Digital Drawing & Painting: A Brief History

There has never been so many ways to draw and paint digitally as there are today. Whether you’re drawing on an industry standard pen display tablet like the Wacom Cintiq, inking your comic using Manga Studio on a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, or using the Procreate app on an iPad Pro the last few years have seen an explosion in potential applications and hardware geared towards direct manipulation of your art with a stylus on a screen.

How did we get here? What was it like for the digital arts pioneers in the earliest days as these tools and technologies were being developed? Let’s take a brief look at some of the highlights of digital drawing and painting history.

The Rand Tablet: 1964

Developed at the Rand Corporation in the early 1960s. In the video below Alan Kay (in 1987) shares a snippet of video demonstrating the Rand Tablet in the 1960s.

The Quantel Paintbox: 1981

Do you have your cathode ray tube television monitor powered on? What about your Quantel Paintbox system? Make sure that the cable that runs from the system to your stylus doesn’t get tangled in your desk chair?


The Quantel paintbox was introduced in 1981 and was originally used primarily for creating broadcast television graphics. Later in the 80s a version of the system was developed to create print quality graphics.

In the video below artist David Hockney uses the Paintbox Workstation for the first time.

Wacom Intuos: 1990s – Ongoing

In the mid 1990s Wacom introduced the first  pen tablet that gained widespread success. Although pen displays with embedded LCD screens have overtaken this type of technology by offering greater control and precision, Wacom still produces Intuos as they are offer a much more affordable price point (ranging in from $99 to $500). The video below demonstrates a current generation of Intuos.

Wacom Cintiq: Mid 2000s

Wacom refers to their LCD graphics tablets as pen displays (versus pen tablets, without LCD screens). Wacom introduced pen displays at the turn-of-the-century and Cintiqs began to be widely adopted by the late 2000s. Working directly on an LCD screen allowed artists a greater degree of control and precision while finally doing away with having to adapt to drawing on a surface while not looking at that surface. In the video below veteran animator Eric Goldberg talks about using a Cintiq in a recent promotional video for Wacom.