I get the question often as to what size canvas I draw on. I’ve answered in responses to explain the basics numerous times, but I’m going to write a bit more detailed response so all can understand and reference.
(I’ll use my Dirty Pair piece as the guinea pig for this explanation.)
A lot of artists, primarily painters, typically like to work at a large size for things like detail work. However, this is not necessary. When you think of a traditional painter, they don’t paint at rather huge sizes on whatever they’re illustrating (unless they’re painting a mural or some sort of wall art).
Crossing over into the digital realm, I abide by that same logic. Unless you’re doing graphic design using vector-based visuals where things need to be crisp and clean, there is no need to draw/paint at a huge size (unless you just want to do it to achieve a visual effect or style).
The few people I’ve told know that I draw at a rather small resolution. My typical canvas size is 11x17 inches at 100 DPI. That equals 1100x1700 pixels total. (This image was drawn even smaller than that, at 1088x1245 pixels.) Why do I draw at such a small size? A few reasons:
- Much more control over your strokes. You’re working with fewer pixels at a low pixel count, resulting in less need of detail control. For example, drawing a curved stroke at 200DPI is harder to do than 100DPI because there are 2x the distance of the stroke. 300DPI, 3x the distance; 400DPI, 4x; 500DPI, 5x; you get it. The higher pixel count you have, the more care you have to take (and more ctrl+Zs you have to hit).
- Drawing small helps brainstorm. I tend to zoom in before roughing out my drawing, that’s right— at my base canvas size. It’s similar to the traditional thumbnailing approach where you don’t have to worry about details when you’re coming up with your pose. You just draw small, enlarge, draw in more detail, enlarge, rinse and repeat until you have all the detail you need for the illustration and then refine the lines.
- Your drawing speed is faster. Because of the above two reasons, you just don’t make as many mistakes and don’t have to worry about strict control. The byproduct is that your drawing speed increases.
Here are the native lines to the DP illustration below:
Above is the exact size and resolution I drew these two in. As you can see, it’s not a crazy trick. People ask “How do you get your lines so clean!?” when they’re trying to draw at a huge size. Well, just don’t draw at a huge size. You can zoom in and see that it’s nothing special beyond that:
It looks hecka pixelated and stuff.
Now at this point, you’re wondering “well, what if I have to worry about print and just having a huge version on hand in case I want to do something with it later on?” Well, this is answered when I’m ready to color my line art~
When I begin to color the piece, I enlarge it. For my refined illustration work, I usually color at 200DPI. I have a Photoshop Action that I run that resizes my linework to 200DPI. But an experienced digital artist knows that enlarging a low-resolution image results in blurriness. That’s why in that Action I also have a Smart Sharpen filter ran on my lines:
What this does is basically make it as if I drew the lines at 200DPI instead of 100DPI:
Everything carries over and you have crisp clean lines to get into coloring. Even after you color, it’s just enough:
Blending colors and stuff is even easier to do than at a higher resolution. Even at 200%, it’s not horrible:
We know 300DPI is the default that you should print at, so then just resize it to 300DPI then:
So, there’s no need to draw in a large resolution for your art, even when you’re worried about print. Drawing smaller makes your work cleaner and easier to manage and looks great when you enlarge it with the right settings. Photoshop has been advanced enough for some time now to utilize this method well.
And that’s pretty much it for this explanation! I hope all that made sense.
So go on and try to draw smaller instead of drawing huge. You may notice yourself getting faster and using Undo less often. ;)