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The best digital art software for creatives in 2021

Best digital art software: Painter 2021
(Image credit: Corel/Archan Nair)

When it comes to finding the best digital art software you're absolutely spoiled for choice. The hardest thing is going to be deciding which package to go for, and that's where we can help. There are so many fantastic digital art apps on the market that you could spend forever trying to find the one that's absolutely right for you, but we've hunted down all the best options so you can choose with confidence.

Whether you're after free software, subscription-only options or the opportunity to simply pay once and keep your app forever, there's something for you here. And it doesn't matter if you're on Windows, Mac, iPad or even Linux; pretty much every platform imaginable has a creditable digital art package available for it. Simply scroll down to find our picks of the best digital art and illustration programs so that you can make an informed decision.

If you're looking for some great typography, don't miss our roundup of the best free fonts. Looking for more design-focused tools? See our round-up of the best free graphic design software. Alternatively, for art on the go, take a look at our pick of the best drawing apps for iPad. And do remember to check out the best Adobe deals available right now.

The best digital art software available now

The best digital art software: Adobe Photoshop

(Image credit: Xavier Portela)

01. Photoshop

Still number one, for many good reasons

Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS | Cost : $20.99/£19.97 per/month

De-facto standard
Very stable
Complementary iPad app
Subscription-based
No vector support

For a long time, Photoshop was the unquestioned king of digital art tools, but increasingly, competitors' offerings have been challenging its reign. However, Photoshop remains a hugely capable and powerful tool and recent updates have seen its capability expanded further. Add to that the complementary iOS app that's only set to get more powerful (see our Photoshop for iPad review), and the photo-editing giant becomes even more attractive.

Because it's part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, you can easily share your data and access all of your assets – including brushes, images, colours and styles – across all of your devices. There's also an impressive library of Photoshop plugins available to add extra functionality to the program. Find out more in our Photoshop CC review.

The best digital art software: Affinity Designer

(Image credit: Future)

02. Affinity Designer

A precise vector graphic design tool

Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: £48.99

Vector support
Great price
Companion iPad app
Confusing interface

Affinity Designer has everything you need to create custom designs and illustrations. With Affinity Designer, you have precise control over curves, brush stabilisation options, advanced blend modes, and best of all: one million+ per cent zoom (no, really – this might just be our favourite feature). 

Not only that, last year's upgrade (here's our Affinity Designer review) saw Affinity add support for the Apple Pro Display XDR monitor, and tweak the program to run faster than ever on new Macs. While this is a dedicated vector tool, you can switch to a pixel environment if you wish. A new version (Affinity Designer 1.9) is currently in Beta so watch this space for a new version coming soon. There's a companion app for designing on the go, too: read our Affinity Designer for iPad review.

Best digital art software: Painter 2021

(Image credit: Corel/Allison Gloe)

03. Corel Painter 2021

Corel's painting software is better than ever

Platform: Windows, Mac | Cost: $429/£359.99

Streamlined interface
Lots of brush options
Expensive

Corel Painter's latest version brings plenty of new enhancements and improvements, particularly for Apple users. There's Sidecar support on macOS Catalina, enabling you to mirror your Mac screen on your iPad and paint with your Apple Pencil, and for MacBook Pro users there's Touch Bar and multi-touch trackpad support.

Other new features include AI-based art styles with 12 artistic styles to choose from, a thick paint workflow for achieving gorgeous oil looks, clone tinting and enhanced layer control as well as plenty of performance optimisations. 

Painter is suited to a range of styles, and there are suggested workflows to create photo art, fine art, manga, concept art and illustration. There are also over 900 brushes, and plenty of customisation options to play around with.

All this does come at a cost: Corel Painter 2021 costs $429/£359.99 or $229/£180 to upgrade, but when you consider that there's no subscription cost to content with, and that discounts on the software do pop up every now and again, it doesn't seem so steep. To get an idea of what's on offer, see our Corel Painter 2020 review.

Digital art software: Rebelle 4

(Image credit: Escape Motions)

04. Rebelle 4

Create realistic watercolour, acrylic, wet and dry media artwork

Platform: Windows 8 or Mac OS X 10.13 or newer | Cost: $89.99/£71

A wealth of new features
Authentic painting experience
Affordable, with free trial available 
Uses a lot of memory

Rebelle 4 was released in December 2020, filling in some of the gaps of Rebelle 3 and elevating the program from good, to great. Described as 'one of a kind' paint software, which mimics the way paint behaves in the real world, new features include a vast upgrade in brush presets to more than 170 (answering our main complaint about Rebelle 3's lack of brushes). You can even share and download your favourite brushes.

In other upgrades, you can now use incredibly authentic watercolours and oils and there are new stabilisation and texture capabilities. There is also a long list of new layer, tool and canvas features, including natural RYB colour mixing, layer groups, colour management and even more. 

In short, we're totally impressed with this excellent, affordable piece of software that feels absolutely authentic. 

The best digital art software: Procreate

(Image credit: Procreate)

05. Procreate

A powerful iPad drawing tool

Platforms: iPad (iOS 11.1+) | Cost: $9.99/£9.99

Natural drawing experience
Impressive capabilities
Wide range of brushes
iPad-only

This isn't digital art software as we know it – Procreate is for iPad only (although if you want top art app for your iPhone, be sure to check out Procreate Pocket). However, it's such an impressive tool that we're starting to see more and more digital artists integrating it into their workflows, which is why we've included it in our list. This app packs in most of the capabilities you'd find in a desktop tool, including precise colour picker tools, a text tool, the ability to work with hundreds of layers, and industry standard tools such as masks, Blend Modes and groups. 

Choose from over 130 Procreate brushes (or make your own using the brush engine), to mimic different traditional art effects easily and effectively. There's also full PSD support. 

The best digital art software: Clip Studio Paint Pro

(Image credit: Graphixly)

06. Clip Studio Paint Pro

This drawing and painting tool is aimed at manga and comic artists

Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $49.99/£38 (Pro); $219/£168 (Ex)

Affordable
Cross-platform
Free trial available
Confusing interface

Clip Studio Paint is quickly becoming the go-to tool for manga art and comic creation. If you're looking for a natural and traditional feel that's wrapped up in a digital drawing and painting app, this is it. Clip Studio Paint uses advanced pen pressure detection for natural, realistic-looking pen strokes. 

This tool comes in Pro and Ex versions – the latter offers more advanced features, and is considerably more expensive. You can try either for free for 30 days, to see if you get on with it. Check out the best Clip Studio Paint tutorials to get you started.

The best digital art software: Artweaver 7

(Image credit: Artweaver 7)

07. Artweaver 7

Full-featured painting tool, great for beginners

Platform: Windows | Cost: Free (basic); $41.16/£34.14 (Plus)

Customisable interface
Large brush selection
Free version available
Some stability issues

Loaded with a large selection of preconfigured brushes, Artweaver will have you creating your masterpiece in no time. You can either use the brushes as they are, or customise and save them to your liking. Its easy-to-use interface is also highly customisable, although out of the box, it's set up quite nicely.

Artweaver 7 is a full-featured digital art tool available in two flavours: Artweaver Free and Artweaver Plus. Take a look at the comparison chart to help you decide which is right for you. 

The best digital art software: ArtRage 6

(Image credit: Steve Goad)

08. ArtRage 6

A cross-platform digital painting with realistic tools

Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $79

Realistic-looking paint
Great for digital painters
Slow for larger canvases

ArtRage has always been a favourite among digital painters and illustrators. It offers a level of realism for traditional paint texture and colour that not only looks incredible but is also a lot of fun to play with.

Although ArtRage is primarily focused on natural media and painting, it's flexible enough that digital artists who are used to Photoshop will find it useful too. With ArtRage 6, you can do everything you'd expect from a digital art tool: customise brushes, record your own actions, customise the look of your canvas and more.

Best digital art software: Krita

(Image credit: Krita https://krita.org/en/about/press/)

09. Krita

A free and open source painting program

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux | Cost: Free

Intuitive interface
Customisable
Not a lot of support

Krita seems to be one of the most underrated free and open source painting apps on the market, despite the fact that it's been publicly available since 2004. Krita has an intuitive and customisable interface, where the dockers and panels can be set up to maximise your workflow. 

The tool offers over 100 professionally made, preloaded brushes and nine unique brush engines, including a Colour Smudge engine, Shape engine and Particle engine. You can also import brushes and texture packs or create and share your own. As an added bonus, you can use a brush stabiliser to help you get perfectly smooth lines.

The best digital art software: TwistedBrush Pro Studio

(Image credit: Pixarra http://www.pixarra.com/press_kit.html)

10. TwistedBrush Pro Studio

More custom brushes than you'll ever need

Platform: Windows | Cost: $99 (version licence); $189 (perpetual licence)

Extensive brush collection
Windows only
Confusing interface

TwistedBrush Pro Studio comes packed with more than 9,000 brushes. Yes, you read that correctly – 9,000 brushes. But don't worry, you can still create your own brushes too. Like other digital art tools, TwistedBrush has everything you'd expect: layers, transparency, masks, extensive options for import and export, image filters, and more. It also has drawing tablet support with high precision sampling and pressure sensitivity.

However, this tool will set you back $99 for a version-specific license, or $189 for a perpetual licence. For that price, it might be worth considering one of the bigger names. 

The best digital art software: MediBang Paint Pro

(Image credit: https://medibangpaint.com/en/pc/)

11. MediBang Paint Pro

A free tool with everything you need to illustrate comics

Platform: Windows, macOS | Cost: Free

Free
Great for manga artists
Needs more brush options

If comics or manga art are your thing and you don't want to shell out for Clip Studio Paint, have a look at Paint Pro from Japanese company MediBang. This free, lightweight digital drawing tool comes loaded with 800 free pre-made tones and backgrounds, more than 50 brushes, easy comic panel creation tools and a huge selection of free fonts.

The best digital art software: Black Ink

(Image credit: Black Ink)

12. Black Ink

Explore your creativity with controller-based brushes

Platform: Windows | Cost: $59.99

Fast GPU rendering technology
Controller-based brush system
Not great for beginners
Brush tools a little confusing

It's all about realistic brushes, right? Not always! Black Ink has a different approach when it comes to brushes. Instead of trying to mimic traditional physical art tools, Black Ink embraces its digital strengths and uses a Controller system that opens a whole new world of possibilities in brush creation and customisation. Using a simple node-based language, you'll be able to create any type of brush imaginable, which you can then save and share with the community.

The best digital art software: Paintstorm Studio

(Image credit: Paintstorm Studio www.paintstormstudio.com/)

13. Paintstorm Studio

A powerful digital painting tool for professional artists

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, iPad | Cost: $19 (desktop); $12.99 (iPad)

Intuitive
Cross-platform
Slow on integrated graphic cards

Paintstorm Studio is another easy-to-use digital art tool that's worth a look. Some of the major benefits of Paintstorm Studio are its brush selection and customisation options (these include spacing jitter, texture, angle, and more). It also supports stroke post correction, which is a handy feature when you're doing linework. 

The interface is easy to navigate and laid out exactly how you'd expect (and the default colour scheme is fantastic). However, if you're not a fan, it's completely customisable.

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