Designers used to be limited to only a few choices for professional graphic design tools.
Now the field is open, and designers can choose from a wide range of design tool options, including open-source platforms.
No longer are graphic design tools strictly limited to PC or Mac operating systems, either. You’ll find many that have iOS and Android mobile apps, too, with support for Linux and Chrome OS.
The dizzying array of editing tools can make it difficult to pick the best graphic design software. Our roundup focuses on some oldies but goodies, such as Adobe Photoshop, as well as some new kids on the block, like Affinity Photo.
- Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator wrote the book on vector graphics software. It sets the standard for professionally designed logos, artwork, infographics, icons, and much more. You can work from a freehand sketch to a vector image that is scalable to any size. Adobe Illustrator works with graphics differently, using mathematical formulas instead of pixels for seamless resizing.
Adobe Illustrator offers a seven day free trial, but you have to provide a credit card to start. If you select the annual plan, paid monthly — it’s $20.99 per month. Otherwise, you’ll pay $31.49 per month for the monthly plan. Either way, it’s expensive. However, Adobe Illustrator is one of those products that will have you learning something new all the time, even if it’s not the most user-friendly software available.
- Adobe Sensei AI: Match the colors from a photograph with auto-extracting
- Extensive library: Adobe Stock templates, including 90 million images and icons and thousands of fonts
- Creative Cloud: Manage your projects anywhere
- Data merge: Infographic data stays current with the stats
- Social media: Tutorials to get the most out of your marketing
- Integration with other editing tools in the Adobe family
- True-to-its-roots interface
- Start from scratch or choose a template
- Wide range of vector design tools
- Expensive subscription plans
- High learning curve
Platform: Windows, Mac, iPad, Android
- Affinity Designer
Affinity Designer is an excellent choice for personal projects or novice graphic designers with its intuitive user interface. It’s a worthy competitor to Adobe Illustrator, with a similar suite of design tools and added user-friendly features. It’s a good fit for individuals who want a budget-friendly alternative without sacrificing functionality.
Affinity Designer boasts a 1,000,000% zoom, which puts it squarely in the CAD realm. If that’s too fine a resolution, you can set the levels you prefer. The other noteworthy feature is its version history. You can go back up to 8,000 steps, making it an excellent choice when working with clients. That and the zoom put you in charge of revisions.
- Color management: Supports a variety of formats, including ICC, CMYK, and RGB
- Timesaving tools: Consistent branding in your workspace
- Real-time changes: Preview edits and blends on the fly
- One-time purchase: No subscription fees
- Unlimited artboards
- Less resource-demanding
- Affordably priced
- Raster and vector workspaces in one program
- Excellent customer service
- Confusing documentation
- No cloud services
Platform: Windows, Mac, iPad
Procreate bills itself as a complete art studio, made exclusively for iPad and Apple Pencil support. It is a one-time purchase with no free trial or version available. You dive right into its vast array of templates, fonts, and customizable brushes. You can also bring your favorite Photoshop ones into the app, which will perform better with the Valkyrie engine. The developers went the extra mile to make it user-friendly.
One of its standout features is its ability to work in 3D and preview it in real time in AR. If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at animation, Procreate provides an excellent starting point. However, the app has so many tools and functions that it may seem overwhelming to beginners. If you select one type of brush, you’ll find several from which to choose. You’ll learn something every time you use it.
- Editing tools: 200 customizable brushes
- Color management: Intuitive selection of complementary colors and ColorDrop tool for fill
- Finishing filters: Unifying image management for creating the perfect look
- One-time purchase: No in-app purchases
- Extensive tutorial library
- Intuitive user interface
- Apple Pencil support
- Import Photoshop brushes
- No free version
- Steep learning curve
- Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop has long remained the industry standard for desktop publishing. It is a popular favorite with graphic designers for a reason. Its array of image editing tools supports the beginner to the pro with a user-friendly interface and a plethora of well-written tutorials. The graphic design software puts you in control, from the canvas size to the artistic filter.
Like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop offers a seven-day free trial. Interestingly, you can get Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom at a cheaper cost. The trial for Photoshop includes 100 GB of cloud storage, and Lightroom includes 1 TB. It also has some extra functionality with its paint application, Adobe Fresco, and its storytelling program, Adobe Spark. The collaboration between the programs is outstanding.
- Suite of design tools: Includes several eye-catching effects, such as 3D and Keith Haring brushes
- Content-aware fill: Focus on your message without the distractions
- Timesaving features: Streamlines the workflow with batch operations and automation scripts
- Complimentary mobile apps with a subscription plan
- Extensive library of stock images, templates, fonts, videos, and icons
- Excellent integration with other Adobe programs
- Support for multiple file formats, including JPG and PNG
- Expensive pricing plans
- Steep learning curve
Platform: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
- Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is a value-priced alternative to Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator for touch-up jobs on existing images. It works with layers and filters to create stunning effects, with both vector and raster images. The software also supports the SVG file format like CorelDRAW. While you can create templates, none are included with the program. However, it is lightweight with a generous 90-day free trial.
Affinity Photo has garnered many accolades in recent years because of its versatility and functionality. It packs a lot of features for the price. You can do sophisticated editing with its 360-degree image editing, panoramic stitching, and HDR merge. It provides real-time editing without the bloat. You can work with PSD files, too. It also supports nondestructive live filter layers for the ultimate in creativity.
- Powerful digital editing tools: Includes HDR merge, raw editing, and layer editing
- One-time purchase: No subscription plans or in-app purchases
- Optional overlay packs: Offers additional editing tools free with registration
- Affordably priced
- 90-day free trial
- Customizable brushes
- No templates
- No keyword tagging feature
Platform: Windows, Mac, iPad