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What is Digital Illustration and Surface Pattern Design?

Updated: May 8, 2022

Simply put, it's art made on a computer, either in part or in whole.

You can use a computer and/or a digital drawing device like an iPad, or a combination of the two.

You can start your art on real paper and turn it into digital art or just start with digital from the beginning.

However it begins, it still requires the hand of the artist and the artist making all the (hopefully) right decisions that produce beautiful and marketable art. There is subject matter, composition, color palettes, and that's just the beginning.

Digital illustration involves the use of digital tools to generate art directly from the artist's hand, through an interface that translates that movement into a digital display. Many of these tools involve using a stylus to draw on a digital canvas. Digital Illustration is used in print, video, web, for books, movies, games, greeting cards, framed art, and on and on.

Surface Pattern Design is the act of creating art for the surfaces of mass-manufactured products. This is primarily artwork that repeats in a pattern. It repeats endlessly and can be used to cover anything. For example, home decor items like pillows, comforters, plates, place mats and cloth napkins, wallpaper, wrapping paper, upholstery, quilting fabric, journals, cell phone cases, beach umbrellas, stationery, mouse pads, curtains, bathing suits, children's cloths, tote bags, etc. Just look around, there is surface pattern design everywhere!

In the examples below, you can see the difference

between digital illustration and surface pattern design.

Examples, #1, #2, #3, and #4, are digital illustrations. They can be used to decorate packages or be just single framed images, used in books, as backgrounds in animation scene or even on a book cover, a pillow, a gift box, a greeting care, etc. Illustrations can be used as surface designs, but they do not repeat endlessly, so they cannot be applied over large areas, like for comforters, curtains, rolls of fabric and wallpaper.

The rest of the examples are of surface pattern design. They also are illustrations, but the elements of the designs have been arranged according to specific calculations so that when the pattern block is repeated on all sides, the elements have no end and the pattern is exactly repeated over and over again. In example #5 and #6, it is the same pattern. One is the single pattern block, the one beside it is how it looks from a distance, repeated endlessly.

In the last three examples, you can see some repeating patterns applied to fabric that in turn is used to make home decor items and clothing.



It details the kind of things you need to begin making digital art and potentially creating a career for yourself as a Digital Illustrator and/or Surface Pattern Designer.

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