Professional graphic designers and anybody else who wants to take advantage of the creative possibilities that current technology affords to create high-quality design pieces of any kind will need the best graphic design software. There are various programs for developing print and digital design these days, ranging from multi-purpose software packages to specialized tools oriented toward more specific types of design.
Surprisingly, the bulk of the best graphic design software is not available for free. Developing, maintaining, and updating such sophisticated technology requires time and work. Although the best free graphic design software has come a long way, it still falls short of professional versions in terms of capabilities. While you should pay for professional graphic design software if you work or plan to perform in the field, the most suitable free graphic design software can serve some purposes, particularly if you only need to create a single design for a personal project and can’t afford to pay for a more comprehensive solution.
Free graphic design software is also a great place to start for those who wish to experiment without the steep learning curve of more complex tools. In the guide below, we’ve picked the best graphic design software overall and the best free graphic design software based on our reviewers’ firsthand experiences with each program. Our reviewers looked into and compared the aspects of each software to see how they stacked up in times of usability, power and characteristics, compatibility and resource consumption, and overall value for money.
We’ve separated the list into sections for different types of software, including the best vector software, image editing software, 3D software, and data visualization software. We’ve assessed the benefits and downsides of each tool to help you select the most suitable graphic design software for you.
Trending Graphic Design Software
If you’re looking for the most excellent graphic design software for vector sketching and editing, go no further than Adobe Illustrator. It is an industry-standard program for a reason, and it continues to provide the most capable set of tools and capabilities for vector editing. Illustrator, compatible with PCs, Macs, and even iPads, allows you to design everything from graphics to logos with total creative freedom while also giving a wealth of tools and shortcuts to help you get things done faster.
Illustrator is part of Adobe Creative Cloud. To use it, you must subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, either for Illustrator alone or for Adobe’s entire creative suite, including Photoshop, InDesign, and many more programs. The subscription approach provides the benefit of obtaining the latest software updates automatically. The downside is that it’s somewhat pricey, especially since Adobe has regular deals and offers a student discount.
Serif’s Affinity Designer is an excellent alternative if you think Adobe’s subscription model is too pricey. Affinity Designer, the best graphic design application available for a one-time cost, has increased in popularity as it adds more and more features, becoming a competitor to Illustrator. In truth, it offers functionality that Illustrator lacks, such as unlimited redos and zooming up to one million percent.
You don’t have to stress incompatibility if your coworkers or clients use Adobe’s application because Affinity Designer is compatible with Illustrator AI and Photoshop PSD files. Affinity Designer is also expected to be faster than Adobe Illustrator. Of course, the best part is that you only have to make a single investment, and it’s a little one at that. Although there are no membership fees, software updates are still available.
If you’re looking for the best graphic design software for UI design, prototyping, and icon generation on a Mac, you should go with Sketch. While it lacks the intricacy of programs like Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer, Sketch provides all you need for UI design and is easier to use if you only need it for that. It features a primary interface that makes it easy to get started. Still, it also has a vast plugin library that provides a wide variety of capabilities if you need it.
The program had a significant redesign in 2021, with the addition of new features targeted at boosting collaboration. For example, developers may now see, analyze, and measure your Sketch designs for free in any browser and operating system.
CorelDRAW, initially introduced in 1989, has lost some of its importance in favor of Adobe Illustrator. However, it still has legions of fans, and the software’s 2021 version features some notable enhancements. Since 2019, a Mac version(opens in a new tab) has been offered, increasing the reach of a product that now delivers many of Illustrator’s capabilities at a somewhat reduced price. You may also choose between a one-time payment and a subscription, giving you more payment alternatives.
So, why is CorelDraw ranked at the bottom of our top graphic design software list? It’s hard to determine whether CorelDRAW or Illustrator is the ‘better’ tool. Both have a lot of features, but their user interfaces are quite different. While fans of CorelDRAW argue that it is simpler to use than Illustrator, the fact is that Illustrator is the industry standard, and you will be requested to use it in a variety of professions.
Importing and exporting AI and PDF files to CorelDRAW, on the other hand, is a breeze. The primary motivation for choosing one over the other is because you prefer the interface and procedure.
Adobe Creative Cloud Express
Adobe Creative Cloud Express (or CC Express), originally known as Adobe Spark, is Adobe’s newest product and a bid to compete with low-cost entry-level graphic design tools like Canva and Picsart. It combines the basic photo/video editing capabilities and the Asset library from across Adobe’s portfolio of programs into a single, easy-to-use package available online and as a mobile app for iOS and Android.
The best part is that the program is entirely free to download and use indefinitely – for a restricted set of essential features. You’ll get more benefits if you pay $9.99 / £10.10 per month or $99.99 / £101.15 per year for a premium CC express account. Before committing, you can try the premium edition for free for 30 days.
Gravit Designer is the best free graphic design application for vectors, built by the same team that made Corel Draw. Its simple and easy interface can handle most design tasks, from icon design and prototype to vector drawing and animation. You may export files as PDF, SVG, or bitmap with the free edition, and you can access your work from anywhere via the Gravit Cloud.
Gravit Designer is available online or as a download for your computer. After you sign up, you’ll immediately start a free trial of Gravit Designer Pro, and when your trial period ends, you’ll revert to the free version, but you’ll lose the Pro features until you pay for a subscription.
Vecteezy is a web-based vector editor that is free to use. It allows you to work with premade vectors that you may customize to your liking, or you can begin from zero and create your drawings. In any case, it’s easy to use and has essential features such as advanced transformations and keyboard shortcuts. A-Pro subscription grants access to additional tools and resources.
VectorStyler is a newcomer to the top vector applications list. It was formerly only available for Mac, but it is also available for Windows. Its key selling point is the enormous number of scalable vector brushes available and the inclusion of features that other Adobe Illustrator rivals lack, such as a form builder, blend tool, and pattern tool. It can load and import Illustrator files and AI brush collections, vector brushes generated from artwork, and dynamically connect brush content to editable artwork.
We found the user interface quite user-friendly and things like the warp options to be straightforward to use. However, while some of the unique filters and features were fascinating, VectorStyler costs $95, which is more than double the price of Affinity Designer, our top pick for the best non-subscription vector application. It does have certain features that Affinity Designer doesn’t, so it’s worth looking into if you need them, but we usually find a way.
Another downside is that, unlike Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer, you don’t have access to a broader ecosystem that allows you to quickly and easily switch between programs (with Affinity, you have that in Affinity Photo, Publisher, and Designer). While VectorStyle is capable of a great deal, it lacks the pixel capabilities of Affinity and Photoshop. There is also no iPad app, which is a massive benefit for graphic designers who use Illustrator and Affinity Designer on the go or with a stylus.
Adobe Photoshop is an industry-standard image editing application, so you probably don’t need us to tell you that. Photoshop has long been a household name. Just as Illustrator remains the best graphic design application for vector work thanks to constant updates, Photoshop reigns supreme in photo editing. Photo enhancement, digital sketching and painting, 3D modeling, and user interface design are just a few of the functions it can accomplish. It’s a full-featured suite, and Adobe has been incorporating powerful AI capabilities under the Adobe Sensei moniker to allow users to perform things like removing backgrounds with just a few clicks.
You’ll need a membership, much as with Illustrator, but a Creative Cloud subscription is almost a must if you’re a working designer. It gives you entry to Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and other programs. You get free updates regularly, just as with other Creative Cloud applications. The most recent upgrade (version 23.0) was released in October 2021, and it features automatic hover selections, the ability to share documents for comments, and better Illustrator integration.
Canva is a free graphic design program that allows you to alter images. We realized that it’s straightforward to make quick changes like cropping and resizing photos and adding filters, frames, text, and effects. Everything is done over the web or a mobile app, and the free edition has no restrictions on image editing, such as no watermarks.
Canva is a full-featured graphic design program that includes a color palette tool, font combination picker, photo collage generator, and other capabilities. There’s even a tool for creating infographics (see our guide to the best infographic makers for more options there). Canva is an excellent free tool, even if it doesn’t have all Photoshop’s features. Use it in the browser for the best experience, while most of its features are also available on Android and iOS.
Canva Pro, the commercial edition, has a few additional capabilities. Canva Pro’s Brand Kit, which lets you establish pre-configured brand fonts, logos, colors, and pre-designed templates to help small companies stay on-brand throughout their projects, was one of our favorites when we tested it. We also found the resize and background removal tools quite user-friendly, making them great for anyone new to design software.
Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of tools is the default option for most working graphic designers. Its principal graphic design tools are Photoshop (raster image editing), Illustrator (vector image editing), InDesign (desktop publishing), and After Effects (motion design). Individual applications or the entire Creative Cloud suite can be subscribed to. In either case, you’ll gain access to Adobe Fonts and the Behance portfolio service.
If you’re new to graphic design, several free resources can assist you. One of our top picks is Canva, lightweight software for creating quick designs in your browser. There’s no need to download anything, and there’s no need to pay unless you want access to more sophisticated features and resources.
While studying graphic design, you may use Canva to put theory into practice. Once you’ve perfected your talents, you’ll want to upgrade to one of the premium apps on our list for more advanced features. Happy Designing!