The best AI art generators have been the most controversial recent development in art and design. While they have big fans and detractors, many creatives are curious about how the technology might fit into their workflows but have reservations about how they were trained or where they might take us.
Generative AI allows users to generate images using text prompts, and it continues to develop at a rapid pace. Only this month, Adobe made the full launch of Adobe Express with Firefly-powered AI tools, and we're seeing more AI art appearing in mainstream uses. It seems clear then that if you're involved in art or design, you at least need to know about the best AI image generators and what they can do.
Below, we compare the best AI art generators that we've tried, evaluating them for how they compare in terms of results, versatility, ease of use and cost. As these tools are developing so fast, capabilities can improve from one month to the next, but we'll do our best to keep this guide up to date to reflect new developments. For tips on how to get the most out of the best AI image generators, see our selection of the best AI art tutorials and our basic guide to how to use DALL-E 2.
The best AI art generators today
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Adobe was a relative latecomer to text-to-image generation, but it's made up for that in 2023 with what we think is the best AI art generator for most professional designers. Although it's still in beta, Adobe Firefly is the most useful AI art generator that we've seen so far, not least because of its integration with other Adobe Creative Cloud products.
We've found that Firefly has certain limitations because it was trained on more limited assets than some of the models we mention below. But we think these limitations are more than made up for by the sheer practicality and versatility of the range of editing tools and easy integration with other Adobe products. It also has a much more user-friendly interface than many of the other best AI art generators.
Adobe Firefly comprises multiple AI tools for different uses, including a text effects model and a model to recolour vectors. Using the text-to-image tool, we found it possible to quickly edit images and generate variations of components. In Photoshop, the Firefly-powered Generative Fill can generate new elements in non-destructive layers complete with details like shadows and reflections to fit the existing image, massively speeding up compositing work.
Firefly was trained on assets from Adobe Stock and public domain content. Adobe seems to be taking its time developing a compensation model, and some Adobe Stock contributors are not happy about its approach. We therefore hesitate to call it an 'ethical AI art generator' but it does provide more peace of mind from an ethical and legal point of view than the alternatives.
Firefly is part of Adobe Creative Cloud. It has its own browser-based tools and Adobe has also started to integrate some of its capabilities into Photoshop (beta version) and Adobe Express. More tools are expected soon, including text-to-vector, text-to-pattern and text-to-template.
Midjourney initially had a more limited artistic range than some of the other AI art generators and was often used to create painterly fantasy scenes (Midjourney is the tool that won a fine art competition and which was used to create those 'last selfie' images that went viral last year). However, Midjourney is the AI image generator that has most rapidly evolved. Now on version 5.1 (perhaps higher by the time you read this), today it can produce stunning realistic images in a wide range of styles.
We found that the interface felt a little strange and counterintuitive at first because you have to request image generations from a robot on the Discord social messaging platform using commands (type '/imagine' to introduce a text prompt), but it doesn't take too long to get used to. In the public channels, everyone can see your prompt, and you can see theirs, which can be a good way to learn and get ideas for how the model interprets descriptions (on a $48/month 'Pro' plan, you can generate images privately using the '/stealth' command).
And there's the main downside of Midjourney. There's no longer a free version, so you'll need to subscribe to use it. Basic membership, good for up to 200 images, costs $8 a month. Unlimited images will cost you $30 a month. The more expensive subscription plans give you a higher quantity of faster generations.
We've found DALL-E 2 to be the best AI art generator for those curious to start exploring the technology – and certainly the simplest and most straightforward of the more advanced tools. It's well-known, so there are plenty of tutorials, it's easy to use and it can produce stunning results, including photorealistic images with lots of detail. Getting started is super quick, the main text-to-image function is intuitive to use, and we find the actual process of image generation is relatively quick.
We found that DALL-E 2 is capable of producing clean images that tend to match what was described in the prompt including details such as camera lenses or artistic styles. This text-to-image generator may be a little too limited if you want more control, however. You're currently limited in terms of the resolution and aspect ratio of the 1024x1024 canvas, and there's no option to add negative prompts or the range of specific instructions that you can in Midjourney. On the other hand, the inpainting and outpainting editing features offer a lot of flexibility for editing, replacing parts of the image or "uncropping" an image beyond its original frame.
Best of all, DALL-E 2 gives users enough free credits to get started with plus a free top-up of 15 credits each month. They don't go far but they at least allow you to experiment before you need to buy more credits.
The best AI image generators that we've mentioned so far require some form of outlay, at least eventually. The best AI art generator that can be used without paying a penny is the open-source model Stable Diffusion. That potential catch is that it requires a little bit more work. You can run Stable Diffusion locally on your own computer, but you'll need a powerful-enough machine and you'll need to know how to install it. Alternatively, you can run it online in several ways, including for free via Google collabs or you can use the model more easily but at a cost via Stability AI's web app, DreamStudio
In either case, we've found that Stable Diffusion is a powerful and versatile AI image generator that can compare to DALL-E 2 in terms of accuracy and the range of styles it can produce. It has the edge in some styles and It provides more flexibility than DALL-E 2 in terms of aspect ratio (although this can cause problematic artefacts) the ability to upscale resolution to 2048x2048, the option to add a negative prompt and to ability to use the seed number to restrict the randomness of the image generation.
There are some other nice features, including a depth-to-image tool, which can infer the perception of depth in an uploaded composition and transfer that to a generated image. The UI isn't quite as user-friendly as DALL-E 2's and you'll need to pick up a bit of terminology, but it's a very flexible AI image generator. The code is freely available on Github and can be used by developers in their own apps. If you opt for the ready-to-go route of using DreamStudio, it costs $10 for 1,000 credits –enough to generate around 5,000 images using the default settings.
One of the biggest weaknesses of even the best AI art generators (aside from Adobe's specific text effects tool in Firefly) is text. Tools like Midjourney have started to overcome the problem of human figures with six fingers, but the written word is still usually rendered as some form of alien hieroglyphics.
So it's the ability to generate text that makes DeepFloyd IF so impressive. This AI art generator is actually an offshoot from the Stable Diffusion team, and it's similarly free and open source. The imagery itself can sometimes have the edge over Stable Diffusion for certain styles (specify 'Polaroid' in the prompt, and the results actually look like a Polaroid). But what's most notable is that you can add instructions in the prompt to include text in the image. For example, you can request a bar in a desert at night with a neon sign that says "open", or Lisa Simpson holding a sign that says "Creative Bloq".
Like with all AI image generators, we found it to be a little haphazard, and phrases still come out partly garbled at times. For some reason, the model has a tendency to add an extra 'q' to our name: 'Creative Bloqq'. But still, this is the best handle of text in an AI image generator that we've seen, allowing you to put words not only onto signs but also into collages, fabrics, stained glass windows and more. It's going to be a dream for meme creators. Deep Floyd IF is currently available as a demo with a research-only non-commercial licence via Hugging Space.
We think Craiyon is still the best AI art generator for anyone who's just curious about the tech and wants to have a play around without the fuss of having to create an account or buy credits. Simply visit the website, type what you want, and Craiyon will start generating. The downside is that the results can still be total nightmare fuel, especially human figures, which tend to get terribly mangled. It's also a little slow, and you'll have to put up with ads unless you pay for a subscription.
This doesn't mean that Craiyon is unusable, however. It can come up with interesting surprises, and it's surprisingly diverse, which can make it an interesting tool to use for playing around with ideas. Its features are limited, however. With no in-app editing tools and no image-to-image generator, there's not a lot you can do in the app itself, although you can now include negative prompts. Bizarrely, you can order T-shirts printed with your generations, which could be scary. Note that Craiyon was previously called Dall-E mini until OpenAI had a word with them.
CF Spark is a bit more than just an AI image generator. It's part of Creative Fabrica, an online marketplace for crafts, fonts, graphics and other digital assets. There's a completely free version of the AI art generator, but if you pay for a subscription, you can earn money from your generations when they're sold on the marketplace.
We've found the generator to be one of the best AI art generators in terms of the range of different features that it offers. As well as the text-to-image model, you can generate texts, patterns, transparent PNGs and colouring pages. It also has its own prompt builder tool – yes, an AI tool to help you write your prompts for AI tools. There's a very busy community feed (users had generated over five million images at the time of writing). Here you can see other people’s creations for inspiration, and you can see other people's prompts and seeds, so you can try 'remixing' their work.
The downside is that there's not a great degree of control over the generations, with only a limited number of pre-defined artistic styles (kawaii can be cute and some of the illustrative styles can be effective, but this generator isn't great at photorealism, and it's 'hyperrealism' style is not very hyperrealistic). Generating images using the free plan can be slow too (paying for a subscription allows you to generate images faster and run multiple generations in the queue at the same time). CF is adding more features all the time, so some of this may change.
The best AI art generators we've mentioned so far all create 2D images from text prompts. But a recent novelty from the makers of DALL-E is SHAP-E, which does the same thing for 3D. They're not the most impressive 3D assets by any means, but it's the best 3D AI image generator we've seen to date, and assets can be exported as .glb files to open in Microsoft Paint 3D o Blender or convert into STL files for 3D printers.
The idea is that Shap-E will allow architects to specify structures' dimensions, materials and colours and game artists to create assets for virtual environments. It's not quite there yet, but at the rate that AI art generators have advanced in the past 12 months, this will surely be something to watch. The model weight, inference code, and samples can be downloaded on the Shap-E GitHub page and you can install the code using the Python pip command (you'll need an NVIDIA GPU and a high-performance CPU). There's an online demo on Hugging Face.
Which is the best AI art generator?
Ultimately the best AI art generator for you will depend on what you want it to produce, how you want to use it, whether you're prepared to pay and whether you're prepared to accept how it was trained. Many people consider Midjourney to be the best AI image generator at the moment for photorealism since it's made huge improvements in quality since it released its first model in 2022. However, Midjourney is no longer available for free and its Discord-based UI takes some getting used to.
We think that if you want a guiding hand – and you want to be sure that nobody's copyright was infringed in the process, Adobe's Firefly looks set to be the most useful AI image generator for many designers. It comprises a range of different tools which will gradually be integrated into Adobe's existing software, such as Photoshop. It can generate text effects and patterns as well as images and combination with Adobe's existing editing tools makes it highly flexible and compatible with many creatives' workflows.
Note that now AI image generators have a 100% success rate in interpreting the prompts given. The same prompt used in the same image generator will return different results each time (unless you specify the same seed value). Sometimes the results may reflect very accurately what you described, at other times they may be way off the mark. This means that with text-to-image generators that charge for credits, you're likely to use up a certain amount of credits generating images that you can't use.
How do the best AI art generators work?
The latest generation of AI art generators are diffusion-based models that convert text to imagery. You write a text prompt describing the image you want to create, set any parameters, and then the model will create what it thinks your description should look like. Most generators will give four initial images by default, allowing you to then fine-tune the one you like best before exporting it.
Why do the best AI art generators differ?
AI art generators often vary in the quality and reliability of their results depending on the machine learning model they are based on. In general, those trained on larger data sets can produce more varied and more realistic results, but these are also controversial because they were often trained on images without asking the original artists' or photographers' permission.
Further training can also make differences in how models handle particular types of queries. There can also be differences in AI generators that use the same model. For example, Stable Diffusion is open-source so many other generators use its model, giving it further training and putting it behind their own interface. This can lead to differences in ease of use and versatility.
Why are the best AI art generators so controversial?
The best AI image generators are controversial for several reasons. Firstly, there's the issue of copyright. Many were trained using billions of images scraped from the internet without the permission of the creators of those images. Many people argue that this equates to copyright theft.
Another big concern is the danger that it will become impossible to tell whether an image was created by AI, making it hard to separate fact from fiction, resulting in even more fake news online. There's also the concern that people will use the tools to create violent or abusive images. Finally, there's a fear over what AI could mean for creative jobs is some customers start to think that AI-generated imagery is good enough for their brand or product.