5 Essential Digital Painting Books

5 Books Every Digital Painter Has to Read in 2016

These 5 books deserve a place on any digital painter's shelf.

With the amount of resources available online these days, we often forget to look to more traditional mediums for learning and inspiration. We’ve put together a list of 5 essential books to help you through every stage of your journey to learning digital painting.

By Aleksander & Tilbury, 2012

“Whether you’re new to this artistic medium or simply looking to improve existing skills, this book offers up a wealth of suggestions and advice to get you started”

Highly recommended book if you’re just starting out. It does a great job of laying out the foundations of digital painting and working with Photoshop’s many tools.

Ideal For: Beginner artists looking for an all-round intro to digital painting in Photoshop

We Like

  • Great structured approach to teaching digital painting, with each section leading into the next
  • Lots of actionable tips, such as using photographs for texturing or as matte painting bases
  • After explaining basic techniques, it goes on to show detailed examples of how they can be applied

We Don't Like

  • A little text heavy, not the best book if you’re looking for inspiration
  • A lot of these lessons could probably be found on YouTube. However, having them in a structured order is very useful.

Topics Include: Art fundamentals, painting styles and approaches, complete project walkthroughs, and painting various types of surfaces and textures.

Final Verdict: The perfect resource for beginning digital artists. This book truly starts at the very beginning, laying out not only the very basic principles of digital painting, but also going in depth on using your graphics tablet and Photoshop.

Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

By 3dtotal Publishing, 2009

Picture: parkablogs.com

“Discover the tips, tricks and techniques that really work for concept artists, matte painters and animators.”

This book is a collection of tutorials by 25 incredibly talented digital painters. With lots of supporting imagery, each artist breaks down their process, explaining the steps and techniques they used to build up their piece.

Ideal for: Intermediate – advanced digital painters looking to pick up some new tips and techniques from professional artists.

We Like

  • Seeing such a large range of workflows is incredibly inspiring, as each artists brings new skills and insight to the table
  • Beautiful print quality: well bound and full of stunning, full-color pictures
  • Lots of progress pictures and screenshots of software (mostly Photoshop) settings

We Don't Like

  • A few of the tutorials can be a little vague at times
  • Certain subjects (such as how to make a brush) are repeated several times

Topics Include: Custom brushes, speed painting, matte painting, creatures, humans, environments, sci-fi and fantasy, and complete projects.

Final Verdict: Not for beginners, but advanced artists will get a ton of great tips and insights. The book’s beautiful quality and artwork also make this a great inspirational or coffee-table book.

Our Rating: 4 / 5​

By 3dtotal Publishing, 2013

Picture: conceptartworld.com

“I really felt as though the featured artists had granted me special permission to peer inside their heads at the creative process.” – Matt Dixon

Behind every polished masterpiece lays a strong concept, and that’s what this book is all about. Over 320 pages, 50 talented digital and traditional artists showcase their sketching process, complete with descriptions and insights into their technique.

Ideal For: Digital painters looking to improve their creative process and improve their artwork structure

We Like

  • By including such a large range of styles, you will pick up tips and approaches that you wouldn’t have considered before
  • Unlike compilations of fully polished, final pieces, the sketches in this book feel very approachable, giving you the urge to want to start doodling away yourself
  • Lots of great insight and tips from the artists about their approach

We Don't Like

  • Including some final artwork from each artist would have been a nice touch, though it’s easy enough to just look them up online
  • We wish there were a few more colored sketches

What to Expect: Beautiful drawings in a huge selection of different styles and techniques, ranging from quick doodles to . Lots of great insight into professional artists’ process. And LOTS of inspiration!

Final Verdict: Not so much a collection of “how-to” tutorials as an insight into “why” sketch. Bursting to the brims with knowledge and insight, and INCREDIBLY inspiring. Keep your pencil (or stylus) nearby, because this book will make you want to start drawing as soon as you pick it up!

Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

By 3dtotal.com, 2015

Picture: 3dtotal.com

“Conclusive step-by-step instructions make this an invaluable resource for artists looking to learn new skills”

In a similar fashion to 3DTotal’s Digita​l Painting Techniques, this book is a collection of tutorials by world-class artists such as Charlie Bowater and Derek Stanning. With a focus on character design, this book covers all sorts of interesting topics such as anatomy, costume design and depicting emotions.

Ideal For: Intermediate – advanced digital painters interested in improving their character design skills

We Like

  • Top notch selection of artists
  • We like the Quick Tips section full of mini-tutorials on the specifics of character design
  • Very well put together – tons of beautiful prints on high quality paper

We Don't Like

  • Lacking diversity of characters (no info on coloring different skin tones, for example)
  • Some of the tips are repeated a few times throughout the book

Topics Include: Everything about character design: poses, basic anatomy, emotions, costumes and shading skin-tones

Final Verdict: Though it’s somewhat lacking in structure, the artists involved in creating this book have succeeded in creating an indispensable resources for anyone interested in character design.

Our Rating: 4 / 5

By James Gurney, 2010

“Mr. Gurney actually takes so much of the mystery out of how to choose your palette of colors and how to work with what you have in that palette.”

Though not strictly about digital painting, this is one of those MUST READ books for painters of all mediums. An excellent guide, full of theory and in-depth examples on every type of lighting, and how it affects color.

Ideal for: Everyone who feels overwhelmed with color and lighting.

We Like

  • Amazing resource, either to read through in full or to use as a reference manual
  • Advice is very actionable and well presented – everything feels very approachable
  • Gurney’s beautiful paintings serve as great examples to help explain the points he’s making

We Don't Like

  • Some of the descriptions can be a little bit lengthy at times
  • We would have liked to see some process pictures, though that’s not really what the book is about

Topics include: Custom Brushes, Speed Painting, Matte Painting, Creatures, Humans, Environments, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and Complete Projects.

Final Verdict: Extremely useful book for artists painting any form of non-abstract art. If you decide to buy just one book on color, this should be it!

Our Rating: 5 / 5

Other Noteworthy Books:

Know of any other good digital painting books?
Let us know in the comments below!

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Leave Your Thoughts:

3 thoughts on “5 Books Every Digital Painter Has to Read in 2016”

  1. This is a great list you have compiled. I am slow checking out each one.

    I did find an error in your links. The link for the Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Characters leads to Sketching from the Imagination: An Insight into Creative Drawing.

  2. Haha thought I would check this list out, seems I already ha e the best 5 books. But this list is right, but I would add art fundamentals and beyond art fundamentals at position 1 and 2. These are all by the same publishers and they have got it down to an ART.

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