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The best free drawing software 2021: free apps for artists of all abilities

The best free drawing software
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Free drawing software has come a long way from its humble beginnings. While older drawing applications were severely limited, their modern counterparts are extremely powerful, offering lots of capabilities as well as plenty more tools available at your disposal. 

In fact, quite a few of these superb drawing software offer a realistic simulation of watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal, and more. Some even let you work in three dimensions, so you can create your own models, apply your own textures and paint effects, and then combine them with 2D sketched elements to create scenes and even print in 3D. That’s not all. While these applications work well with a mouse, they work even more seamlessly with a stylus or touchscreen, as you have direct control over your virtual brushes and pens. All without costing you anything.

Let us help you pick out the very best free drawing software for Windows for your needs. Some of these tools are designed for serious illustrators, while others are better for keeping children occupied without the mess of real painting. There’s something for everyone – the only limits are your imagination and skill.

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The best drawing software 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.View Deal

Krita

(Image credit: The Krita Foundation)

1. Krita

Top-quality drawing software, completely free for all artists

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Well designed brushes and tools+Accessible interface+Handy drawing aids

Krita is professional-quality drawing software created by a team of artists with the noble aim of putting top-notch creative tools within reach of everyone.

You can use Krita for any kind of drawing and illustration, but it's particularly great for comics and manga. There are panel templates, halftone filters, and perspective tools in addition to the usual brushes, fills and pens. Each brush is totally customizable, and you can save your bespoke brushes to use again later.

Right-clicking anywhere on the canvas in Krita will bring up a selection wheel that lets you pick a new tool and select a colour in seconds – a system that's much easier than trawling through menus and settings

Krita was created by artists for artists, and it shows in the dozens of thoughtful little touches that make it easier to create great paintings. There are handy drawing aids for creating straight lines, vanishing points and smooth shapes. You also get layers, masks, various transform tools, HDR support, and advanced selection functions.

Krita is an incredibly powerful drawing program, and it's yours to download and use completely free.

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Artweaver Free

(Image credit: Boris Eyrich Software)

2. Artweaver Free

Realistic traditional media, with a huge selection of brushes

Specifications
Operating system: Windows
Reasons to buy
+Realistic media+Supports layers+Child-friendly interface

Artweaver Free enables you to create beautifully realistic digital drawings by taking input – from your mouse, a stylus or, if you have a touchscreen PC, from whatever you feel like tapping the screen with – and applying ultra-realistic brush effects.

In addition to familiar brushes such as conte brushes, calligraphy pens and airbrushes, this free drawing software also gives you a huge range of patterns and pens, enabling you to produce very complex images with the minimum of effort. It’s layer-based too, so you can build up your masterpiece in layers without losing the ability to change anything.

Artweaver Free is designed for artists of all ages, but we’ve found it particularly useful for children. Kids love experimenting with all the different brushes, and we love not having to clean up any mess afterwards.

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Microsoft Paint 3D

(Image credit: Microsoft)

3. Microsoft Paint 3D

Kid-friendly art software for making and painting 3D models

Specifications
Operating system: Windows
Reasons to buy
+Converts drawings to 3D models+Wide choice of paint effects
Reasons to avoid
-3D effects are quite basic

Like the classic version of Microsoft Paint (which is was originally intended to replace), Paint 3D offers a small selection of drawing tools for doodling on a flat canvas. However, the real fun happens when you click the 3D Objects button. Here you can pick a model to import (current choices include people and animals), or better yet, draw your own shape and ‘inflate’ it to turn it into a three-dimensional model that can be rotated and viewed from different angles.

You can choose a finish for your shape (options include matte, gloss, dull metal, and polished metal), paint its surface, and apply lighting effects. There’s no way to control the thickness of the 3D effect, so your object will always resemble something created with Puff Paints, but as free drawing software it’s great fun for kids of all ages.

Multiple models can be positioned at different depths and combined to create a scene, and you can even bring doodles into the real world if you have access to a 3D printer.

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Microsoft Fresh Paint

(Image credit: Microsoft)

4. Microsoft Fresh Paint

Another child-friendly app from Microsoft, with convincing brushes

Specifications
Operating system: Windows
Reasons to buy
+Realistic blending effects+Easy for kids to enjoy+Good for touchscreens

Fresh Paint is another art app from Microsoft – this time designed to replicate the feeling of putting brush or pen to paper.

The interface really goes to town with skeumorphism, with a plastic palette of colours that splatter when you dip your virtual brush, showing which shade you’re currently using and making a pleasing splat. You can wash the bristles in a cup of water before picking a different color, or use one immediately after another to blend them together on the brush.

Fresh Paint can simulate watercolors, gouache, and all kinds of other material. As the name implies, you can interact with your work as though it’s not yet dry, smearing it and mixing colors together on the canvas.

Experienced artists will be able to achieve great results with tools that behave like their real-life counterparts, while kids and novices will make an equally realistic mess. Free drawing software that everyone can enjoy.

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MyPaint

(Image credit: MyPaint)

5. MyPaint

Open source software for artists with time to master a new tool

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Highly customizable+Designed for graphics tablets
Reasons to avoid
-Steep learning curve

MyPaint is the brainchild of artist Martin Renold, who was frustrated by the limitations of his Wacom tablet’s proprietary software and decided to take matters into his own hands. Today, the open source free drawing software is an accomplished tool for serious artists.

Its background as a Linux app means MyPaint works a little differently to most Windows apps, and it’ll take a little while to master its interface, but it’s well worth the effort if you’re a hobbyist illustrator and Krita’s focus on comics means it doesn’t quite fit your needs.

MyPaint works best when used with a graphics tablet, but you can also use it with any other input device, including touchscreens.

There’s the usual selection of customizable brushes, plus support for layers, and a handy scratchpad for creating sketches. You can also download and install additional brush packages created by other users – a perk of the source code being publicly available.