The best digital art software tools have shaken up the creative landscape. In a short space of time the number of options has exploded, and now creators are spoilt for choice. This has encouraged competition, with many of the best digital software creators upping their game by adding new features and capabilities to their existing tools. And as a result, the market is stronger than ever.
When it comes to finding the best digital art software, it can be difficult to make sense of the different options on offer. In this post, we've rounded up and reviewed the best digital art and illustration programs available right now.
Rather than just featuring premium programs in our guide, we've also got plenty of affordable options here, as well as some free tools. There's software for Windows and macOS, and we've a few Linux tools too.
Everything you need to unleash your creativity
Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS
For a long time, Photoshop was king of the digital art tools, but increasingly competitors' offerings have been challenging its crown. However, the latest update has brought with it a host of new features and much-needed improvements to the existing tools, and Photoshop remains a hugely capable and powerful tool. Add to that, the long-awaited addition of the complementary iOS app that's only set to get more powerful (see here for our thoughts on this), 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.
- Subscribe to Photoshop as part of Adobe Creative Cloud
Create realistic watercolour, acrylic, wet and dry media artwork
Platform: Windows 7, 8 and 10; OS X 10.11 or better
Rebelle claims to provide a true-to-life painting experience, and it doesn't disappoint. Described as "one of a kind" paint software that mimics the way paint behaves in the real world, you can simulate a drop of colour being blown and running in different directions. Blow length, drip size and the amount of water being 'used' can all be specified, whilst the Tilt option lets you decide which direction your colours will run in.
It's an excellent, affordable piece of software that feels absolutely authentic. The only real drawback is the limited number of brush presets included. But you can create your own with the built-in Brush Creator tool, so it isn't tricky to overcome the issue.
03. Affinity Designer
A precise vector graphic design tool
Platforms: Windows, macOS
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, the v1.7 upgrade (here's our 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. There's a companion app for designing on the go, too: read our Affinity Designer for iPad review.
A powerful iPad drawing tool
Platforms: iPad (iOS 11.1+) | Cost: $9.99/£9.99
This isn't digital art software as we know it – Procreate is for iPad only. 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, 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. Procreate has also now added a text tool, making it an even stronger option for digital artists.
05. 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)
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.
06. Artweaver 7
Full-featured painting tool, great for beginners
Platform: Windows | Cost: Free (basic); $41.16/£34.14 (Plus)
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.
07. ArtRage 6
A cross-platform digital painting with realistic tools
Platforms: Windows, macOS | Cost: $79
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 (and you can paint an impressive expressive portrait, too).
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.
A free and open source painting program
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux | Cost: Free
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 Color 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.
09. CorelDRAW Suite 2019
Corel has added a native Mac version to its offering
Platform: Windows, Mac | Cost: £599.99
CorelDRAW graphics suite has been around a while, but for a long time it's been Windows-only (save for a brief Mac effort a few years ago that's best forgotten). With its 2019 release, Corel announced the native Mac app we'd all been waiting for was finally coming (with Touch Bar support) – as well as a slimmed down browser-based CorelDRAW.app, for creating on the go.
Elsewhere, the CorelDRAW suite offers tools for a wide range of creative needs, from vector design to photo editing, web or print. There's also an AI-powered LiveSketch feature. All this will cost you, though. See our review of Corel Painter 2019 for more info.
10. TwistedBrush Pro Studio
More custom brushes than you'll ever need
Platform: Windows | Cost: $99 (version licence); $189 (perpetual licence)
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.
11. MediBang Paint Pro
A free tool with everything you need to illustrate comics
Platform: Windows, macOS | Cost: Free
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.
12. Black Ink
Explore your creativity with controller-based brushes
Platform: Windows | Cost: $59.99
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.
13. Paintstorm Studio
A powerful digital painting tool for professional artists
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, iPad | Cost: $19 (desktop); $12.99 (iPad)
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.