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The best free Adobe Illustrator alternatives 2020: free vector editors

The best free Illustrator alternatives
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

With the best free Adobe Illustrator alternatives, you can create and edit vector graphics cost-free. These are a great choice if you're new to designing with graphics design software. Unlike raster graphics, they use mathematical expressions to draw the lines, shapes and colors. This means they’re infinitely scalable, so you can blow them up to the size of a billboard with no unsightly pixelation.

While it’s true that Adobe Illustrator is the industry-standard software for creating and editing vector graphics, you’re committing to an expensive Creative Cloud subscription. It’s not always the most cost-effective solution for many. Thankfully, it's not the only choice. There are many Adobe Illustrator alternatives out there that are free. 

However, not all Adobe Illustrator alternatives are created equal – some only support a few file formats, while others are bundled with unwanted extra software. Still, vector graphics are the best choice for a number of design and illustration tasks, such as creating icons, logos, diagrams, charts, posters and website graphics. So we've put all the most popular free Illustrator alternatives to the test and picked the very best.

Example vector files designed by Freepik.

The best vector editor overall is Adobe Illustrator CC
If you're a professional designer or illustrator, there's no beating the industry standard vector editing software. Adobe Illustrator is available as a standalone app, or as part of the Creative Cloud suite along with Photoshop, Lightroom and much more. Whether you're creating app icons or billboards, it has all the tools you need, and works seamlessly with Adobe's other software. It's not free, like the options below, but it's the best tool money can buy.View Deal

Inkscape

(Image credit: Inkscape Project; Shutterstock)

1. Inkscape

A feature-packed editor that's a true substitute for Illustrator

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

Comprehensive toolkit
Excellent format support
Frequent updates
Performance can be sluggish

Open source vector graphics package Inkscape is staggeringly powerful, and is the best free Adobe Illustrator alternative for pro and semi-pro illustrators, graphic designers and web designers.

As well as the standard drawing and shape tools, Inkscape boasts a special spirals tool, a tool to create patterns and arrangements of clones, advanced object manipulation options, multiple filters (including bevels, textures, overlays and more), and some nifty fill settings. In short, there’s very little Illustrator can do that Inkscape can’t. 

Because it's open source, it’s not only free to use but if you have the technical know-how you can even edit it and incorporate it into other software. And new features are being added all the time; the latest version brings mesh gradients, improved SVG2 and CSS3 support and new path effects to the party.

So what’s the catch? Some users have complained that it performs slowly, although that does seem to depend on what device and operating system you’re using. The best thing to do is just download it and give it a quick try; there's nothing to lose.

Read our full review: Inkscape

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BoxySVG

(Image credit: Jarosław Foksa; Shutterstock)

2. BoxySVG

A browser-based vector editor that's as powerful as a desktop app

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)

Good format support
Convenient browser extension
Easy to use
Keyboard shortcuts

Boxy SVG is a free tool for creating scalable vector graphic files that runs as an extension in Google Chrome. It comes with a good range of basic tools, including pens, bezier curves, text, basic shapes, stroke and fill, layers, ability to add type, groups, transforms and paths.

The main selling point for Boxy SVG is the utter simplicity of its UI. It makes a virtue of paring down the experience of creating vector graphics to a fairly minimal set of options. These essentially restrict you to the kind of things that the SVG format is good at. As a result, it’s fast, easier to pick up than Illustrator, and the files it creates are clean and efficient.

As well as importing and exporting files in SVG and SVGZ format, you can also use Boxy SVG to import and export JPEGs and PNGs. Wonderfully convenient.

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Vecteezy

(Image credit: Eezy Inc; Shutterstock)

3. Vecteezy

A sharp looking in-browser Illustrator alternative for stylish designs

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)

Nothing hidden behind a paywall
Good choice of vector elements
Simple to use
Requires a free account to save work

Vecteezy is another free in-browser Adobe Illustrator alternative (the developer earns a crust selling premium illustrations, and its customers include the BBC, Amazon, McDonald's and Dell).

You can import and edit SVG files, or create your own designs from scratch. There's a selection of shapes and ready-made clipart to choose from, and a huge array of typefaces for text-based designs.

Vecteezy also includes a pen tool for drawing freehand shapes and editing existing paths, plus a simple color-picker. It's all refreshingly simple to use, and even brand new users will grasp the fundamentals within a few minutes.

There are just a couple of points to be aware of: you'll need to create an account or log in using Facebook in order to save your work, and if you open a particularly large file, Vecteezy warns you that doing so might cause your browser to freeze. This is a risk with any similar web app though, and we appreciate Vecteezy being so up-front about it.

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Vectr

(Image credit: Vectr; Shutterstock)

4. Vectr

A smart, slimline vector editor for your browser

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)

Intuitive interface
Easy to master
Interactive tutorials
Lacks some advanced features

Vectr is a free in-browser Adobe Illustrator alternative. It was originally available as a desktop application for offline use as well, but this has now been discontinued.

Don't let that put you off, though; Vectr is intuitive to use, with a shallow learning curve. “Design software shouldn’t bring people a sense of struggle, yet that’s exactly how the troublesome design software we grew up on made us feel,” says its developer, who has created this pared-back vector editor with accessibility in mind.

While it lacks many of the advanced features of Illustrator, then, it’s got all the tools you need for basic vector editing - shapes, text, multiple layers and like - and what it does, it does very well. You can save all work you create in Vectr online, or export it in PNG, JPG, or SVG file formats.

Vectr is a great choice for beginners, or just anyone needing to create a simple graphic with the minimum of fuss.

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SVG-Edit

(Image credit: Rolera LLC; Shutterstock)

5. SVG-Edit

A straightforward Illustrator alternative for web developers

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)

Works in your web browser
Clear interface
Vector and raster export formats
Fewer advanced tools than rivals

If your prime reason for wanting a vector graphics editor is to create SVG files for websites, then SVG-Edit may be all you need. You can use this free vector software within your web browser to create SVG images and edit existing ones. 

SVG-Edit works in any modern browser, and offers a basic set of vector editing features including hand-drawing tools, shape tools, text tools and path tools. The tool is open source, which means that new features are being added all the time by contributing developers.

It’s built on HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript with no server-side functionality, so if you wish you can download and modify the code to make your own version. 


How to choose the best alternative to Illustrator?

We put the question to Klaus Vossen, Senior Product Manager for CorelDraw (CorelDRAW review here). How to go about choosing the best graphics design software for to reach creative nirvana. Here’s what to look for:

1. Comprehensive tools to speed up your workflow When choosing design software, it’s important to decide on something that offers everything you need to express your creative vision all in one application. Look for a product that not only offers powerful tools for vector illustration, multi-page layout, and typography, but photo editing too.

2. High-quality bitmap-to-vector conversions Designers are often tasked with converting low-resolution bitmaps to vector images, making this a key feature to look for in your design software choice. Some applications use artificial intelligence to process a low-resolution bitmap image and turn it into a vector file which can then be scaled up to a much larger size without losing quality. This is arguably one of the most important tools you’ll need in professional graphics design, particularly if you work with large-scale printing.

3. Dependable color management If printing is a large part of what you do, you’ll want to make sure your software includes dependable color management tools so you don’t end up with any unwanted surprises when your work comes back from the printer. When embarking on your vector illustration journey, take some time to understand color palettes, color proofing, and color profiles to make the best possible images. Professional-level color management can provide an accurate representation of color throughout the entire process.

4. Professional output format capabilities Professional output formats let you send images to printers and embroiders, or to share digital files with clients and colleagues. Choose a program that offers extensive file support to ensure you can use your files across multiple applications that may be part of your day-to-day work. If you’re working with design files and building your brand, it’s worth investing time into vector graphic design, which has plenty of practical applications. Select a professional tool that can address all your graphics needs with a variety of output formats so you can work faster and smarter than ever before.