Not everyone has the cash to spend kitting themselves out with the most expensive graphic design software, particularly when starting a new business or embarking on a new career in design. Many will default to Adobe's fantastic Creative Cloud suite of applications, but for those who want to do the groundwork there is a lot of free graphic design software out there that can do the job just as well.
But to save you from doing said groundwork, and to help separate the wheat from the chaff, we've compiled this list and divided it into five sections – use the drop-down menu above to navigate to the page you want.
- Platform: Online, Mac, Windows, Linux, Chromebook
Available both as a browser-based web app and as a stand-alone desktop app, Vectr is a free editor for creating 2D vector graphics. With all the vector features you'd hope for, plus plenty of options for using filters, shadows and fonts, it's versatile enough for day-to-day design tasks such as creating icons, websites, illustrations, logos and more. Particularly useful are its live collaboration and synchronisation options, enabling you to hook up with anyone, anywhere to create in tandem.
- Platform: Web Browser
If you're looking to quickly output SVG, or edit an existing SVG file, there are a few online editors that will do the job just as well as Adobe Illustrator. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an open format that allows you to reproduce your Vector drawings programmatically, and one of the nicest projects is SVG-Edit.
The standard, albeit basic, toolset of every vector-image editor is here, and although it's limited to the SVG format it's surprisingly capable.
- Platform: Windows/Linux (Mac possible if you're technically minded)
As with many of the free options available, Inkscape focuses on the SVG format as its primary file format. This highly capable editor has a very good SVG integration, supporting many of the more advanced features that aren't always available in other apps – such as alpha blending, cloned objects, and markers.
Full support for different colour modes means this is a viable alternative to Illustrator for both print and web design, and although the interface is somewhat simpler than Illustrator, it's still possible to achieve extremely sophisticated artwork. Of particular note is the ability to trace bitmap images, support for variable width strokes and native import of Illustrator files.
There are source binaries available for Windows, Linux, and Mac, and compiled versions currently offered for Windows and Linux.
- Platform: Windows
Although at first sight you might think DrawPlus isn't really intended as an app for professionals, it's actually surprisingly capable, and as it's offered in a free version it muscled its way into our list of free graphic design software. DrawPlus is designed to be intuitive in use, and has a wide range of tools that mirror functionality in Illustrator, but in a more approachable manner.
There are also some nice extra features that are actually implemented in a more user-friendly way than Adobe's software – 3D being a prime example, where you can quickly make an object 3D via extrusion, apply a wide range of 3D styles or draw your own bevel profile that's instantly applied to your object. Similarly there's a collection of brushes and pre-defined templates to get you started working quickly.
The app works happily in CMYK, allowing you to easily output print-ready artwork and it's also capable of working with Pantone colour profiles.
Next page: Free image editing software