Learn about the best graphic design software for any budget, including free graphic design software.
The best graphic design software is essential not only for professional graphic designers, but also for those who want to take advantage of the wealth of creative options that technology provides to create various types of visual design. The best graphic design software is no longer the exclusive domain of a few big players; it now includes a huge range of programs that can be used for both print and digital design, though there are still industry standard offerings that, for the most part, remain industry standard for a reason.
We’ll round up all of the best graphic design software available right now in the guide below, from multi-purpose software packages to specialized tools aimed at specific niches. The majority of the best graphic design software is not available for free. After all, creating, maintaining, and updating such powerful graphic design tools necessitates a significant amount of effort.
Having said that, the best free graphic design software has greatly improved. Most designers won’t be able to do everything they need, and it won’t be able to compete with the features of professional packages, but there is free graphic design software worth considering if you want to dabble in the field or produce occasional design pieces that don’t justify paying for a more powerful and full-featured product. It can also provide a more approachable introduction with a lower learning curve.
Based on our own reviews of each tool, we’ve chosen the best graphic design software overall and the best free graphic design software. Each program was tested for usability, power, feature set, compatibility, resource use, and value by our reviewers. There are sections for various types of tools, such as the best vector software, image editing software, 3D software, and data visualization software. In each case, we considered the benefits and drawbacks of each tool to assist you in selecting the best graphic design software for you. If you want more information, we’ve linked to hands-on reviews that go into greater detail about the software in many cases.
Scroll down to the questions section at the bottom of this article for advice on how to choose the best graphic design software for you. Meanwhile, for design inspiration, check out our list of the best graphic design books. See our guides to the best digital art software and the best video editing apps for more software options.
The best graphic design software today
01. Adobe Ilustrator
If you’re looking for the best graphic design software for vector drawing and editing, look no further than Adobe Illustrator. It is the industry-standard software for a reason, and it continues to provide the most powerful set of tools and features for vector editing. Illustrator, which is compatible with PC, Mac, and even iPads, allows you to create everything from illustrations to logos with complete creative freedom, while also providing tons of features and shortcuts to help speed up your workflow.
Illustrator is a component of Adobe Creative Cloud, and in order to use it, you must subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, either for Illustrator alone or for Adobe’s entire suite of creative apps, which includes Photoshop, InDesign, and many others. The subscription model has the advantage of automatically receiving the most recent software updates. The downside is that it’s fairly expensive, though Adobe runs regular sales and offers a student discount. For more information, see our Adobe Illustrator download guide (opens in new tab).
02. Affinity Designer
If you believe Adobe’s subscription model is too expensive, Serif’s Affinity Designer is an excellent alternative. Affinity Designer, the best graphic design software available for a one-time fee, has grown in popularity as it adds more and more features, rivaling Illustrator. In fact, it includes tools that Illustrator does not, such as infinite redos and one million percent-plus zoom.
Affinity Designer is compatible with both Illustrator AI and Photoshop PSD files, so you don’t have to worry about incompatibility if your colleagues or clients use Adobe’s software. Affinity Designer is likely to be faster than Adobe Illustrator as well. The best part, of course, is that you only have to make a one-time investment, and it’s a relatively small one at that. There are no subscription fees, but software updates are still included.
If you’re looking for the best graphic design software for UI design, prototyping, and/or icon creation, you should consider Sketch – assuming you work on a Mac. While it lacks the depth of software such as Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer, Sketch has everything you need for UI design and is easier to use if you only need it for that one purpose. It has a simple interface that makes it simple to get started, but it offers a wide range of features if you need them thanks to a large plugin library.
In 2021, the software underwent a major overhaul, with the addition of new features aimed at improving collaboration. Developers, for example, can now view, inspect, and measure your Sketch designs in any browser and on any operating system for free.
CorelDRAW, which was first released in 1989, has lost some of its popularity to Adobe Illustrator, but it still has legions of fans, and the 2021 version of the software introduced some significant updates. Long available only for Windows, a Mac version(opens in new tab) has been available since 2019, broadening the appeal of a package that now has many of Illustrator’s features at a slightly lower price. You also have more payment options, as you can choose between a one-time payment and a subscription.
So, why is CorelDraw at the bottom of our list of the best graphic design software? It’s difficult to say whether CorelDRAW or Illustrator is the ‘better’ tool. Both have a plethora of features, but their user interfaces are vastly different. While CorelDRAW supporters claim that it is easier to use than Illustrator, the fact remains that Illustrator is the industry standard, and you will be expected to use it in many jobs.
However, importing and exporting AI and PDF files to CorelDRAW is not a problem. However, the main reason you prefer one over the other is because you prefer the interface and workflow. If you’ve never used either before and have the time, we recommend signing up for a free trial of both to compare them for yourself.
05. Creative Cloud Express
Adobe Creative Cloud Express (or CC Express), formerly known as Adobe Spark, is the newest member of the Adobe family and the company’s attempt to compete with low-cost entry-level graphic design software such as Canva and Picsart. It gathers the basic photo/video editing tools and the Asset library from across Adobe’s suite of apps and makes them available online and as a mobile app for both iOS and Android.
Best of all, the app is free to download and use indefinitely – for a limited set of basic tools. More features are available if you sign up for a premium CC express account, which costs $9.99 / £10.10 per month or $99.99 / £101.15 per year. The premium version comes with a 30-day free trial so you can try it out before you buy.
06. Gravit Designer
Gravit Designer, from the makers of Corel Draw, is the best free graphic design software for vectors. It can handle most design jobs, from icon design and prototyping to vector illustration and animation, thanks to its clean and intuitive interface. The free version allows you to export files as PDF, SVG, or bitmap, and you can access your work from anywhere using the Gravit Cloud.
Gravit Designer can be accessed online or downloaded to your computer. When you sign up, you automatically begin a free trial of Gravit Designer Pro, and once your trial period ends, you transition to the free version but lose the Pro features – unless you pay for a subscription. See the complete comparison of the Pro and free versions here.
Vecteezy is a free vector editor that runs in your browser. It enables you to work with ready-made vectors that you can customize to your specifications, or you can create your own designs from scratch. In any case, it’s simple to use and includes useful features like advanced transformations and keyboard shortcuts. A Pro subscription unlocks additional tools and resources. More information on how it works can be found in our Vecteezy user guide.
Vectr is the best free graphic design software for group projects. It comes with vector tools, filters, shadows, and fonts, as well as a fantastic set of live collaboration and synchronisation options. These make it simple to collaborate with colleagues or clients, allowing them to see what you’re up to and provide feedback on your work.
SVG-Edit lets you edit and create SVG files using a standard vector toolset. There’s nothing to download, as the software works straight in your web browser. It’s not the most comprehensive of vector apps, but it doesn’t really need to be. For simple vectors, or even slightly more detailed ones, it’ll do the job just fine.
Inkscape is an advanced SVG editor with features such as markers, cloned objects, and alpha blending. Its interface is simpler than Illustrator’s, but it can still produce sophisticated artwork. There is support for multiple color modes, allowing you to output exactly what you need, whether you’re designing for digital or print. It will also import Illustrator files and allow you to trace bitmap images.