Best graphic design software of 2024

The best graphic design software puts all the tools you need to create incredible artwork right at your fingertips. We got creative with top tools from Adobe, Affinity, Canva, and more to find out which is the best program for your next design project. 

Whether you're a professional designer or a beginner just starting out, graphic design software is an essential tool for editing photos and images, painting and illustrating, and bringing creative ideas to life in the digital space. There's certainly no shortage of apps and programs to download, but what makes good graphic design software and which is worth your time? 

Our team of reviewers have reviewed the best digital art and drawing software - now we're putting graphic design to the test to find the best creative workflows. As part of our review process, we tested and compared overall design experience, creativity-focused tools, and features like AI, brush selection, stock media assets. We also looked at performance and pricing to find the best free software for graphic design and the one that offers best long-term value. 

Feeling artistic? We reviewed the best laptops for graphic design and the best monitors for graphic design

Reader offer: 7 day free trial on Adobe Photoshop

Reader offer: 7 day free trial on Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is an image editing software, that enables users to enhance digital images with precision and creativity. Its extensive toolset is an asset to professionals to retouch photos, create stunning graphics, and design intricate compositions. Try it for yourself.

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The best graphic design software of 2024 in full:

Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.

Below you'll find full write-ups for each of the best graphic design software on our list. We've tested each one extensively, so you can be sure that our recommendations can be trusted.

Best graphic design software overall

Adobe Photoshop CC (2023) Generative Fill

(Image credit: Future)
The top choice for designers and artists

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, macOS, iPadOS, Android
Plan: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful toolkit for pros
+
Excellent sky replacement tool
+
Clean UI
+
Sets an industry-standard for graphic design software

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires Creative Cloud subscription
-
May overwhelm design beginners

Photoshop is a byword for graphic design these days. Adobe’s photo and design software dominates the industry - and with good reason. Setting the gold standard for design work and photo editing, its toolkit is bursting with features that even the best Photoshop alternatives struggle to match. 

When we reviewed the top tool, we found it offered best-in-class color management, layer handling, and selection tools, with AI automating a raft of effects from cleaning up images to object removal. After reviewing the tool, we ultimately felt that from subject selection to object removal, Adobe’s Firefly and Sensei models offer impressive performance. And although the results aren't always perfect straight off the bat, especially with uncanny neural filters, the software still provides excellent value.

While Photoshop isn’t hard to learn, there is a slight learning curve that may overwhelm new users. Stick with it though, and you’ll be more than rewarded with high-quality, high-res results. It also means you’ll be familiar with other Adobe apps in the creative toolstack, since they largely follow the same interface. 

Adobe Photoshop is available as a standalone app or as part of the Creative Cloud All Apps subscription plan, where it seamlessly integrates with the likes of Lightroom and Illustrator. 

Read our full Adobe Photoshop review .

Best subscription-free graphic design software

(Image credit: Serif)
An outstanding alternative to Adobe's apps

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, macOS, iPadOS
Plan: Perpetual license

Reasons to buy

+
Multi-platform
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One-off price, no subscriptions
+
Outstanding new tools
+
Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
No auto-save on Mac
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Not quite as many tools as Illustrator

Serif Affinity Designer 2 is primarily a vector-based graphic design software for Mac and Windows, although it does also possess a powerful array of raster-type tools as well. 

The latest major revision of the program primarily focuses on the vector side of designer, introducing powerful and highly requested features such as a Shape Builder, and various Warp tools, among many others. 

We were quite surprised at how easy and intuitive such powerful features were to use, adding flexibility and versatility to an already impressive app.

We would argue that Designer has enough tools in its arsenal to be considered a potential Adobe Illustrator alternative, even if its subscription-free, value-for-money price tag might make you think otherwise.

With a one-off $70 / £60 / AUI$105 payment, this is one very attractive piece of graphic design software. Even better, $170  / £145 / AU$255 will get you the entire Affinity creative suite - Designer, Affinity Photo, and Affinity Publisher for Mac, Windows, and iPad. Now that’s a price-to-quality ratio that’s hard to beat. 

Read our full Affinity Designer 2 review.

Best free graphic design software

Screenshot of Canva PDF Editor

(Image credit: Canva)
Design just about anything online

Specifications

Operating system: Web, Windows, iOS, iPadOS, Android
Plan: Free, Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
Incredibly fast and easy to use
+
More powerful than you'd think
+
Includes logo maker, video maker, PDF editor

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium assets locked behind subscription
-
Not a full graphic design suite

Canva is an ideal solution for designers and non-designers creating branded assets - an impressively easy-to-use graphic design app that largely relies on dragging, dropping, and resizing vector graphics. 

The beauty of Canva is in its simple execution. Whether you’re a skilled artist or you’ve never opened Photoshop in your life, you have the tools to create incredibly professional-looking graphics to boost your online presence, promote your brand, and more. There are plenty of templates for fast creation that can be fully customized to fit your branding. Little wonder it’s become a firm favorite in marketing departments where the demand to create a lot of high-end visual content fast is a necessity. 

But this is as much a content marketing tool as it is a design app, and under the hood you’ll find a simple video maker (see our Canva Video review), website builder (see our Canva Website Builder review) and a PDF editor (see our Canva PDF Editor review). Each is a delight to use - so long as you temper expectations, this is graphic design streamlined, so it lacks advanced tools for precise or very complex designs. 

Use the left-hand sidebar to find the assets you want - from illustrations to stock photos and videos, or upload your own media. Brand-conscious organizations may want to opt for the Canva Pro subscription, which unlocks the Brand Kit, ensuring design consistency across all creations. 

Read our full Canva review .

Best graphic design software for illustrators

(Image credit: Adobe)
Best graphic design software for illustrators

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, macOS
Plan: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Multiplatform
+
Big toolset
+
Welcome minor updates
+
GenAI

Reasons to avoid

-
Subscription only
-
May intimidate beginners
-
GenAI (again)

Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics editor and design program that's stable in use and absolutely packed with features for graphic design work at all levels.

While the latest version doesn't deliver any major updates over the last version, we were impressed with the range of small improvements Adobe has made here. Tweaks that make it easier to embed files, add good measuring tools, and more printing presets, among many others. GenAI is the headline addition in 2024's Illustrator - as the excellent Firefly forces its way into the company's entire software portfolio. During our own tests, we found the AI was well-integrated into Illustrator. While your mileage may vary, in our exploration of the software, we found the results to be pretty impressive. 

Like most Adobe apps, Illustrator is available via a standalone subscription, but also comes bundled into the Creative Cloud All Apps packages. That's a useful option if you're also using Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign, or more. 

 Read our full Adobe Illustrator review

Best graphic design software for beginners

(Image credit: Corel)
A great place for artists and designers to start

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, macOS
Plan: Subscription, Perpetual license

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn and use
+
Plenty of tools and features for designers
+
Core app in Corel's design app

Reasons to avoid

-
Won't fit all budgets
-
Occasional lags

CorelDRAW is part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite - 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.

Best online vector editor

(Image credit: CorelDRAW)

6. Gravit Designer Pro

Best online vector editor

Specifications

Operating system: Web
Plan: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
Online
+
Easy to learn

Reasons to avoid

-
Complex designs make it slow
-
Top-end resolutions only available to Pro subscribers

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

The cloud-based version runs from any browser and can automatically save to both online and local storage.

Alternatively, on Windows PC, Apple Mac, Linux and Chrome OS (which you'll find on a Chromebook), there are installable releases that can better utilize 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 proves it can be very effective at some jobs.

Gravit Designer PRO allows for unlimited online storage, increases resolution to up to 300dpi, and adds CMYK and HSB print options 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.

Gravit Designer is now Corel Vector - a web-based graphic design app. We'll update this mini-review as soon as we've had a chance to test the new software package.

Best free Adobe Illustrator alternative

(Image credit: Inkscape)
Best free Adobe Illustrator alternative

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, macOS
Plan: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
On Windows, Linux and Mac
+
Powerful vector illustration tool

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be slow at times
-
Vector-focus

Most business people often shy away from free software for valid reasons, but Inkscape 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.
 Read our full Inkscape review.

Best graphic design software for UI

(Image credit: Sketch)

8. Sketch

Create memorable user interfaces

Specifications

Operating system: macOS
Plan: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn
+
Regular updates
+
Great for mockups and prototyping

Reasons to avoid

-
Mac only
-
UI design focus

Rather than the scatter-gun approach of other applications, the creators of Sketch 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, most 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.

Best graphic design software for Windows

(Image credit: Xara)

9. Xara Designer Pro X

A Windows-exclusive design app

Specifications

Operating system: Windows
Plan: Perpetual license

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable
+
Extensive templates
+
Versatile
+
Great for designing page layouts

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.

The latest version of Xara Designer Pro X 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.


Best graphic design software: FAQs

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. 

What is vector Illustration?

We put the question to Klaus Vossen, Senior Product Manager for CorelDraw . 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's the difference between vector and raster?

Vector and raster graphics are both essential for digital designers, artists, and creatives - but what are the differences between the two? Vector graphics are 'resolution independent'. This means the graphics, built from lines, points, and curves, use mathematical equations to let you resize vector graphics without seeing a drop in quality. Raster graphics are made from pixels, which means they can look good at their intended size, but scaling up the image and maintaining quality isn't possible. There are pros and cons to using both. 

We explore the differences in our guide to vector vs. raster. For a deeper dive into vectors, see vector graphics explained

How to choose the best graphic design software

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.

You'll also want to consider the capabilities of your computer. Most vector editors and design apps aren't especially resource-intensive, but you will want one with a color-accurate screen and good graphics to ensure your on-screen artwork precisely matches the final version.  Alternatively, if you prefer to work on the go, the best drawing tablets and the best laptops for drawing and digital art may better suit your creative workflow. 

For more software ideas, we've also tested out the best free Adobe Illustrator vector alternatives.

How we test the best graphic design software

We've tested a range of graphic design apps, including the best desktop publishing software, best logo makers, and the best free logo makers.

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.


We tested the best Adobe InDesign alternatives - here's what we recommend for creative magazine making

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Mark Pickavance

Mark is an expert on 3D printers, drones and phones. He also covers storage, including SSDs, NAS drives and portable hard drives. He started writing in 1986 and has contributed to MicroMart, PC Format, 3D World, among others.

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