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Best graphic design software of 2022: Free and paid, for Windows, Mac, Linux, and online

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Graphics software running on a laptop.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The best graphic design software makes it easier to set up designs ready for professional printing and distribution.

Creating artwork and other designs for print is a unique activity - and so you'll need specific software to match. Namely, a dedicated vector-based graphic design program.

While there is perfectly good drawing and painting software available, as well as photo editing software, it's all about having the right tool for the job.

Ideally, you'll want a tool that caters specifically to designing in vector graphics, that also features color editing options that will work in CMYK and HSB on top of the more common RGB.

This is especially a concern for the graphic design industry, where the images and designs used may need to be recreated in very large formats that require professional printing services.

Therefore it's essential for the graphic design packages being used to be able to cope with clear distinctions and demands inherent to all levels of print and publishing processes.

Desktop publishing software can often cover the same bases, but that's more focused on general publishing rather than image design. Additionally, while there are dedicated logo designers out there, often a design team will need to be able to do more than just that. 

We’ve tested and evaluated these design software across many aspects, like photo manipulation, vector graphics, web graphics, and desktop publishing. We also considered whether they offer cloud functionality, online or local use, and if they’re free or paid. 

Here then are the best in dedicated graphic design software platforms.

Additionally, you may be interested in the best laptops for graphic designers.


The best graphic design software of 2022 in full

(Image credit: Affinity)

1. Affinity Designer

Ideal for creating professional artwork for screen or print

Reasons to buy

+
Inexpensive
+
Collaboration as standard
+
Windows PC and Mac

Reasons to avoid

-
No natural perspective grid

As a replacement for DrawPlus X8, Affinity Designer (opens in new tab) is not a rehash and was built from the ground up over a five-year development project by Serif.

Specifically aimed at professional designers and how they work, this software can handle a very wide scope of design tasks, including web, branding, concept art, typography and even repeating patterns, as you might need on ceramics, wallpaper or soft furnishings.

Affinity Designer is great at handling complex and heavily layered documents with smoothness. It can render at 60 frames per second, and zoom and pan across documents without any visible lag. 

Inherent cloud functionality also makes it a good option for teams of designers working towards a common goal. And all of this functionality can be yours for a very modest price on both Windows PC or Apple Mac.

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(Image credit: Adobe)

2. Adobe Illustrator CC

Best vector-based graphic design software

Reasons to buy

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Very powerful
+
Consistent UI with Photoshop
+
Windows and Mac

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

Essentially, Adobe Illustrator (opens in new tab) is the vector version of Photoshop, and the two share many common tools and functions to aid designers who use both. Adobe Illustrator has been a crucial tool in the graphic design industry since 1987 and is widely regarded as one of the best vector drawing applications. 

However, if you want to design graphics that can be rescaled from a postage stamp to a giant billboard, then Illustrator is certainly the tool of choice.

There was a time when Adobe Illustrator was available for a one-time price, but Adobe now only offers this product on the Creative Cloud (CC) suite, and it is not cheap.

It might have a powerful feature set, regular updates and be available for both Apple Mac and Windows PC, but the cost is prohibitive for occasional users.

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(Image credit: CorelDRAW)
Excellent graphic design software for beginners

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn and use
+
Massively featured

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

The CorelDRAW (opens in new tab) Graphics Suite is actually a software bundle rather than a single application. 

The package includes Photo-Paint for photo manipulation, AfterShot to handle RAW files, PowerTRACE to convert bitmap images into vectors, and FontManager for organizing the text styles you do actually use.

The main star, of course, is CorelDRAW itself, which isn't just a vector-drawing package but also includes a desktop publishing feature as well, so you can design projects with a multi-page layout.

The latest version includes a number of improvements, such as for handling web graphics, editing vector effects, and the template menu has been simplified. In addition to these, is the ability to easily search through your images as thumbnails. 

Another plus is that after a break it has returned to the Mac with a fully functional version.

Overall, the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite offers a veteran range of software that remains very up-to-date, and widening its use to Apple users as well as Windows can only be a plus.

Read our full CorelDRAW review.

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(Image credit: Corel)

4. Gravit Designer

A great online cross-platform vector editor

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
Cross-platform and online
+
Easy to learn

Reasons to avoid

-
Complex designs make it slow

Due to the complexity of vector illustrations, most software for creating them is locally installed, but Gravit Designer (opens in new tab) has online options too.

The cloud-based version that runs from any browser and can automatically save to the online storage or locally.

Alternatively, on Windows PC, Apple Mac, Linux and Chrome OS (which you'll find on a Chromebook), there are installable releases that can better utilise the computer hardware.

Our experience is that the online version can get slow with complex designs, but the locally installed versions cope much better. However, with a limited free version to use, there isn’t any excuse for not giving it a try. There are plenty of impressive examples designers have created using Gravit Designer that prove it can be very effective at some jobs.

Gravit Designer PRO allows for unlimited online storage, increases resolution to upto 300dpi, increases the print options to CMYK and HSB on top of RGB, plus there's also the ability to work offline, advanced export options, and version history, all available for a reasonable yearly subscription.

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(Image credit: Inkscape)
Free graphic design software with plenty of useful features

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
On Windows, Linux and Mac

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be slow at times

Most business people often shy away from free software for valid reasons, but Inkscape (opens in new tab) is certainly worth looking at before you commit to buying CorelDRAW or an Adobe CC subscription.

Inkscape is a vector design tool that offers broad file support, extensive text manipulation, and both Bezier and Spiro curve types. It also has an extension model that allows new features to be easily installed, and there are some amazing ones available.

The only reservations we have are that even on a powerful PC, this software can be slow at times when a complicated process involves rendering.

As a GPL licensed app, along with Windows, Linux, and Apple Mac versions, you can also download the source code and compile it for whatever version of Linux you are using. 

Check out our full Inkscape review here.

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(Image credit: Sketch)

6. Sketch

Brilliant vector editor designed purely for Mac

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn
+
Regular updates

Reasons to avoid

-
Mac only

Rather than the scatter-gun approach of other applications, the creators of Sketch (opens in new tab) built a tool to address a relatively narrow requirement.

Sketch is focused on screen design, specifically creating the icons and interface elements for websites and applications. And, as the software is exclusively available for the Apple Mac, mostly designers working on iPhone, iPad and macOS applications are going to find it useful.

That said, it can be used more generally, but its strength is creating slick user interfaces. Sketch is one of the best UI tools in the market and it offers a brilliant, minimalist user experience with its intuitive keyboard shortcuts and smooth running. It also boasts a vast library of Sketch Plugins and is quite feature-rich. 

Sketch is available for a single user license. However, licenses for multiple devices are available.

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(Image credit: Magix)

7. Xara Designer Pro X

A one-stop creative document solution for Windows users

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable
+
Extensive templates

Reasons to avoid

-
Windows only

The company behind Xara started out on the Atari ST and Acorn Archimedes computers in the 1980s, before focusing its efforts on the PC when Windows came along.

Its latest version, Xara Designer Pro X (opens in new tab), is a comprehensive design tool that can work with both bitmaps and vectors with equal aplomb. That means it can handle DTP (desktop publishing), graphic design, illustration and photo manipulation tasks in a single tool.

For those wanting to mock something up rapidly, a license gives you access to over a million archive photos and illustrations to incorporate, along with hundreds of template layouts and thousands of design elements.

The price sees frequent discounts on offer. Additionally, a cut-down version called Xara Photo & Graphic Designer is available and again is frequently discounted. Pro X can also be found even cheaper on Steam.

We've also highlighted the best laptops for video editing and music production.

What is vector Illustration?

We put the question to Klaus Vossen, Senior Product Manager for CorelDraw (opens in new tab)(CorelDRAW review here). So what exactly is a vector and vector illustration and how does it differ from a bitmap.

Let’s start with Vector vs. Bitmap. Bitmaps, also known as raster images, are created using pixels, which are small dots of color. Think photographs! And while bitmap images are essential to any design workflow, it’s important to know that they can vary tremendously in terms of size and image quality – unfortunately running the risk of becoming blurry when enlarged.

On the other hand, vector images are made up of points, lines, and shapes that can be edited to precise detail, and because they’re based on mathematical equations they can be scaled indefinitely to any size. Extremely versatile, a single vector image, let’s say a logo, can be printed anywhere from the corner of an envelope to a roadside billboard – all using the same original file.

So now that we know what a vector file is, it’s easy to understand why they’re so important to a graphics workflow. And while there are plenty of apps that offer vector illustration tools, if you want professional results with high-quality output, you need professional software.

What is graphic design software?

Graphic design is the creation and arrangement of visuals in a project to convey ideas or messages. Graphic design tools or software enable users to work on various aspects of design — from vector graphics and photo manipulation to color editing, color correction, and much more. 

How to choose the best graphic design software for you?

When deciding which of the best graphic design software to download and use, first consider how serious and professional you need the software to be. If you are only looking to make simple designs and files then you have the option to be less fussy about which program you use. However, if you plan to develop anything for professional printing, it may be better to aim for one of the higher range and more expensive programs on our list.

The best graphic design software: How we test

To test for the best graphic design software we first set up an account with a range of different software platforms, either as a download or as an online service. We then tested it using 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 whether it could simply and easily not just edit a range of content types but also do so faithfully and consistently without introducing formatting issues or similar problems that would make them useless for printing purposes.

See how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar.  

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.