19 Best Illustration & Drawing Software in 2022 (Free & Paid)

Are you looking to create professional illustrations, designs, or edit photos? This is a comprehensive list of the best illustration and drawing software. No matter who you are when it comes to your skill level, you will find a suitable tool for your use case.

The software in this includes free tools, paid professional tools, iOS-only tools, vector graphics tools, rasterization tools, and more.

You will also find a frequently asked questions section about the terminology and tools in this article.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links at no cost to you!

The Best Illustration Software

This is a comprehensive guide to choosing the best tools for illustrations. Here is a quick list of the best tools available. Feel free to click any link below to jump into the review of a particular tool.

  1. Adobe Illustrator
  2. Adobe Photoshop
  3. Affinity Designer
  4. Corel Painter
  5. Vectornator
  6. Procreate
  7. openCanvas
  8. GIMP
  9. Krita
  10. ArtRage Vitae
  11. Rebelle 5
  12. Inkscape
  13. GravitDesigner
  14. Ira Design
  15. Vectr
  16. AutoDesk Sketchbook
  17. Grabient
  18. Stubborn Generator
  19. Paint Tool SAI

Also, make sure to check the best tools for designing UIs.

Let’s jump into the reviews!

1. Adobe Illustrator

Image Credit: Adobe

Adobe Illustrator is the best illustration software for vector graphics and illustrations.

Although Adobe Illustrator is not suitable for every single type of digital art, it is the absolute best for digital illustration.

Illustrator was awarded the best vector graphics editing program back in 2018 by PC Magazine. You can use this sophisticated drawing software to create logos, icons, and infographics. More importantly, it can be used to create complicated and engaging illustrations.

Illustrator comes with a bunch of useful features, some of the best features include advanced glyph snapping, team collaboration tools, and cloud storage.

Illustrator is a professional tool that requires a lot of practice to master. If you are serious about illustrations, you should definitely learn how to use a professional tool like Illustrator. Just be prepared for it to take some time. Remember to be patient!

As you might imagine, Illustrator works on the major platforms, that is, Windows, iPad, and macOS.

Features

Adobe Illustrator is a professional tool with a variety of essential illustration features.

Some of the highlight features of Adobe Illustrator include:

  • Vector-graphics support
  • Image Editing
  • Design Templates
  • Drag and Drop
  • Third-Party Integrations
  • Activity Tracking
  • CAD Tools
  • Collaboration Tools

Pricing

Adobe Illustrator costs $19.99/month.

There is a 7-day free trial available!

Pros

  • Great software for working with vector graphics and illustrations. Allows drawing smooth lines and curves
  • The smartpen feature reduces the need to use a keyboard and you can only work with your mouse
  • Great for illustrations, branding, and marketing
  • Free trial included

Cons

  • Steep learning curve that requires patience
  • Pricey especially for someone new to the game
  • Eats up memory on your machine

Bottom Line

Adobe Illustrator is the leading illustration and design tool in the market.

If you are serious about design and illustrations, you should eventually learn how to use Illustrator. It takes a long time to learn how to use Illustrator on a professional level. But in the end, it’s worth the time and money.

But if you are a beginner looking for a quick or less pricey solution, please keep on reading.

2. Adobe Photoshop

Image Credit: Adobe

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular photo editing and illustration software on the planet.

This tool is used both by beginners and experts in the photo editing and illustration field.

Unlike Illustrator, Photoshop is a raster graphics (bitmap) software. Illustrator is a vector graphics software. Although both raster graphics and vector graphics are great for illustration, there are ups and downs to each.

Unlike vector graphics, you cannot zoom in or out a raster image without losing quality.

Because this is not a computer science class, you can read more about these at the end of this list.

As a beginner, it takes a while to learn the workflow of Adobe Photoshop. Also, the price can be a bit salty for someone just getting started in the illustration space.

If you are serious about illustrations and photo editing, you should learn how to use a pro tool like Photoshop. But if you are just trying out or looking for a quick solution, please keep on reading. There will be more intuitive options too!

Before moving on to features and pricing, I must mention Adobe’s tools are great because they integrate so well with other apps in the Adobe CC suite. Also, other non-Adobe software commonly supports Photoshop and Illustrator files.

Speaking of Adobe CC, the tools in this suite work in the cloud. If you started an illustration at work and want to continue on your home computer, no problem!

Features

  • Advanced Layers
  • Selection Tools
  • Pen Tool
  • Shapes
  • Vector Mask
  • Retouching Tools
  • 3D Photoshop
  • Smart Objects

Pricing

The price of Adobe Photoshop starts at $20.99/month.

Pros

Like any other software on this list, Photoshop has some great features and some drawbacks too!

Let’s start by what stands out

  • All-round editing, drawing, and design capabilities. Inarguably the best in the market
  • Supports drawing pads
  • A bunch of brushes, textures, and overlays
  • A lot of great tutorials and resources

Cons

Then, let’s have a look at some of the shortcomings or drawbacks:

  • Deep learning curve
  • Takes a lot of space on your computer
  • A bit pricey especially for beginners

Bottom Line

Adobe Photoshop is another one of those popular tools you almost cannot avoid if you are serious about design, illustration, or graphics in general.

This is a professional-level tool that is worth spending the time and money on.

As a complete beginner, I would not spend a buck on Photoshop right away. Instead, you should experiment with free tools or at least exhaust the free trial of Photoshop before spending money on it.

3. Affinity Designer

Image Credit: Affinity

It is commonly said Affinity Designer is the best alternative to Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator.

Affinity Designer is among the best affordable tools for digital art and illustrations. If you want to replace the expensive Adobe tool with a cheaper professional tool, Affinity is the way to go!

The great vector graphics editor with a similar workflow to Adobe Illustrator Affinity is an easy switch from the Adobe software.

Also, if you are more serious about illustration and photo editing, Affinity is a great tool to get started with. The similar features and workflow to Adobe’s suite, you can use Affinity to prepare for using Adobe later on.

Affinity works really nicely with iPad Pro and supports wireless pencil. This allows you to create amazing high-quality content even when you are not sitting on your desktop.

Affinity Designer is a professional illustration tool that is designed for illustrators working on both desktop and tablet devices. Remember that the learning curve of using this tool is also steep, and you won’t become an illustration pro overnight.

Features

  • Vector Support
  • 2D Drawing
  • For Websites
  • For Mobile
  • CAD Tools
  • Templates
  • Collaboration Tools
  • Drag and Drop
  • Design Management

Pricing

There is a free trial to Affinity Design.

Other than that, you can purchase a license to the tool based on the platform:

  • Windows or Mac: $54.99
  • iPad: $21.99

Pros

  • Works with vector graphics
  • Advanced layer-based capabilities
  • Easier to use than Photoshop
  • Supports RAW images

Cons

  • No Android version
  • Lack of custom workspaces
  • Price

Bottom Line

Affinity Designer is a great alternative to Adobe Illustrator. The tool has similar features and workflows as Illustrator.

From a pricing standpoint, Affinity Designer is a way more wallet-friendly option. Unlike Adobe Illustrator, you can purchase a lifetime license to Affinity Designer for just $54.99.

With Affinity Designer, there is a bit less control over smaller details. Also, there are fewer great tutorials and fewer overall features in the tool.

Affinity Designer is a professional tool used by masses of creators looking to build great designs and illustrations.

4. Corel Painter

Image Credit: Corel

Are you looking to capture art mediums digitally? Corel Painter is designed to do exactly that.

Corel Painter is a professional illustration software for vector illustrations, layouts, and photo editing.

Corel Painter is a bit of a pricey tool after the trial period ends.

However, it is commonly treated as equally powerful an app like Photoshop. Once you get your hands on it and learn how to use it, there is no need for another illustration tool. Of course, if you need it, this tool also integrates with Photoshop and some popular operating systems and devices.

This tool delivers a professional experience with a variety of advanced drawing tools and features.

Features

  • Blank canvas painting tools
  • Photo-art tools
  • A variety of brushes, textures, and other types of illustration media

Pricing

This tool costs $19.99/month.

If you don’t like the monthly subscription, you can purchase the software for $429.00 as a one-time payment.

Before spending a buck, make sure to use the free trial!

Pros

  • This tool is designed mainly for illustrators and artists
  • Emulates creating physical arts really well
  • System-based performance optimization
  • Advanced brushes
  • Jitter reduction

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Slight UX improvements would be needed

Bottom Line

If you are interested in painting or drawing, Corel Painter is a good software and you probably won’t need another tool. Corel Painter is a professional-level tool that takes time to master.

If you are serious about painting and drawing, you should consider Corel Painter. Its seamless painting experience makes it feel like you are creating actual artwork. It really feels like you are painting or drawing something physical!

But for example, if you want to focus on image editing as well, you should use Photoshop as it has far more advanced image editing capabilities.

5. Vectornator

Image Credit: Vectornator

Vectornator is an awesome illustration tool for Apple consumers. This tool works only for macOS, iPad, and iOS devices.

Although it is a professional tool, it suits well for amateurs looking to design illustrations on Apple devices or tablets on the go.

This tool is free to use for a lifetime.

As you may have guessed from the name “Vectornator”, you can use this tool to create vector graphics. The tool is highly intuitive to use and you can create stylish visualizations with it.

Originally, Vectornator was solely an iOS app, but later on, they expanded to iPads and Macs. Thanks to the development efforts of recent years, this tool suits both professionals and amateur illustrators.

Overall, this tool makes it possible to create all sorts of illustrations from typography to UI designs for web/mobile apps.

One of the unique features of this app is the Autotrace feature. This allows you to convert a raster image to a vector image in a sleight of hand.

By the way, you are not the only one using Vectornator. It is being used by big companies like Disney, Wacom, and Apple.

Features

  • Vector Graphics
  • Pen Tool
  • Auto Trace
  • Unlimited Artboards
  • PDF Editor
  • Custom Brushes
  • Typography
  • Pen Gesture Support
  • Node Tool
  • Guides

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Great iPad + Apple Pen support
  • Easy to use
  • Professional features
  • Supports multiple files

Cons

  • Works for Apple devices only
  • No animation features
  • Steep learning curve

Bottom Line

If you are an Apple consumer and are looking for a professional illustration tool, you should try Vectornator.

The tool has all it takes for professional illustration. The best part is that the tool is free.

Although the UI of the app is outstanding, it still takes a while to master the tool, similar to any other professional tool.

If you are not using Apple devices, then this tool is not for you as it only supports iOS, macOS, and iPadOS devices.

6. Procreate

Image Credit: ProCreate

Procreate is another amazing piece of illustration software for iPad and iPhone users. This tool has gained a lot of attention in recent times.

This tool works best for the iPad and Apple Pencil combo.

One might argue Procreate is the most beginner-friendly and easy-to-use app at the moment. This tool has a bunch of essential illustration features with which drawing and illustration are easy for beginners.

Of course, being an iOS-only tool is a big limitation. But regardless of that, the tool has gained some momentum and a large user base in a short amount of time.

If you are an iPad user, Procreate might be all you need to become a professional illustrator or digital artist. You can get started with it for an affordable price. Furthermore, you learn how to use the tool in no time.

Features

The broad variety of professional illustration features of this tool includes:

  • QuickShape
  • Drawing Assist
  • StreamLine
  • Color Drop
  • Apple Pencil Support

Pricing

You can purchase Procreate exclusively on AppStore for $9.99 (one-time payment).

Pros

Similar to any other professional illustration tool, Procreate has its pros and cons. Let’s focus on the most notable pros and then move on to the cons of the tool.

These features make Procreate great:

  • Broad brush selection
  • Affordable
  • Easy canvas control, such as zooming and rotating
  • Supports multiple file formats
  • Overall great for visuals and graphics of the highest quality

Cons

  • No vector graphics support
  • The best UX is limited to iPad and Apple Pencil combo
  • Limited iPhone version

Bottom Line

Especially if you are an iPad user looking to create designs and illustrations, you should try Procreate.

This tool makes it easy to draw when lying on the sofa or even when traveling. All you need is an iPad or Apple Pencil.

The outstanding and rich features make this tool a professional illustration tool like any other one of the best tools in this list.

However, if you are not an Apple Consumer or don’t have an iPad, then using Procreate is not your best option.

7. openCanvas

Image Credit: openCanvas

OpenCanvas is affordable software full of sophisticated illustration features. This tool is made for Windows users only!

Its features, such as the advanced brushes make it easy for your to create outstanding illustrations and drawings quickly.

With all the great features and user experience packed into this app, it’s one of the best pieces of illustration software out there.

It is really easy to use openCanvas. It has a user-centric UI, a bunch of helpful tutorials, and all the essential tools for great art.

The tool is a raster editing tool and thus vector exports are not available.

Overall, openCanvas gives you a chance to shine in your creativity. Its affordable price and professional features are one of a kind.

This tool has slightly fewer features and image editing capabilities than, for example, Affinity. But if you don’t mind that, this could be the tool you need to get started as an illustrator

Features

  • Advanced Brushes
  • Pen Pressure and Multi-Touch Gestures
  • Event Tool
  • Ruler
  • Layers
  • Shortcut Control
  • PSD Support

Pricing

There is a free trial to openCanvas!

After the trial, you can purchase the software for $59.00.

Pros

  • Advanced features, like brushes
  • User-friendly UI
  • Affordable pricing
  • Great for drawing

Cons

  • Windows only
  • Fewer features
  • No vector support
  • Less image editing options

Bottom Line

openCanvas is a great tool for both beginners and experienced illustrators.

Although it has some limitations compared to Illustrator or Affinity Designer, it is still a great and affordable tool for anyone.

If you are looking to build stunning designs at scale, feel free to try openCanvas. They have a free trial you can use before making a purchase.

8. GIMP

Image Credit: Gimp

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an all-round free illustration software.

This tool is among the best free Photoshop alternatives. With GIMP, you can create professional-looking digital art with an extensive tool packed with great features.

If you are looking to be a proficient illustrator but are not ready to spend a buck yet, GIMP can be your best choice. Also, if you have used Adobe’s software earlier, it is easy to club down to GIMP. This is because the workflows and features are reminiscent of the ones in Adobe’s software.

Although GIMP is free, it has the essential features every professional illustration tool needs. You can use GIMP to do professional photo editing and drawing using features like color correction and enhancement.

But why is it free?

GIMP is an open-source project. This means it is developed by volunteers across the globe and funded by patrons all around the world. It is a community-driven project that aims to make professional-level image editing and illustration free for everyone.

Features

  • Painting
  • Powerful Gradient Editor
  • Custom Brushes and Patterns
  • Layers and Channels
  • Multiple Undo/Redo Functions
  • Advanced Manipulation
  • Scripting Capabilities
  • Animations and MNG Support
  • Multiple File Format Support

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • No need to install software
  • A high number of features

Cons

  • Comparatively few third-party plugins
  • Slowness from time to time
  • The tool is simply getting old. You can see it from the UI, compatibility with other tools in the market, and more.

Bottom Line

If you don’t want to spend any money to create great illustrations, you should try a free tool like GIMP.

This tool is feature-rich software that is totally free. Being a popular software, GIMP has a big community of active users and tutorials.

However, it is old software that seemingly lags behind the scene. It is slow and has some UX issues. Also, you cannot use it with other popular tools.

To me, GIMP is still a highly relevant piece of illustration software. If you are a beginner who wants to do illustration, design, or drawing as a hobby, learning GIMP can be a great option.

But for a more serious learner I would suggest a more up-to-date software like Photoshop or Illustrator.

9. Krita

Image Credit: Krita

Krita is 100% free illustration software.

This tool targets users looking for an affordable solution to creating fantasy-styled illustrations and drawings.

You can use Krita to create concept art, comics, or any other type of texture painting or illustration you like.

Unlike some tools in this list, Krita is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. Also, this tool is kept up to date frequently, so it never becomes outdated illustration software.

Krita has a big, warm, and friendly community. If you are looking to broaden your network in addition to creating digital art, Krita is a good choice!

Similar to GIMP, Krita is open-source software. This means it’s a community-driven project developed by volunteers across the globe.

Being open-source means you can develop a custom version of the tool for yourself. This is a great feature if you happen to be a person with some technical background too.

Features

  • Hundreds of Brushes
  • Text and Typography Editor
  • Advanced Layering
  • Resource Manager
  • Vector and Raster Tools
  • Canvas Tools
  • Guidance
  • Selection Features

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Awesome free drawing tool
  • Cooperates smoothly with drawing pads
  • Easy to use overall

Cons

  • No mobile device version is available
  • There is no customer support to help answer burning questions

Bottom Line

Krita is another great and totally free piece of illustration software. This tool is specialized for creating fantasy-styled cartoon characters and other similar illustrations.

The tool is free so you don’t need to be afraid of going bankrupt for doing beautiful art.

For the technically oriented, this tool also allows for code customization as the tool is open-source.

10. ArtRage Vitae

Image Credit: Artrage

Artrage Vitae is a beginner-friendly design/illustration software.

If you choose to use this tool, you definitely get the best value by using it on a portable device. This lets you continue your work if you are on a move, such as in a car or airplane.

Artrage Vitae is a beginner-focused tool that is easy to get started with. However, the tool still has professional features, such as a variety of brushes, pencils, and color blending tools. With Artrage, you can easily create great-looking illustrations. Furthermore, it is easy to collaborate or share the projects with others.

The benefit of a lower price comes at the cost of fewer tools and features compared to other professional tools.

Features

  • Color Blending
  • Natural Paint Mixing
  • A Variety of Natural Painting Brushes
  • Special Effect Tools
  • Layers
  • Sketching and Drawing Tools

Pricing

  • Artrage Vitae Desktop: $80.00
  • Artrage Vitae Mobile:
    • iOS: $4.99
    • Android: $4.99

Pros

  • Feature-rich tool
  • Great for portable devices
  • Beginner-friendly

Cons

  • Occasional slowness of the desktop version
  • Some room for improvement in some of the brushes

Bottom Line

ArtRage Vitae is a great tool that offers a nice first touch for someone new to illustration and design.

Especially if you are someone who likes to work on an iPad on the move, ArtRage has got your back!

Although Artrage can do wonders, it has fewer features than the more expensive tools on this list.

If you want to get started as a creative illustrator or drawing artist, ArtRage is definitely worth trying.

11. Rebelle 5

Image Credit: EscapeMotions

Rebelle 5 is a cost-efficient drawing tool for illustrations.

The software is developed by a company called EscapeMotions.

If you are not looking to spend a big buck but still get a great tool with a bunch of essential illustration features, Rebelle 5 might be the tool for you!

Rebelle is known for the real-world color blending features that are far behind other similar software. This makes it possible for you to replicate real-world art pieces with a digital piece that looks almost identical.

Rebelle 5 has a versatile arsenal of brushes and painting features and tools. In addition to all the great features, this tool is user-friendly and easy to navigate. It makes your illustration process a breeze!

One of the great features is the multitouch gesture support. This means you can design with your fingers only. However, this tool is not available for mobile devices.

Rebelle is an illustration/drawing tool that preserves the physical art-creation process with results that look identical to physical art.

You can try their free experimental artboard to paint something on a canvas. It truly feels as if you painted on a physical artboard.

Features

  • Realistic Brushes and Blending of Colors
  • Express Oils
  • Pigments
  • NanoPixel Macro Zoom
  • Watercolor Granulation
  • Mixing Palette

Pricing

There is a free trial on Rebelle 5!

After the trial ends, you have an option to purchase either:

  • Rebelle 5 for $89.99
  • Rebelle 5 Pro for $149.99

Pros

  • Is unbelievable realistic in art emulation
  • Easy to try and use
  • Lets you easily replicate real-life art techniques
  • Free trial

Cons

  • No mobile device support
  • Slow on older hardware
  • Lack of some necessary features

Bottom Line

Rebelle 5 is inarguably the best illustration software that emulates the real physics of painting. You don’t get closer than this to feel like you are working on a physical art medium.

If you want to preserve the feeling of creating physical art when working on a digital piece, this tool is a must.

You can try their great demo for free without signup. Just head over Rebelle 5 website and check the experimental canvas.

This is an excellent painting tool.

But it doesn’t have the best image editing options or vector graphic illustration tools. If you are not into realistic painting, then this tool is not your best choice.

12. InkScape

Image Credit: InkScape

Inkscape is a vector illustration tool that is free.

This is a popular tool you may have heard about in the past.

Inkscape is an open-source app. This is great news for the technically oriented artists, as they can create a custom version of this tool to fit their needs.

Inkscape is among the best drawing and illustration apps. As of recently, the app adapted to using external plugins that allow further customization of the tool.

Because Inkscape is a community project, it lacks a rich central authority that would produce tutorials and guides. However, thanks to the big community, there are great guides and resources at your disposal. There is always someone who wants to help you out if you run into trouble.

Unfortunately, the UI of InkScape is not among the friendliest UIs in the market. To start using this tool, it helps if you have some background in other illustration software.

This is one of the flipsides of a free piece of software.

There is a small number of brushes that help drawing. But thanks to the external plugin support, this is bound to change in the near future.

Features

  • Pencil Tool, Pen Tool, and Calligraphy Tools
  • Embedded Bitmaps
  • Transformations
  • Layers
  • Gradient Editor
  • Advanced Text Support
  • Great Rendering Features
  • Multiple File Format Support

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Free
  • A lot of professional features
  • External plugin support to patch lack of features
  • Open-source and customizability
  • Great and mature community

Cons

  • Small number of brushes
  • Steeper learning curve
  • Complicated UI/UX

Bottom Line

Inkscape is another open-source free illustration software you should know.

This tool takes some time to learn, but if you are serious about learning design and illustration, you should give it a try. This tool is completely free!

If you are looking for a tool with more features and for example active customer support, Inkscape is not your best choice. Also, as a complete beginner, it can be a bit tough to work with this tool.

13. GravitDesigner

Image Credit: Gravit Designer

GravitDesigner is an all-round illustration software.

This tool is not only great for illustrations and drawing. Instead, it is a great tool for any kind of digital art project, such as web design, UI design, social media and marketing content, and much more.

There is a free version (for a lifetime) of the software. This is a great chance to try the (limited) features and workflows of the software before spending a buck.

GravitDesigner is vector-based. It performs great and produces professional-looking illustrations and designs.

This tool works where you work as it supports Windows, macOS, Linux, and ChromeOS.

GravitDesigner is a great choice for amateur designers looking to create vector-based illustrations. Also, thanks to ChromeOS support, this tool works really well for those using Chromebook.

Features

  • Online Editor
  • Powerful Vector Engine
  • Cross-Platform Support
  • Easy-to-Use Interface
  • Autosave to the Cloud
  • Cloud Integration
  • Smooth Learning Curve

Pricing

There are two versions of GravitDesigner:

  • Free Version
  • Pro Version for $49.99/year

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Completely free version
  • Versatile and works with almost any design project

Cons

  • The free version is limited
  • Some features blocked by the paywall
  • Lack of collaboration features

14. Ira Design

Image Credit: Ira Design

Ira Design is a great illustration tool for both beginners and expert creators.

This tool lets you create awesome illustrations with its five gradients and hand-drawn sketch components.

Ira is a free and open-source tool. If you are looking for a customizable and cost-efficient solution, you should consider Ira.

Ira has the necessary tools and features to create outstanding illustrations. There is a ton of pre-built templates, such as characters and backgrounds to choose from.

By using the pre-built templates and assets, you can further streamline the creation process.

Ira is a user-friendly tool that is easy to wrap your head around. If you have never used Ira or a tool similar, it’s not going to be a problem.

However, the customization is very limited as you solely use the pre-made components and color combos. However, if you are looking for a quick way to produce great illustrations, Ira is your best choice.

Features

  • Great Gradients
  • MIT License
  • Vector Support for Infinite Scalability
  • Templates and Pre-Built Assets

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Really easy to use
  • Intuitive UI
  • Allows for quick creation
  • Beginner-friendly

Cons

  • Focuses only on gradients and pre-made components. Thus, there is a lack of customization and uniqueness

15. Vectr

Image Credit: Vectr

Vectr is an easy-to-use online platform for illustrations.

Vectr is an illustration tool that is free to use.

This tool has a shallow learning curve for creating outstanding vector graphics.

Vectr is a great tool for marketing purposes. The tool is used by marketing people and entrepreneurs for creating simple illustrations in a cost and time-efficient manner. Also, you can make some very basic edits to existing vector files.

There is an online editor to Vectr. This is great as it lets you make small tweaks to your existing vector files.

For instance, if you have an infographic, it only takes a few minutes to change some words of it.

Features

  • Vector Graphics
  • Gradients
  • Pen Tools
  • Align Elements
  • Fills and Strokes
  • Element Arrangement
  • Collaboration
  • Online Editor

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Beginner-friendly
  • Great collaboration features

Cons

  • Lack of advanced features of the high-end programs

16. Autodesk SketchBook

Image Credit: AutoDesk Sketchbook

Autodesk Sketchbook is a professional illustration tool that is completely free. It is a cross-platform tool that works for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.

This piece of software suits best someone who is looking to create great illustrations and graphics for free.

Sketchbook is a drawing and painting tool with a bunch of versatile tools and features. In addition, this tool has an intuitive user interface that is easy to work with.

Although Sketchbook is a beginner-friendly tool, it still takes some time to learn how to use it. For instance, using the brush tools and color selection tools require some knowledge of the topic. Also, the tool lacks some crucial features like advanced layers or saving colors for reuse.

Autodesk Sketchbook is a professional illustration tool for serious creators that comes at no cost. Although it’s a bit limited software, you can get a lot of things done with it.

Features

  • Hundreds of Brushes
  • Advanced Color Fills
  • Free to Use
  • Dynamic Symmetry
  • Seamless Pen Interaction
  • Smooth Lines

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Great brush tools and basic features
  • Tablet accessibility
  • Cross-platform support
  • Easy to use
  • Beginner-friendly

Cons

  • Lacks advanced features
  • Some parts of the tool take a while to learn without a background in this type of tools

17. Grabient

Image Credit: Grabient

Grabient, as the name suggests, is a gradient generator tool.

This is a completely free online tool that allows designers and illustrators to experiment with gradient colors.

Notice that Grabient solely focuses on solving one task: Experimenting and generating awesome gradients. So it’s a color-picking tool rather than a full-on illustration software.

If you are looking to add a gradient to your design, you should experiment with Grabient first.

The great part is you don’t need to download anything.

Just open Grabient’s website and start scrolling through the gradients. When you find an interesting gradient, you can use the online editor to do whatever you like to do with it. For example, you can change the orientation, tweak the colors, or change the amount of presence each color has.

This tool does not have a learning curve because its features are really simple.

Features

  • Online Tools
  • Easy Previews
  • Change Colors
  • Adjust Gradient Alignment
  • Easy Preview

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Extremely simple to use
  • Free tool
  • A lot of gradients available

Cons

  • Only offers gradients and controls to them.
  • Not meant to be a full-on illustration software. Instead, supports a part of the illustration process.

18. Stubborn Generator

Image Credit: Stubborn Generator

Are you a designer or marketer looking to create professional-looking characters for websites, presentation slides, or marketing materials?

If you said yes, then you should try Stubborn Generator.

People-like characters are commonly used by professional illustrators to enrich content and media.

Stubborn Generator is an easy-to-use platform with a ton of pre-built components and colors to choose from. You can use the tool to create unique combinations of the components and colors. This allows you to create original-looking characters for your materials.

As the icing on the cake, every graphic component is vector-based. You can further continue processing these assets in Illustrator, Sketch, or Figma, for example.

Of course, if you are looking for more control and customizability, Stubborn Generator is not for you. But if you are looking to get things done quickly yet professionally, you should at least give it a try!

Stubborn Generator has 25 characters and 50 background objects to choose from.

Features

  • Templates
  • Great Looking Pre-built Assets
  • Easy-to-Use Interface
  • Supports Figma, Illustrator, and Sketch Export

Pricing

This tool is completely free!

Pros

  • Easy to get started with
  • Get illustrations done quickly
  • Good-looking templates and characters for professional use cases
  • Beginner-friendly

Cons

  • Not a full-on illustration software
  • Lack of customization and uniqueness in the results

19. PaintTool SAI

Image Credit: Paint Tool Sai

Don’t be fooled by the very early 2010s-looking interface!

PaintTool SAI is a go-to drawing tool and illustration software for creating cartoons and anime.

If you are a creator who is mainly focusing on cartoons and anime, you can safely start using this tool and look no further.

As you might imagine, this tool is beginner-friendly, and you will quickly get a hang of it. If you are getting started as a cartoon creator, this tool offers you a great place to start.

And although this tool is geared towards beginners, there is still a bunch of advanced tools and features even for experienced illustrators.

Unfortunately, this tool is only available on Windows. This tool is not free either, but there is a great 31-day trial you can try before spending a dime!

Features

  • Brush to Eraser Transform
  • Drag Tool
  • Selection Tools
  • Brushes and Air Brushes
  • Layer Tools
  • Anti-Aliased Drawing
  • Mini Version Preview

Pricing

There is no free version nor free trial!

Paint Tool Sai comes with a one-time payment of $50.81.

Pros

  • Beginner-friendly
  • Advanced features
  • Layers are easy to use and work with
  • Great for anime and cartoon-styled characters

Cons

  • No free version
  • Only Windows support

FAQ

Here are a bunch of common questions related to the topic and terminology used in this article.

What Is a Raster Image?

When you think about an image in general, you are usually thinking about a raster image.

For example, the images in your mobile device’s image library are all raster images. One of the key characteristics of a raster image is the loss of quality when zooming in.

If you zoom any image on your device, you can see the picture get blurry and less informative.

Raster (also known as bitmap) image is produced by photographing or scanning an object.

The visual information of the photograph is stored in a vast array of pixels. These pixels store information about the color and tone. When displayed on a screen, these pixels create a (raster) image.

What Is a Vector Image?

Unlike raster images, a vector image does not keep track of pixels to form an image.

(Of course, your screen still uses pixels to show the vector images.)

Instead of storing the information as pixels, a vector image uses mathematical formulas to store the info. A vector image keeps track of points and lines connecting them. The shapes and curves are saved equations on your device.

A key characteristic of a vector image is the ability to zoom it indefinitely. The quality always remains unaffected and the image doesn’t become blurry or pixelated.

When you export a vector image, it becomes a rasterized image you cannot zoom into without losing quality.

What Is Open-Source?

In this article, I introduced you to a handful of open-source free illustration software.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term open-source, it means you have access to the code files that make up the software.

If you have a programming background, this means you can create a custom version of the tool for yourself.

For example, if there is a feature or workflow you want to improve, you can just download the code files and make changes to them.

Any piece of software could be made open-source by the company developing it. But because software development is a business, most companies don’t like sharing their code for natural reasons.

Usually, open-source projects like GIMP are community projects developed by volunteer contributors across the globe. These projects don’t belong to a central company. Instead, open-source projects are commonly developed for free or funded by patrons.

Should You Pay for an Illustration Software?

It really depends on your use case.

If you are a beginner who has never tried illustration or the creation of digital art, you should not spend a buck on software.

Practically speaking, all the illustration software comes with a free trial or free version. Make sure to exhaust the free trials before spending a buck!

If you are more serious about illustration and graphic design, learning how to use a professional tool is inevitable. Unfortunately, the best software always has a cost. But to be a competitive freelancer or otherwise job-ready illustrator, you have to know how to use Adobe or Affinity programs.

What Is the Best Illustration Software?

The overall best illustration tools are Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.

These two have been around for a long time and are not going anywhere in the near future.

Also, by working with these tools you know the state-of-the-art graphic design tools everyone knows. This can help you land jobs or freelance gigs.

What Is the Best Free Illustration Software?

The best free illustration tools are definitely GIMP and Inkscape.

Furthermore, this software is open-source, which allows for further customization for the technically oriented.

How Long Does It Take to Learn How to Use Illustration Software?

It depends on the software being used as well as your skill level.

As you learned from this article, there are great beginner-friendly tools that you can learn in hours.

But generally, the easier the software is to use, the less customizability there is and the more generic results you get.

To master a professional tool like Adobe Illustrator, be prepared to spend countless hours practicing!

I think a more accurate question is how long should you spend learning how to use an illustration tool.

If you are looking to create basic illustrations every now and then, don’t spend time learning the tools.

If you are a serious illustrator or graphic designer looking for a job or freelance career, you should spend a lot of time learning how to use professional tools.

Wrap Up

That is a whole bunch of illustration, drawing, and photo editing software!

Needless to say, the best tool for you depends entirely on your use case. If you heard the term illustration for the first time and just want to try it, go with a cheap and beginner-friendly tool that is easy to use.

However, if you want to become a serious illustrator or designer, you should focus on learning to use a professional tool with some name.

To excel at something, you have to put in the work. This is no exception to illustration and design.

You can obviously use easy and free tools to create generic and less customizable illustrations. But because anyone can easily learn how to use those tools, there is more competition.

If you take the time to learn how to use a professional tool, there is much less competition and more room for expressing your unique style and imagination.

If you decide to learn how to use Adobe’s tools or Affinity suite, for example, be patient! It will take time to become a pro. But once you do, the money and time spent pay dividends.

Thanks for reading. Happy illustrations!

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