How to Make Digital Art Look Real

The digital art world evolves very quickly, and trends such as AI art generators are pushing that evolution to a breakneck pace.

One of the hardest things for beginners to learn is how to make digital art look real. There’s nothing wrong with smooth blending and crisp lines in a work of art, but sometimes, you want to give your painting a realistic look instead of a digital one.

Adding realism to art can be challenging. It’s like adding life to your art—which is an art in itself. You can practise these techniques on your old projects or newer ones, and you can try them on generative art.

Once you’re past needing digital painting ideas for beginners, check out time-saving techniques to make your art feel more real.

Using Photo Textures

Applying textures to your digital artworks is a simple way to make them feel more realistic. You can distort and alter photo textures, then incorporate them into your artwork. This technique works especially well when creating textures for clothing, skin, natural elements, and general roughness in an art piece.

The difference between conventional and digital artwork is frequently blurred by texture, and without a canvas behind your art, it's often easy to discern the difference between the two. By adding texture layers in Photoshop, you'll help give your artwork a bit more realism.

Painting With Texture Brushes

Just as you can add realism by tweaking a canvas, you can do the same by adjusting a digital brush. Using a wide range of textured brushes or making one yourself is one way you can increase the realism in canvas paintings. Modifying the smooth digital stroke to give it a more natural look, helps create gritty, soft, or even fluffy textures on digital pieces. There are many different brushes available for free or for sale on the Internet.

Painting With Natural Colour Palettes

Your painting skills will improve as you paint, but a fun shortcut to increasing realism is focusing on colour.

Ignore the temptation to use vivid colour palettes with bold, brilliant hues. Compare your paintings with classic works, and you'll soon realise that improving the realism of your artwork doesn't require you to be of Leonardo Da Vinci calibre.

You can learn how to paint individuals by looking at natural colour schemes. Because of the structure of our bodies, painting human skin requires a complex array of colours. Discover the minute variations in the human body by learning more about them, then experiment with some natural colour schemes on your own.

Painting Additional Light Sources

We all paint portraits every now and then. They're excellent for practising techniques and experimenting with various lighting schemes.

The quickest way to learn about lighting is to look at pictures. Do a simple Google search to find out more about various kinds of lighting, such as:

  • Rim lighting
  • Back lighting
  • Ambient light
  • Different combinations of light

Think about how a beam of light would reflect in a photograph for a moment. This additional light can become a magical detail that will push your painting forward and give it more character. Find out how this lighting strategy can make your art more engaging by conducting your own experiments with different techniques.

Adding A Noise Filter

There is always an easy solution if you forget to use different brushes or if you don't want to bother collecting photo references. Apply a quick noise filter like this:

  • Create a Layer with a light grey hue. 
  • Select Filter > Noise > Add Noise, then set the Amount at 15%.
  • Reduce the Opacity to 30% while setting the layer to Overlay.

Avoid using excess amounts of noise, or else you’ll create the illusion that your painting is damaged (unless you want it to look that way). With just a few clicks, you’ll increase the realism of the piece.

Closing Thoughts

Art is a journey, and no one’s perfect. Keep learning as the need arises, and as time goes on, you’ll find your repertoire growing more versatile. Soon, you’ll have many more skills than you do now—including how to make realistic digital paintings.