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The best digital art software in 2022

Young female photographer working in her home office studio
(Image credit: Getty)

From Photoshop to Affinity, the best digital art software can help you create awesome designs on both desktop and mobile. But with both free and paid-for options available, knowing where to start can be a little intimidating. 

There are specific tools for photo editing, graphic design, digital painting and everything in-between – including specific niches like manga drawing. There's also the question of cost. From pro tools with pro price tags to completely free options, the best digital art software comes in all shapes and sizes when it comes to price. In this guide, you'll find offerings on both ends of the price spectrum, from zero to, well, not zero.

We've tested much of this software, with our reviewers assessing each pick against a range of criteria including power and overall performance (see how we test software for more – and watch out for the links to full reviews). If we haven't tested a program, we have good reason for including it, and have done extensive research to back up our claims. 

Many of these programs work well with the best drawing tablets you can buy, so you don't need to worry if you've already got a digital art setup. For drawing on the go, see our selection of the best drawing apps for iPad and the best 2-in-1 laptops for creatives. 

You needn't always pay a lot for the best digital art software, for example you can now get Rebelle 5 for free if you're in school or get 40% off if you're looking to buy a copy for yourself.

The best digital art software available now

screenshot of Affinity Photo - man drawn in black and white on red background

(Image credit: Ben Brady)
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The best alternative to Photoshop

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS
Cost : £48.99

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible value
+
Excellent Photoshop compatibility
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Impressive tools and performance

Reasons to avoid

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Lacks Photoshop's high-end features

Not everyone wants to commit to a monthly subscription. If that's you, Affinity Photo is probably your best alternative to Photoshop. It's a one-time purchase, so once you've paid the initial cost of the software, you're set. In terms of power and performance, it's pretty much on a par with Photoshop, though it lacks some of Adobe's most advanced features like content-aware fill. 

If you've already used Photoshop but want to move away from the subscription model, then Affinity Photo is certainly one of the best options since it offers full compatibility with PSD files, making it effortless to migrate projects over. It also has enough power even to cope with 100+ megapixel images, so you don't have to worry about working with super-high-resolution files. And if you prefer to draw on an iPad, Affinity Photo for iPad is also available. 

In our Affinity Photo review, we particularly liked how, unlike Photoshop, the tool isn't dependent on current OS and hardware – it runs equally well on older machines. If you're torn between the Affinity and Adobe offerings, take a look at our guide to Affinity Photo vs Photoshop.

Screenshot of Photoshop Layers paletteCB endorsed

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
Still the industry standard, for good reason

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

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De-facto standard
+
Complementary iPad app

Reasons to avoid

-
Subscription-based
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No vector support

Adobe Photoshop is still the industry standard when it comes to digital art. If you're working professionally, it's almost certain that you'll be expected to use it at some point and there's good reason for its dominance. Photoshop is basically good at everything, not just photo editing but also drawing, digital painting, and plenty more. It works across a wide range of devices, including smartphones and tablets. Check out our guide to how to download Photoshop to find out more.

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. And new features are being added all the time – we particularly loved the new neural filters in our Photoshop 2022 review.

The only real drawback of Photoshop is that it's not a vector editor, meaning you don't get smooth, scalable lines. Adobe of course offers its own vector editor in the form of Adobe Illustrator, and you don't necessarily need to choose between them, as getting a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud (opens in new tab) gives you both. If you know you're going to be doing a lot of digital art and you want the best software, a Creative Cloud subscription is probably the way to go (our guide to the best Adobe Creative Cloud deals is regularly updated with the best deals). 

Best digital art software: Corel Painter 2022CB endorsed

(Image credit: Corel)
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Painter's annual update offers plenty of improvements

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

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Streamlined interface
+
Lots of brush options
+
Runs better than previous versions

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive up-front price

As its name implies, Corel Painter 2022 is especially good software for digital painting. Our testing found that the latest update adds a new stamp-type brush customisation, and we love the fine control you now have over the dab effects of your favourite brushes. Like many digital painting effects, the purpose is to make your work look as "real" and un-digital as possible, and it does that very effectively.

Elsewhere, the latest update to Corel Painter has completely reorganised the brush library, which may be unwelcome news for anyone who's used to the old system, but we found actually provides a lot of useful functionality. We liked that brushes are alphabetised in categories that are easy to remember, and there's a filter search system that makes finding the type of brush you need much quicker and easier. For individual favourite brushes, there's also a 'like' button that lets you create a custom palette. 

Previous versions of Corel had a reputation for taxing computer hardware to an extent, but GPU acceleration has been tweaked in the latest edition, and while we found it hardware hungry, there was a definite improvement. The program will also examine your system on startup, and recommend optimisations to make itself run as smoothly as possible on your system.

Corel Painter 2022 is available for an up-front cost, though a considerably steeper one than Affinity Photo. It costs $429/£359.99 new, or $229/£180 if you're upgrading from a previous version. That's quite a lot of money but there are no ongoing subscription fees and Corel does occasionally offer discounts. See more in our Corel Painter 2022 review.

Rebelle 5 Pro edition is best

(Image credit: Ian Dean)
Create realistic watercolour, acrylic, wet and dry media artwork

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
A wealth of new features
+
Authentic painting experience
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Affordable, with free trial available 

Reasons to avoid

-
The Standard edition lacks some new features
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Can slow down on older hardware

If Painter 2022 is a little too expensive, Rebelle 5 could be your best alternative. Featuring more than 170 brush presets, it's designed to mimic the way that paint behaves in the real world. It's one of the best digital art software options for creating realistic-looking watercolours or oils with plenty of thick impasto effects.

In our testing, we found the latest edition of this impressive natural media painting app offers plenty of useful upgrades, including new stabilisation and texture features, natural RYB colour mixing, layer groups and colour management. We especially like the real world colour pigment mixing and the brilliant watercolour and oil simulation. It was a little disappointing that the standard edition doesn't come with all the features but if you need an affordable alternative to Painter that doesn't cut corners and feels authentic, be sure to take a look, and check out our Rebelle 5 review for more information on what we love about the software.

Digital art on Procreate

(Image credit: Glen Southern)
A powerful iPad drawing tool

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Natural drawing experience
+
Impressive capabilities
+
Wide range of brushes

Reasons to avoid

-
iPad-only

Want to draw and paint on your iPad? Then make sure you consider Procreate. It's an impressive drawing tool that's gained a big following among artists, and it's packed with powerful tools that make it a delight to use. You can work with hundreds of layers if you need to, and there are masks, blend modes and over 130 customisable Procreate brushes to play with. The typography tools add a whole extra layer of creative functionality too.

Procreate 5.2 offers support for the M1 iPad Pro as well as 3D painting tools (which we particularly loved when we tested it – see our Procreate 5.2 review) and AR previews, plus an improved interface and audio feedback for a better experience all-round. 

The best digital art software: Clip Studio Paint Pro

(Image credit: Graphixly)
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06. Clip Studio Paint Pro

A great drawing and painting tool aimed at manga and comic artists

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS, iPad, iPhone, Android, Chromebook
Cost: $49.99/£39 (PRO); $219/£168 (EX)

Reasons to buy

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Affordable
+
Cross-platform
+
Free trial available

Reasons to avoid

-
Confusing interface

For manga art and comic creation, Clip Studio Paint is one of the best digital art software programs. It delivers a natural, traditional feel, complete with pen pressure detection to give you realistic-looking pen strokes if you're working on a graphics tablet.

Clip Studio Paint comes in two versions: PRO and EX. If you need all the features and don't mind paying for them, EX is the way to go, but if you just want to see what it's all about you can get started with PRO. Both are available in 30-day trial versions; take a look at the best Clip Studio Paint tutorials to help you get started.

The best digital art software: Artweaver 7

(Image credit: Artweaver 7)

07. Artweaver 7

A full-featured painting tool that's great for beginners

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

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Customisable interface
+
Large brush selection
+
Free version available

Reasons to avoid

-
Some stability issues

If you're on a tight budget and some of the best digital art software above seems too expensive, Artweaver 7 is a very attractive option. It features lots of customisable brushes for a real-world look, and it's easy to get to grips with, with a straightforward interface that you can customise to suit your needs.

Artweaver 7 comes in two versions: Artweaver Free and Artweaver Plus. Take a look at the comparison chart (opens in new tab) to help you decide which is right for you. 

The best digital art software: ArtRage 6

(Image credit: Steve Goad)
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A cross-platform digital painting with realistic tools

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS
Cost: $79

Reasons to buy

+
Realistic-looking paint
+
Great for digital painters
+
Well priced

Reasons to avoid

-
Slow for larger canvases

ArtRage has been around for some time and has built up a loyal following among artists and illustrators. It's easy to see why since this is another app that offers realistic paint texture and colour but at a price that's a lot more attractive than that of Corel Painter (see above).

Although ArtRage is mainly focused on natural media and painting, it's flexible enough to be useful for digital artists who are used to Photoshop as well. 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. For more information about the previous version, check out our ArtRage 5 review.

Laptop using Krita image editing software: Krita 5.0 review

(Image credit: Jon Stapley/Future)
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A free open-source painting program

Specifications

Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux
Cost: Free

Reasons to buy

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Powerful brush selection
+
Free and open-source
+
Easy and fun to learn

Reasons to avoid

-
Less versatile than GIMP
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No proper mobile version

Krita has been quietly doing its thing since 2004, and it's one of the best-kept secrets in the digital art world. Free and open source, it has a great set of tools as well as an intuitive and customisable interface that you can set up in the best way to work with your style of painting. Its semi-guerrilla nature means there isn't much in the way of customer support, so you may need to consult some online tutorials to get the most out of it – but our testing found it is pretty easy and fun to learn.

When we tested it this year, we appreciated the powerful new brushes – 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. We would have appreciated a full mobile version, as our Krita review outlines.

The best digital art software: TwistedBrush Pro Studio

(Image credit: Pixarra http://www.pixarra.com/press_kit.html)
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10. TwistedBrush Pro Studio

More custom brushes than you can ever need

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

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Extensive brush collection
+
Good drawing tablet support

Reasons to avoid

-
Windows only
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Confusing interface

Need literally all the brushes you can get? Then take a gander at TwistedBrush Pro Studio because it comes with over 9,000 of them. That's probably more than anyone will ever need, but it means you should always be able to find precisely the brush you need. And if you can't, you can simply create your own brushes instead. 

On top of the multitude of brushes, TwistedBrush has everything you'd expect from a digital art package: 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. It's not a budget option, though. TwistedBrush Pro Studio will set you back $99 for a version-specific license, or $189 for a perpetual licence, and for that price, you might want to consider one of the bigger names above.

The best digital art software: MediBang Paint Pro

(Image credit: https://medibangpaint.com/en/pc/)
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A free tool with everything you need to illustrate comics

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Cost: Free

Reasons to buy

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Free
+
Great for manga artists
+
Works with Windows and Mac

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs more brush options

Looking for a free alternative to Clip Studio Paint for creating manga art or comics? Paint Pro from Japanese company MediBang is well worth investigating. It's a free and lightweight digital drawing tool that comes with 800 free pre-made tones and backgrounds, as well as over 50 brushes, easy comic panel creation tools and a massive selection of free fonts. Take a look at our MediBang Paint review.

The best digital art software: Black Ink

(Image credit: Black Ink)
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12. Black Ink

Explore your creativity with controller-based brushes

Specifications

Platform: Windows
Cost: $59.99

Reasons to buy

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Fast GPU rendering technology
+
Controller-based brush system

Reasons to avoid

-
Not great for beginners
-
Brush tools a little confusing

Not everyone wants realistic brushes. If you're looking for something a little different for your strokes then Black Ink could be the answer. Rather can copying traditional physical art tools, it takes a more digital approach, using a Controller system to deliver all manner of possibilities in brush creation and customisation. Through 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/)
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A powerful digital painting tool for professional artists

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Intuitive
+
Cross-platform

Reasons to avoid

-
Slow on integrated graphic cards

Paintstorm Studio is a great-value digital art tool that's easy to use and capable of achieving impressive results. With a decent brush selection, complete with customisation options (including spacing jitter, texture, angle, and more) it's perfect for creating striking artwork, and it also supports post-stroke correction, which can come in really handy 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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Tammy is an independent creative professional, author of Apple Game Frameworks and Technologies (opens in new tab), and the maker behind the AdventureGameKit (opens in new tab) – a custom SpriteKit framework for building point and click adventure games. As an innovative problem solver and industry leader, Tammy enjoys working on projects from content creation – including books, tutorials, videos, and podcasts – to the design and development of cross-platform applications and games. For Creative Bloq, she has written about an array of subjects, including animation, web design and character design.

With contributions from