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The Best Software for Artists You Can Find Online

9 min read

Digital art tools have quickly become a vital part of the creative industry. From photo editing to digital illustration, artists need the best software to bring their vision to life.

So if you’re trying to pick the best software for artists, this article can help. We’ve compiled the top three digital art programs, including digital painting software, photo editing platforms, and more.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What to look for in digital art software
  • The best software for artists overall
  • The best digital painting software for artists
  • The best publication design software
  • Free alternatives to the best software for artists

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How to Pick the Best Digital Art Software

Picking the best software for artists involves three main steps.

Identify what tools your software needs to be useful

This one’s kinda obvious, but it’s a good idea to make a list of the must-have tools that will make your download worth the effort. But don’t just think about the big-ticket stuff — you might mainly need software that lets you edit multiple drawing layers, but do you also need vector support? Identifying the little things will definitely help you in the long run.

Think about your budget

A lot of software for artists requires a monthly membership fee. If you’d rather make a one-time purchase and move on, look for digital art software that lets you pay for an indefinite license (meaning a one-time payment that gives you permanent access to the software).

Plan for the future

As you think about your budget and make a list of important tools, remember to plan for your future as an artist. Maybe paying for higher-end digital art software isn’t a good idea right now, but what if you start selling more art? It’s super easy to sell art online these days, so don’t ignore the possibility that paying for premium tools will be a worthy investment.

The Best Digital Art Software | Top 3 Picks

Now that you’ve got some insight into picking your ideal software, let’s get into our picks for the best digital art software in 2021.

Best Software for Artists Overall: Adobe Photoshop

If you’re going to buy just one piece of software as an artist, it should probably be Photoshop. The program has been a leader in image editing for years, but it also offers a range of illustration and design tools. That means Photoshop is perfect for basically any visual artist or designer — especially interdisciplinary artists who want to work with a lot of digital mediums.

Main features

  • Multi-layer editing
  • Vector support
  • Retouching tools (spot healing, redeye fix, etc.)
  • Object removal
  • Frame animation (savable as GIFs, QuickTime, and more)
  • AI-powered editing tools

Pros and cons

+ Diverse tool kit

+ 3D design support

+ Wide variety of typography tools

+ Easy integration with other Adobe tools

Potentially overwhelming interface

Somewhat expensive

Best free alternative to Adobe Photoshop: Gimp

Software for artists can be expensive, and Photoshop is no exception. Depending on the plan you go with, Adobe could charge as much as $52.99 per month for access to Photoshop.

So what’s the best free alternative to Photoshop? Gimp.

What you get

  • Digital art tools similar to Photoshop
  • Customizable interface
  • Retouching tools

What you don’t get

  • Vector support
  • Adobe’s AI-powered tools

Best Digital Painting Software: Corel Painter

As the name suggests, Corel Painter is a digital painting software. The program offers a few notable features, including the ability to make custom brushes, options to control digital brush “wetness” and “dryness,” and compatibility with Mac and Windows. That last one means Corel Painter might be a good upgrade if you currently use Procreate, which is only available on iPads. Corel Painter also lets users harness the power of their compatible GPU to increase the responsiveness between their hardware input and the screen — a great feature for precision work.

Main features

  • Custom brush support
  • Pressure-sensitive brush options (requires compatible stylus system)
  • Wacom support
  • Wide variety of digital mediums (oils, watercolor, acrylics, and more)

Pros and Cons

+ Good variety of brushes and mediums

+ Mac and Windows compatibility

+ Wacom and stylus support

Multi-touch support

Multi-layer support

Limited vector support

Not available on iPads

Best free alternative to Corel Painter: Krita

Corel Painter is the best digital painting software for artists, but it costs over $400. If you’re looking for something cheaper, Krita is a great option… because it’s free.

So what does Krita offer? Overall, the software is a professional-grade digital painting tool that gives you a high-end experience for free (it even has a few features that Corel Painter doesn’t, like more support for vector files).

What you get

  • An accessible interface
  • Over 100 brushes
  • Vector support
  • Basic photo editing

What you don’t get

  • Customer service (like, none)
  • iPad and tablet support

Best Publication Design Software: Adobe InDesign

While Adobe Photoshop is the best all-around digital art software, Adobe InDesign is a fantastic specialized option that focuses on publication design. As such, InDesign is perfect if you’re a graphic designer who works on flyers, magazines, posters, and a variety of other print media. The program offers systems to create and manage visual layouts, including content that involves large amounts of text, and multiple pages. Unlike some design programs, this software is made to manage layouts — not create visuals. InDesign has two variants: CC and CS. Since CC is generally preferred among professionals, we’ll focus on that version instead of CS.

Main features

  • Manage and create digital or print layouts
  • Integrates with Adobe Photoshop for more features
  • Compatible with Adobe Illustrator to import visuals

Pros and Cons

+ Perfect for large amounts of text

+ Automized details like page numbers

+ Easy management of images and text

No automatic spell-check

Potentially confusing keyboard shortcuts

Best free alternative to Adobe InDesign: Crello

Like other Adobe products, InDesign charges a monthly subscription fee. If that doesn’t work for you, consider using Crello. Beyond being free, Crello could be a great option for artists who want to start selling prints online.

While Crello is very limited compared to InDesign, it might provide enough features for a casual user. The platform lets users manage the layout of text, images, and other visuals — which could be a good starting point if you’re not quite ready to jump into publishing design on a professional level.

What you get

  • A simple and clean interface
  • Basic layout management
  • Up to 5 free designs per month

What you don’t get

  • Professional-grade tools
  • Professional printing options

Start Creating!

There’s a lot of great software for artists out there, so it’s a great time to start making digital art. Plus, the digital art market is booming — which means you’ve got an exciting chance to make money with your creativity.

So what are you waiting for? Start making digital art today!


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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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