Being an artist used to mean carrying around canvases, pencils and paints wherever you wanted to draw. Today, it just requires a computer and the best art program for the type of art that you’d like to create.
There are dozens of programs to choose from, ranging from free drawing software tools to paid suites that also allow you to do more with your art once you’ve created it. These programs also have varying levels of complexity and additional features, such as backups.
If you are curious about our best overall pick, we chose Adobe’s Creative Cloud because you get access to Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as the rest of Adobe’s suite of programs. Keep reading below to find out more about Adobe CC and the rest of our selection.
What Makes a Piece of Drawing Software the Best?
When choosing the best drawing software, we looked at options that didn’t have too steep of a learning curve and that were well supported, meaning that there are communities around them. We also looked at unique customization features, such as paint blending tools and GPU-enhanced brushing.
We also put a heavy emphasis on brushes. The default brushes in any art program don’t always suit everyone, and so we wanted to make sure that you either have a vast brush selection or the ability to create or add additional brushes.
Finally, we wanted to make sure that the price was reasonable for the software. Although not every option on our list is free, they’re popular options among pro artists and are designed to be a part of a professional workflow.
The Best Drawing Software: Adobe’s Creative Cloud
Adobe’s suite of tools has been the standard for photo manipulation, drawing and painting for a long time, so much so that the term for passing a fake picture as real is commonly known as “photoshopping.” Programs like Photoshop and Illustrator are used by professional artists, students and amateurs alike to create everything from paintings to postcards.
Creative Cloud is a subscription service that you can purchase for as little as $52.99 per month for the annual plan or $79.49 if you want to go month to month. You can also mix and match apps or pay for just one at a time if you don’t need them all. Every package comes with cloud storage, from 20GB to 100GB.
If you don’t always have access to the internet or prefer to save your files in multiple places, then take a look at our most reliable external hard drive guide.
Adobe’s illustration and drawing tools include Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as Portfolio and Behance, which are used to showcase your work and discover other artists’ work. Adobe makes it easy to use its software for the entire process, from creation to showcasing.
Photoshop itself can be daunting at first if you are coming from a program with fewer features, such as Autodesk SketchBook. Thankfully, Photoshop has an immense following, and there are countless YouTube tutorials from both Adobe and fellow Photoshop users.
Because Photoshop is designed for drawing and painting, in addition to photo editing, you can connect a drawing tablet and stylus for more precision and pressure sensitivity. You can also use GPU acceleration in order to reduce lag in large brush strokes.
Illustrator is a vector design tool that can be used for creating beautiful imagery, postcards, intricate borders, lettering and more. Illustrator looks very similar to Photoshop in that the brushes and other tools are on the left and layers are on the right. The menu bar contains settings to manipulate images you’ve created, including making them 3D or distorting them.
Integration Across Adobe Creative Cloud
Another major benefit of the Creative Cloud suite is that its apps work with each other, allowing you to work on projects across multiple different programs. This opens up your workflow so that you don’t have to use programs that are potentially incompatible or difficult to get to work together.
Overall, Adobe’s CC is a powerful app suite that lets you do everything from editing large video files to creating holiday cards for your friends and family. The ability to seamlessly work on a project between multiple apps is unique due to Adobe’s vast selection of programs.
Although Adobe CC is great for creators, there are two cons that you should consider. First, there is a learning curve for programs like Photoshop because there are a lot of features. There are also a lot of extra services and programs that come with nearly every Creative Cloud package.
If you’d like to learn a little more about Creative Cloud and video editing, check out our Adobe Premiere Pro CC review.
The Best Painting Software: Corel Painter
Corel Painter might look like the average piece of art software at first glance, but it’s a haven for those who are looking to add enhanced painting features to their workflow. Although the $429 cost is steep, Corel Painter has many powerful features that you won’t find anywhere else.
Unlike other art software, Corel allows you to customize nearly every aspect of your canvas or paint to make it behave like the real thing. Whether you are using oil, acrylic or something in between, you’ll be able to paint in a way that emulates how your chosen medium would behave on your canvas.
Corel also gives you the ability to choose the texture and behavior of the canvas to match the medium you’re using, so if you want to use watercolor, for example, you can use the same kind of paper that you’d actually use with traditional watercolor. You can also wet and dry the canvas, diffuse color and more.
The main screen that you’re greeted with after choosing your canvas settings looks similar to other art programs, though the menu bar has options specific to painting. There are a few unique features in the menu that allow you to add specific types of layers, such as a thick paint layer or a watercolor layer. These allow you to have more realistic control of the brushes.
Using Corel Painter’s Brushes
The brushes themselves are separated by the type of paint they use. For example, oils, acrylics and blenders are conveniently grouped together to make it easy to access what you need. You can also easily add brushes from the brush menu and utilize pressure sensitivity with your drawing tablet.
Another benefit of Corel Painter is the GPU-enhanced brush strokes. This prevents — or greatly lessens — any lag caused by broad strokes with a large brush, making your marks more precise and allowing you to paint without interruptions.
Overall, if you are a professional painter and are looking to move to digital media or to a different piece of software, you’ll want to give Corel Painter a try. The brush and canvas customization alone make Corel Painter worth a look. To learn about more of Corel’s software, check out our Corel VideoStudio Ultimate review.
The Best Free Drawing Software: Inkscape
Inkscape is a vector tool that rivals Adobe Illustrator in features and is a serious contender if you aren’t looking for all of the extra tools and services that come with Creative Cloud. The best part is that it’s totally free.
With Inkscape, you can do all the same design work, lettering and transforming that you would expect from any costly vector design tool. Inkscape is compatible with several formats, and you can transform your designs with 3D effects, filters, pixelation, blurring and more. Basically, you can do almost anything with Inkscape that you can do with Illustrator or any other vector tool.
Because Inkscape is free, it’s a great tool for someone who is curious about vector design or someone who wants to create designs for something like a print-on-demand website. It’s also great for someone new to vector design who may want to become proficient before making the leap to tools like Illustrator because of how similar they are.
Inkscape has a booming community, with pages and pages of tutorials on websites like YouTube for creating everything from background graphics to logos. You won’t have a problem figuring out the features of Inkscape.
The Best Drawing Software for Windows: Autodesk SketchBook
Autodesk SketchBook is one of the most basic drawing programs available. You have a floating toolbar on the top for things like rulers, mirroring and the paint bucket. In the bottom-left corner, you will find what Autodesk calls a “lagoon dock.” This allows you to hold your stylus on one of the icons, which then expands into a larger menu.
Although the above docks are enabled by default, you can hide them or even enable different docks. The Copic library dock is one of the additional docks, and it gives you quick access to Copic brushes, for those who enjoy using traditional Copic markers.
With Sketchbook, you can download additional brushes if the default brushes aren’t enough. The brushes can also be heavily customized with the brush properties button on the brush dock. This allows you to change the pressure sensitivity, opacity and spacing of your brushes, among other things.
Because of Sketchbook’s simplicity, anyone can pick it up and know pretty much everything about it in a few minutes. It’s perfect for someone who is just getting into drawing or someone who wants to emulate the simplicity of traditional mediums.
Although Sketchbook may be simple, there is no limit to the number of layers that you can create in Windows. This is a great feature for artists who want a simple drawing program but still want to be able to create complex art with many layers.
You can download Sketchbook from the Windows 10 app store or directly from the website. Unlike previous versions, you can now use it as much as you want for free.
The Best Drawing Software for Mac: Krita
Krita is a free drawing tool that is designed to bring professional digital art tools to everybody. The layout takes a bit of getting used to. That said, there are a lot of powerful features that make Krita not only a great choice for someone looking for a free art program for their Mac, but also for anyone who wants a solid art program in general.
When you open Krita, you will notice some vector tools on the left, as well as standard brushes on the bottom right. Krita supports pressure sensitivity for drawing tablets, making it the perfect art program for everything from creating logos to animation. YouTube is full of tutorials that cover every aspect of Krita, which alleviates some of the learning curve.
Krita doesn’t come with a lot of brushes to start with, but you can customize the brush presets and add additional brushes if you can’t find what you need. Krita also includes some convenient tools that allow you to use any brush to lighten, burn and otherwise fine tune the color of your work.
Although Krita is designed to be a drawing and painting program, the ability to touch up color, saturation and brightness makes it a decent photo editor in a pinch.
Krita also allows you to render animations. This makes it a superb free animation tool, cementing it as a jack of all trades for artists who create multiple types of content.
Overall, if you’re an artist using a Mac — or even a PC, for that matter– Krita is a serious option to consider when selecting a digital art program.
There are a lot of different art programs available that suit all kinds of artists, whether you’re on a budget or you want every possible feature in an art program. However, this doesn’t mean that they are all great.
The options on this list are some of the most popular digital art programs because of their versatility, features and vast communities that provide tutorials, custom brushes and advice while you master your new tool.
When it comes to the absolute best option, we had to choose Adobe’s Creative Cloud because of its continuous updates, integration, support and cloud storage. The ability to create a project in one program and work on it across multiple Adobe products is a priceless feature not found elsewhere, which makes it hard to beat.
What do you think about Adobe CC? Is the integration worth the monthly or yearly cost to you, or would you rather use a different program from the list? Let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading.