Best Digital Art Tools for Students to Succeed

Graphic designer at work

The field of digital arts merges creativity with technology to produce captivating visual experiences. Creativity permeates every aspect of our lives, encompassing your interactions with technology, such as your phone and social media, the packaging you encounter in grocery stores, the captivating videos and commercials that grace your television and the web, as well as the immersive experiences provided by movies and games. To succeed in this creative economy, students will need to own powerful hardware and learn technical design software programs.

The College of Arts and Media at Grand Canyon University recognize the importance of incorporating technical aspects into our degrees including design, social media, motion graphics, web design, film, theatre and entertainment technology. In this blog post, we will explore the primary hardware and software used in these exciting and creative industries. 

Best Tools for Digital Art Technology Students

Digital design is a good career choice for students wanting to work with high-tech tools in a STEM environment while building their creative skills. Students will need a strong foundational design education that incorporates many analog and digital tools. Digital art students may need specific primary hardware and software to use in the professional fields of graphic design, advertising, social media, web and application design, entertainment technology, film making, and motion graphics and animation. Those may include the following:  

High-Performance Computers 

Digital creation requires powerful computers capable of handling resource-intensive tasks. Equipped with fast processors, ample RAM and hard drive space, and high-end graphics cards, these computers enable artists to work with large media files and complex projects without performance bottlenecks. Different industries may prefer different computers. Advertising, film and social media organizations tend toward Apple products, while theatrical design tends to lean toward PC models. As the primary tool used to create content, this is not the place to skimp on the budget.

Graphics Tablets

Graphics tablets, such as Wacom Intuos, Huion, Xpen, and iPads, provide an intuitive and precise way for students to create digital art, illustrations and animations. With pressure sensitivity and pen input, these devices mimic the experience of drawing or painting on paper, allowing students to unleash their creativity digitally. A mouse is the typical input device. For GCU students in all design programs, the ability to quickly sketch, thumbnail or paint with brush-like ease electronically is timesaving. Adobe provides toolsets directly on the iPad, which can expand a student’s creation tools.

Digital Cameras, Video Equipment, Drones and Projectors 

For students specializing in film production, social media, advertising, entertainment technology or photography, access to digital cameras and video equipment is crucial. Students using these tools and learn the principles of composition, lighting and cinematography, are better prepared to become digital storytellers whether on film, in print or at a live event.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Devices

VR, AR, and projection mapping technologies expand interactive storytelling. These innovative applications are in high demand when looking to create memorable and meaningful experiences.1

Best Software for Digital Art Students

These high tech devices don’t make content on their own, so software knowledge is critical. The human brain and imagination work together through specific software to achieve desired results. These software packages below are examples of what educators in GCU's College of Arts and Media degree programs use to help students become masters of their craft. They're the go-to tools that are taught to give students the skills they need to shine in their artistic pursuits.

Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Express

All GCU design degrees require use of the Adobe Creative Cloud, a subscription package of products that are the industry-standard softwares, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, Acrobat and After Effects. Students use these applications to create stunning visual designs, manipulate images, craft intricate animations and edit videos with professional precision.

Professional competence with these tools can equip students with employment skills that are needed throughout the creative economy. Adobe Express is the smartphone-based suite of tools that is also very powerful, and is being introduced throughout all degrees. Students in the BA in Social Media degree and the BA in Advertising and Graphic Design degree often find this toolset exciting and easy to use. 

Autodesk Maya and Cinema 4D

Students in the BA in Digital Design with an Emphasis in Animation degree will use Maya and some Cinema 4D while learning the 3D aspects of motion graphic design. These powerful 3D modeling, animation and rendering softwares are widely used in the digital arts industry. They can model complex objects, rig characters, apply realistic textures and materials, and animate their creations with precision. Both products are used in the 3D production pipeline, helping to position students for careers in advertising, film, gaming, virtual reality and other immersive media fields.

Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve and Avid Pro Tools

For students pursuing film and video production, these programs assemble footage, add effects and transitions, fine-tune audio, correct color and export their projects in various formats. Proficiency enables students to craft compelling narratives, create visually engaging films, and develop critical storytelling skills necessary in the film industry.

Unity and Unreal Engine

Unity and Unreal are widely used game development engines that empower students to create interactive experiences. Students studying game design or interactive media can harness the power to build immersive virtual worlds, develop gameplay mechanics and implement visual effects. Surprisingly user-friendly interfaces enable students to explore the realm of game design, AR and VR, all popular technical and creative tools.

Benefits of Digital Art Tools

The Apple Macintosh computer was released in 1984.2 The first digital still camera was released in 1975.3 The first digitally produced film was “Windhorse,” shot in 1996,4 and Disneyland preceded all of that using projection mapping of images on the Ghost Train in 1969.5 These technical innovations dynamically changed the creation of content and visual experiences. Music festivals, concerts, sporting events, movies and plays happen with high-tech planning, hardware, software and digitally created content.

Your phone and computer are filled with digital content. While digital art tools are not the only way to create content, analog tools including pencil and paper, paints, ink, even construction paper and cardboard can be used to create imagery that can be digitized and integrated with software creations. However, having digital skills is essential in today's digital landscape, as it may increase your employability in the modern workforce. Being proficient in working digitally has become an expectation in the digital world, opening up numerous opportunities for career growth.

Final Thoughts: Tools For Digital Art

When you add the arts to STEM you get STEAM. The world runs on digital information and as a creative content creator, you will use many different digital tools. Be sure to seek them out in your educational choices. The use of the Adobe Creative Cloud products, Autodesk Maya, Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve, Avid Pro Tools, Unreal and Unity, can equip students with practical skills. The future for digital creators is certainly linked to emerging technologies, and we encourage you to dive in, learn and grow as you create.

At Grand Canyon University you can get degrees in many areas where your creativity and high-tech skills are the winning combination. Check out the STEAM opportunities from GCU and prepare your tools for a digital art career. 


1 Snyder, J. (2021, April 27). A Glimpse Into the Future of AR and VR Brand Storytelling. CEOWORLD Magazine. Retrieved on June 23, 2023.

2 CWSI (n.d.). The History of the Apple Macintosh. Retrieved on June 23, 2023.

3 Trenholm, R. (2021, May 31). History of digital cameras: From '70s prototypes to iPhone and Galaxy's everyday wonders. CNET. Retrieved on June 23, 2023. 

4 IMBD (n.d.). Windhorse. Retrieved on June 30, 2023.

5 Studio Giggle (n.d.). Projection Mapping, A Short History. Retrieved on June 30, 2023. 

Approved by the author on Aug. 23, 2023. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.