Graphic design is an excellent skill to learn and a powerful way for brand communication.
An ideal graphic design software extends your artistic side, elevates productivity, and brings your imagination to life.
Therefore, it’s integral to invest in the best one. But how do you know which is the best one for you?
To aid your decision, I will list the 11 best graphic design tools in this article: paid and free ones.
Whether you are a graphic designer or a complete beginner, looking to create print or digital graphics, I am sure this list will help you pick the right tool.
While you will find ample software from the Adobe family, you will also find more lightweight, easy to use, and free graphic design software. Moreover, I have listed each tools’ pros, cons, pricing, and ideal users.
But, before we dive deep into the waters, let’s understand why selecting the best graphic design software is essential.
Best graphic design programs in 2020: Free & Paid
What's the Best Graphic Designing Software
1. Adobe Photoshop
Unquestionably the most influential graphic design software, Adobe Photoshop, has served the industry for more than 30 years and is a household name.
Millions of designers and photographers rely on this design software to craft banners, logos, posters, and even websites.
Adobe Photoshop facilitates all kinds of design production; therefore, it will serve beginners and pros equally.
Furthermore, its latest features include Content-Aware crop, touch and stylus support, and Face-Aware Liquify.
Heads up: To download Adobe Photoshop, you need to have a robust machine to avoid hiccups.
- Interface: Adobe Photoshop’s design interface keeps evolving to facilitate ease of navigation. You can either pick from existing layouts (Motion, 3D, or Photography) or create a one you wish.
For new devices like Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface Pro, it supports touch features and learns gestures like two and three-finger swipe.
- Design tools: One of the most prominent tools is Select Subject that, with the help of AI, determines and selects the main object in the image.
- GIMP software: if you’re not willing to invest your dollars into Photoshop, you can use the GIMP open-source design software and relish all the free features.
- Sync with Creative Cloud: the synchronization with Adobe Creative cloud brings in more features, including a glyph panel, stylus input support, Cloud Documents, and synced libraries.
Now that we’re well acquainted with the software let's shed some light on its pros and cons.
- 360 Panorama Workflow
- Access to Lightroom photos
- Available on Cloud, Windows, Android, Linux, Mac, and iPhone/iPad
- Animation and video layer editing
- Overwhelming for beginners
- Lacks perpetual license
- US$20.99 – monthly subscription
This graphic design software is ideal for professionals, students, pros, and learners.
2. Adobe Illustrator
Let’s talk about the top-notch industry standards, shall we?
Adobe Illustrator is one of the most coveted vector graphic design software. Packaged with a complete editing suite, it allows you to create infographics, illustrative artwork, website mockups, and a lot more.
The interface looks quite similar to that of other Abode products, so if you’ve used them before, it’ll not take you longer to get going.
- Mobile application: Adobe draw is available to download on mobile or tablet. You can integrate your Illustrator seamlessly, syncing all your creations across devices.
- Customized workspace: remarkably, Adobe Illustrator allows the flexibility to customize the workspace and make it look according to your preference. You can modify the preset layouts, customize windows by playing around with their position and size.
- Compatibility: It’s compatible across all Mac and Windows devices so that you can have ample configurations and download on any device.
- Friendly user interface: Not only the interface is highly customizable, but it also ensures you don’t get lost in the sea of options and tools.
- In-panel editing
- Seamless integration across Adobe products
- Lightweight files you can share via email
- Access to Adobe Stock images, templates, and more
- Mathematical equation-based graphics
- A steep learning curve for beginners
- Comparatively costly
- Bothersome subscription model
- So far, pricing is the most criticized Adobe Illustrator aspect since it does not offer any lifetime licensing model.
- US$9.99 – monthly subscription for personal use
- US$33.99 – monthly subscription for enterprise use
Adobe Illustrator is ideal for you if you're a business, graphic designer, or a student. Getting started is easy; mastering this design software is the real challenge. But, at the end of the day, if you’re serious about designs, it’s the best bang for your buck.
3. CorelDraw Graphics Suite
CorelDraw Graphics Suite is a bundle of design applications, unlike the standalone tools, and CorelDraw is one of them.
You will notice a change in terminologies if you’re coming from an Adobe background. Example: a gradient in Adobe is called a fountain fill in Corel.
Heads up: CorelDraw is available for Windows users only.
Some of its native features create an impeccable user experience, such as the photo cocktail feature that bundles many photos to create a masterpiece. Let’s look at more of its features.
- Toolkits: One of CorelDraw’s best tools is its new Symmetry Tool that lets you create your multi-axis and the kaleidoscope effect.
- Pointelizer: it’s unlike any halftone generator and is not limited to regular dots. You can create a modified halftone with this tool, and it works wonders for designers.
- Content Exchange: it’s the Corel’s online digital content library that you, as a registered user, can get access to.
It’s packed with over 350 professionally designed templates, 2,000 vehicle templates, 1,000 fonts, 500 interactive frames, and more than 600 gradients, vectors, and bitmap fills. Well, that’s a feast!
- Diverse use: this graphic suite, as discussed, is a package of 8 tools. It allows you to use Photo-Paint for photo manipulation, PowerTRACE to convert bitmap images into vectors, FontManager, for organizing the text styles you use. And more!
- User-friendly interface
- Rich content library and massive design features
- Ability to export and open over 48 and 35 types of files, respectively. This includes PDF, AutoCAD, PowerPoint, SVG, EPS, HTML and more.
- Flexible pricing structure
- No-lag surface pen usage
- Customizable UI
- Lacks mobile application
- Free trial – you can test this graphic software for free for 15 days before investing in it.
- $474 – full version with 30-days money-back guarantee.
- $198 – an annual subscription.
- $16.50 – monthly subscription.
It’s ideal for businesses, professionals, and team collaborations.
4. Adobe InDesign
If you’re in the business of publishing, designing brochures, magazines, and newspapers, you can’t miss Adobe InDesign.
This graphic software offers you pixel-perfect control, which makes it an excellent deal for graphic designers.
You can create stunning brochures or magazines and export them as PDF or HTML, ensuring developers export simple codes and work effectively on websites.
- Interface: a customizable interface that not only makes the workspace useful but also aids your productivity.
- Collaboration: Another impressive feature of Adobe InDesign is Adobe InCopy via which you can collaborate with your teams and take action on feedback in real-time. Moreover, you can share fonts, graphics, and content across your projects.
- Ideal for print and web: with Adobe InDesign, you can create the best graphic design for print and web. This includes stunning ebooks, digital products, pamphlets, and different beautiful print designs.
- Sensei technology: this technology enables you to automate mundane tasks by infusing intelligent services. Furthermore, this feature allows for automatic arrangement and resizing of images.
- Flexible for custom layouts
- Ideal for both web and print
- Easy to use if you’re a familiar with Adobe products
- You can add tags to keywords, footnotes, table of content, and more
- Useful in eliminating div tags
- No learning curve
- Steep pricing
- Less intuitive for a new user
- Issues with PDF format
- $20.99 – monthly subscription
- $52.99 – monthly for entire Creative Cloud
It’s ideal for crafting pamphlets, brochures, flyers, and catalog layouts; it's simple and time-effective. InDesign also works exceptionally well for creating web banners and text-rich files.
5. Gravit Designer
Are you wondering what's the best graphic design software for beginners and is also free?
Here’s Gravit Designer for you — an HTML based graphical designing application enabling high-quality vector graphics.
You can use the cloud-based version to save progress. Alternatively, you can install Gravit Designer on your Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS for faster and enhanced design experience.
- Friendly user dashboard: First, you can set your preferred height and width in the dashboard or pick one from the predetermined dimension, making it a breeze for beginners. Apart from this, you can also create an infinite canvas if you wish to skip adding the dimensions.
- Toolkit: without breaking your bank, you can get unique graphic design tools in Gravit Designer. You can access features like the SVG editing tool, Knife tool, Booleans, path graphs, text, and a few to mention.
- Precision: its users adore the accuracy it offers. At the same time, it also provides a Bezigon tool that allows you to create smooth curves around points of a shape.
- Offers both web and desktop version
- Accuracy and precision
- Best for creating social media posts
- Infinite effect on a single layer
- Templates and abundant tools and effects
- Lacks real-time collaboration
- Inability to run prototypes on phone
- Free version – after signing up, you can use the free trial (with PRO features). After the trial expires, you can continue to use the free version as long as you want. Alternatively, you can upgrade to the PRO version of Gravit Designer.
- $100 – PRO version of Gravit Designer.
This graphic design software is Ideal for web designing professionals, product designers, and graphic designers alike. It's best for image editing, creating presentations, animation, graphics for marketing tools, etc.
6. Affinity Designer
This vector graphic design software is known for its accuracy and impresses its users with the ability to zoom over 1,000,000%.
What’s more, is it provides asset management functions that let you organize projects effectively.
If you’re handling big and complex design projects with your teams, this is the go-to design software.
If you think these features give it an edge over other apps, wait till you see it’s pricing.
- Precision: more than the impressive fine-tune zooming option, the versatile grid system enables creating isometric video game graphics and icons. The accuracy allows its users to have complete control over spacing, subdivision, and angles.
- Pixel and vector graphic in one workflow: Affinity Designer allows you to create vector design and pixels within the same document. This means you don’t have to leave the app and do back and forth the app; it is all available in the same environment.
- Snapping: this simplifies the positioning of objects and aligns shapes, selection area, brush strokes, and images to align to the margins, guides, artboards, or spreads in the proximity. Simply put, you can lock and position objects dispensing on multiple elements.
- Zooming: the 1,000,000% zoom is quite impressive for image editing. It allows users to work closely on artboards and pay close attention to the details.
- Fine precision and accuracy
- Snapping option
- The excellent price point for the offering
- Layer arrangement could be frustrating for some
- Fewer tools as compared to Illustrator
- Minor bugs
- Designer persona does not support vector eraser
- The pricing could be perfect or a put-off, depending on your requirement.
- $49.99 – this is the only price option for Affinity Designer.
It’s ideal for professional designers, creators, and artists. Create stunning and professional UI designs, print projects, illustrations, icons, concept arts, mockups, typography, web graphics, and pattern designs with this software.
7. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
Are you looking for a free photo editor that offers Photoshop features, is easy to learn, yet serves its purpose?
Then let’s talk about GIMP!
This open-source image editing software goes beyond its basic photo editing and offers its users a plethora of features, including layer masks and an animation package.
- Montage: create stunning online graphics from scratch or fine-tune the existing work with the stunning montage feature. Furthermore, this photo editor offers customizable brushes, automatic image enhancement tools, noise reduction, etc.
- Customizable Interface: while the software is 100% free, it does not compromise the user experience. You will find features like a clean interface that’s bound to enhance your productivity. Along with that, you’ll find the toolbox, primary editing space, layers, undo, channel, and more.
- Developer community: the active community ensures pushing regular updates, plugins, and more. This enables the image editor to keep running smoothly.
- Cross-platform: this means you can get this free graphic design software on PC, Mac, and Linux.
- Pre-installed and downloadable plugins
- Ability to manipulate source code
- You can open an image as a layer
- Mac users may find problems with the interface
- Slow updates
- Less intuitive
- As discussed, the platform is a 100% free, open-source platform that anyone can use regardless of their skill sets.
It’s ideal for beginners to learn photo editing with a feature-rich tool without spending a dime.
Sketch is a Mac-based vector designing software that you can lean on for your graphic designing requirements without breaking the bank.
The platform boasts of 1 million happy users and lets you create stunning designs, prototypes, and collaborate.
- Plugins: One of Sketch’s many impressive plugins is the Craft Manager plugin that allows you to sync the Sketch work to the InVision platform.
- Interface: you’ll find it easy to get your hands on the design app since it’s made with users in mind. Additionally, you’ll find great tools to ease your life, such as automating mundane tasks, templates, UI kits, etc.
- Collaboration: Upload the designs on the cloud, or share your work with your clients, and add comments. Alternatively, you can download it as a PDF. You can also download the slices, pages, or graphics as PNG, SVG, or JPG format.
- Works across devices: you can create responsive designs in sketch very easily. It allows you to leverage grids, snap to pixel, and snap to grid functionality. This helps you to avoid imperfect alignment or half-pixel render.
- User-friendly interface
- Interactive prototype
- Custom plugins
- Ability to mirror designs across devices
- Easy to learn
- Only for Mac users
- One device per license
- Lacks automatic layout flowing functionality
- $99 – one-time payment with a personal cloud space.
- $9 – this is a per contributor price when you’re purchasing for the teams.
It’s ideal for creating interfaces and designing icons to deploy on websites and mobile apps. It’s excellent for collaborations, creating vector art, and an easy to learn graphic design tool.
Inkscape is yet another free graphic design software and image editor we have on the list.
It’s a free and open-source vector graphics editor with distinguishing native features. Moreover, the software can be used across platforms like MAC OS X, Windows, and Linux distributions.
- Scalability: the user interface is impressively clean and uses SVG and an open XML-based W3C standard. This is an excellent option since it enables the designers to scale the graphic to any size while preserving their original quality.
- Community-focused: Inkscape places a strong focus on the community and adopts the open-source standards. Therefore, you can modify the source code and further develop it.
- Toolkit: despite being a completely free graphic design tool, it offers some great tools for precise design. Node editing allows you to manipulate details and edges and more. Along with this, you get a drawing tool, pencil tool, calligraphy, and a bunch of other tools.
- Intuitive user interface: if you’re familiar with Adobe, this graphic design tool be a breeze for you. Beginners can also use this tool and not feel overwhelmed.
- Node editing
- Free of cost
- Boolean operations
- Multiple gradient option
- Facilitates extension
- Slow and complicated rendering
- Mac users can face errors
- It’s free.
It’s an ideal graphic design tool for vector art, best for beginners and professionals looking to create some stunning graphics without spending a dime.
10. Xara Designer Pro X
If you’re looking to create quick graphics online with the best graphic design software that runs without giving you a hard time, let’s talk about Xara Designer Pro X!
The software offers WYSIWYG web design tools, editing tools, drag and drop features, and illustration in a single bundle.
- Useful designing tool: users of Xara Designer relish the fast interface that lets them work efficiently. Moreover, the drag and drop enables you to work quickly with Direct Action Tools. Other features include intelligent scaling, advanced photo manipulation, and more.
- Performance: 25,000% focuses on precision. Alongside, you can redo or undo infinite times, thus enabling high-performance.
- Tools: the tools are impressive in Xara Designer and cover everything you require to create stellar, creative graphics. Tools such as Magic Erase allows you to remove objects. At the same time, the software also enables users to manipulate solid objects and work efficiently.
- Extensive use: the recent updates have enabled users to work with vectors and bitmaps with equal ease. It signifies that the software can handle graphic design, illustration, DTP (desktop publishing), and photo manipulation tasks in one place – one tool.
- Zoom up to 25,000%
- HTML web creation
- Extremely fast and effective
- An abundance of archive photos, template layouts, and design elements
- Windows only
- Steep learning curve
- $299 – yearly subscription
It’s an ideal graphic design tool for creating web and print designs to edit photos and design illustrations and web pages.
Are you looking for a free graphic design tool that’s robust and easy to use even for a beginner?
Then Photoscape is for you!
This photo editor is a blessing for both Mac and Windows users. You can use its editing tools for pictures taken from your phone or digital camera, and the platform wouldn't give you a hard time.
Moreover, you can convert your RAW images to JPEG effortlessly to create the best designs.
- Toolkit: despite being free graphic design software, it goes beyond its promise – photo editing. It handles all your graphic design requirements, including batch editing.
From fixing and enhancing your photos to advanced tools like editor, page, animated GIF, screen capture, and more, Photoscape has got you covered!
- Intuitive: the design tool stands out when we speak about its user interface. It is nothing like you get in most free tools. It will not give you a hard time, but you’ll find yourself creating the best graphic pretty quickly.
- Multi-lingual: though the application comes with two innate languages – English and Korean, you can download more than 30 languages.
- Feature-rich software: other noteworthy features include size, color adjustments, resolution, and more. Beyond that, you will also find clone stamps, design, text, drawing, effects brush, etc.
- Free of cost
- An abundance of tools, filters, and effects
- Responsive and lightweight
- Animated GIF
- Not available on Linux
- Lacks advance photo editing features
- Free of cost
It’s ideal for beginners and professionals alike for photo editing filters and effects. It can be used for social media as well.
Now that we’ve seen some of the best graphic design software, let’s learn to make fair use of them.
How Does Graphic Design Software Work?
While some of the graphic design software is intuitive, others come with a steep learning curve. Nonetheless, the time and money investment are worthy since it lets you produce stunning graphics.
While each platform is different, let’s take an overview of how graphic design software works.
First things first, create a new document.
If you’re using tools like Gravit Designer, you can select from a variety of predetermined dimensions. Or, you can choose to create an infinite canvas when you’re unsure of the measurements.
2. Open files
Use the Camera Raw plugin in Adobe to open photos from your camera and start editing! Then, experiment with crop tools, filters, magic erasers, and more. Furthermore, you can add filters and effects and modify your images.
3. Workspace Overview
Generally, you will have a toolbar on the left side, the menu bar on the top, and zoom and layers options on the right side with canvas being in the center of the page.
It’s integral to learn how to utilize the workspace to be more productive and not get overwhelmed.
4. Understand the fundamentals of Tool Icons
Again, depending on the software you’re using, learn its fundamentals.
Let’s say you’re using Photoshop, which is the industry benchmark; then, you should learn what the tools offered and what they mean.
5. Layers and Groups
Once you have a basic understanding of the graphic design tools and features, you can start playing around and create professional-looking graphics.
Finish off with your desired type of graphic design. If you opened a RAW image, you could finish with creating a scenic wallpaper for your desktop.
As you learn the ropes, you can start creating more complex visuals such as logos, website mockups, and other print and digital graphics.
Benefits of Best Graphic Design Software
Capable and powerful graphic design tools will unleash your productivity and creativity. Moreover, robust graphic design software lets you create designs for print (like pamphlets) and digital (like social media). Therefore, a workable software will ensure flexibility.
2. Time and cost-saving
The last thing you want with graphic design software is bugs and lost work. That’s why it’s integral to take a closer look at the design tool to ensure it saves your work and does not crash. I’ve listed the most trusted, powerful, and best graphic design software on this list that will give you a head start.
If I say Adidas, does its logo flash in your mind? That’s the power of well-thought and crafted logos.
Visual representation of your brand’s message is integral in communicating with the audience. An impressive graphic design will connect with people and convey your message.
4. Enhances viewer engagement
A well-designed graphic is bound to turn heads and make people understand your message. Whether you’re planning to create a visual for a pamphlet or social media like Facebook and Instagram, the best graphic design software will let you play around with the fonts, text, effects, and more to create desired visuals.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter and understand: Which software is best for graphic design?
By now, you would have gained a fair idea of offerings by various best graphic design tools.
But are you still finding yourself on the fence? I get it!
It can be overwhelming to choose from the pool of options available. So, here are some of the factors to weigh your options on and select the best graphic design software.
Requirement: just like a needle can do what a sword cannot, any particular graphic design software cannot be best for everyone, despite its features. Therefore, consider your preferences and priorities.
Budget: this will stem from the point mentioned above – your requirement. Depending on the same, you can pick from a free or paid one from the list to make your life easy and create stunning graphics.
Flexibility: flexible platforms offer collaboration, downloads in multiple formats and can be used across platforms and devices. Therefore, if you work in large teams, you may want to consider the tool that offers real-time collaboration.
On the Closing Note
Selecting the best graphic design software for yourself or your teams could be quite challenging. But don’t let it overwhelm you. Remember, you can always switch from one tool to another if your current selection does not work.
Go ahead, pick one from the list and start creating stunning graphics!