What is the difference between Graphic Design and Digital Art? (Explained!)

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Graphic Design and Digital Art are two of the fastest-growing creative fields that are getting a lot of attention these days.

what is the difference between graphic design and digital art

If you are someone exploring these two professions as a career option, or just trying to learn about them, it is quite easy to get mixed up between the kind of work involved under these professions.

Graphic Design is about communicating a message or an idea in a simple and easy to understand form – using color, shapes, and typography.

The intention being the end-user receives the message without the design come in the way.

On the flip side, Digital Art is about delivering emotions with visuals leading the way.

Even though Graphic Designers and Digital Artists use a similar set of software tools, but the kind of projects they work on, and their career paths are very different.

In this elaborate comparison between Graphic Design and Digital Art, we will help you understand the similarities and differences between the two professions.

What is Graphic Design

what is graphic design

Visual communication is the name of the game when it comes to Graphic Design.

The work of the graphic designer can be seen everywhere, from the big billboards you see on the side of the road, to the aluminum cans your favorite drinks come in.

As a graphic designer, you are aiming to seek people’s attention. You do that by creating eye-catching and attention-seeking designs that deliver a message or emotion.

For example, when you are creating designs for a certain brand – Your work should influence the perception of the audience.

Your designs should be able to communicate what the company or brand represents, and inform the people about the products or services they provide.

Elements and principles of graphic design

For being a successful Graphic Designer, you need a deep understanding of how different elements of graphic design such as color, shape, and typography affects the emotion of the person.

To achieve you need to learn and follow the principle of design.

principles of graphic design

Here are some of the principles of design that graphic designers follow…

  • Balance
  • Proximity
  • Alignment
  • Hierarchy
  • Contrast
  • Emphasis
  • Movement
  • Proportion
  • Rythm

For in-depth information on what these terms actually mean, head over to this excellent design basics article.

Current status of graphic design and types of work involved

A number of big companies all around the world are slowly realizing the importance and potential of hiring their own in-house Designers, rather than offloading these works to a third-party design firm.

This is obviously good news for designers as there are a number of new job positions being created and the demand for graphic designers is on a surge.

what type of work does graphic designers do

What type of work do graphic designers do

Here are a few examples of the type of projects graphic designers work on.

  • Logo, letterhead, Business card design
  • Product design, Packaging design, Merchandise
  • Magazine, Book cover, Brochures, Banners
  • Digital advertisement materials
  • Web design
  • Infographic, Data visualization
  • UI/ UX (User interface and User experience)
  • Motion graphics

Not only that as a graphic designer you can also be tasked with creative problem solving where you have to simplify complicated problems with the help of your design skills.

For example, you could be tasked with designing a simplified map of the metro system that makes it easier for people to navigate.

Another good example of that is designing the user interface for mobile or web application where – as a UI/ UX designer, you try to simplify things for the end-user and makes the interface easy to navigate.

data visualization
Energy consumption in Hong Kong corresponds to the weather – (data visualization), source: Pablo Robles, south china morning post

Data visualization is another good example of problem-solving involved in graphic design, where you try to represent raw data in a graphical form, making it easier to understand.

Graphic Design and Digital Design

Graphic Design is evolving and so are the types of work involved in this profession. Combined with the growth in technology, the need for designers grew in more areas.

Many designers have started working exclusively on web-based projects. Such as – designing the landing page of the website, UI/ UX (user interface and user experience) design for web and mobile apps as well as data visualization.

lately, motion graphics has come out as the next big thing in design and includes skills such as 2d animation and 3d design.

Designers who exclusively work on these newer digital design fields are called digital designers.

With that said, the line between a graphic designer and a digital designer is blurry.

For example, making banners for digital advertisement can be done by both a graphic designer and a digital designer.

What are some of the commonly used Graphic design tools?

There are a number of tools that graphic designers use on a day to day basis. Here are some of the most common tools.

Software tools – Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Indesign, Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, Affinity Publisher, Coreldraw, MyFonts, and many more.

Physical tools – Drawing tablet, notebook, pencil, mechanical pencil, sketch pen, Sharpie (marker pens), Geometry set

What is Digital Art

Digital Art is a very loose term that can describe a number of things.

As per Wikipedia…

“Digital art is an artistic work or practice that uses digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.”

So anything that is created digitally can be said as digital art. It includes digital painting, illustrations, 3d graphics, 3d sculpting, pixel art, fractal/ algorithmic art, and various other forms of the computer-assisted artform.

However in casual real-life uses whenever artists say Digital Art, they actually mean Digital Painting.

To confirm this, simply click here (new tab) to search the term “digital art” on Instagram and see for yourself what results you get. You will see most results are of digital painting.

With that out of the way, let’s move ahead.

Defining digital art

Digital art as in “digital painting” is simply a digital form of traditional drawing where you use the stylus and a drawing tablet instead of using the brush and canvas.

what is digital art

In graphic design, where communication is given more importance than visuals, ie commercial interest comes first.

Whereas digital art takes a fine art route where visuals are prioritized and used to deliver emotion or information, ie creative interest comes first.

For being good at digital art, artists have to learn technical skills such as how color, lighting, and shapes influence the mood and set the tone.

Here are some basic elements of digital art

  • Color, tone, blending
  • Light, shadow, reflection
  • Shape, proportions
  • Perspective, composition
  • Brushes, texture

As a digital artist, you have to visualize and bring raw ideas to life. Imagination, creativity, drawing ability are some of the important qualities required for this profession.

On many occasions, you would be working in a team, so being able to collaborate and work in a group (in other words soft skills) is very important.

Common job titles of digital artists

job titles of digital artist
Environment Concept Art, by Michel Donze
  • Concept Artists
  • Matte Painters
  • Storyboard Artists
  • 3D Artists
  • Digital Painting
  • Digital Illustration

With the rise of movies, computer games, and animated series, the digital art industry has seen a lot of growth.

Digital art is finding its place in many new fields such as virtual reality, AR, architecture. Just like graphic design, the demand for the digital artist has grown quite a bit in the last couple of years.

Due to its popularity and demand, many traditional artists have joined the digital bandwagon and some of them are exclusively working as a digital artist.

Common tools used by digital artists

drawing tablet being used by digital artist
Digital artist using a drawing tablet

Physical tools – Drawing tablet

Software tools – Adobe Photoshop, Procreate, Clip Studio Paint Pro, Krita, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Painter, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, Autodesk Sketchbook and many more

Similarities and Differences between Graphic Design and Digital Art

From what we have learned so far, there is a lot of similarity and differences between graphic design and digital art.  In the next section, we have tried to point out some of them for you.


  • Both are visual means of communication
  • Both are continuously evolving and expanding (for example – virtual reality, AR, motion graphics, 3d painting)
  • Follow a similar/same set of principles of art and design
  • Both requires an understanding of latest softwares
  • Collaborative in nature – You often need to work in teams
  • Both require creative problem solving


  • Different artistic goals – Digital art takes a fine art approach whereas graphic design is more commercial in nature
  • Medium of consumption – The work of graphic designers is used in digital as well as print-based environment. Digital art – for the most part, is consumed online.
  • Drawing ability – Digital artists generally have excellent drawing skills and are able to draw stuff from their imagination. As far as graphic design is concerned, you can be an excellent graphic design but still suck at drawing with hands.
  • Career paths are totally different
  • Same/ Similar software tools but different usage (results) – for example, photoshop is used by both graphic designers as well as digital artists. A designer could use photoshop for designing banners whereas a digital artist can use photoshop for creating concept art or storyboarding.


Essential tools for digital artists
Xp Pen Star G960S Plus drawing tablet review

Shubham Singh

Shubham Singh is an Adobe Certified Associate, Graphic Designer, and 3D artist. He likes to acquire new skills and explore how things work.

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