The software options for digital artists are many and varied. There are plenty of tools on the market aimed at helping you to create unique pieces of digital art or mimic traditional effects. In this post, we've rounded up and reviewed the best digital art and illustration programs around, to help you pick the right ones for you. For art on the go, take a look at our pick of the best drawing apps for iPad.
There's software for Windows and macOS, and we've even included a few Linux tools too. There are also free and paid options, depending on your budget. So grab your stylus and let's get this show on the road.
Everything you need to unleash your creativity
Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $20.99/£19.97 per month
Photoshop is the de facto standard when it comes to digital art and graphic design. Because it's part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, you can easily share your data and access all of your assets – including brushes, images, colours and styles – across all of your devices. There's also an impressive library of Photoshop plugins available to add extra functionality to the programme.
Find out more in our Photoshop CC 2018 review.
02. Affinity Designer
Precise vector graphic design tool
Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $49.99/£48.99
Affinity Designer has everything you need to create custom designs and illustrations. With Affinity Designer, you have precise control over curves, brush stabilisation options, advanced blend modes, and best of all: one million+ per cent zoom. No, really... it's true! In fact, this might just be our favourite feature.
Also check out our review of Affinity Designer for iPad.
03. Clip Studio Paint
Drawing and painting tool for manga and comic artists
Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $49.99/£38 (Pro) / $219/£168 (Ex)
Clip Studio Paint is quickly becoming the go-to tool for manga art and comic creation. If you're looking for a natural and traditional feel that's wrapped up in a digital drawing and painting app, this is it. Clip Studio Paint uses advanced pen pressure detection for natural, realistic-looking pen strokes. This tool comes in Pro and Ex versions – the latter offers more advanced features.
Create realistic-looking graphite drawings and sketches
Platforms: Windows | Cost: Free (IAP)
Graphiter is an intuitive sketching app, with a beautiful design, that has one goal: to reproduce a real-life sketching experience. With simple tools like a blend tool, an eraser, and graphite pencils, I couldn't help but feel like I was using traditional tools to create my digital sketches.
05. Artweaver 6
Full-featured painting tool, great for beginners
Platform: Windows | Cost: Free (basic); $41/€39 (Plus)
Artweaver 6 is a full-featured digital art tool available in two flavours: Artweaver Free and Artweaver Plus. Take a look at the comparison chart to help you decide which is right for you. Loaded with a large selection of preconfigured brushes, Artweaver will have you creating your masterpiece in no time. You can either use the brushes as-is, or customise and save them to your liking. Its easy-to-use interface is also highly customisable, although out of the box, it's set up quite nicely.
06. ArtRage 5
Cross-platform digital painting with realistic tools
Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $79
ArtRage has always been a favourite among digital painters and illustrators. It offers a level of realism for traditional paint texture and colour that not only looks incredible but is also a lot of fun to play with. Although ArtRage is primarily focused on natural media and painting, it's flexible enough that digital artists who are used to Photoshop will find it useful too. With the latest edition, you can do everything you'd expect from a digital art tool: custom brushes, layers, fills, filters, and more.
Free and open source painting program
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux | Cost: Free
Krita seems to be one of the most underrated free and open source painting apps on the market, despite it being in development for over 10 years. Krita has an intuitive and customisable interface, where the dockers and panels can be set up to maximise your workflow.
The tool offers nine unique brush engines, including a Color Smudge engine, Shape engine and Particle engine. You can also import brushes and texture packs or create and share your own. As an added bonus, you can use a brush stabiliser to help get those perfectly smooth lines every time.
08. TwistedBrush Pro Studio
More custom brushes than you'll ever need
Platform: Windows | Cost: $118.80/£87.77
Speaking of brushes, TwistedBrush comes packed with more than 9,000 brushes. Yes, you read that correctly – 9,000 brushes. But don't worry, you can still create your own brushes too. Like other digital art tools, TwistedBrush has everything you'd expect: layers, transparency, masks, extensive options for import and export, image filters, and more. It also has drawing tablet support with high precision sampling and pressure sensitivity.
09. Medibang Paint Pro
Lightweight digital drawing tool with everything you need to illustrate comics
Platform: Windows, macOS | Cost: Free
If you're looking for a great, free alternative to Clip Studio Paint, have a look at Medibang Paint Pro. Medibang Paint Pro is a lightweight digital drawing tool with a strong focus on creating manga art and comic books. It comes loaded with 800 free pre-made tones and backgrounds that you can use. It also has more than 50 brushes, and a huge selection of free fonts you can use within your projects.
10. Painter 2019
Blur the lines between digital art and traditional paint
Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $359
Corel's Painter has been around for a long time, but it's just had a nice upgrade. The 2018 version includes a host of improvements and new tools including thick paint, cloning capabilities, texture synthesis, 2.5D texture brushes and natural-media brushes (review all of the new and enhanced features here).
Like ArtRage, Painter 2019 gives your work that natural look and feel. The way the paint interacts with the digital canvas is amazing, so go ahead and pile on the paint, push it around, scrape it off, and blend it to create a stunning, realistic digital work of art.
11. Black Ink
Explore your creativity with controller-based brushes.
Platform: Windows | Cost: $59.99
It's all about realistic brushes, right? Not always! Black Ink has a different approach when it comes to brushes. Instead of trying to mimic traditional tools, Black Ink uses a Controller system that opens a whole new world of possibilities in brush creation and customisation. Using a simple node-based language, you'll be able to create any type of brush imaginable, which you can then save and share with the community.
Add creative effects to your existing photos
Platform: Windows, macOS | Cost: Free (basic); $59 per year (premium); $99 per year (pro)
A slightly different app than the rest, PhotoDonut lets you transform existing photos into stunning artistic creations, using everything from pencil, ink and watercolour effects to magna and light leaks. With PhotoDonut Style Categories, you can tweak the settings until you reach the desired effect. You can even use the Freehand painting tool to give your photos that painterly feel.
Free OpenGL-based painting software for Windows
Platform: Windows | Cost: Free
Another free and open digital art tool is SpeedyPainter. This one, however, strips away the non-essentials and gives you the bare minimum you need to create. But don't confuse bare minimum with a lack of features. SpeedyPainter supports Wacom digitisers to vary size and opacity of brush strokes according to pen pressure, and it includes tools like mirroring and perspective grids. It also has a neat record and export feature that you can use to capture and share your creation process.
14. Paintstorm Studio
A powerful digital painting tool for professional artists
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux | Cost: $19
Paintstorm Studio is another easy-to-use digital art tool that has a permanent spot on my dock. One of the major features with Paintstorm Studio is its brush selection and customisation options (these include spacing jitter, texture, angle, and more). It also supports stroke post correction, which is a handy feature when you're doing line work.
As far as the interface goes, it's easy to navigate and laid out exactly how you'd expect (and the default colour scheme is fantastic). However, if you're not a fan, it's completely customisable.
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