The bare bones of digital art is usually a decent computer and the software program(s) of your choice. But there are a handful of products, all available on Amazon, which I’ve used and have made my art better and my workflow simpler. They make great gifts too!
I’m not sponsored by any of these manufacturers. I paid full price for all of them at some point and have benefited from them. I am a member of the Amazon Associates Program. So if you use the links in this article, I receive a small commission at no cost to you. It really helps!
Let’s get into it….
#1: Programmable Keyboards
One common thing with all digital art software seems to be an endless number of keyboard shortcuts. I use Blender, Clip Studio Paint, Adobe Premiere and Photoshop, all of which have more shortcuts than I can remember. I also find combinations of actions I use a lot. Using a programmable keyboard can reduce many keyboard strokes to only one.
As a Christmas gift, I received an X-Keys 24 keyboard (Thank you Keri!).
The X-Keys 24 has 24 programmable, backlit keys that can be programmed to replace keyboard shortcuts or perform macros. You can program the keys to do different things depending on which software program you are using. The tops of the buttons pop open to insert the icons which are small pieces of thick paper. The keyboard comes with a large number of printed icon tabs but you can order or print your own custome ones.
X-Keys and others make a lot of keyboard options, and I loved using the X-Keys 24 until I discovered the next product…
#2: The Elgato Stream Deck
As much as other programmable keyboards help, the Elgato Stream Deck blows them all away in terms of functionality. The dynamic, LED icons and accompanying software allow you to program an endless number of options into the keys.
The Stream Deck is marketed toward live streamers on platforms like Twitch to control a streaming effects quickly with a click of a button. But, this product is absolutely useful for digital artists too and its use in other areas is significantly underrated.
The Elgato Stream Deck comes in a six-key, 15-key and the giant 32-key versions. But, you can program multiple configurations and have folders and sub-folders of icons. So, one button on the device could be programed to open up an entirely new screen of programmable buttons.
I love that the buttons are LCD and change dynamically depending on how you program them. The software and set-up are very easy. You can program the buttons to do so much and you can string several commands together into one button! Opening programs, controlling system settings, configuring your windows to specific set-ups and running complex macros are easy with the Stream Deck. There are also plug-ins you can add to the software that allow you to do things like control your Phillips Hue lights.
This thing was a game-changer for me. I personally use the 15-key model and love it. It could be good for anyone who uses a computer but definitely a great tool for digital artists.
#3: Handheld Programmable Remotes
Similar to programmable keyboards, but in some cases even better, are programmable remotes. These come in really handy when you’re using a pen in one hand to draw and want to control a lot with your other hand.
I first discovered these when I was drawing in 2D on a tablet computer using Clip Studio Paint. The manufacturers of Clip Studio Paint make the Clip Studio TabMate specifically designed to work with (only) Clip Studio. It’s very ergonomic and sped up my workflow tremendously. But, if you don’t use Clip Studio there are other options.
Wacom manufactures a more universal remote called the Express Key. It functions similarly and has 17 programmable buttons. While it works with many software applications, you can’t have the buttons programmed differently for each program (bummer). If you’re a tablet user, adding an Express Key to your workflows will be a huge time saver!
#4: Drawing Tablets
For digital painters, some form of drawing tablet is a must. If you work on an iPad or other tablet computer, you already have this covered. But for others, a pressure-sensitive tablet can add functionality to your workflow.
I’ve used a few drawing tablets, including the high-end Cintiq which is awesome. But for most, I’d recommend the Wacom Intuos tablet. It’s affordable and absolutely reliable. These things always seem to work. Wacom has come out with different sizes over the years and newer models have bluetooth options for a slightly higher cost. But if you want to draw on a desktop or laptop computer, definitely check them out.
#5: Blue-Blocking Glasses
I was skeptical of this but when I tried them, I found my sleep improved. This led to more creativity, more motivation and better focus. A good night’s sleep goes a long way for artists and digital artists in particular who stare at computer screens a LOT!
There are expensive, designer glasses but don’t bother with those. Pick up an affordable pair (or two) and wear them an hour or two before you go to bed. I bet you notice improved sleep right away. I keep a pair next to my bed and in my office.
#6: Digital Picture Frames
Of course digital artists can share their work online, but sometimes you want to show it off in your home or office. Digital picture frames allow you to upload photos or videos and have them display in a slide-show. Some have built-in memory and others require a USB drive to be plugged in.
These make great gifts too and can display family photos or any other digital image. When it comes to digital picture frames, there are a lot of options. Personal taste in design is probably the most important factor in choosing one. Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon is a great read for any type of artist. The title only gives away the first chapter, which encourages you to borrow, even steal, ideas and inspiration from other artists (Don’t worry it’s not as bad as it sounds!). Kleon explains that all art is in some way inspired by other art and it’s ok if you can’t think of an absolutely original idea for your next piece.
But the book is packed with other motivational advice for artists well beyond the first chapter. It’s an easy read and I recommend all artists keep it handy for those times when you’re struggling for inspiration or motivation. Check it out here.
I’ve truly tried to share things that have personally helped me. Please consider using the affiliate links in this article, it really helps. My art can be found on Instagram and I have a YouTube channel with tutorials and other videos for digital artists. Stay creative!