Best graphic design software February 2023

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Designing on a desktop computer
(Image credit: McLittle Stock / Shutterstock)

The best graphic design software gives artists powerful tools for creating professional designs that really stand out. 

Alongside the best digital art and drawing software and best photo editors, vector-based graphic design tools are essential - especially when you’re designing high-quality, high-resolution print assets that demand consistency and color accuracy. And the best graphic design software should feature color editing tools for RGB, CMYK, and HSB. 

The best logo designers and desktop publishing software often covers these areas. Although they tend to be best-suited to smaller printed designs, such as magazines and flyers. So, it’s worth checking which software for graphic design best meets your needs. 

To help you find the right tools to bring your creativity to the screen, we’ve tested the best graphic design software. We’ve compared how well they handle photo manipulation, web and vector graphics, cloud storage functionality, and value for money.

The devil’s in the detail - try out the best graphic design laptops and the best monitors for graphic design

The best graphic design software of 2023 in full

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.

(Image credit: Serif)
Best graphic design software overall

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

-
No auto-save on Mac

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.

divider pink

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

Reasons to buy

+
Very powerful & versatile
+
Cross-platform
+
Integrates with Adobe creative apps
+
Improves creative workflows

Reasons to avoid

-
Subscription only
-
Collaborative tools and Quick Actions need expanding

Adobe Illustrator is a powerful, complex, and highly versatile vector-based graphics creation program that has been around for what seems like forever, and keeps going from strength to strength. Case in point, Adobe released version 27 in October (also called Adobe Illustrator 2023).

It introduces some interesting new features, such as Intertwine, which allows you to create complex overlaps between objects by altering the layer order at specific sections of the image. You’ll find it an immense time saver.

Collaboration tools are also most welcome, but they somewhat feel a little like a work in progress. Despite that, they do function as expected - even if one of them is still labeled a ‘beta’.

Speaking of work in progress, Quick Actions allow you to perform multi-step changes with a single click. This has great potential, or at least it will once we get more than five of them.

You’ll also find a good number of performance improvements, and new collaborative tools as well, via a monthly or annual subscription. You can opt for the standalone app, or go for the Creative Cloud All Apps subscription, which grants access to other Adobe tools, including Photoshop and Lightroom. See how to download Adobe Illustrator free or with Creative Cloud.

The subscription price starts at around $21 / £20 / $30  per month.

 Read our full Adobe Illustrator review. 

divider pink

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

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to learn and use
+
Massively featured

Reasons to avoid

-
Won't fit all budgets

The CorelDRAW 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.

divider pink

(Image credit: CorelDRAW)

4. Gravit Designer Pro

Best cross-platform vector editor online

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 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. We'll update this mini-review as soon as we've had a chance to test the new software package.

divider pink

(Image credit: Inkscape)
Best free graphic design software

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 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.

divider pink

(Image credit: Sketch)

6. Sketch

Best Mac-exclusive vector editor

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 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.

divider pink

(Image credit: Xara)

7. Xara Designer Pro X

Best Windows-exclusive graphic design software

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, 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.


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.

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

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 (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'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 we test the best graphic design software

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.

Read more on how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar (opens in new tab).

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.

With contributions from