSIWYG Web Builder, popped up looking a bit different on other computers. On a friend’s Samsung phone it failed to load at all. I thought I’d better go for something that I knew would work on every device. (btw, I can thoroughly recommend WYSIWYG Web Builder, and suspect that it was looking different on various machines would have been down to my ineptitude.)

I guess the problem with WordPress is that it’s a writer’s tool, not a visual artists. This means that I almost wept as after much effort it dawned on me how little control one has over the look of the thing (and no, I’m not delving into css or php or whatever isn’t, ‘easy’.) I went with a theme called, Artist, really only because it was called, “Artist”, and that was the only way for me to differentiate amongst the gazillions of Themes I could choose from. I have to say that now I’ve got it up and running I’m pleased with the results, and the developer has been very amenable with my cries for help. Check out, Artist.

Anyway, back to the picture and the vague point of this missive. I did this render back in 1998 on some cranky old machine in what was the precursor of 3D Studio Max.. plain old 3D Studio running in DOS. When it came to re-jigging my website I was looking for ease. I just haven’t got the energy any more to roll up my sleeves as I did in those days. I just want to get on with good old fashioned art. I thought WordPress would mean throwing together a site in a couple of hours. The whole sorry experience made me realise that for all the amazing power computers now have, using the damn thing hasn’t got any easier at all.

Actually what’s really worrying me now is that I can’t remember the name of the fox character.