7 best new illustration tools of 2017 so far

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In a crowded and increasingly competitive market, there are more illustration tools vying for your attention than ever before. And with new firms entering the market all the time, existing players need to keep bringing out new versions of their own software to keep up. 

The result is a big benefit for anyone who uses software to create digital illustration. At least it would be, if it wasn’t so time-consuming keeping up with all the new developments...

In this post, then, we round up all the new and newly updated tools for digital illustration released in 2017 so far. Read on, and discover how they could make your workflow faster and more creative than ever before.

01. Adobe Illustrator CC 2017

The latest version of Illustrator lets you crop your images within the software

Still the industry standard for creating illustration digitally, Adobe Creative Cloud’s vector editor got a big update this April in celebration of its 30th anniversary. And the big news is that you no longer need to switch to Photoshop to crop your images; a new Image Crop tool lets you do it directly in Illustrator. 

Now, when an image is placed into a document, you’ll see a crop option that will enable users to adjust simple crop handles. Cropped images discard the excess parts of the image, thus reducing the file size and improving performance of files. 

The latest version of Illustrator also comes with a new Colour Themes Panel, which lets you create, save and retrieve colour themes across the different Adobe apps.

02. CorelDRAW 2017

The new version of CorelDRAW uses AI to make tablet drawing more natural

CorelDRAW is a popular vector illustration and graphics tool for the Windows platform. Released in April, the 2017 version offered a number of updates, but the one that grabbed all the headlines was the LiveSketch vector tool, which offers nothing less than artificial intelligence-guided sketching. 

The idea behind the new feature is to make drawing directly on a tablet screen with a stylus feel more natural. LiveSketch uses AI and machine-learning technology to intelligently interpret your hand-drawn strokes, adjust them and combine them with existing vector curves for results that better match your intentions. The idea, then, is you will end up with illustration that looks more like what you would have produced using a physical pen and paper. 

You can read our full review of the latest version of CorelDRAW here.

03. ArtRage 5

ArtRage has been beefed up in the latest update

ArtRage is a popular digital painting and drawing tool from Ambient Design Ltd for both desktop and mobile devices. Originally launched as a hobbyist tool, it’s become increasingly professional over the years. And that trend has continued with the release of ArtRage 5 for Windows and macOS this February. 

Along with an entirely new (optional) interface,  ArtRage 5 comes with several major new editing and painting tools, including a custom brush designer, perspective, guides and a more realistic Pencil tool. It also includes additional image-editing effects that enable you to add highlights, drop shadows, emboss, and liquify effects to a layer.

04. Moleskine Smart Writing Set

The Moleskine Smart Writing Set makes it easier to digitise your sketches across multiple devices

All artists and illustrators love their Moleskines. So in recent years, the Italian notebook guru has been trying to find new ways for paper and pixels to work together. And its latest release ties the two together like never before.

The Moleskine Smart Writing Set features a Paper Tablet, a special Moleskine sketchbook that works in tandem with the Pen+, a digitally enabled pen that recognises the notebook and tracks the user's movement. The Pen+ works together with an app, so that any notes, sketches or drawings you make on paper can be instantly digitised, for editing or sharing with others. 

If that all sounds overly complicated, it really isn’t. You can see how it all works in practice in this video.

05. Paper by FiftyThree 3.6.8

Subscribers to Paper can now cut and paste elements of illustrations

Paper by FiftyThree has long been one of our favourite sketching apps for iOS. And the latest version, released this April, includes a very special feature indeed: Copy & Paste.

This new feature, which is only available to subscribers, enables you to select elements in one illustration (using the Cut tool) and quickly and easily apply them to another using the new Paste button in the Tool tray. 

06. Inkscape 0.92

The new version of Inkscape comes with mesh gradients and new path effects

Inkscape is a free and open-source tool for creating vector graphics on Windows, Mac and Linux. While this community-driven software lacks many of the features of paid-for vector editors, it’s still pretty powerful, and the latest version, which arrived in January, came with a flurry of new features. 

These include mesh gradients, improved SVG2 and CSS3 support, new path effects, interactive smoothing for the Pencil tool and a new Object dialog for directly managing all drawing elements.

07. Autodesk SketchBook 8.4

The latest version of SketchBook Pro is optimised for Surface Dial

SketchBook Pro is a drawing application aimed at professional artists and technical illustrators for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. In March, Autodesk launched a new version of the software for Windows 10, updated to take advantage of Microsoft’s Surface Studio and Surface Dial (shown above).

For example, you can now zoom in and out of your canvas using the Surface Dial, as well as undo and redo with a quick twist of the Dial. You can learn about the update in this blog post.