Line Art And Line Drawing In Digital Art


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This article covers what line art and line drawing in digital art are. How to draw line art, different line art techniques, and how to use different line art brushes. The article covers digital line art, line drawing, and line work. I’ve been drawing line art my whole life and would like to share my experience about it in this article.

Key Takeaways

  • Line art, line drawing, and line work are about drawing straight or curved lines using physical or digital mediums.
  • Use stabilization and smoothing features to draw smooth line art when using art software.
  • Anti-aliasing creates opacity shifts to the edges of the line art.
  • There are three types of line art: vector line art, solid line art, and textured line art.

What Is Line Art?

Line art, line drawing, and line work is a drawing phase where you intentionally draw straight or curved lines. It is a set of defined lines and is usually meant to be part of the final illustration.

Line art or line drawing is usually meant to be drawn on top of a sketch layer. You first create a sketch, and when it’s completed, you create the line art on top of it on a new layer.

I don’t recommend drawing line art without a sketch layer below. Drawing line art without a sketch layer requires you to have a precise vision and image in your head about what you are drawing. This includes keeping all the details and elements in your mind while drawing the lines.

Line art is usually seen as the outline for different elements in your drawing. It will create a structure for your drawing and enables you to separate elements from each other.

Gradation and hues in line art

Gradation and hue mean a shift of opacity and color (hue) in line art. Many think that line art does not have gradations, but that is a false belief, as line art does have shifts in opacity.

When drawing either with physical or digital mediums, line art can have shifts in opacity, depending on how you hold or press your pencil or stylus.

In digital line art, you can adjust the opacity of the brushes, pencils, and pens to create a gradation effect. You can also select a color for your brushes, which enables you to create line art in different hues.

It’s also believed that line art is only drawn with pure black color, but that is not true, as you can select lots of different colored pencils or change the color for your digital brush.

The features and functions of digital line art

Many of the art software available today have the needed features to draw good line art. However, what you should take into consideration is the art style you are after. If you are drawing loose lines, you might not need art software that is specialized in precise or graphical line art.

For example, Adobe Illustrator is art software specialized in vector lines and vector-based line drawing. Clip Studio Paint is specialized in manga and anime line drawing, and Procreate, for example, is a superb software for sketching.

Vector line art

Vector line art is pixels that are based on mathematical formulas. As vector lines are based on math, you can scale vector lines infinitely without losing quality or precision. Vector lines are lossless and are best used for poster designs, logos, and graphic design.

In comparison to rasterized lines, raster art, bitmaps, or rasterized layer, the lines are not scalable and lose quality when scaled up. When you scale up rasterized layers, art, or lines, the edges will look jagged and distorted.

Some art software enables you to edit individual vector lines. This kind of editing can’t be done with rasterized lines.

Adobe Illustrator and Clip Studio Paint enable you to draw vector lines, and one of the benefits of vector lines is that you can correct lines as many times as you want without losing quality.

What should be noted about vector art or vector lines is that the end result might look too graphical and lose some of that “human” touch, which is more evident in rasterized line art. However, when designing logos or graphic elements, it’s preferred to use vector lines.

Solid Line Art

Solid line art or graphical line art is line art with no texture applied to it. Solid line art can have anti-aliasing enabled or disabled. If the anti-aliasing is enabled, it will smoothen the edges of the line art and can, in some cases, seem like the line art has a texture applied to it.

When anti-aliasing is disabled, the line art has zero or minimal gradation (opacity shift) in the edges, making it look solid (like traditional ink).

Anti-aliasing in line art creates opacity shifts to the edges of the line art, which makes the line art look softer.

Example image showcasing how anti-aliasing works

In solid line art, most (99%) of the pixels are colored with one color. If anti-aliasing is enabled, then shades of grey appear (when viewed against a white background) on the edges.

Anti-aliasing decreases pixel density at the edges of the brush stroke. In solid line art, you are drawing to a rasterized/raster layer. This type of layer can’t be scaled without losing quality.

Textured Line Art

Textured line art version on the left side and vector line art on the right side

Textured line art consists of lines that have some sort of texture applied to them. Textured line art can be achieved in many ways:

  • Adobe Photoshop: Dual brush
  • Clip Studio Paint: Texture option
  • Procreate: Brush that has opacity shifts throughout
The upper line art looks very pixelated and that’s because it’s a zoomed-in image. The lower image looks less pixelated and that’s because it’s vector line art

Texture can be anything (brick, sand, paper, etc.) and you can even create your own textures to be used in a brush. The main idea with a textured brush is that the inside area of the brush stroke has varied opacity shifts.

How to Draw Digital Line Art?

Drawing line art starts by choosing/buying an art software capable of producing quality line art. Adobe Photoshop is not the best option for line art drawing as the smoothing function is not as good as it should be.

Clip Studio Paint and Procreate are one of the best software for drawing all sorts of line art. Clip Studio Paint is the best option of the two. In Clip Studio Paint, you can draw textured, solid, and vector line art.

Setting canvas and resolution for line art

To draw crisp, smooth, precise, and quality line art, you need the canvas size to be around 3000px to 7000px in size, with a resolution of 300-400 PPI (pixels per inch).

While it’s often said that white background puts a strain on your eyes (and it does in the long term), it’s still best to use it when drawing line art. In the sketch phase, the background color is not as crucial as it is in the line art phase.

In the line drawing phase, you need to see the opacity shifts in the lines, to get the best possible results with your line art. If you select a grey background, the opacity shifts (some of it) will blend in with the background and won’t result in good line art.

If you work on a small canvas size (1000px x 1000px), you truly can’t draw good-looking line art. A3 and A2 paper sizes are excellent for line drawing.

Sketch Phase

I recommend drawing a sketch before drawing line art. Sketch layer or drawing helps you draw the lines on top and also helps you see the drawing in a complete form before the final line art.

Sketch acts as guidelines for the line art. The sketch usually has a lot of lines, some needed and some not, and in the line art phase, you draw only the lines that are needed and correct lines that seemed to be wrong in the sketch.

Line Art Phase

When drawing line art, start with the shortest lines (eyes, lips, ears, etc.) first. The reason is that your hand, wrist, whole arm, and body will get used to the movement, which helps you draw smooth and precise lines later on.

Warming up your hand and wrist while drawing short lines, prepares your arm to draw the long lines (hair, arms, legs, etc.).

You can either draw lines by pulling the arm or pushing the arm. Pulling the arm towards yourself when drawing lines is the best option and gives you the smoothest lines.

When drawing line art, it’s best to draw all of the lines in one sitting (if just possible). The more lines you draw, the faster the process will be, and when you take a break from it, you somewhat lose the “touch” to the line art and, in some cases, have to find the flow again.

Choosing Brushes, Pens, And Pencils For Line Art

Every brush, pen, and pencil will result in a different line of art and final illustration. A pen tends to give you solid line art and a more graphical end result. Pencils tend to have some sort of texture applied to them, which give you a more life-like and painterly end result.

If you are creating t-shirt designs, it’s best to choose a pen and draw either vector line art or rasterized lines with anti-aliasing disabled.

If you are drawing painterly illustrations with gradual rendering and coloring, a textured brush or pencil is preferred.

For manga and anime drawing, a non-anti-aliased pen is a good option, though you can also use a textured brush.

It all comes down to what type of drawing, art style, or feel you are trying to get with the line art and what kind of final illustration you are aiming to create.

Brush size for line drawing

When working on an A3 or A2 canvas size with 300 PPI, a good brush size for drawing line art is 5px to 12px. Remember that two factors determine the brush size. One is the canvas size, and the other is the complexity of the drawing.

The more details you have in the drawing and the more lines there are to be drawn, the smaller the brush size you should have. If you have a huge canvas size with few objects and elements, then selecting a bigger brush size, such as 18px, is suitable.

How To Improve Line Art

The left side shows one of the earliest attempts to draw line art, and the right side shows the current skills with line art

At the very beginning of drawing line art, the lines might be shaky, drawn with an incorrect brush size, with a wrong brush, and you feel like it’s not going anywhere.

I’ve listed below some of the best ways you can improve your line art:

  • Use stabilization or smoothing features found within the art software
  • Pull the lines instead of pushing the lines
  • Use a correct brush and brush size
  • Adjust the canvas size and resolution to the correct dimensions
  • Draw the lines in one smooth movement instead of line by line
  • Pick a smaller brush size for complex drawings and a bigger brush size for simple drawings
  • Remember to zoom in and out frequently
  • There always has to be a balance to the line art. If it’s too thin, the line art is not visible enough. If it’s too thick, it dominates the drawing

Why Use Line Art In Your Drawings

Drawing digital line art is definitely an artistic and an art style choice. Some might choose to use loose line art to give structure to the drawing and help differentiate objects from one another. Some might draw precise line art that will become part of the final illustration.

Below are some of the reasons why you might want to use line art in your drawings:

  • It gives structure to the drawing
  • It gives borders and differentiates background, middle ground, and foreground from each other
  • Line art gives guidelines
  • Line art helps when coloring the elements in the drawing


Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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