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Best Graphic Design Software for Windows and Macs

Download.com hooks you up with the best Windows and Mac graphic design software.

Apps in this Guide

There are bunches of free apps for editing images, but making 2D art from scratch often calls for more complex graphic design or vector graphics apps, especially for professional artists. And it turnsmore

There are bunches of free apps for editing images, but making 2D art from scratch often calls for more complex graphic design or vector graphics apps, especially for professional artists. And it turns out that you may not need to shell out hundreds of dollars for products from Adobe or Corel. Let's give you an overview of what to look for when shopping for graphic design software.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there something like Photoshop, but free?
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) fits that bill, although there is a learning curve because the keyboard shortcuts and cut-and-paste behaviors are different. Thankfully, GIMP has been around since 1996, so it's not hard to find help and tutorials to get you up to speed.
Is it worth paying a premium for Adobe Illustrator?
It's not a bad idea if you are working full-time as a graphic artist, since employers will probably expect familiarity with it. If you are a casual user, then the free options will make more sense.

Recommended Graphic Design Software

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer is frequently cited as a high-quality graphic design tool, and one of its advantages is the inclusion of both raster and vector art creation tools. As a result, it also supports a wide variety of file types, and it has a real-time preview mode, lots of layer controls, and is Force Touch-aware for Mac users. The program is aggressively priced at $50, and you can try it for free, of course.

CorelDRAW

CorelDRAW

With compelling choices available for free or at low cost, you might wonder why someone would shell out hundreds of dollars for products from Corel or Adobe. Sheer familiarity has a lot to do with it. It takes a while to learn the ins-and-outs of a graphic design app at the professional level and moving to a new app can take time. And because Illustrator and CorelDRAW have been around for so long, there's a huge library of tutorials available online to get you up to speed, and a large number of people who can help you if you encounter a problem (although Inkscape has been around since 2003, so it's no slouch in the community department at this point).

You also know that an image created in Illustrator or CorelDRAW will look the same in your app as it does in a copy of Illustrator or CorelDRAW installed on another device. You don't have to worry about compatibility errors or confusion when a file doesn't look the same across different devices.

Vectr

Vectr

Vectr has an accessible interface and emphasizes real-time collaboration. You can upload your image to Vectr's cloud storage and send other people a link to view it and edit it themselves.

Inkscape

Inkscape

Many artists actually prefer Inkscape over Illustrator. The former has full support for CMYK color (used in print publications), text kerning and spacing, real-time shape manipulation with either an input devices or by entering exact numbers, grouping objects to create temporary layers, and support for Adobe file formats.

GIMP

GIMP

Raster graphics are the standard digital medium for hand drawing/painting 2D art that doesn't need to scale. These are the JPGs and PNGs of the world, whereas vector art is usually an SVG (scalable vector graphics file). In the raster medium, you can actually use the same tools that you do for editing images, like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, Paint.NET, or even the built-in Paint app in Microsoft Windows.

Of these, GIMP is both free and a credible competitor to Adobe Photoshop. GIMP uses largely different menu navigation and keyboard shortcuts, so it can take some time for Photoshop users to transition to, but persistent seekers can save a lot of money once they get the hang of it.