When it comes to the best digital art software there is more than ever before, from paint simulation software and apps designed for photo editing that can be adapted to digital, art and even drawing on the go using iPad. Whether you need the the best iPad drawing app or the best drawing app for PC, I've found something for you in my guide.
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.
The best digital art software available now
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Adobe Photoshop is still the industry standard when it comes to digital art, and remains one of the best digital art applications. 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.
Photoshop works across a wide range of devices, including smartphones and tablets as well as Macs and PCs. 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 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).
Procreate is, without a doubt, the best iPad drawing app around at the moment. 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.
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.
As its name implies, Corel Painter 2023 is especially good software for digital painting. The latest update improves on the paint flow and mixing system, particularly the new Fluid Brush system enables you to build layers of paint in a realistic manner.
Previous versions of Corel had a reputation for taxing computer hardware to an extent, but GPU acceleration was been tweaked in the 2022 edition, and while I found it hardware hungry, there was a definite improvement. Corel Painter 2023 goes a step further and has been enhanced for use on M1 Apple Mac, making it brushes 4.7X faster.
Corel Painter 2023 is available for an up-front cost, though a considerably steeper one than Affinity Photo. It costs $429 / £359 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.
If Corel Painter is a little too expensive, Rebelle 6 could be your best alternative. Featuring more than 240 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 review, 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 as well as the new AI-based Warp and Liquify tools. 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 6 review for more information on what we love about the software.
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.
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 to help you decide which is right for you.
ArtRage has been one of the best digital art applications for many years now 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.
What I love about ArtRage Vitae is how easy it is to use. The UI may look basic compared to some digital art software on this list but it's incredibly easy to grasp, ensuring you can focus on the art creation. In my ArtRage Vitae review I found I could get up and running in minutes, and the same UI transplants to the iPad too, so whether you're painting from a desktop or on your lap its all the same.
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.
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.
In our MediBang Paint review we found this has a wide selection of brushes and materials and good Cloud sharing features for collaborating with friends; the large number of pre-installed fonts and easy interface was noted too. Above all, Mediband Paint is free.
Best digital art software: frequent questions
How should I choose the best digital art software?
You need to decide what kind of digital art you want to create and which system you're using, this can guide your choice. For example the best drawing app for PC users can be Photoshop, and this does everything you'll need. But it's quite broad and deep, and so daunting.
If you want to paint art digitally then you'll want to go for software that simulates paint and how it blends; apps such as Rebelle, Corel Painter and ArtRage are fantastic for this.
There are more specialist apps too, for example Clip Paint Studio is ideal for comic artists and anyone who wants to replicate the manga style; this app has templates and guides to help and you can plan panels and even create comics in the software.
Most of the best digital art software will offer free trial versions to test out, and it's worth deciding if you want to pay an upfront cost or sign up to a monthly fee.
Do I need a drawing tablet for digital art?
Ideally you will need a drawing tablet to get more from your digital art, but these needn't cost a fortune. If you're beginning its best to get a cheaper drawing tablet, such as one of the best Huion drawing tablets.
As you progress in your skill level you'll want to upgrade to one of Huion's larger drawing tablets or try one of the best Wacom tablets; I personally love the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium Bundle as a great beginner to intermediate tablet.
There are also pen displays, which enable you to draw directly onto a tablet's screen but these still need a laptop or desktop computer to run the digital art software.
Finally there are the tablet computers, these are fantastic devices that can run digital art software and you can draw directly onto the screen, like an iPad, only these can come in large desktop sizes.
If you do own an iPad, then the iPad Pro or even the standard iPad, then this is a great way to get into digital art. Apple iPads run Procreate exclusively, and this is one of the best digital art apps around at the moment, and is great for drawing, painting and even creating animation.
Can I run digital art software on my mobile?
Yes, there are some fantastic digital art apps for mobile phones. For example Procreate Pocket for iPhone is a paired back version of Procreate for iPad while Android has versions of ArtRage and Clip Studio Paint as well as Adobe Fresco and Infinite Painter.
You can now get small drawing tablets to connect to Android phones and iPhones too, and many of the main drawing tablet brands feature the right connections to paint and draw on the go. Two of my favourites are the Parblo Intangbo and the Wacom One.