Digital art on a budget

3D artist Cristian Bolivar offers  a compressive guide to choose the right tools and software for your digital art without breaking the bank…

Mompozt Animation Studios


Hi, my name is Cristian Bolivar and I am here to tell you that it’s possible to create digital art on a budget. I know it sounds kind of weird but most people ignore what it really means to be a digital artist. This article goes out to enthusiasts and beginners. Also, to mid-range professionals and traditional artists who are moving to digital art. I have around 5 years’ experience as a 3D artist working in different areas , like films and advertising, and I really understand the needs of a digital artist.

The Best Moment

We are living in an exciting time in history. Now, becoming a digital artist is a real alternative for professionals, technology not only allows you to watch cat videos on a mobile device, but also gives you the opportunity to develop and explore your skills as a digital artist. I listen to the seniors that work with me talk about old, specialized software that cost thousands of dollars, that needed powerful systems to work. But now it is completely different, and only depends on you to be a successful digital artist.

3 Simple Questions

Almost as important as defining your budget, you have to define what is going to be your strongest talent. And a simple way to define that is to ask a few questions: “What do I do now?” “What I am going to do?” “What could I do?”  This is a very important, not only because it tells you where you are going to put most of your money, it’s also going to save you from wasting money on something that you don’t need at all. For example, a concept artist doesn’t need to spend $1000 on a 36-core processor because his art process doesn’t require so much power.

Hardware vs Software

Once you have the answer to our three questions, the next step is to define how much money to spend on software, and how much to spend on hardware. Maybe this is the most variable decision that you will have to make, which is why I previously mentioned how the technology and trends can change. At this point it’s going to be more related to your experience and preferences, but if you’re a beginner, try to give an opportunity to the free software.

Low Cost Tools

We are living in a nice time for software development, and that means there are more options for users and we are not obligated to use only one tool – there are a lot! I will give you a shortlist of low-cost tools that I recommend:

Photoshop: Maybe you are surprised with this one, but for just $20 a month,  you can have Photoshop. Photoshop is a super versatile tool, for any kind of digital production. It offers many options, for digital painters, photographers, designers, and other industries.

Black Magic Fusion: This is another amazing tool! With a lot of years experience in the industry. Fusion is a serious option for digital artists, including a nodal workflow, 3D workspace, and more amazing tools!

Maya LT: This is the little brother of the original Maya, even in his price. It is limited in some ways but has enough to allow you to make great stuff. It’s mostly focused for games productions, and is a great choice to consider if this is your path.

Model Progress made in Maya LT

Marmoset Toolbag: I remember when everyone started to use this tool, everybody was amazed by the simplicity and efficiency of Marmoset. It is a really nice render engine for real-time models, even for some non real-time stuff.

One of my very first 3D models. Rendered in Marmoset

Free Tools

Krita: This is one of my favorite tools. Brushes are so nice and the interface is really friendly. Krita is a great alternative to Photoshop. It also offers some nice features that Photoshop  doesn’t have, and is worth an explore.

Krita's screenshot from my hummingbird project

Natron: If you are a digital compositor, maybe you have heard about Nuke, but you’ll also have heard about how expensive it is. Natron is a cool alternative to Nuke and Fusion. It includes most of the best features from both of them. This is very nice as a free software option, and an amazing learning tool for compositing concepts.

Blender: Actually... I don’t understand why this is not the industry standard. I mean, when I see work done in Blender, it’s hard to believe that it was made in a free tool. Blender is a real option for 3D animation and VFX production. It’s more complete than most of the low cost 3D packages, and the community is very helpful.

Blender's screenshot from the demos scene in "Agent 327"

Everything is in you

The big conclusion is that this is a good moment to be a digital artist. Tools and technology  are there, but always the most important thing is the person behind the software. That’s what really makes the difference, and what you should never forget, no matter what tool you use.

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