Photoshop, Affinity, Procreate… is that all? When it comes to drawing programs, people usually name these fellas, although if you dig a bit deeper, you can wallow in a great variety of free and paid subscription-based apps or the ones requiring one-time payment. All in all, here’s the list of our top picks.
Mastering new digital painting software with its unique tools and tricks can result in discovering a fresh approach to illustration, learning new techniques, and redefining your personal style. At least that’s what we hope for when making this selection of programs. It never hurts to try out the free ones: you’ll be surprised how much high-quality content can be found for free. And if you had doubts about some of the paid ones, let this article add more to “pros & cons,” so you can finally go for it and get yourself the best painting software!
Perhaps, the very first art software coming to mind when speaking of creativity and graphic design is Adobe Photoshop. When you start your creative path in design, getting acquainted with Photoshop is some sort of a baptism by fire, the obligatory step in upgrading your graphic design skills. It’s simply the classics everyone must try out. The Adobe Creative Cloud eco-system, makes accessing and sharing assets via any device a super easy process: your data is safe.
- Windows (10 version or later; 64-bit versions only; Windows 7, Windows 8.1 not supported).
- MacOS (10.14 through 10.15 or macOS 11).
- iPadOS (iPad Pro all generations, 5th-7th generations, Mini 5th generation, Mini 4, Air 3rd generation, Air 2).
- Adjust, crop, retouch photos and images.
- Remove and move objects and backgrounds.
- Combine images to create new scenes.
- Automate tasks and actions in Photoshop.
- Add artistic and creative filters like blurs.
- Paint with smooth lines and curves using advanced brushes.
- Make 3D artwork for animation or print.
- Adjust weight and width on variable fonts.
- 7 days free trial.
- Photography (Lightroom, Photoshop, Lightroom Classic) — US$9.99/mo.
- Photoshop — US$20.99/mo.
The longer you work with this program, the more functional tools you discover. But it happens to be the way that your standard set of operations slightly changes over the years once it settles. What does it mean? You can still wobble on the iceberg peak with only, let’s say, 30% of discovered creative possibilities and still feel absolutely comfortable about it, not deprived of any tools.
Adobe Photoshop CC has its downsides too. If it freezes — it freezes hard. It’s not totally the app to blame but the system workload, compatibility questions and stuff. But honestly, working in multiple layers can slow down work to the turtle pace and spend so much system resources.
When we had received the early access to Affinity Designer to give it a go, everything was so unusual: in terms of feelings it was like you already know how to ride a bike but you had to ride a completely new version of the same very bike. Many new features, packed in a colorful interface caused a mild confusion. Nevertheless, rediscovering the digital art tools in a new form was both exciting and unusual.
- Windows (7, 8.1, 10 version or later).
- MacOS ( from 10.9 to 10.15).
- iPadOS (iPad Pro all models, Air 2-3, iPad 2017-2019, Mini 5) with operating system 12 or above.
- Live gradients, effects and adjustments.
- Real time blend mode previews.
- All transforms and curve edits previewed live.
- Optimized for documents of any complexity.
- Vector and raster options.
- Advanced grids and guides.
- Unlimited artboards of any size.
- Comprehensive OpenType support.
- MacOS and Windows users can have 30 days of free trial
- Affinity Designer — $49.90
What really was miraculous and the best about Affinity Designer is the magic switch between pixel and vector formats! It was just a matter of clicks. So convenient for digital drawing, it saved tons of time we could spend on preparing the project for the big release. However, before the very first updates were released, the command for the formats switching crashed the program without saving the results. Thankfully, the problem was fixed in no time!
The second cherished feature was the ability to open and edit AI files, sometimes even the complicated ones. Cheat move but a very handy one when there was an urge to fix some assets.
Well, to wrap it up, just don’t confuse Affinity Designer with Affinity Photo, these are completely two different things. Beyond that, Affinity Designer is a wonderful digital art software you won’t regret purchasing.
Been puzzling over this review for a long time to create a thorough and well-written analysis, but so far, it’s the best art software any of us has ever dealt with. It’s not just a “good drawing program”; it seems like Procreate has everything for any type of style you work in, it’s the best! With its latest update, including a handful of new excellent features, this title was defended. Every time you work in Procreate, it feels like you’re a conductor of a symphony, having a stylus pen and your fingers as instruments to operate with.
iOS (the 11.1 version or newer, but the current version of Procreate for iPad is 5X (5.1) requires iPadOS 13.2 or newer to install)
- Brush Studio with everything from pencils, inks, charcoals, to artistic brushes.
- Color Dynamics, Color Harmony and Color History give you full color control.
- Procreate is built with multi-touch gestures.
- Powerful Valkyrie graphics engine, allowing to paint at the speed of 120fps.
- QuickShape fine-tunes any messy shape before you continue on.
- ColorDrop feature to easily do the filling: pick, drag & drop onto the canvas.
- Streamline strokes for smooth curves and less imperfections
- Procreate (iPad) — US$9.99
- Procreate Pocket (iPhone) — US$4.99
Never had a chance to create in this one among all other digital art apps, so the first time was… spectacular! The official website boasted with a hyperrealistic watercolor process of creating an illustration in this paint software, and well, it was not lying at all. This program works just like the real-life drawing materials and tools; it’s fantastic.
Windows (min Windows 7, 64-bit or 32-bit)
MacOS (Mac OS X 10.11 and newer)
- Watercolor visual settings to adjust how paper texture influences the behavior of watercolors.
- Watercolor DropEngine enables creating dripping effects.
- Blow tool to experiment with the flow of the paint by blowing drips in different directions.
- Acrylic Impasto Depth to decide how you like your paint structure to be shown.
- With Transparency Locking, every action is applied only on the paint, not the transparent areas.
- Digital stencils to make own templates and create seamless patterns.
- Ruler Tool for precise drawings with an approach of a Free Hand effect.
- Perspective Tool to express depth in your 1, 2 or 3 point perspective.
Rebelle 3 — US$89.99
Free 30 days trial period (for both Mac & Windows)
The process is better to be started by choosing the paper canvas (there are several paper types to pick from, like hot & cold press, rough paper, Japanese canvas, and more) because this will also affect the way your brush strokes would be applied to your digital art. And when you tap the artboard with a watercolor brush, it absorbs a little. It can be blown in any direction, looking so realistic it’s shocking (even with such a highly-developed level of technologies we have today, this thing can amaze any artist).
To sum the whole experience up, what buys your attention for this digital art software is its ultimate realism in transferring the classic artworks with not only watercolor, but also pastels, ink pens, acrylic, pencils, markers, airbrushes, and other drawing tools. Rebelle 3 would repeat the way you draw with dry materials on dry paper, with wet materials on dry paper, with wet materials over other wet materials and so on, you get the idea. A drawing software like this one, would be handy for the fans of “classic art” they’ve studied in special schools with academic drawing and obligatory plain airs.
Free digital drawing software — doesn’t it already make Krita the best art program? Of course not, but it surely adds extra points to its rating among the other digital art apps, making this open source software accessible to give it a test yourself without losing a penny.
Windows (8.1 version or higher)
MacOS 10.12 and higher)
- Over 100 professionally made brushes that come preloaded.
- Brush stabilizers to smoothen it out.
- Built-in vector tools help you create comic panels.
- Customize your brushes with over 9 unique brush engines.
- Wrap-around mode to easily create seamless textures and patterns.
- Import brush and texture packs from other artists to expand your tools.
- Clean and flexible Interface.
- Opens PSD files that even Photoshop cannot open sometimes.
Pricing: it’s free art software, no trials
You’re welcomed by the totally intuitive and customizable interface of Krita: stack the things around the way you want them to be, according to your needs and their frequency. Speaking of tools, the great brushes library has a wide variety of realistic textures to pick from (inkers, pencils, watercolors, and more!). Touching upon realism, it would be fair to point out the blending options, that are so genuine and let you make adjustments on the already-painted canvas. There are other brush families to check out but nothing can explain it better than the personal experience.
Checking every drawing tool of Krita in tablet mode on our Wacom was so smooth; we felt that incredible program response to the angle of pen pressure and the speed of drawing. After working for several years in Procreate on iPad, we must admit that it was something not that remote to create concept art and illustrations in.
Layer management is not different from what we see in Photoshop, content of the layer can be edited via masks and filters. If you don’t know what this or that icon means (you don’t expect the painting program to fully repeat Adobe products, right?) Krita offers broad and insightful tutorials and help guides in its manual to always keep you on track.
First released as a digital art software for creating comics and manga (it used to be called Manga Studio), and then turned into the expanded library of tools for illustration and graphic design, Clip Studio Paint Pro is a somewhat similar but paid version of Krita: the application for drawing and painting, having a quite similar (adjustable and easy to use) interface. We used docking to place every required art tool around the artboard and checked out the window themes to make it lighter or darker.
- Windows 8.1 (64-bit) and higher
- MacOS (10.13, 10.14, 10.15, 11)
- iPad (minimum OS 13)
- iPhone (minimum iOS13.1)
- Android (9 version and higher)
- Powerful brush engine, reflecting 8192 levels of pen pressure detected by Wacom tablets.
- With 1000 new materials every month, you’ll always find something to match your style.
- Includes adjustable 3D figures to freely change pose, proportions, and body type as needed.
- The Artistic filter to convert any photos into artistic paintings.
- AI-based automatic colorization and quick coloring with smart fill tools.
- Image resolution up-conversion to resample images and erase jpeg noise.
- Clip Studio Paint Assets help you quickly create artwork and designs.
- Perform frequent or repeated operations with one click using Auto Actions.
To our greatest surprise, the command hotkeys in Clip Studio Paint were similar to Photoshop CC, making the adaptation process as easy as it can be. The digital art app supports vector and raster, uniting the features of Adobe products under one roof. Nothing new and revolutionary about the vast collection of full-featured brushes: they are realistic, customizable (the stabilization tool works perfectly, hello, shaky hands!), and responsive. The only disadvantage found in Clip Studio Paint (and based on the users’ and artists’ feedback/reviews) is the lack of publishing tools, which were present in Manga Studio version.
Nothing resonates in mind as nostalgically as Corel Painter. Seems like more than one generation was raised with their painting programs, using some of the most essential and simple creative tools. Now it has gone more complicated and improved in its modern versions. Let’s drop by to take a look at how things are going.
Windows (10 versions, with the latest updates).
MacOS (10.15 or 10.14, with the latest revision).
- Pan, zoom, rotate and apply lighting and surface texture with ease.
- Enliven your canvas by using Papers, Flow Maps, Textures, and Gradients.
- Use the Color Wheel, Mixer, Color Sets and Harmonies to craft the perfect color palette.
- Over 900 brushes included in the library to craft your masterpiece.
- Modify brush size, shape, angle, flow with in-depth brush control panels.
- Enhance your artwork by using Papers, Flow Maps, Patterns, Textures, and Gradients.
- Stylize image/photo using artificial intelligence and easily transform photos into paintings.
- Build composition with Divine Proportion, Layout Grid, Perspective Guides and Mirror Painting.
- The full version costs US$429, but if you want to upgrade the existing one, it’s US$229.
- Monthly subscription for only US$16.58 (billed annually) or 365-day subscription for US$199.
- Free trial version for Mac and Windows.
The new Corel Paint 2020 version is way less laggy than it used to be for sure, thanks to the Brush Accelerator tool: the process goes nicely and smoothly. The interface keeps up with the other digital drawing software covered in this article, but if we compare with the Painter’s predecessors, the fresh layout is more responsive, adaptive, and just… convenient: you get in terms with your creative needs easily and group every essential drawing tool icons around the artboard. There’s nothing to point out about the Layers tool: it’s the same with universal commands and features, wrapped in the style of Corel Painter.
Brush Selector shows the handy brush previews you can investigate before applying a stamp or a stroke, which is also a thumbs-up to Corel Painter. What was curious about this app is the Color Harmonies tool. It demonstrates the relative colors to the ones you currently use so it’s possible to adjust just the right palette. It’s a precious art tool for a graphic design software!
Again, we encounter the Photoshop-like interface in this free version of a digital art software, looking like the ancient relative for it, and to be fair, the first impression was not wholly false. The toolbox is significantly weaker, than in Photoshop, but similar to the old versions of it, existed about 5 years ago. The name for commands and their placement is undoubtedly the well-known thing you’ll nail within the first seconds of using Artweaver.
- Windows (7, 8 or 10, each with latest service pack).
- The powerful and highly configurable brush system to simulate many different brushes.
- Intuitive, simple, and adjustable interface.
- Artweaver records the painting process as events and allows to save and later to replay them.
- The app’s mighty core which utilizes existing hardware to a maximum.
- You can work together on the same document with other artists over LAN or the Internet.
- Free version of Artweaver 7 can be downloaded on Windows;
- Paid Plus edition — €34.
The 7th edition of this program has an expanded library of effects and custom brushes. Still, here you’ll encounter some “out of reach” features — the maximum image size support, Photoshop filters, a more precise brush control, and others. And that’s when the thoughts of purchasing the Plus version would push the artists’ brain.
However, Artweaver 7 can surely be put in the row of good free drawing programs, at least because it’s free. But from our perspective, this is not a drawing or sketching software; it would be a better fit for the photo manipulation tasks and for artists, working with effects & layers.
Free drawing and no annoying ads popping up here and there — it’s not a distant dream with MediBang Paint Pro. You can download this free drawing software to any device (PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android) and experience the absolute ease of a workflow, bordering on something meditative. But you have to set the MediBang account first to access every drawing tool. Totally worths it, and you’d thank yourself later after discovering that all your creations and concept art get stored in the cloud service.
- Windows (7, 8/8.1, 10).
- MacOS (10.9-10.13 versions).
- iOS (11.0 or later).
- Over 50 brushes to use, each has various settings so they can be customized to your liking.
- Sleek and lightweight: runs smoothly without slowing down your computer.
- Like with most art software there’s a layer function.
- Snap Lines to draw lines, curves, perspective, or speed lines for action scenes perfectly.
- Comic panels can easily be made by slicing across page borders in any direction.
- When starting a new comic project you can save all of your pages in one file.
- You can sync your brush and other settings across devices.
- Comes with 800 free pre-made tones and backgrounds to use.
Pricing: You can download this software for free.
The working process in MediBang Paint includes a thorough and transparent guide for artists on how things operate in there (which is already very obvious from the well-organized interface, even in mobile versions, where it’s hard to be both explanatory, spacious, and look user-friendly), which is great for beginners.
Contextual interface triggers the related tools to the ones you’ve already used to appear, which turns the process into a drawing symphony. Besides, it reserves the place for truly important and useful things at the moment. Drawing in this painting app feels natural: no slow, inaccurate strokes or the unintended moves.
The Photoshop comparisons as the industry standard measuring digital art software are inevitable, when it comes to enumerating and reviewing digital painting software. Speaking of ArtRage, Photoshop can be brought up when speaking of interface and accessible functions as the program has many similarities with Adobe’s art software, making your transition less painful, saving tons of time on discovering artistic functions. Sometimes ArtRage may seem to be even easier to use, great for beginners, who want to get the best full-featured drawing and painting equivalent.
- Windows (Vista, 7, 8, 10 versions)
- MacOS (anything running Mac OS 10.7 or later)
- iPad and iPhone (iOS 10+ versions)
- Smear and blend thick oils to create natural color gradients
- Sketch with pencils and shade with the edge of the tip
- Create delicate watercolor strokes that react to canvas texture
- Use photos as References while painting
- Work with Guides, Grids, and Perspective Layout tools
- Features Layers, Blend Modes, and other industry standards
Minimalistic yet multi-functional interface panels unveil the creative possibilities, being very clear and flexible. In particular, we liked the circular, artistic palette-like set of panels in the corners of the screen, leaving no chance for an eyesore to interfere with the inspired workflow. It’s super easy to find the tool you need in such a wide variety!
The feature ArtRage can be freely called the best drawing software for is the realistic behavior of brush strokes, especially the oil brushes and watercolor ones. The natural-looking paper and canvas texture allow the stokes to produce close-to-life art pieces without the hint of a digital effect. So once you decided to quit the world of sketchbooks and albums for drawing, saving the benefits of natural materials, take a look at ArtRage, it’ll be your salvation!
Suppose you’re on the very rise of your designing or drawing career or have no professional intentions for the painting programs you’re choosing at the beginning of a creative path. In that case, MyBrushes Paint is your win-win solution. This digital art software is created with a straightforward and user-friendly interface even a rookie can navigate through. It seems to be the best drawing software in terms of simplicity enumerated in the list so far but don’t let this thing trick you into making assumptions about its functionality.
- MacOS (10.10 or later, 64-bit processor)
- iOS (iPhone and iPad compatible, for iOS 7.0 or later)
- Unlimited layers to create, delete, paste, scale, rotate and re-order
- Infinite canvas size
- Drawing record function (to record and playback the process)
- Support of many image formats to the Mac paint tool
- Continuous auto-save — never lose work again
- Pressure-sensitive could be adjusted
- 100 shapes natural paintbrushes: brush, pencil, pen, airbrush, watercolor brush, chalk, etc.
- 50 kinds of background templates in template Library
- MyBrushes-Sketch,Paint,Design — US$29.99
- MyBrushes Pro – Sketch, Paint and Draw — US$4.99
The most remarkable features we’ve discovered comprise canvas of any size you want to create and unlimited layers, so you can draw on or edit any object your creative heart desires. And yes, aside from that, the software has color pallets, brushes, supported by a good pressure sensitivity to carry out beautiful digital art (although the same can’t be said about a case when you work with your finger on the screen).
Our verdict: it’s not one of the best but the basic applications for drawing if you’re not a professional designer. Nevertheless, the low price with this amount of full-featured functions and editing possibilities is fair and square.
Once you open this software, there are too many control panels popping up, invading the interface! But all the artists’ fears and worries fade away once discovering that everything’s in Paintstorm Studio is customizable and manageable. Having the workspace packed with dozens of used tools, don’t forget to set the keyboard shortcuts; otherwise, you’ll get lost. The personalization lets you control the app and not the other way around!
- Windows (Vista, 7, 8, and 10 versions)
- MacOS (10.7 and higher)
- iPad (iOS 12.0 or later)
- Full control of all bush options
- Stroke post correction
- Parameters binding to the perspective
- Full controlled mask-brush
- “Close gaps” function when you fill or select
- Individual hotkeys for any brushes
- PSD supported
- Brush stroke stabilizer
The mildly infuriating about Paintstorm Studio might be the fact that you suddenly find yourself messing around with settings for an hour or so, but the actual drawing process hasn’t begun. So don’t fall into this trap either.
The brush features open a wide range of creative possibilities, it’s the best way to experiment with them for as long as you want! What is genuinely convenient is the tool, letting you avoid the manual resizing or changing transparency for the brush strokes if you draw something, having a random structure such as water, bushes, hair, maybe. You need just to define the required perspective with a guide one time, so the future strokes will be managed according to your settings.
Spend some extra time figuring out all them features for each option, and Paintstorm Studio will become the best digital drawing software for you! And don’t forget about the free version of it, coming as a demo.
Among the other art apps, Sketch with its diamond icon has always been the favorite one among the UI/UI designers as the industry standard, and it’s honestly the best solution for designing websites, apps, icons, and more. Just like the other art programs, this one has its own layers structure and its tricks: you can switch between layers and have them with totally different parameters set, corresponding to what you’re working on in the particular layer.
- Intuitive and powerful vector editing tools
- Boolean operations are non-destructive, editable and easy to combine
- With pixel-level precision it’s easy to zoom in, align things perfectly and adjust layers
- Export individual assets exactly the way you want them with extensive export options
- Quick shortcuts to toggle grids and layout views, with a full set of customization options
- Resizing constraints, making it easier to scale things up and down for different screen sizes
- Infinite control over typography with Variable fonts support, and OpenType features.
- Smart Layout give the Symbols superpowers to automatically resize & fit the content
Traditionally, first comes the interface: clean, flexible and eye-pleasing, making the learning process easy-peasy and intuitive. Even a zero-level designer can pick up knowledge by trial and error, simply reading the sections’ names and logically following the workflow.
As a digital art software, Sketch substitutes many other apps, uniting the required functions in a single place. You’ll get excited by the way your creative process goes quickly and smoothly because of various third-party plugins and other app integrations.
Now a couple of words about the most outstanding features. Sketch allows to work in both vector and raster, you can export various formats and device resolutions to work with. Definitely check out the “Data Fill” feature, if you want to have your design assets be filled with actual data it would contain in the end (from Google Sheets or Excel, for example), or something similar to it, so you can have a gasp of the ready-made project, which’s just the best!
After discovering the prototyping tool your work will become less monotonous: create UI flowcharts and make different designs simultaneously, without having to download additional software. What a blast!
As for the sketching software, this one with a name speaking for itself is a real catch! The SketchBook is a free app that has everything for convenient sketching: it’s packed with customizable brushes, stroke stabilization, color library, gradient fills, blending modes, advanced layers (can be arranged in folders within one artwork). The interface is clear and intuitive: everything is well-arranged, so the artboard is all yours; you can put so much free space to good use!
- Windows (8 and higher versions)
- MacOS (10.12 and higher versions)
- iOS (10.0 and later)
- Android (OS 5.0 and higher)
- Predictive stroke to smooth line work and correct basic shapes
- Scan sketch with mobile to import it as transparent linework with color data
- Copic Color Library with matching Copic Marker default brushes
- Flipbook simple animation option with up to 4 layers
- Easy distortion of illustration to fix perspective and proportions
- Eighteen blending modes to apply to layers and brushes
- Import/Export layered PSD option
- Fully adjustable rulers, ellipse guides, and French curves for precision drawing
Available as a desktop version, the mobile one is also keeping up, and it was particularly interesting to give the mobile version a test. It has everything you need, many useful brushes and coloring tools (oh my, the Conic markers are also in there!). Even if you have sketching software but don’t have a stylus, using your finger won’t be a disaster — A+ for the responsiveness.
After the download, you’ll need to set the Autodesk account to access your works from any device in the future. The price you have to pay for a good but free drawing app.
Autodesk SketchBook is a perfect alternative for an actual sketchbook paper, giving you a chance to put down your ideas, concepts, drafts, and sketches whenever the bright idea or inspiration strikes you.
Your eyes and mind will be resting while drawing in this open-source painting program. We’ve brought up minimalism so often, talking about display and interface, but here these benefits are reflected via a unique full-screen mode without distractions on your canvas.
- Nimble, distraction-free, and easy tool for digital painters
- Supports graphics tablets made by Wacom, and many similar devices
- The brush engine is versatile and configurable, and it provides useful, productive tools
- The standard brushes can emulate traditional media like charcoal, pencils, ink, or paint
- It’s easy to make expressive, artful new brushes that don’t respond like anything conventional
- Fullscreen mode declutters the interface, leaving you with just your brush and your creativity
- MyPaint has simplicity, yet it gives you all the tools you need to create great artwork
Pricing: MyPaint is a free software.
Adjustable brushes configuration and easy stroke stabilization in a relatively big selection of brushes and pencils in a free drawing app will suit your needs perfectly. MyPaint supports tablets, but it’s not a crime to draw with a mouse once in a while, just for fun (and even have some decent-looking images as a result). Mostly if you use the Symmetry tool, Lines, and Curves: it’s possible to preview the Pressure Variation for Lines and Curves.
This free painting software is so light that it seems like you can physically feel it: the speed at which you work and create another illustration is pretty high. The app supports Open Raster as the default file format, but it can save images in JPEG or PNG if needed.
Dive into the extensive collection of more than 9000 brushes! If it’s still not enough for your art-craving soul, you can use the bush customization tools to create your own sets. The same abundance is seen in the included filters, which provide tons of alternatives to your photo editing process. This digital art software features all the other features you expect to see in the app: layers, brush settings, import and export options, and so on. Even though you have so many tools (and again, brushes!) available at your disposal, the menu doesn’t look cluttered.
Platforms: Windows (from Windows 7 to the current version).
- Over 9000 brushes included, covering every area of digital art
- Powerful brush engine to mimic full natural media brushes, complex blending operations, etc
- A large array of color palettes, including, dynamic color palettes and mixing color palettes
- TwistedBrush fully supports transparency and layers with all the standard layer mixing modes
- A specialized sequencing system over 400 brushes effects modify the core brush types
- The extensive mask support for protecting and selecting parts of your images
- Over 200 image processing filters give you the tools to manipulate your photos or other work
- Tracing paper — a drawing guide that allows to see another image below your current image
Talking about the sphere of use, this app would surely step aside for the majority of the programs mentioned above. Why? TwistedBrush appears more as a tool for illustration or photo-editing as a hobby, even with so many similar features. It will be challenging to bring to life technically complex ideas and tasks.