Best digital art & drawing software (January 2023)

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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
An artist drawing on a tablet.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best digital art and drawing software puts all the power of pads, pencils, pens, and brushes in a single app - so you can create stunning illustrations on your tablet, computer, or graphic design laptop

Whatever medium you favor, premium and free drawing software is packed with the artistic tools you need to bring your creations to life. Whether you’re working in watercolor, dabbling in oils, sketching in charcoal, or creating art no-one ever thought possible before. 

When paired with the best drawing tablet, these art-focused graphic design software apps streamline the creative process for crafting friction-free and intuitive digital designs. With these drawing tools, it’s just you, your ideas, and a blank canvas of possibilities.

We’ve tested out the best digital art and drawing software across a range of skill-levels, budgets, and platforms. So, whatever you’re painting, illustrating, or doodling, you’re completely in control of everything you create.  

The best digital art & drawing software of 2023 in full

(Image credit: Adobe)
Best digital art & drawing software overall

Reasons to buy

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Easy-to-use
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Cloud-based suite
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Comprehensive tools

Reasons to avoid

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Subscription only price model
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May intimidate newcomers

When it comes to creative software, Adobe has dominated the scene for decades, and Adobe Photoshop CC (CC stands for Creative Cloud) is loved by artists and designers across the world. It provides creative types with a plethora of cloud-based tools to create and enhance photos, illustrations and 3D visuals.

This software isn’t just one of the best photo editors. If you’re a professional designer, you can use it to create packaging, banners, websites, logos and icons. Not only can you come up with your own creations, but you’re also able to make use of intuitive templates if you’re more of a beginner, or you’re working to a tight deadline.

You can design your own illustrations and turn images into paintings as well, with the option of switching between animate and print-style options. When you’ve created a piece, you can enhance it with a range of built-in effects. 

There are multiple pricing tiers, depending on which other apps and features you'd like bundled with Photoshop CC. The cheapest is the Photography level which comes with Adobe Lightroom CC, as well as 20GB of cloud storage (at around $21 / £20 / AU$30 per month). Up from that is the Single App plan which comes with 100GB of cloud storage, as well as Adobe Portfolio, Adobe Fonts, and Adobe Spark. For the All-Apps plan you get access to all Adobe creative desktop and mobile apps as well.

Read our full Adobe Photoshop review

(Image credit: Corel)
Particularly good at simulating paint effects

Reasons to buy

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Custom brushes
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Support for third-party apps and hardware

Reasons to avoid

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Not massively advanced

Corel offers a host of creative software packages, one of which is a drawing app called Painter. Aimed at designers, artists and students, this cross-platform application provides you with the likes of ‘thick paint’ which you can daub onto your digital canvas, and then scrape around or blend to create some highly realistic looking masterpieces.

There’s a large selection of brushes, with the ability to create custom brushes and palettes – plus you can import these, too. Painter is a downloadable app which is available on both Windows and Mac. It’s compatible with third-party software like Photoshop and drawing tablets from companies such as Wacom, as well.

While many of the best digital art & drawing software providers have moved to a subscription-only model, Painter is still available as a one-time purchase at around $400 / £360 / AU$600. There are special rates for an education edition for students and learning centers.

Read our full Corel Painter review

Adobe Fresco running on an iPad Air

(Image credit: Adobe)
Best for tablets

Reasons to buy

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Excellent array of features, tools, and brushes
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Simple and satisfying to use
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Very flexible tool

Reasons to avoid

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No Android version
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Had singular setup glitch

Adobe Fresco is a drawing tool for iPads, Microsoft Surface Pros and Creative Cloud Desktop for Windows. You can download a version for free, but if you want to use all its features you’ll need a subscription. It’s worth noting that if you already subscribe to either the Adobe Design Mobile Bundle plan, the Adobe Photoshop Single App plan or the Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps plan, you already get access to the full Fresco.

Fresco is a very satisfying app to use. It packs in many powerful features and a great selection of brushes, broken down into three categories: Pixel brushes, like those you find in Photoshop and Vector Brushes, like you find in Illustrator. But Live Brushes was the star, letting you recreate the effects of actually painting with watercolors or oil. 

There are a great number of tools, including some animation options, and some very original touch gestures to facilitate and help speed up your workflow. If you love drawing on a tablet, this is definitely an app worth testing out.

Read our full Adobe Fresco review

(Image credit: Rebelle)

4. Rebelle

Perfect if you want a natural, realistic painting experience

Reasons to buy

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Designed by a pro artist
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Easy-to-use
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Lots of customization options

Reasons to avoid

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Can slow down on older hardware

Developed by artist Peter Blaskovic, Rebelle is another highly versatile drawing and painting application. Described as “one-of-a-kind paint software”, it’s been designed for creatives working on watercolor, acrylic, wet and dry media artwork.

Blaskovic created the app as part of his experimental drawing projects and wanted an easy-to-use program to access natural painting tools on-the-go. The app uses realistic color blending, wet diffusion and drying techniques, and offers a plethora of watercolors, acrylics, inks and pastels.

There are also ‘dry’ tools like pencils, markers and erasers, so you don’t have to stick to paintbrushes. The app also boasts some interesting capabilities like the ability to tilt the canvas you’re working on.

What’s more, Rebelle works with Photoshop, allowing you to tap into 23 additional blending nodes. You can download a trial version to see if Rebelle is the best digital art & drawing software for you.

(Image credit: Artweaver)

5. Artweaver

Best for collaborative art projects

Reasons to buy

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Easy-to-use
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Collaboration features
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Lots of brushes

Reasons to avoid

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Only available on Windows

Artweaver is one of the oldest painting tools out there, and the software is now on its seventh edition. The application provides you with a diverse set of predefined brushes and pencils that can be used to create amazing pieces of art.

Not only does Artweaver offer an intuitive and easy-to-use interface which makes it suitable for novices, but it also boasts an impressively configurable brush system. So while you can choose from a variety of predefined brushes, you can also tweak them to suit your exact needs.

Furthermore, Artweaver has another strong suit when it comes to working on joint art projects, because you can use the app to collaborate with other folks on the same document. Of course, you’ll need to be online to do so.

Want to get a better idea of your artistic process and exactly how it flows? Then you can get the application to record your work. That way, you can review, evaluate and improve your abilities (hopefully). Currently, Artweaver is only available on Windows, but it’s temptingly cheap and there’s also a free version available though it has limited functionality compared to the paid version.

(Image credit: Artrage)

6. ArtRage

Particularly good mobile app support

Reasons to buy

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Custom brushes
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Oil paint feature
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Recordable actions

Reasons to avoid

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A little slow and unstable

ArtRage is an art program primarily for Windows and Mac, but also has app versions for iOS and Android. All versions are available as a one-time purchase, with the mobile app being particularly affordable.

It packs in a good range of painting features, such as pencils, pens, and oil painting brushes, as well as digital editing features such as layers, transform, filters, and custom brushes.

The recent addition of collaborative workflow tools means that ArtRage can certainly hold its own among the best digital art & drawing software packages.

As well as the apps for tablets, the desktop versions come in both a full and lite version with the Lite version coming in at half that price.

There are also a good range of support options available on the website, such as manuals, tutorials, as well as an online community for advice, suggestions, tips, and tricks.

Best digital art & drawing software: Buying advice

How to choose which digital art & drawing software is best for you

Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

When deciding which digital art & drawing software is best, first consider how many features and tools you may need, the types of projects you're creating, and your skill-level with this type of software.  

In some cases, fully featured digital art tools may not be needed. For example, if you’re just trying to make simple image, such as a logo, you may find a free logo designer or similar will be fine. For more complex works, the best photo editors and professional graphic design software may be best. 

Budget is another factor. There are several excellent free drawing software tools out there alongside premium paid-for apps, but there will be trade-offs. Adobe Fresco is a good intermediate app in this case, as it operates a freemium model, letting you get a real taste of what it offers before you commit to subscribing. 

What is digital art & drawing software?

Digital art & drawing software transforms your computer monitor or mobile device screen into a blank canvas. Offering a vast array of tools, brushes, and color pallets, artists will enjoy a realistic creative experience.

These sophisticated programs can emulate a variety of mediums, modeling paint effects with great accuracy. However, digital art software also allows you to break away from traditional methods. Layers, effects, filters, and many other tools allow you to manipulate your art in ways not previously possible.

What are some digital art software alternatives?

While we've tested out the best digital art and drawing software, there are still alternative tools available - especially if looking for something more entry-level, or simply competent when it comes to art and design.

PaintShop Pro (opens in new tab) is a neat little art program. Although not as fully featured as some of the above it's still very competent software for many aspects of art and design. Whether it's photo editing, drawing, or creating/designing graphics, there are a lot of tools and additional plugins available to get the effect you want. Originally developed by Jasc, it's now part of the Corel stable of creative programs.

Adobe Illustrator (opens in new tab) can sometimes be thought of as being the little brother to the more powerful Photoshop, but don't overlook its possibilities. While Photoshop was originally built for photo editing, Adobe Illustrator has always been designed around illustration and drawing. You don't need to choose between one or the other, however, as if you subscribe to even the basic level Adobe creative apps plan, you can have both Photoshop and Illustrator together.

Sketchup (opens in new tab) is more focused on 3D design rather than general painting and drawing, but is worth considering if that's the main reason you need software for drawing. Even better is that there's a free version, but even the paid-for versions are relatively cheap by comparison to some of the above, with an annual cost varying according to how many features you want to unlock. 

GIMP (opens in new tab) is a dedicated art program specifically built to run on Linux operating systems. While it may not be as powerful as some of the software listed, it makes a big effort to do a lot of things, from photo editing to sketching to design. Anyone who already works with Linux has probably heard of it and even has a copy, but if you were thinking of moving to Linux but weren't sure what creative software was available, you could do a lot worse than try out GIMP.

Microsoft Paint (opens in new tab) is a basic art package that comes with every Windows install, and has done so since at least Windows 3.x. The release of Windows 10 has seen 3D editing tools added to it, but let's be fair-it's still a simple program that isn't going to rival anything else on this list. However, because of the easy availability of MS Paint it's worth mentioning - if nothing else because it does have a basic toolkit that is expanded on by other software.

How we test the best digital art & drawing software

To test for the best digital art & drawing software we first set up an account with the relevant software platform, whether as a download or as an online service. We then tested the service by creating a handful of images to see how the software could be used for the editing and development of each image. The aim was to push each software platform to see how easy it was to use different features, tools, and filters where available. We assess overall user interface and experience, the breadth of tools and brushes on offer, and value for money. 

Brian has over 30 years publishing experience as a writer and editor across a range of computing, technology, and marketing titles. He has been interviewed multiple times for the BBC and been a speaker at international conferences. His specialty on techradar is Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, covering everything from office suites to IT service tools. He is also a science fiction and fantasy author, published as Brian G Turner.

With contributions from