Digital art has become the norm, with a wide range of software programs available to allow drawing and painting on a virtual canvas. Often these programs will focus on a particular aspect, such as design, illustration, or photo-manipulation.
Design programs can be use for CAD, such as 3D structure for architecture, or else focus on graphic design such as shapes, banners, and logos. General design software will focus on one or the other. Illustration programs can often include elements of graphic design in their interface, but will also feature a number of additional options for working with color and shading.
Photo-manipulation software was originally for just manipulating images for digital photography, but often these also now incorporate elements key to illustration options. There are also dedicated programs that aim to emulate the experience of painting.
Different design, drawing, and paint programs have their different strengths and focus, and although all can be operated with a mouse, often it's better to work with a digital pen/design tablet such as a Wacom, in order to get fine details as accurate as possible.
Whatever you're looking for in design, illustration, or photo-manipulation software, here we'll look at the best to help you make your choice.
- We’ve also highlighted the best free painting software
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Best drawing and painting software - at a glance
A very well-known drawing tool from the creative masters
When it comes to creative software, Adobe has dominated the scene for decades, and 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 about editing photos. 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 Photshop CC. The cheapest is the Photography level at $9.99 per month and also comes with Adobe Lightroom CC, as well as 20GB of cloud storage. Up from that is the Single App plan at $20.99 per month and 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, and that costs $52.99 per month.
A painting solution that can create breath-taking results
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.
As for the price, for the latest version of Corel Painter is available for around $400, though there are special rates for an education edition for students and learning centers.
An expert-developed art tool
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. It currently costs $89.99, but you can give the app a spin via a free trial.
A nifty drawing app with collaborative chops
Artweaver is one of the oldest painting tools out there, and the software is now on its sixth 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 at $47 – and there’s also a free version available though it has limited functionality compared to the paid version.
ArtRage is an art program primarily for Windows and Mac, but also has app versions for iOS and Android.
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.
As well as the apps for tablets, the desktop versions come in both a full and lite version, with the full version coming in at a very reasonable $79 for a license, 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.
Other drawing and painting software to consider
While we've covered some of the big hitters when it comes to drawing and painting software, there are some good lower-level programs worth considering if you'd prefer for not to pay out for a big program. Here we'll look at some of the other alternatives you might want to consider, especially if looking for something more entry-level, or simply competent when it comes to art and design.
PaintShop Pro is a neat little art program. Although not as full-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 and is available for around $80.
Adobe Illustrator 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 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 of $119 or $299 according to how many features you want to unlock.
GIMP 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 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.
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