Traditional Graphic Design versus Digital Graphic Design

Now, instead of a mass audience consuming media from a single source, we have multiple sources, multiple channels and multiple audiences. Every participant is potentially a sender as well as a receiver of information, and the barrier to entry is no longer the fortune required to set up a TV station or a newspaper, but the price of a PC and an Internet connection. Much of contemporary political graphics in particular is designed with the internet in mind…with the steady growth of broadband connection, a full-color poster can be created as a digital file small enough either to send by email or to download from a website set up for the purpose, and printed by the recipient in as many copies as necessary or simply passed on digitally.”

—Colin Moore,
Propaganda Prints: A History of Art in the Service of Social and Political Change, A+C Books, London, 2011

With a greater acceptability and penetration of digital media a growing number of graphic designers are abandoning traditional studio media — those good old pen, ink and paper — in favour of Computer Aided Design, using graphic design softwares and various desktop applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and so on. Storing their portfolios on clouds that give them file syncing capabilities, these designers can easily access their artistic portfolios which then can be submitted to clients or to be shared with the other contributing artists in a project.

The digital design programs make it possible for the artists to publish their portfolios on their own sites. Digital media are faster and provide an incredible amount of capability and flexibility at the fingertips of designers, to redraft, recompose or rescale their artworks, change their colour schemes, and add various visual impacts in an instant. However, what these programs cannot offer is artistic sensitivity and design creativity. For instance, if one Googles for images on “digital graphic design” one will see numerous examples of cold and tasteless digital illustrations with all kinds of digital trickery but without any artistic merit. This can be contrasted to the designs of the times bygone when art and science had not yet diverged and documenting the visual world was still an artist’s crucial role, when natural history artists and skilled printers created works that exude stunning artistic characteristics.

Many experimental and innovative proponents of Computer Aided Design argue that the digital media should supplant traditional graphic design techniques and designers should discard their time-honored media; such as graphite pencils, fineliners & studio markers, airbrushes, compass sets, scale rules & rulers, templates & stencils, and so on in favour of digital design. While the more traditional artists maintain that conventional drawing instruments are indispensable for artistic creativity. Of course, hand-drawn images have long been essential for visual communication of complex phenomena, where the artists created simple, clear, and meaningful images by focusing on the most important details required in the information set.

Examples of hand-drawn visual communication 

Paeonia suffruticosa Andrews var. papayeracea [as Paeonia moutan Sims var. papayeracea] [6269-737989-9167] Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 47: t. 2175 (1820) [J. Curtis]


Risso, [J.] A. und [P.] A. Poiteau, Histoire et culture des orangers. Nouvelle édition entièrement revue et augmentée … par A. du Breuil. With 110 engraved plates, printed in colours and finished by hand and 30 woodcuts in the text. Pairs, G. Masson and H. Plon 1872. Blindstamped orig. cloth, front cover with gilt stamped title vignette. Folio. 2 ll., 228 pp.


A hand coloured print from Rev. Francis Orpen Morris’ A History of British Birds. The renowned English printer, Benjamin Fawcett,approached Morris to write the text when Morris became Vicar of Nafferton. A History of British Birds was printed and bound in the small village of Driffield and shipped in tea chests to London. The final 6 volume work contained 358 hand coloured plates.


Engraving published in 1869 in Paris, France, from Charles D’Orbigny work ”Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire Naturelle”. Charles-Henry d’ Orbigny (1806 – 1876) was a French botanist and geologist


Engraving of a secretary bird from Charles D’Orbigny work ”Dictionnaire Universel d’Histoire Naturelle”. Charles-Henry d’ Orbigny (1806 – 1876)

Today many young designers are faced with a dilemma; do they need to learn how to hand draw perspectives or other visual effects in traditional techniques, when computers can generate similar representations in a fraction of time?. It stands to reason, of course, to argue that acquiring any set of techniques, be it a well developed skill in traditional art or learning how to illustrate with a digital software is always a worthwhile endeavour that make any artist a better one. However, having a solid foundation in drawing is particularly important for an artist when one wants to realize a vision. The traditional drawing skills equip artists with versatility, dexterity and facility to visually communicate complicated concepts more intelligently, and in an intellectually more sophisticated manner. They allow the artists to exaggerate certain feature of their images, while reemphasizing or deleting some other segments in order to create more harmonious compositions and at the same time enhancing the artistic integrity of the image. The computer aided designs do such functions with preset software limits and do not allow for improvisation and innovative thinking.

Unquestionably, to have the option of creating a design promptly and manipulating its composition, scale, or colours swiftly and so effortlessly are great advantages of computer aided design. However, I personally prefer to use digital software as a complementary tool to my traditional drawing media. since I can study and explore further dimensions in my artistic visions that probably weren’t possible in the past at such time-efficient manner.For example consider the following two digital versions of one of my traditional works.





Technology has allowed me to take the advantage of a wider set of capabilities to experiment and explore my artistic vision, and thus communicating visually with a wider audience. Working digitally also allows me to return to my previous works afresh and examine them in lights of new ideas that I otherwise may not have time to do. The following digital images show how other graphic designers use digital capabilities in tasteful and artistic way.

Alberto Seveso, Italy


Benjamin Delacour, Strasbourg, France


Sakke Soini, Helsinki, Finland.


Alberto Cerriteño, Mexico


Alberto Seveso, Rome, Italy.


Silvia Cordedda, Carrara, Italy


Eli Vokounova, Prague, Czech republic.



Igor Šćekić, Zagreb, Croatia.


Evgeny Kiselev, St. Petersburg, Russia.


Erik Johansson, Gothenburg, Sweden.


Into The Green ,  Anton Burmistrov


Bilda, Zafer and Halime Demirkan. 2003. “An Insight on Designers’ Sketching Activities in Traditional Versus Digital Media.” Design Studies 24: 27-50.

Brandon, Lynn. 2001. “Effects of Hand-Drawing and CAD Techniques on Design Development: A Comparison of Design Merit Ratings.” Journal of Interior Design 27: 26-34.

Cuff, Dana. 2001. “Design Software’s Effects on Design Thinking and Teaching.” Architectural Record 189: 200-206.

Gibson, Kathleen. 2007. “Automated Creativity: Digital Morphology and the Design Process.” Journal of Interior Design 32: 41-47.

Hennessy, Sara. 1999. “The Potential for Collaborative Problem Solving in Design and Technology.” International Journal of Technology and Design Education 9: 1-36.

Johnson, Timothy P. 2001. “Digital Drawing: Illustrative Drawing and Rendering with Photoshop.” Landscape Architecture, November, 44-48.

Lu, Jiang. 2005. “Bridge the Differences between the Digital and the Traditional Media.” Deliberate Design – A Deliberate Design – A Humane and Enlightened Course of Action, IDEC, Savannah, Georgia, 76-77.

Levin, Helen. 2002. “A Response to William Mitchell on ‘The Death of Drawing.’” Leonardo 35: 118.

McLain-Kark, Joan. 2000. “A Strategic Story of Using Computer Technology: The EPA Project by HOK.” Journal of Interior Design 26: 25-40.

Meneely, Jason and Sheila Danko. 2007. “Motive, Mind, and Media: Digital Sketching in the Creative Culture of Design.” Journal of Interior Design 32: 69-90.

Reiss, Gwen N. 2001. “Drawn to Perfection.” Preservation 53: 50-53. Seelig, Warren. 2003. “Digital Dialogues: Technology and the Hand.” Surface Design Journal 28: 6-11.



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