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Dos and Don’ts of Graphic Design & Digital Art

In my time learning about graphic design and digital art, I’ve picked up a lot of concepts and lessons. Today I want to share with you what I think are a couple of the most useful of those lessons. Here are 5 useful tips for digital art and graphic design…

#1: Faking Gradients

Gradients are currently one of the up-and-coming design trends, and they can really add flavor to your piece. They can contribute to the semantics (meaning and symbolism) of a work, often by inspiring more emotion, and are a moderate favorite of mine. However, gradients can be tricky to use. This is because when you print your piece or implement

it digitally, displaying the wide range of colors used can be difficult (for printers and digital programs alike), and the gradients don’t always come through (or come through badly botched). However, I’ve seen the effectiveness of a simple trick that solves this problem. The use of progressive blocks of color creates the illusion of a gradient. For example, in the picture shown, the shades of colors between blue and brown trick the mind into seeing a gradient that doesn’t actually exist. The trick is simply getting the intermittent shades right; for that you can use, which will show them automatically when you select a gradient.

Use gradients. If anything else, follow the trends; and the trends say that gradients are in right now!

#2: Useful Website Tools

There are lots of useful website tools to make your life easier as a digital artist/graphic designer. Before I give you the tools, if you don't know what color codes are, go ahead and check out Color codes are important to a designer because in programs like Procreate or Photoshop, they’re used to select, identify and set colors. Online tools can help you convert between these types of identifiers as well as find the different identifiers for a color. For example, you can use to not only get the Hex code for a color, but the RGB values as well. It also can create gradients and color palettes for you. Meanwhile, will show color information. It will also auto create a color palette from the uploaded image.

There are many more tools besides these. For example, another useful online tool is, which is like a free online version of Photoshop. The lesson: use online tools to make your life easier! There are many of them, so explore the web to find other useful ones that you like and can use comfortably.

#3: Blocking and Borders Make Everything Nicer

Using a border often cleans up your work and gives a professional finish to any shapes you may have included in your work. Borders can vary, being anything from calligraphy to words to just plain white lines. They can also add depth and frame uncontained strokes and parts of your work in an aesthetic manner. The only challenge with borders is figuring out when using them makes sense and making sure the border(s) being used fit the style of your work.

Blocking is the same kind of “clean-up” technique (in my opinion) that you can use for containment and aesthetic improvement. When I refer to blocking, I mean using simple shapes filled with colors that are coordinated with the other colors in your work. It can give your work an added sense of professionalism or even just general cleanliness.

Both borders and blocking are well-illustrated by the Shell logo. In the Shell logo, the red border cleans the otherwise weird inner shape of the shell, and the use of simple triangles with a mostly rectangular base establishes a profound effect on the viewer. Learn from Shell! Use blocking and borders to improve your work.

#4: Make Use of Organizational Features

If you ask most digital artists, the two biggest mistakes you can make, at any level of artistry (whether you are simply doing a one time work or are an experienced artist), are to avoid organizing and naming your layers, and not saving copies of your works at every stage of progress. Some artists will disagree, but here's why I think they're important.

Layers are a helpful tool offered by digital art programs that allow for different kinds of edits and adjustments (check out They give you the ability to try out different filters, textures and parts of your work without corrupting the original layer or whole work. However, not making use of your layers or even keeping them disorganized/poorly-named can actually end up harming you. You won’t know which part of your work is on what layer, and may end up accidentally editing the wrong layer. Luckily, for those who make mistakes, most programs have some version of history, whether it’s Photoshop’s complex history, or just an undo button. However, having to undo all those mistakes by trial and error while going through each layer can really reduce your overall efficiency. Another negative of not using layers well is that if you have to collaborate with someone, they may not be able to effectively navigate your work if your layers are disorganized and unclear. There are many positive to using layers properly as well. One of them is how using layers properly teaches you to better form an artwork. This is because having separate layers teaches you to work through each step of the design process in an organized manner, creating structure in your piece.

Besides utilizing layers, another important practice is saving copies of your work at every stage. This allows you to go back to previous versions if you don’t like a new version as much, or take parts of your old versions to use in your new version. You can also go back to an edit or process you did in the past if you need to undo it (at least, it will make it much easier to do so). However, if you have merged the layers and cannot extract certain selections you made previously, or if you made those edits way back in the journey of creating your piece, you may have to go through a lot of work to recreate the effects that you did. In general, save your work WITH all the layers as you work through your piece. It may seem like a waste of storage, but it will definitely come in handy in the long run.

Make use of your specific art program's organizational features! They'll make your life easier. Besides, the point of electronic art is, after all, to allow conveniences that pen and paper cannot.

#5: How To Use Different Digital Programs

Tutorials. Tutorials are the answer to everything. And about 99% of them are online, for free! Especially for Photoshop, which is a program so big you probably could take your whole life figuring out every little feature, tutorials are great. The same goes for Procreate, as well as many other apps. Tutorials can also help generally, teaching what techniques to use and what kinds of brushes (there are standard ones that most apps have in common) or other adjustments should be used to create certain standard/popular artistic effects.

That last one was a short one, but I hope you enjoyed all five of my tips. Happy designing!

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Angela Guo
Angela Guo
Aug 12, 2020

Thanks for this! I've always wondered the difference between those color types lol

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