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The major aspects of digital painting explained and illustrated for artists and collectors


Covers the major aspects of digital painting, written for artists, art students, art historians, galleries, curators, collectors and art lovers. For a brief overview see: DIGITAL PAINTING, a brief overview

Updated since 2013. Last update April 19, 2022

The information you find here draws on the experience of a handful of pioneering digital painters. It is the oldest and most complete source of information on the subject. It is independent, revenue-free and regularly updated. The text has been dedicated into the Public Domain by a CC0 1.0 universal license. You are free to copy, print and use it in accordance with the license. The images are protected by copyright unless otherwise stated.

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Visual characteristics
Differences in method, spontaneity, creative influence
Primary and secondary carrier
Prints and screen representation only
Mainstream directions: computer generated, raster, vector, mixed media
New photography
Size, resolution, enlargement
Vector and raster painting enlargement
Painterly development
Collecting digital art, assessment
Market for digital art, prints
Quality-quantity convention, limited print editions
Certification of a print
Market for digital art, digital file as NFT
Protecting prints and files, NFTs, timestamp
Green NFT art platforms
Disadvantages and risks of NFTs
How to choose NFT platform

Gallery of characteristics
Gallery of computer-generated paintings
Gallery of raster paintings
Gallery of vector paintings
Gallery of vector-raster paintings
Gallery of photo-based paintings
Gallery of preset styles and conversions



A 'digital' painting is created on the computer using a graphics program, a virtual paintbox with brushes, colors and other supplies. The definition applies to a painting on its primary digital carrier (as a computer file) as well as when it is transferred in a non-manual process to a secondary physical carrier (printed on paper, acrylic glass, aluminum, canvas, etc).

Visual characteristics

Visual characteristics

Apart from the traditional tools, the virtual painting box contains instruments that do not exist outside the computer. The use of these instruments distinguish a digital from a non-digital painting. Typical characteristics can be traced back to the power of the computer to attach geometrical formulas to lines and shapes. While it is impossible for a human hand to create exactly identical forms, or to construct a perfect circle or a perfectly straight line, for a computer it is difficult to do anything but this. Vector painting is exclusively based on this feature. Hybrid vector-raster painting and new photography make some use of it. Raster paining by definition uses no formula-based shapes. However, digital traits are sometimes present in software-specific brush tips as well as in the common flatness of the physical representation. Formula-based shapes are easy to recognize by a degree of perfection that is literally inhuman. They bear some resemblance to paper cut-outs or stencil art.
Specific digital traits include:

- Sharp transition between color panes
- Transparency
- Symmetry
- Exact repetition
- Perfect circles, squares and other shapes
- Embossing, shading and other 3D illusion
- Perfectly smooth gradients
- 100% monochrome color planes
- Absence of brushstroke
- Slalom or flip forms
- Effects of automatic transformations (mirror, ripple, swirl, shear, multiply etc.)

The flatness of the physical representation is typical for the digital medium. It is possible to create a convincing illusion of texture on the virtual canvas, but not to translate this to real texture on paper, dibond, perspex etc.

Pauline van de Ven, Digital vector painting
Vector painting
Van de Ven: Wishful Weightwatcher (2015)


Differences in method

In most programs it is possible to undo all or a large number of brush strokes and other actions without a trace. A painting is no longer spoiled by a single brushstroke. The 'undo' option and many push-button transformations give digital painters the freedom to work faster, to freely make mistakes and to take a more experimental and spontaneous approach to their work. The creation of computer 'generated' images in particular is fast, intuitive and spontaneous. It should be noted that vector painting involves the manipulation of shapes with a specific tool, which is a slower and more deliberate process than stroke-by-stroke painting. However, once they are formed, shapes obey one-click operations like change color, resize, emboss, mirror, group, cast shadow, etc. which allow for an unprecedented speed and spontaneity.

Creative influence
While ‘art’ is usually defined as ‘human’ creative skill and imagination, it becomes increasingly difficult to assess to what extent a painting is the result of human effort. The influence that the artist exerts on the final result can be assessed by the software, the painting medium that has been used in the process and the preferences of the artist. In traditional painting this influence is by nature 100 percent. This is still true for digital raster and vector painting. For computer-generated the influence is dictated by the software and may vary from 0 to 100 percent. For new photography, the creative process is often a series of more or less complex automatic transformations that are chosen at vision. In addition, photo’s may be used as first layer and worked over with a painting medium. The influence of the artist is difficult to assess and may vary from 0 to 100 percent. 
The following categorization may be useful. Digital painting is: 

- A process of creation
when the artist uses raster or vector painting software on a blank canvas; or originates a photo-image and transforms it from a registering image into a product of the imagination.

- A process of construction when the artist originates the image and uses input parameters or a set of rules to determine the final result.

-A process of play
when the artist uses push-button transformations and plays with the input parameters until the generated image is to his or her taste.

- A process of selection when the artist makes a series of automated push-button transformations and chooses a generated image without changing it.

Digital and physical carrier

Primary and secondary carrier

The primary carrier of a digital painting is a computer file.
The secondary carrier is a physical representation of this file
after it is transferred to paper, wood, acrylic glass, etc.
in an automated procedure - in other words, a print.

Prints and screen representation only

Prints and screen representation only

Obviously, forms and shapes that are typical for digital painting cannot be transmitted to a physical carrier in a manual process. The digital characteristics would be lost. A digital artwork, in its physical representation, is and can only be a print or an image on a screen. If an artwork that was created on a computer is printed on canvas and painted over with real paint or a brushstroke gel, the result is a traditional, non digital painting. The original work on the computer still meets the definition of a digital painting.

Leo Geurts and Lambert Meertens: Kristalstructuren
Computer generated art (source mode):
Leo Geurts and Lambert Meertens Cristalstructuren (1970)

Mainstream directions: computer generated, raster, vector, mixed media

Mainstream directions

Based on differences in method and appearance, five mainstream directions can be recognized:
1. Computer-generated or generative painting 
2. Raster painting
3. Vector painting
4. Hybrid painting and vector-raster combined
5. New photography

Karin Kuhlmann: In between
Computer generated art (design mode):
Karin Kuhlmann: In Between 11 (2008)

  • Computer generated painting
    'Computer-generated' does not necessarily mean that the computer creates the image. The somewhat confusing term 'generated' only refers to the 'hands-off' painting method: the artist doesn't create the artwork by hand, but instructs the computer how to do it. Like a composer who creates music, not by playing it on an instrument but by writing music notes on a score. The method goes back to the early days of artificial intelligence, when prescriptions for all forms and lines had to be manually described by a mathematical formula. Since the 1970s, the formulas and calculations needed to construct the image are taken care of 'behind the screen'. The influence that the artist exerts on the final result varies from 0 to 100 percent.

    The essence of 'generated' art is the possibility to instruct the computer, in a language of formulas, to create lines, forms and colors. Some of these formulas generate patterns that infinitely repeat themselves. However far you zoom in, you will always see new fragments of the same pattern. These self-repetitive forms are called fractals: geometrical shapes that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole.

    Mandelbrot set (in black). Click the image to zoom in.

    Mandelbrot set
    An infinitely self-repetitive pattern was first studied around 1918 by the French mathematicians Pierre Fatou and Gaston Julia. Their pioneering work was forgotten until Benoit Mandelbrot mentioned them 60 years later in his work about fractal geometry. In honor of Mandelbrot's work, others named the specific points generated by Mandelbrots equation (that was similar to that of Fatou and Julia) the 'Mandelbrot set'. In 1978 the American mathematician Robert Brooks first programmed a visualization and thereby introduced fractals in the field of arts.
    In painting software, the process to generate Mandelbrot images is predetermined, based on the Mandebrot equation. Personal choices are possible for colors but not for forms. Images are truly generated, the result of a process of selection.

    Images created in a process of selection by
    zooming into the Mandelbrot set (screenshots)


    In 1968, the Hungarian theoretical biologist Aristid Lindenmayer developed geometrical patterns aimed at describing the growth process of plants. In painting software, this mathematical framework is used to create patterns of lines, shapes and color. L-systems can also be used to generate self-similar fractals like the Mandelbrot set. The method is computer-executed, a process of construction. The artist is able to originate the image, adapt the rules and determine the final result.  

    Images created with L-systems software in a process of construction:
    'Paper tree' (l.) 'Migration' (r.) (2019)

    Stochastic rules

    Uncertainty and chance are used to generate variations on a theme. The artist makes an initial choice from a gallery of images and uses it to walk a choice path of push-button random transformations for lines, shapes, colors and other parameters. Finally, several parameters can be changed to manually adjust and personalize the image. The method varies from a process of selection to a process of play or a process of construction.

    Image created with stochastic rules software in a process of play:
    'Plasma' (2019)

Lev Stepanos: untitled
Raster painting: Lev Stepanos, Untitled (undated, ca. 2012)

  • Raster painting
    In raster painting, colors and lines are registered pixel by pixel on the canvas. In procedure as well as appearance, raster, 'grid' or 'bitmap' painting resembles most closely a traditional painting with real brushes and paint. The image is created on the screen in a stroke-by-stroke manner. All the characteristics of the individual painter's hand are preserved. The only digital trait is the flatness of the physical carrier.

    Problems with enlargement are the main disadvantage. Often, the length and width of the creation is as small as a (mobile) computer screen and the resolution as low as 72 dots per inch. If the image is to be transferred to a physical carrier of a customary size that can hang on the wall, it has to be enlarged considerably. This generally entails manual correction, a tedious and time consuming process. Manual enlargement is a serious obstacle for printing and selling raster paintings.
    In recent versions of some raster painting programs, 'scripting' allows the painter to replay the brushstrokes on a larger canvas on the desktop (see 'size, resolution, enlargement')

    Raster paintings are commonly stored as a BMP, JPEG, PNG, GIF or TIFF file. 

Amparo Higon
Vector painting
Amparo Higón: Self portrait (2016)

  • Vector painting
    Together with hybrid and generated painting and new photography, vector is one of four directions that create the new visual language that has emerged since painters use a computer.
    What distinguishes vector from all other forms of digital painting is that it uses the ability of the computer to capture forms and lines in mathematical formulas. A French engineer, Pierre Bézier, was the first to use the existing mathematical framework to make visual representations. With smooth ‘Bézier curves’ he designed new car models at Renault around 1960. Since then, vector programs have become popular in the world of design and advertising. Digital painters are beginning to explore the medium.

    The translation of shapes and lines into formulas offers possibilities that cannot be achieved in any other way. Vector images are size independent; they can be enlarged without loss of resolution. Although the primary process is not very spontaneous - pushing and pulling with a special instrument is reminiscent of sculpture - once they are formed, shapes obey one-click operations like change color, resize, emboss, mirror, group, cast shadow, etc. This allows for an unprecedentedly swift and intuitive method.

    Vector paintings can be recognized by a certain minimalism and a sharp definition of forms that is reminiscent of screen prints and monochrome collages. Colors are strictly monochrome or perfect gradients of two colors. In the absence of a brush stroke, other aspects that convey something of the maker’s mood or personality such as atmosphere, palette, concept, choice of subject and composition come to the fore. Since this is not the case with all digital art, it should be noted that the artist has complete control over the creative process.

    Vector paintings are commonly stored as an EPS, PDF, WMF, SVG, or VML file.

Pauline van de Ven, Digital vector painting
Floating appearance of a large vector-raster painting on Xpozer

  • Mixed media and hybrid painting

    Painting media are sometimes combined, either by using different software for the same painting or by using a program for hybrid painting. Vector-raster painting combines the personal brush style of raster with the formula-based lines and forms of vector. The use of different software offers maximum contrast between sharp and soft and between the uni- and duo-colors of vector and the broad palette of raster. Other popular combinations are manual vector with computer generated, and photography with raster or vector painting and with computer 'generated'.

    Some hybrid painting programs (e.g. ArtRage) use Bézier curves in the background to smooth lines and curves of raster paintings without intervention of the artist. The painting procedure is spontaneous, stroke by stroke, and the storage format is raster. The smooth, non-raster, non-vector appearance reflects the hybrid basis. Smoothing mitigates the loss of resolution and eases the task of enlargement when the software does not offer scripting.

Hybrid vector-raster painting
Hélène Goldberg: Sunny angle

Dolores Kaufman: Inner sanctum
Digital photo art
Dolores Kaufman, Inner sanctum (undated)

New photography

New photography

The relation between painting and photography is centuries old, but never before has it been so close. To place a picture on a digital canvas and transform it into a painting now requires nothing but a push on a button, and a photographer today uses the same software for editing and transforming a photo as the artist for creating a painting. The shared toolbox entails changes in painterly development (below) and creates a new transition zone between painting and photography.

A variety of media filters can make photos or screenshots resemble an oil painting, watercolor, wood-cut, etching, etc. Style filters can put them in the visual framework of Seurat, Van Gogh, Pollock and many others, while form filters create effects like circle, wave, multiply, mirror, swirl and shear, or they can break up the image in a kaleidoscope of geometric forms that radiate from a central point in perfect symmetry.

Mixed media
While these transformations are push-button, they are often part of a more complex method that combines several kinds of photographic, computer-generated and painterly aspects in subsequent stages. A possible workflow might be: a screenshot or photo is taken, subjected to a transformation like a swirl and put on the canvas as component of a painting. Applied as mixed media, new photography makes an important contribution to contemporary visual language.

Photo-based paintings are stored as raster files like BMP, JPEG, PNG, GIF or TIFF.

auto image transformation
Blue coffee-cup (three push button transformations of the same picture)

File formats

Picasso: Woman with a blue hat
(Enlarge to see the effect of a 300 pct. resize of a raster image)

Size, resolution, enlargement

Size, resolution, enlargement

When the artist increases the height and width of an existing image, its resolution or information density decreases and it will become vague. Resolution is usually expressed in dpi (dots per inch). While the image on the screen already looks sharp at the standard resolution of 72 dpi on the web, a physical carrier needs 300 dpi or more to look sharp. Moreover, the physical carrier is usually much larger in height and width as well.

Two enlarged fragments of Pierre Bonnard's Getting out
of the bath
(1930) (zoom in)

Correction of raster painting enlargement

Vector and raster painting enlargement

For a vector painting, where colors and lines are controlled by formulas, enlargement requires nothing but a push on a button. There is no loss of resolution. For raster painting, information will have to be added to fill in the gaps. This is done with the help of enlargement software or by the 're-size' option in the painting program. Automatic enlargement usually needs manual corrections.

Although much progress has been made in automatic enlargement, it remains difficult to fill in the empty space between handmade lines and shapes. Lines become unsteady and crumbly and unintended 'noise' appears along the edges of color patches. The image above shows two different types of online enlargement of the same fragment of Pierre Bonnard's Getting out of the bath. Note that each entails its own noise and deformation.

In order to eliminate deformation and obtain a faithful representation of the original, automatic enlargement is usually followed by manual correction. Depending on the speed of the computer and the chosen size and resolution of the image, correction can be slow or even come to a halt. The screen, of course, is not enlarged: the artist can no longer see the whole image and has to zoom in and out, switching between corrections and reviewing the results. Depending on the size of the file, the slow and detailed process compares to fine needlework.

Recently, several programs for raster and hybrid painting introduced ‘scripting’. Strokes and actions that compose the image are recorded and can be repeated in an automated process and without loss of resolution on a larger canvas on the desktop.

Pauline van de Ven:Anna
Printing colors: faithful color representation with the CMYK color profile
embedded (l). Green cast with an RGB profile for online display (r)



For artists and collectors alike, a faithful representation of colors is of prime importance.   

To see colors
Every computer screen deviates to some degree from the 'true' colors that are set as a standard by the international color convention (ICC). These deviations can be corrected by a calibration of the screen. For anyone working with colors it is necessary to calibrate the screen regularly. It is done with a small sensor that calls up a number of colors on the screen, compares them with the standard values and creates a monitor profile which is automatically installed as the default. It runs silently in the background and has only one task: to keep the individual screen fixed to the standard. Although, confusingly, this profile is listed between a whole range of optional profiles for printing, it should be left alone. It is not embedded in an artwork.

To create colors
In desktop painting software, the basic profile types have their corresponding palettes and matching color spectrum in the workspace. It is advisable to work in the palette and the spectrum that matches the destination - CMYK for printing, RGB for online display and grayscale for black and white. Changing RGB to CMYK profiles is not (yet) possible on mobile devices.

To display and print colors
The artist should embed a color profile in the finished artwork that matches one of two destinations: a webpage or a printing company. This is important because the color palette for printing is much smaller than the palette of a computer screen. If the artist sends a painting to the printer that has the RGB profile for online display embedded, every color that is not available will in an automated process be translated to neighboring color that can be printed. The result can be disappointing.
This is especially relevant for painters working on mobile apps because they have the RGB profile embedded in their artworks. A desktop painting program should be used to convert RGB colors to a CMYK profile for printing. Most printing companies supply their own profile, tailored to the machinery, ink and choice of paper. They can also prescribe one of the CMYK profiles that are available in most computers. Some accept files with the RGB profile and convert them to their own CMYK profile.

Colors in browsers
Only 216 colors are standardized between browsers. The artist who wishes to avoid online color deviation has the option to use the 'web safe color palette'. However this seriously limits the choice of colors.

In conclusion, three things are needed to see and to represent colors reliably:
(1) The screen should be calibrated.
(2) The artist should paint with the color palette that matches the destination. If this is not possible, paint in RGB and convert to CMYK before sending the work to the printer.
(3) The right profile should be embedded in the artwork, RGB for digital destination and CMYK for a printing company.

Colors of prints at online galleries
Galleries use RGB files for online presentation to offer physical prints. The RGB color palette is used as it is or auto-converted to the CMYK palette. Small or large color deviations are inevitable, especially if bright or 'psychedelic' colors have been used. If accurate color representation is important, the artist can order a proof from the gallery before offering prints. Approval of a proof can be mentioned in the description of the painting.

Digital texture
Illusion of texture (fragment, raster painting)
Caroline Weber Fischer: August im Lauerzersee 



Over the centuries art lovers have felt the hand and mood of the painter in brush strokes and paint. Many find that a painting without texture is fine in a book, but doesn't feel right on the wall. Though a stylus can be as sensitive to the pressure of the hand as a traditional brush, and the pressure can be made visible on the screen, a digital painting is entirely flat. Some artists accept flatness as a property of digital painting. Many print or project their work on a physical carrier and paint it over, thereby using the computer as a preparatory device and sacrificing the digital characteristics. Brushstroke gel is widely used to simulate brush strokes on a printed canvas. 

Painterly development

Painterly development

A great variety of digital tools brings the artist new means to express thoughts and feelings. On the negative side, the more the computer facilitates their work by offering easy imports, taking over painting processes and offering a wide array of styles and transformations, the more difficult it becomes for painters to develop their own idiom, to take distance from images that are already created and to make the voice of the computer secondary to their own.

The choice for an app narrows to some extent the development of the artist by limiting him or her to the possibilities and the style of the software. Development is a process of interaction. Apart from making a considered choice, the risk that a software developer will not keep up forward or backward integration or take out and sell vital parts of the program should be taken into account. In such a case paintings may no longer be available for transfer or printing. Below is a famous example. Such dramas can always occur, but the risk is reduced if the software is owned by, and bought from, a company instead of an individual.

A notorious case in the young history of digital painting is the enlargement software that was part of the popular Brushes app for raster painting. Brushes recorded all the painter's actions on the iPad, which could then be replayed on a larger canvas on the desktop. Until 2012, Brushes was the only raster program that offered enlargement without loss of resolution, a unique feature that enabled digital raster painters for the first time in history to show and sell their work. David Hockney was the first well known painter to surprise the art world with very large prints of raster paintings made on the iPad. His exhibition 'A bigger picture' at the London Royal Academy of Arts between January and April 2012 made Brushes wildly popular. 

Brushes monopoly Hockney

In September 2012 Brushes' developer Steve Sprang abruptly eliminated the enlargement feature. Expressions of protest, anger and despair at Flickr, Github and other forums could not remedy that all paintings were trapped in the Brushes app at the size of a postcard, unfit to print, exhibit or sell. A whole generation of pioneering digital painters and teachers was forced out of Brushes, a silent exodus at a time when Hockney's expositions of enlarged Brushes paintings attracted word wide attention. Soon another painting program, Procreate, introduced enlargement by recording strokes and actions on a larger canvas. High resolution enlargement was again available for raster paintings, but many painters had lost the labor of several years. They also suffered a setback in painterly development as they had to learn how to interact with Procreate or ArtRage, the main alternatives to Brushes and very different to use.

Collecting digital art, assessment

Collecting digital art, assessment

In order to eliminate the color bias of the individual screen, it is important to regularly calibrate (see 'about colors').

Even with proper calibration, it is difficult to assess the look and feel of a painting online. Colors to some extent vary with the physical carrier of the artwork and with the type of screen of the spectator. Moreover, many online colors in the online presentation simply can not be printed at all, even with the right color profile embedded. The best way to judge a digital painting is by a sample. It should have at least the size of a postcard, be printed on the chosen physical carrier (paper, acrylic glass, aluminum etc.) and executed with the same resolution and by same printing company that prints the final artwork.

Browsing online galleries - prints
Collecting digital art starts with browsing and research. To browse the many online portfolios is not yet as easy and pleasant as it can be. There is a great deal of room for improvement in search algorithms. At the time of writing the search process has several serious limitations.  

- Limitations by choice
Galleries with 'follow me' and 'thumbs-up' features rank artists by their number of followers, number of likes, and number of paintings in their portfolio. The artistic value thus measured results in increased visibility for some and decreased visibility or invisibility for others in search results. Though stars and thumbs are a common way to valuate all kinds of products, the application to art and literature is an issue. Some critics have posited that the acquisition of thumbs-up and likes is not an indication of artistic quality but of social media skills, two values that might well be inversely related.

measuring artistic value

- Limitations by lack of information
Despite the invitation at some galleries to filter for mainstream digital media like ‘vector’, ‘raster’, 'fractal', 'new photography' etc., as yet few are able to live up to promise. It should be realized that a collector usually does not know the name of the artist. Therefore, if the medium search key doesn't function properly, artists remain invisible. The quality of a search machine is easily assessed from the results. If it is good, a more or less homogenous catch of paintings in a particular medium is brought up. If it presents an incoherent mix of all kinds of digital and non-digital media, there is a visibility issue. Search results can be supplemented at other galleries and Google Images. 

Information about the software that is used to create the painting is rarely available. In order to appreciate originality and technical skill, to distinguish what comes out of the app from what comes out of the artist and perhaps to judge if art claims are justified, some collectors would probably like to know which program was used to create the painting. Visit Ben Guerette's A Blog appArt for a wild variety of styles and technical skills that are a property of the software. More out-of-the-box styles at: Gallery of preset styles and conversions.

Information about resolution or the size of a limited edition are also often not yet included in artwork descriptions. 

- Other limitations
Search results are often dominated by large numbers of images by only a few painters. If collectors tire from so much homogeneity and decide to resume at another time they will have to go through the same images again.
Some galleries lower the resolution of paintings to speed up browsing, which results in blurred images. While frustrating to artists, it deprives collectors of the more time-efficient method of judging sharp small-size images at first sight.

Buying prints
It is  important to buy from a trusted party. While most digital painters are still alive, their work can be bought directly at their website or via a link from their homepage to an online gallery. 

Buying prints directly from the artist has pros and cons. The color quality can be a pro, if the artist embeds a color profile for printing, makes corrections when needed and has the work printed at a professional printing company. Many online galleries use RGB color profiles for printing, with small or larger color deviations. On the other hand it is not easy for individual artists to match the attractive display and professional framework with safe payment, delivery and sales conditions that online galleries offer.

If features like an approved color proof, a sample, a manual signature, protection against duplication and a certificate are not mentioned in the description of the artwork, the collector can ask the artist to make these provisions. For prints that are produced by the gallery, a signature and a barcode or other protective measure can usually be arranged by having the artwork sent through the artist. 

Buying digital files
See Market for digital art, digital file as NFT .

Market for digital art, prints

Market for digital art, prints

The market for digital art is gradually maturing. Collectors start to realize that digital painting is a new visual language that can't be expressed with traditional means. Many problems have been solved. Color representation has become fairly reliable thanks to calibration and the use of color profiles. Digital and physical asset management and a responsible handling of digital files have brought the risk of duplication of prints down to an acceptable level. Slowly but steadily, digital paintings are finding their way to museums, auctions and galleries where they meet a new generation of collectors.

Yet many highly professional, even pioneering digital painters lack the technical know-how to get their work out of the computer and into the real world. Most rely on an online gallery. The larger galleries offer an abundance of originals and limited edition quality prints worldwide with good sales conditions. This relieves artists of technical concerns. On the negative side, if printing is left to the gallery and the print sent directly to the collector, the artist can no longer evaluate and if necessary adjust the (color) representation. Physical asset management such as a manual signature is somewhat more complicated. There is also a safety concern since the computer of the artist is no longer the only location where a high resolution file of the painting is stored.

Quantity quality convention, limited print editions

Quality-quantity convention, limited print editions

In traditional painting, the numbering of a limited edition by convention follows a quality/quantity notation 'i/n' in front of the artwork. Where 'i' indicates a rough ranking of the individual print according to technical and aesthetic quality and 'n' is the size of the edition. Since all prints of a digital artwork are identical, 'i' has no other meaning than to let a buyer know how many prints are still available. The meaning of 'n' is still the same: the size of a limited edition has economic significance for collectors. As in traditional painting, the size of 'n' is set by the artist prior to the first sale. The artist keeps register of the number of copies that are sold. Open series are referred to as '∞' and numerically unique prints as '1/1'. In the automated printing process, the unnumbered run-up prints that are traditionally labeled as 'E.A.' (epreuve artiste) or 'A.P.' (artist's proof), can still occur.

Certification of a print

Certification of a print

A certificate is a document that accompanies the print and bears a mark of identity such as the signature of the artist, often supplemented with some other personalized sign, watermark, bar code, fingerprint or hologram which matches an identity mark on or in the print. It contains a copyright declaration, distinguishes between an original and an open or closed edition, states the size of a limited edition. Importantly, it informs the buyer of the status of the source file: whether the copyright will be destroyed, reserved for the artist, or transferred to the buyer, if the file is sold. A Certificate of Unicity for a numerically unique print ('original' or '1/1') a Certificate for a Limited Edition and a Certificate for an Open Edition is regularly updated and freely available on this site.

Market for digital art, digital file as NFT

Market for digital art, digital file as NFT

NFT (or 'non fungible token') is a unique code that identifies a digital work and links it to its creator. NFTs provide buyers with proof of authenticity and ownership, using advanced encryption. They can be traded online in cryptocurrencies on various platforms. Just like the currency itself, all subsequent transactions are verified in a decentralized manner by many individual computers in a network. In the process they form a 'blockchain' which serves as a public ledger.

The bright side
An entire generation of digital painters, pioneering a new medium, have experienced for decades that the doors of art galleries remained closed. Their work was nonexistent. It remained largely without resonance, without critical assessment and without sales. The main causes were the physical flatness of a print compared to a traditional painting, and the (incorrect) assumption that a digital work can not be unique. After all, a digital artwork is and can only be, an automated print, and a print could be multiplied indefinitely. Now the source file is being sold as unique, not to hang on the wall but to collect and resell. It's not new that a digital file can be uniquely identified with its creator: trusted time-stamping and the good old ISBN do exactly the same. But NFTs come with sophisticated trading paces, new currencies, nice charts, new concepts and a new vocabulary. For the first time a market arises. Moreover, thanks to the secure recording of transactions, artists can earn a royalty on one or more subsequent transactions.

Limitation of uniqueness 
I should be noted that the NFT may be unique, but the source file that is used to generate the NFT remains on the computer of the creator. A digital file can easily be re-minted by changing a tiny part of it. A different NFT will then be generated. Google 'reverse image search' can be used to track the origin of an image or find roughly similar images. 

Limitation of royalties
Most platforms are based on NFTs with the ERC-721 interface. According to Kelly LeValley Hunt, initiator of the Golddust art marketplace, it is currently not possible to graft the royalty obligation onto these NFTs. As a result, the artist receives royalty only as long as collector is kind enough to stay on the same platform. Most platforms offer NFT transfers to other platforms, royalty obligations are therefore easily annulled. It is expected that royalty contracts will become platform-independent in the near future.

Property right and Copyright
An NFT is a property right. It does not give the owner the right to commercial exploitation. Copyright is a separate right that remains with the creator. However, several platforms make the copyright part of the NFT contract. The buyer then has the right to sell prints and other merchandise. Most buyers don't seem to be interested in the copyright. They want to collect and show or trade the work. The fact that there may be many physical and digital copies in circulation only enhances the status of the owner. It is often compared to the Mona Lisa: there are countless copies but to own the one and only painting is something different.

Cryptocurrency, blockchain
The trade in NFT is largely in cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are not created by central banks but by users in a computer network, and transactions are not verified by individual banks but again by multiple computers in a network. Transactions are timestamped and stored in blocks using cryptography, and the blocks are securely linked together, forming a chain. The 'blockchain' is used as a public ledger.

Energy issue: Proof of Work - Proof of Stake
Two major concensus mechanisms are used in this network of distributed computers to create currencies and verify transactions: 'Proof of work' (PoW) and 'Proof of stake' (PoS). Proof of Work, the older of the two, is used by Bitcoin, Ethereum 1.0, and many others. Because of the way they are designed, they use a huge amount of energy. Last year, Bitcoin alone consumed a staggering 110 Terawatt Hours - over a half percent of global electricity - roughly equivalent to the annual energy draw of small countries like Malaysia or Sweden.
The newer 'Proof of Stake' (PoS) mechanism allows networks to operate much more energy efficient. Proof of Stake powers Ethereum 2.0, Cardano, Tezos and other, generally newer, cryptocurrencies.    

A 2022 study of the Crypto Carbon Ratings Institute compared a handful of PoS-based currencies with PoW-based Bitcoin and Ethereum. Compared to Bitcoin and Ethereum they used less than 0.001% electricity. Note the exponential scale in the chart below: at every next horizontal line, electricity consumption increases tenfold.

Problems with verification
The major problem is that platforms make little or no effort to verify who is the artist. Some send an email to the artist's social media account and wait for a reply before they validate the account. The collector is also mostly anonymous and fake sales have been used to boost the artist's reputation. Platforms warn collectors to do some online research to find out if a work is really offered by the artist. Google 'reverse image search' can be used to track the origin of an image and find roughly similar images.

The verification of the artwork itself has the problem that a tiny change in the source file will generate an entirely different NFT. Technically it is easy for a thief to register authorship or for the artist to sell a copy. Automated computer programs can monitor the platforms for images with a certain amount of deviation from the original image, a technique based on 'information distance' - but so far this tool has not been used.  

It would be a big improvement as well as an important contribution to a trusted art market, if sales platforms would make use of existing instruments to verify authorship.

Green NFT art platforms


Eco friendly art platforms are (exclusively) based on PoS currencies and PoS transactions. These consume less energy and so for once, a 'green' choice is (much) cheaper.

  • Hic et Nunc Art, based on Tezos currency and blockchain (advanced search algorithms)
  • Kalamint,Tezos blockchain
  • Screensaver, Polygon blockchain, Matic currency
  • Sign art, Waves blockchain

A list of eco-friendly art platforms can be found at
Many PoW networks, including ethereum and its ETH, have announced a swith to PoS. This seems to be difficult and will take some time. For the moment, popular platforms like OpenSea, Rarible, SuperRare, Nifty, KnownOrigin, Goddust, Makersplace etc. are not suitable for the environmentally conscious artist.

digital painting, vector raster combined
Van de Ven: Opgewassen
combination of vector and raster

Protecting prints and files, NFT, timestamp


It is a common misunderstanding that a print cannot be a numerously unique work of art. It certainly can, and often is. There are a number of ways to protect uniqueness and limited editions for prints as well as digital files.

Raster and combined vector-raster paintings can be effectively protected by using low resolution and small size files for online display. Stronger measures such as DRM are needed to protect duplication and enlargement of online vector paintings. The artist should protect full-size, high resolution files of the artwork by choosing safe methods of transfer and by sharing full scale files only with printing companies that delete them after use.

Protection of the print (PAM)
PAM (physical asset management) consists of a manual signature and/or some unique mark  that establishes authorship. A GS1 or EAN code can be and attached to both certificate and artwork. GS1 codes are issued in over 100 participating countries and can easily be generated online.

Protection of the file (DAM)
In order to protect prints it is necessary to protect its digital source code as well. DAM (digital asset management) can be used to establish authorship of the digital image and to prevent it from being copied and used to produce prints and certificates without marks or with forged marks.

- Digimark
A unique mark can be registered and embedded in the code of the image. Other than a digital watermark, that is placed over the image and can easily be removed, a digimark survives a variety of manipulations and transformations and even duplication by screenshot. Digimarks are optionally supplemented with a search service that crawls the Internet tracing and reporting copies.

- Trusted timestamping
It is possible to securely timestamp a digital document, keeping track of its initial creation and subsequent modifications, making it unique. The process is based on the same hashcodes that are used to create NFT for artworks. Timestamps rely on a single 'Trusted Authority'. Compared with NFT, trusted timestamping doesn't consume a lot of energy.

- Informal timestamping
Many online activities and physical representations leave a reliable trace that supports a claim of authorship. Images in ISBN-published books for instance, or images published at exhibitions. Images posted in an art community will often bear a timestamp. Images posted on a blog usually have a timestamp that can be modified by the owner and so are less useful. 

- NFTs
NFT of non-fungible (=not interchangeable) token is a code that is derived from a digital file, uniquely identifying it and linking it to its creator. NFTs provide buyers with proof of authenticity and establish ownership for that particular file in a decentralized way that involves many computers in a network, using advanced encryption.

Disadvantages and risks of NFTs

Disadvantages and risks of NFTs

vactor painting by Pauline van de Ven
Van de Ven: Creative destruction,
combination of vector and stochastic rules (2022)   

1. Global warming
Artists who offer their art at an NFT platform should realize that 'Proof of work' (PoW) based currencies and transactions are a serious environmental concern. Nature recently calculated that bitcoin alone will be responsible for two degrees global warming in the next 25 years. ETH, the native currency of the Ethereum network, belongs to the same category of giant energy consumers. The Ethereum network can be used with greener currencies that are based on a different protocol, 'Proof of stake' (Pos) but this does not prevent collectors to fall back on energy consuming currencies within the platform. Fortunately, 'green' platforms, based on 'Proof of Stake' are gaining ground (see green NFT platforms).

2. Bubbles and crashes

Technical innovation is probably the main driving factor, but it's a happy coincidence for NFT platforms that cryptocurrency has been piling up in accounts while there is still little to be bought with it. NFTs tap into large potential demand. The way they are presented, with wallets and plenty of charts showing prices rise and fall, plays on the same appetite for speculation which for many seems to be the main attraction of cryptocurrencies. Artists and collectors must first purchase cryptocurrency. To a large extent, art seems to be bought for the purpose of selling for a quick profit. The new market, so foreign to the nature of art as representative of permanence, may well turn out to be a double form of speculation, unique in economic history and perhaps not without macroeconomic risks.

3. Theft of ownership

In December 2021, New York’s Ross + Kramer Gallery was robbed of NFT valued at a total of $2.2 million at NFT platform OpenSea. The thief seemed to have sold off many of the pieces. With the help of the buyers, the damage was apparently limited. But it drew attention to the fact that OpenSea did not verify if a seller owns the NFTs.

4. Theft of authorship
A growing number of artists have online images of their art stolen, minted as unique digital assets, and offered for sale on NFT platforms. DeviantArt, an large online community for digital artists began monitoring NFT platforms for theft of their users’ work in the fall of 2021. By January 2022 it had sent 90,000 alerts about possible fraud to thousands of their users. The Guardian quoting DA's chief operations Moti Levi, wrote that automated computer programs (bots) had been attacking the site, scraping whole galleries of artists’ works. The pieces would later appear on NFT marketplaces, often with artists’ names and watermarks still attached.

 of copyright
In the market of prints, the number of illegal copies is likely to increase. As yet there is no public registration of copyrights on digital art. Even without copyright the owner of an NFT has the digital source code of the image, which makes exploitation technically simple and economically tempting.

6. Financial risks

Sellers of cryptocurrency and providers of digital wallets are not banks. They are no more subject to centralized supervision of their accounts than a baker or a greengrocer. In most countries, the only check is for money laundering. There are no general agreements about reserves or compensations if accounts are hacked and plundered. In March 2022, hackers gained access to private keys used to validate transactions on the Ronin platform and stole $625 million in cryptocurrency.

In addition there is the risk of strong volatility of the currencies.

How to choose NFT platform

How to CHOOSE NFT platform

NFT platforms are mountains of all conceivable styles, techniques, directions and formats. Besides art, even the most exclusively curated platforms offer an incredible amount of home industry. The possibilities to filter and search are limited and it is extremely difficult for individual artists to make themselves visible. One solution is to build visibility on social media, blog, homepage or art community, and from there link to the NFT platform.

Since it isn't yet possible to choose platforms for their more or less homogeneous supply of well-defined directions in digital art, while the difference in ecological footprint between the platforms is huge, it makes all the more sense to let environmental considerations make the difference. It also seems a good choice to wait. There will be more 'green' platforms, a better verification of authorship, a better understanding and more homogeneous presentation of art directions. Last but not least, royalty contracts will probably become platform independent. 



Brushstroke gel:  Water-soluble acrylic polymer containing a UV inhibitor which helps protect a painting from yellowing and fading. Also used to recreate brushstrokes on digital paintings printed on canvas.

Don Archers blog, Digital art, artists and commentaries

Color calibration:
General information
Spyder calibration sensor

Carriers for digital painting:
Xpozer, Prints on polyester coated paper, floating, unframed mount (sRGB profile accepted)
Whitewall, Prints on Hahnemuele paper, canvas, aluminum, dibond, perspex, (printer's color profile supplied)
Drukwerkdeal, Postcards, large format prints on dibond and brushed aluminum, postcards (printer's color profile supplied)

Certificates For original, limited and open edition

Automatic conversion, photos to paintings, drawings and cartoons
Waterlogue, Automatic conversion of photos to paintings, drawings and cartoons

Enlargement, digital:
Many programs listed
Oneone perfect resize, (enlargement correction)
ZoomPro5, Ben Vista

Enlargement, manual (projection of physical and digital image on walls, canvas etc.):
Beamers (choose a led beamer to work in daylight)

Fractal art:
Fractal art, video2

Galleries, online:
Absolute Arts
Saatchi online

Galleries, physical:
West 25th Street, New York, NY)
Keizersgracht 16, 1015 CP Amsterdam, NL)

Hand painted copies:
Dafen Village, China:  
By artist, style, size

Mark, barcode, digimark, hologram (print and digital image protection):
Barcode registration GS1
Digimark (invisibly embedded watermark with tracing option, a Photoshop plug-in)
Security hologram

MOCA  Museum of Computer Art (MOCA) of New York State University offers emerging directions in digital art an online platform since 1993. Annual juried competition in digital art, catalogue.

Photo art and artist portfolio:

NFT platforms, green

Programs for painting on iPad and iPhone:
Brushes (raster)  (for online display only, enlargement feature for printing no longer available)
Adobe Eazel (raster) (no undo option)
Adobe ideas (vector) (in combination with Adobe Illustrator)
Paintbook Penultimate
ArtRage (hybrid, with scripting)
Procreate (enlargement for printing, max. canvas depends on device)
Inkpad (vector, some features no longer available, low resolution for PNG and jpg export)

Programs for painting on PC and Mac:
Adobe Photoshop CS6
Corel drawing

Programs for computer generated painting:
Fractal Arts
FractalScapes (iPad)
Fractoscope (L-systems, iPad)
ImageSynth (Stochastic rules iPad)

Programs for vector painting:
Overwiew of vector programs and file formats
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe ideas (iPad) (in combination with Adobe Illustrator)
Inkscape(open source, desktop)
CorelDraw for Windows

For artwork on paper

Reverse image search
Search with an image on Google

Styles, prefab
An overview of styles and features of apps and painting software by Ben Guerette

vector art:
Pno expo

Blood sweat vector
Vector art, video

Vectorization, online (raster to vector conversion):

2013-2022 Amsterdam - Gent








Pauline van de Ven: Digital Painting

There is now a book available with the highlights of this website.
Look inside


Green NFT art platforms

Update of:
Market for digital art, digital file as NFT
How to choose NFT platform

Update of:
Market for digital art, digital file as NFT
Disadvantages and risks of NFT
How to choose NFT platform

Update of:
Protecting prints and files, NFTs, timestamp

Market for digital art, digital file as NFT
Disadvantages and risks of NFT
How to use NFT platform

Update of Differences in method:
Spontaneity, Creative influence
Update of Prints and screen representation

Update of 'visual characteristics'.

Update of 'vector painting'.

Update of 'Painterly development' with 'Brushes'.

Update of 'New Photography', update of 'Collecting, browsing online galleries'. Update of 'DP, brief overview'.

2019/04/10 Update of 'Digital painting and photography'. Update of 'Collecting digital art, assessment'. Update of 'Differences in method.' Update of 'Digital painting and photography'. Added images.

2019/04/04 Update of 'Computer generated painting'. Update of 'Differences in method'. Update of 'Collecting digital art, assessment'.

2019/02/12 Update of 'Visual characteristics'.

2018/12/18 Update of 'Protecting originals and limited editions' Protecting originals and limited editions

2018/11/28 Text corrected and modified

2018/03/13 Text dedicated into the Public Domain

2017/09/13 New certificates (version 5.0)

2017/08/30 Update of 'Characteristics'; 'Uniqueness and limited editions'; 'Links'

2017/08/22 Update of 'detailed survey'

2017/08/14 Update of 'brief overview'

2015/08/08 New certificates: (v.4 for originals, v.1 for editions)

2015/08/06 Update 'Market for digital art'

2015/08/03 'About color'

2015/05/21 'File formats'

2015/05/01 'Pioneering digital artists'

2015/04/25 'Visual characteristics'

2015/04/19 'Assessment'

2015/04/1 Content of Google blog 'Digital Painting' transferred to this webpage

2013/01/01 Contributions 'Digital Painting' to Wikipedia transferred to Google Blog 'Digital Painting'

2010-2013 Contributions 'Digital Painting' to Wikipedia