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The best graphic design software in 2022 – paid-for and free

best graphic design software: a graphic designer using graphic design software for a logo design
(Image credit: scyther5 via Getty)

The best graphic design software is essential for professional graphic designers but also for others who want access to the wealth of creative options that technology affords to make different kinds of visual design. No longer the exclusive domain of a couple of big players, the best graphic design software now includes a huge range of programs that can be used for both print and digital design, although it's true that there are still industry standard offerings, that, largely remain industry standard for a reason.

In the guide below, we'll round up all of the best graphic design software available now, from versatile software packages that cover a lot of areas to specialist tools aimed at particular niches. Most of the best graphic design software is not free. After all, developing, maintaining and updating such powerful graphic design tools requires a lot of work. 

That said, the best free graphic design software has improved a lot. For most designers, it won't be able to do everything they need and can't compete with the features of professional packages, but there is free graphic design software that's worth considering if you want to dip your toes into the field or produce occasional design pieces that don't justify paying for a more powerful and full-featured product. It can also offer a more accessible introduction with a less steep learning curve.

We've picked out the best graphic design software overall and the best free graphic design software based on our own reviews of each tool. Our reviewers have spent time using each program, testing them for usability, power, feature set, compatibility, use of resources and value. You'll find sections for different types of tools, from the best vector software to the best image editing software, the best 3D software, and the best software for data visualisation. In each case, we've considered the pros and cons of each tool to help you choose the best graphic design software for you. If you want more information, in many cases, we've linked to hands-on reviews that provide more detail about the software.

For advice on how to choose the best graphic design software for you, scroll down to the questions section at the bottom of this article. Meanwhile, if you're looking for design inspiration, see our pick of the best graphic design books. And for more software options for other purposes, see our guides to the best digital art software and the best video editing apps.

The best graphic design software today

The best vector software

Adobe Illustrator tutorialsCB

(Image credit: Adobe)
The best graphic design software for vector editing overall

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Industry-standard toolset
+
Time-saving AI features
+
Top vector and type tools

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires subscription

If you want the best graphic design software for vector drawing and editing, there's little need to look further than Adobe Illustrator. It remains the industry-standard software for a reason and still offers the most powerful range of tools and features for vector editing. Compatible with PC, Mac and even the iPads, Illustrator allows you to create everything from illustrations to logos with all the creative freedom you could wish for, while it has tons of features and shortcuts to help speed up your workflow.

Illustrator is part of Adobe Creative Cloud, and to use it you'll need to subscribe, either for Illustrator alone or to Adobe's full suite of creative apps, which includes Photoshop, InDesign and many more. The advantage of the subscription model is that you automatically get the latest updates to the software. The downside is that it's fairly pricey, although Adobe does run regular offers and there's a discount for students. See our guide to how to download Adobe Illustrator (opens in new tab) for more.

best graphic design software: Vector illustration of Asian dragon paradeCB endorsed

(Image credit: Serif)
The best vector software without a subscription-free

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: One-off payment

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Lots of useful tools
+
Good Illustrator compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks some advanced features

If you feel Adobe's subscription model is a little too pricy then Serif's Affinity Designer is a very strong alternative. The best graphic designs software available for a one-off payment, Affinity Designer has become very popular as it adds more and more features, coming close to rivalling Illustrator. In fact, it actually offers some tools you don't find on Illustrator, such as infinite redos and one million per cent-plus zoom.

Affinity Designer works with both Illustrator AI and Photoshop PSD files, so you don't have to worry about compatibility if colleagues or clients work with Adobe's software. Chances are that you'll find Affinity Designer runs faster than Adobe illustrator too. But the best part, of course, is that you only have to make a one-time outlay and a fairly reasonable one at that. There are no subscription fees, but you still get software updates included.

See our full Affinity Designer review for more details.

Sketch 2021 logo interfaceCB endorsed

(Image credit: Sketch)
The best graphic design software for UI and icons

Specifications

Platform: macOS
Payment model: one-off payment

Reasons to buy

+
Good for UI and icons
+
Easy to learn

Reasons to avoid

-
Mac-only
-
Lacks Illustrator's depth

If you're looking for the best graphic design software specifically for UI design, prototyping and/or making icons, then you might well want to consider Sketch – if you work on a Mac, that is. While it doesn't have the depth of software like Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer, Sketch has everything you need for UI design, and is easier to use if you have that one specific purpose. It has a minimal interface, which makes it easy to get started, but it offers a wide range of features if you need them thanks to a big library of plugins. 

The software came in for a major revamp in 2021, with the addition of new features focusing on better collaboration. For example, developers can now view, inspect, and measure your Sketch designs in any browser, on any operating system, all for free.

Read our full Sketch review for more details on this piece of software.

CorelDRAW screenshot

(Image credit: Corel Corporation)
Storied graphic design software that's had some major updates

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac
Payment model: One-off purchase or subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Feature-rich
+
Strong community of users 

Reasons to avoid

-
No longer the industry standard
-
Still expensive

First launched in 1989, CorelDRAW lost some of its popularity to Adobe Illustrator but it still has legions of fans, and the 2021 version of the software introduced some major updates. Long available for Windows only, a Mac version (opens in new tab) has been available since 2019, serving to broaden the appeal of a package that now has a lot of Illustrator's features, and at a slightly more affordable price. You have more flexibility in how you pay too since you can choose between a one-off payment or a subscription.

So why is CorelDraw lower on our list of the best graphic design software? It's actually hard to decide which is whether CorelDRAW or Illustrator is the 'better' tool. Both have tons of features, but the interfaces are quite different. While fans of CorelDRAW insist that it's easier to use than Illustrator, the fact remains that Illustrator is the industry-standard tool, and in many jobs, you'll be expected to use it.

That said, there's no issue with importing and exporting AI and PDF files to CorelDRAW. The main reason to choose one over the other however is because you prefer the interface and workflow. If you've never used either and you have the time, we'd suggest signing up for the free trial of both so you can compare them for yourself.

See our full CorelDRAW review for a more detailed evaluation.

Adobe Creative Cloud Express

(Image credit: Adobe)
The best free graphic design app

Specifications

Platform: Browser and mobile app
Payment model: Free and subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Very intuitive interface
+
Huge library of images and assets
+
Free-forever plan

Reasons to avoid

-
Occasional bugs / lag issues
-
Missing some shortcuts
-
No guides / margins

Formerly Adobe Spark, Adobe Creative Cloud Express (or CC Express) is the newest addition to the Adobe family, and the brand's attempt to compete with affordable entry-level graphic design software like Canva and Picsart. Available online and as a mobile app for both iOS and Android, it takes the basic photo/video editing tools and the Asset library from across Adobe's suite of apps and puts them into an accessible one-stop package.

Best of all the app is free to download and free to use forever – for a limited number of basic tools. You can unlock more features if you sign up for a premium CC express account for $9.99 / £10.10 a month or $99.99 / £101.15 per year. There's a 30-day free trial of the premium version so you can try it out before you commit. 

See our Adobe Creative Cloud Express review for more details. 

best graphic design software: Gravit screengrab showing sci-fi illustration of robots

(Image credit: Gravit)

06. Gravit Designer

The best free vector editor overall

Specifications

Platform: Browser, Windows, macOS, Linux, ChromeOS
Payment model: Free, with subscription for pro version

Reasons to buy

+
Decent set of tools
+
Works with AI and Sketch files
+
Desktop and online

Reasons to avoid

-
Free version has limitations

From the people behind Corel Draw, Gravit Designer is the best free graphic design software specifically for vectors. With a clean and intuitive interface, it can cope with most design jobs, from icon design and prototyping to vector illustration and animation. On the free version, you can export files as PDF, SVG or bitmap, and you access your work wherever you are via the Gravit Cloud.

You can use Gravit Designer online or download a copy to your computer. Note that you automatically start out on a free trial of Gravit Designer Pro when you sign up, and once your trial is over, you transition to the free version, but lose the Pro features – unless you pay for a subscription. See the full comparison between the Pro and free versions here (opens in new tab).  

Screengrab showing abstract vector shapes

(Image credit: Vecteezy)

07. Vecteezy

The best free vector editor for beginners

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free, with subscription for pro version

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Good vector tools
+
Many elements to work with

Reasons to avoid

-
Account required to save work

Vecteezy is a free, in-browser vector editor. It allows you to work with ready-made vectors that you can customise to suit your needs, or build your own designs from the ground up. Either way, it's easy to use and has some nice features such as advanced transformations and keyboard shortcuts. A subscription to the Pro version gets you more tools and resources. See more about how it works in our guide to how to use Vecteezy.

Vectr screengrab showing vector drawings of buildings

(Image credit: Vectr)

08. Vectr

The best free vector editor for live collaboration

Specifications

Platform: Browser, Windows, Linux, Chrome OS
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Helpful tutorials
+
Browser and desktop versions
+
Great collaboration tools

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks some advanced features

Vectr is the best free graphic design software for working collaboratively. Along with vector tools, filters, shadows and fonts, it includes a great set of live collaboration and synchronisation options. These make it easy to team up with colleagues or clients, so they can see what you're doing and provide feedback on your work.

best graphic design software: screenshot from SVG-edit

(Image credit: SVG-edit)

09. SVG-Edit

The best free vector editor for quick SVG jobs

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Good vector capabilities
+
Intuitive interface

Reasons to avoid

-
Short on advanced tools
-
Needs some code knowledge

SVG-Edit lets you edit and create SVG files using a standard vector toolset. There's nothing to download, as the software works straight in your web browser. It's not the most comprehensive of vector apps, but it doesn't really need to be. For simple vectors, or even slightly more detailed ones, it'll do the job just fine.

best graphic design software: Editing vector shapes in Inkscape interface

(Image credit: Inkscape)

10. Inkscape

Free vector software with good SVG integration

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Great SVG integration
+
Plenty of advanced features
+
Regular updates

Reasons to avoid

-
Can be slow

Inkscape is an SVG editor that boasts advanced features such as markers, cloned objects and alpha blending. Its interface is simpler than Illustrator's, but it's still capable of producing quite sophisticated artwork. There's support for various colour modes, so you can output just what you need, whether you're designing for digital or print. It'll import Illustrator files too, as well as enable you to trace bitmap images.

VectorStyler screenshot

(Image credit: VectorStyler)

11. VectorStyler

Vector software with a great range of brushes

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: One-off payment

Reasons to buy

+
Large range of vector brushes
+
Intuitive, easy-to-use interface
+
Has some tools that Affinity Designer lacks

Reasons to avoid

-
More expensive than competing options with one-off payment
-
No wider ecosystem or iPad app 

VectorStyler is a relative newcomer among the best vector software. Initially available only for Mac, it's now available for Windows too. Its big selling point is a wide range of scalable vector brushes plus the inclusion of some of the tools that are missing in other alternatives to Adobe Illustrator, such as shape builder, a blend tool and pattern tool. It can open and import Illustrator files, and you can import AI brush collections as well as create vector brushes from artwork and dynamically link brush content to editable artwork. 

We found the user interface to be very easy to understand, and tools like the warp options are very intuitive. However, while we found some of the unique filters and tools certainly very interesting, priced at $95, VectorStyler is twice the price of Affinity Designer, our top pick as the best non-subscription vector software. It does offer some of the tools that Affinity Designer lacks, so it's worth considering if you need them, but we find it's usually possible to find a work around. 

Another downside is that unlike Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer, you don't have that wider ecosystem that lets you switch quickly and easily between different apps (with Affinity you have that in Affinity Photo, Publisher and Designer). While VectorStyle can do a lot, it doesn't have the pixel tools that you get with Affinity and Photoshop. There's also no iPad app, a big advantage of Illustrator and Affinity Designer for graphic designers who work on the go or with a stylus.

The best image editing software

A screenshot from Adobe Photoshop, one of the best graphic design optionsCB

(Image credit: Adobe)
The best graphic design software for editing images

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, iPad
Payment model: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Industry standard bitmap editor
+
All the tools you'll need
+
AI-powered features

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires subscription

You probably don't need us to tell you that Adobe's Photoshop is the industry-standard software for image editing. The package has long been a household name and just as Illustrator remains the best graphic design software for vector work thanks to its regular updates, Photoshop continues to dominate in image editing. In fact, it can do a lot more than just image editing: everything from touching up photos to digital drawing and painting, 3D modelling and UX design. It's a fully featured package, and Adobe's been adding powerful AI tools under its Adobe Sensei banner to allow you to do things like remove backgrounds in just a couple of clicks.

As with Illustrator, you'll need a subscription, but then if you're a working designer a subscription to Creative Cloud is almost a must, granting you access to Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and more. As with all Creative Cloud tools, you get regular updates for free. The latest release in October 2021 (version 23.0) added automatic selections on hover, the ability to share documents for commenting, and increased interoperability with Illustrator. See our full Photoshop 2022 review for more details. For help understanding the different payment options, see our article on How to download Photoshop.

A screenshot from Affinity Photo, one of the best graphic design software optionsCB endorsed

(Image credit: Serif)
The best graphic design software for imaging with no subscription

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: one-off payment

Reasons to buy

+
Fantastic value
+
Strong set of features
+
Great Photoshop compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks Photoshop's heavyweight features

Again, if you don't want the regular cost of a subscription, the best option comes from Serif's Affinity series. Affinity Photo is available for a very reasonable one-off payment for the desktop app, and a separate payment for the iPad app, and it offers a close match for most of Photoshop's features, it has all the photo retouching tools most people need, as well as advanced painting tools with a huge library of brushes. You can import and export PSD files and even smart objects. Users get updates for free, with the latest big revamp in August (1.10) adding greater layer blending efficiency.

See our full Affinity Photo review for more details.

A screenshot from Procreate, one of the best graphic design options for image editingCB endorsed

(Image credit: Procreate)
The best painting app for iPad

Specifications

Platform: iPad
Payment model: one-off payment

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent price
+
Amazing painting tools
+
Impressive performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a full design package

Both Photoshop and Affinity Photo are now available for the iPad. But if all you need is a set of drawing tools, without a bunch of design-related extras, Procreate's probably the best graphic design software for you. Procreate has a great reputation within the artist community, and for good reason. It offers lots of beautiful brushes and helpful tools, such as QuickShape, which give you perfect shapes every time, and StreamLine, for turning your rough strokes into smooth curves. You can even paint filters straight onto your canvas.

At a price that's even lower than Affinity Photo's, this is an essential iPad app. The iPhone version, Procreate Pocket (opens in new tab), is well worth checking out too.

Check out our complete Procreate review.

Image-editing software GIMP, one of the best graphic design software options, being used on Windows laptop

(Image credit: Jon Stapley/Future)
The best free alternative to Photoshop

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Vast set of tools
+
Capable of excellent results

Reasons to avoid

-
Eccentric front end
-
It's called GIMP

Even the best free graphic design software can't really come close to Photoshop's abilities. but, despite the offputting name, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) does a very good job. By default, the interface is kind of clunky, but it's easy to update it to a more Adobe-style feel. Either way, GIMP contains a lot of powerful design tools. You'll be able to work with all the popular file formats without trouble. And you'll find a very capable file manager built in, along similar lines to Adobe's Bridge. See our full GIMP review for more details.

Screenshot showing the brush selection in Krita, one of the best graphic design software options

(Image credit: Jon Stapley/Future)

16. Krita

The best free, open-source painting tool

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Designed for artists and illustrators
+
Excellent painting tools
+
Good for pattern creation

Reasons to avoid

-
Not much support

A screengrab of the resize tool in Canva, one of the best free graphic design software options

(Image credit: Rachael Sharpe / Canva)
The best free graphic design software for editing images

Specifications

Platform: Browser, iOS, Android
Payment model: Free, with subscription for pro version

Reasons to buy

+
Full design suite
+
Loads of elements to use
+
Free to use

Reasons to avoid

-
Pro features require subscription

Canva is among the best free graphic design software for editing images. We found it makes it very easy to carry out quick changes such as cropping and resizing images, or adding filters, frames, text, and effects. You can do everything in the browser, or via a mobile app, and there are no restrictions on editing images with the free version; for example, no watermarks are applied.

Canva is also more than an image editor, it's fully fledged graphic design software featuring a colour palette tool, font combination picker, a photo collage maker, and more. There's even a dedicated infographic maker (see our guide to the best infographic makers for more options there). While it doesn't quite match all the abilities of Photoshop, Canva is pretty impressive for a free app. You can use it in the browser for the full experience, but most of its tools are also available for both Android and iOS. 

The paid version, Canva Pro, also has some interesting features. When we reviewed it, we liked Canva Pro’s Brand Kit, which could be a useful feature to help small companies stay on-brand across their designs, allowing you to set pre-set brand fonts, logos, colours and pre-designed templates. We also found the resize and the background remover tools very easy to use, and perfect for those with little experience of using design software. See our full Canva review for more details.

Best graphic design software: RawTherapee screenshot featuring sunset image

(Image credit: RawTherapee)

18. RawTherapee

Fix your photos with this free, open source app

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Good photo editor
+
Batch processing tools
+
Great RAW support

Reasons to avoid

-
Not updated since Feb 2020

RawTherapee is free, open-source software that makes it easy to fix your photos. It's not fully fledged image editing software, but you can use it to correct distortion, boost colours, recover details and much more. It can also speed up your workflow by allowing you to batch process images. You can also send images to other software, such as GIMP (number 21 below).

A screenshot from Photo Pos Pro, one of the best graphic design options

19. Photo Pos Pro

A user-friendly interface and a wide range of features

Specifications

Platform: Windows
Payment model: Free (premium version has a one-off cost)

Reasons to buy

+
User-friendly
+
Good for photo-editing
+
Lots of plugins available

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for general image-making

Photo Pos Pro is simple, but perfect for amateurs and enthusiasts looking for an easy way to edit their images. This free software boasts a very user-friendly interface, as well as an in-depth help system, to get you started. It's built with image enhancement and editing in mind, but it'll also stretch to more advanced techniques, with plenty of expansions and plugins available.

Krita is a free and open-source painting tool that's been around since 1999. It's popular in the VFX industry and with concept artists, illustrators, matte and texture artists. It's famous for its huge collection of brushes, as well as brush stabilisers for smoothing out shaky lines. And if you want to tweak things further, there are loads of plugins available, ranging from advanced filters to painting assistants for perspective work. When we reviewed the latest version, 5.0, we found that it's stability has been much approved and doesn't suck up resources like it could in the past. See our full Krita review for more details, and see our Krita tutorial.

best graphic design software: Pixlr screenshot featuring cutout photo of girl

(Image credit: Pixlr)

20. Pixlr

A free image editor that's quick and easy to use in the browser

Specifications

Platform: Browser, iOS, Android
Payment model: Free, with subscription for advanced features

Reasons to buy

+
Three versions
+
Great, focused tools
+
Now works in browser

Reasons to avoid

-
Advanced options require subscription

Pixlr is a suite of three apps that work in the browser or via iOS and Android apps. You don't have to sign up to use them, and you can get going straight away. 

Pixlr X is a quick and easy photo editing tool and ideal for giving your work a quick boost with one-click edits and artistic effects. Pixlr E is a more substantial image editing app with a collection of useful editing tools. Pixlr BG is an AI-powered tool designed to remove the backgrounds from photos. 

They couldn't be easier to use. And the only downside with the free version is that you'll get intrusive ads, and a six-second delay when downloading your work. Both are removed with subscriptions, which also you give you advanced tools, extra overlays, stickers and a stock library, 

Best graphic design software: Paint.net screenshot featuring landscape image

21. Paint.NET

A free Photoshop alternative for photo editing

Specifications

Platform: Windows
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Good free photo editor
+
Some useful painting tools
+
Regular updates

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacking in advanced features

Paint.NET started out as an updated version of the Paint app included with early versions of Windows. And that may not fill you with hope, it's actually pretty capable. It's easy to use, for one, and there's a range of effects available, allowing you to easily create fake perspective, blend and push pixels around the canvas, tile and repeat selections, and more.

Best graphic design software: Sumo Paint screenshot featuring abstract patterns

(Image credit: Sumo)

22. Sumo Paint

An impressive browser-based image editor

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free, with subscription for pro version

Reasons to buy

+
Fully-fledged web app
+
Plenty of tools and brushes
+
Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
Downloadable version requires subscription

Sumo Paint is a browser-based image editor, with all the standard features you'd expect from a desktop tool. These include brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning and gradients, accessible from a floating toolbar. A Pro version is available for a monthly sub, and Sumo also offers other online tools, including a photo editor and a 3D editor.

The best 3D software

Best graphic design software: Autodesk Maya screenshot featuring stylised human faceCB

(Image credit: Autodesk)
The best graphic design software for 3D work

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: Subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful & feature-rich
+
Covers the entire 3D workflow
+
Free for students & educators

Reasons to avoid

-
Steep learning curve

Autodesk Maya is the best graphic design software for 3D work, and is commonly used across the industry, right up to top studios like Pixar or Framestore. It contains huge range of tools and features covering pretty much the entire 3D workflow, from modelling through to rendering and animation. Be warned, though, the price and the time it'll take you to learn will be off-putting to anyone who's not well-versed in 3D. However, if you're a student or educator, you can sign up for free educational access to the Autodesk range. See our full Maya 2020 review.

Best graphic design software: Cinema 4D screenshot featuring military vehicleCB endorsed

(Image credit: Maxon)

24. Cinema 4D

Full-featured 3D software that's ideal for beginners and pros

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Relatively easy to use
+
Strong set of tools
+
Great community support

Reasons to avoid

-
No free version

Looking for the best graphic design software for 3D, but want something easier to learn than Autodesk Maya? Maxon's Cinema 4D is worth investigating. It's relatively easy to get to grips with, with a huge and supportive community as well as loads of tutorials and a dedicated training site.

The software features volumetric modelling tools that make it easier to get impressive results when you're starting out, as well as a full-featured parametric modelling toolset and the ability to extend its functionality with plugins. It plays nicely with many Adobe tools, most strikingly After Effects. And as its maker Maxon is in the process of acquiring Zbrush, we expect there'll be some nice integrations there soon, too. Like all good 3D software, Cinema 4D is expensive, but there's a 14-day trial version as well as a free education version for students and teachers. See our selection of Cinema 4D tutorials for more details.

Best graphic design software: 3ds Max screenshot featuring sailing ships at seaCB endorsed

(Image credit: Autodesk)

25. 3ds Max

A professional 3D toolset for Windows users only

Specifications

Platform: Windows
Payment model: subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Easier to use than Maya
+
Impressive 3D tools
+
Free for students & educators

Reasons to avoid

-
Windows-only

Another industry standard tool, 3ds Max is a Windows-only app with a powerful set of features. Easier to learn than Maya, but no less capable, it features modelling, fluid simulation, hair and fur, and pretty much everything you need for character rigging and animation. There's a 30-day trial version available, and you can use the software for free if you're in education. See our selection of 3ds Max tutorials for more details.

best graphic design software: Monster being designed in Blender interface

(Image credit: Blender)

26. Blender

The best free graphic design software for 3D modelling

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Full 3D creation suite
+
Free and open source
+
Regular updates

Reasons to avoid

-
Learning curve

Blender is hands-down the best free graphic design software for 3D work. Free and open source, it's a full 3D content creation suite with a hugely impressive stack of tools. Its makers are constantly working on its development, and you can pretty much do anything 3D related with this software, including modelling, texturing, animation, rendering and compositing. Although it's not widely used at the top level of the industry, a number of major films have been made with it, including Netflix's Next Gen (opens in new tab). See our collection of Blender tutorials.

Best graphic design software: SketchUp Free screenshot featuring modernist architecture

27. SketchUp Free

The best free graphic design software for 3D beginners

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Good for getting started
+
Large library of free models
+
Easy to pick up and use

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively basic results

Getting started in 3D can be quite the learning curve. SketchUp Free provides a friendly and gentle introduction. This free software starts you off by simply drawing lines and shapes, which you can then push and pull around to turn into 3D forms. For extra inspiration, you can search the SketchUp 3D Warehouse's huge library of models and download them for free.

Best graphic design software: Daz Studio screenshot featuring woman's face

28. Daz Studio

The best free graphic design software for building 3D figures

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Perfect for building 3D figures
+
High quality renders
+
Plenty of tutorials available

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a full 3D package

Daz Studio is a 3D figure customisation, posing and animation tool that enables artists of all skill levels to create digital art using virtual people, animals, props, vehicles, accessories and environments. It allows you to create custom 3D characters and avatars, design virtual environments, produce graphic design elements and much more – making it one of the best graphic design software choices out there. 

Dinosaur being designed in Hexagon interface

(Image credit: Daz3D)

29. Hexagon

The best free 3D modelling tool for newbies

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: free

Reasons to buy

+
Works well with Daz 3D
+
Plenty of modelling tools
+
Intuitive interface

Reasons to avoid

-
No animation tools

Here's another great choice for anyone new to 3D. Hexagon is free modelling software from Daz 3D that includes a range of powerful tools, including Daz Studio 3D Bridge, sculpted primitives, freehand modelling brushes, micro-displacement modelling tools, comprehensive UV-mapping modules, advanced 3D paint, and instant ambient occlusion. Use it alongside Daz Studio for a complete 3D suite.

Schoolgirls drawn Manga-style in ZBrush Mini Core interface

(Image credit: Zbrush)

30. ZBrushCoreMini

Another excellent 3D sculpting tool for beginners

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS
Payment model: free

Reasons to buy

+
Great for learning 3D
+
Fairly easy to use
+
Good tools

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks advanced features

If you want to get a feel for digital sculpting, Pixologic's ZBrushCoreMini is a fantastic starting point. If you're a 3D pro, meanwhile, you'll find it a quick and easy tool for banging out concepts. ZBrushCoreMini is based on Pixologic's ZBrush, the most widely-used digital sculpting application in today's market. So, when you're ready to move on to the next level, skills learned here can be directly translated into ZBrush. Note that this 3D software is free for non-commercial use only.

Best graphic design software: Houdini screenshot featuring sci-fi character

31. Houdini Apprentice

Free software for VFX and 3D animation

Specifications

Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
All of Houdini's features
+
Powerful 3D tools
+
Amazing results

Reasons to avoid

-
Non-commercial use only

Houdini is a professional VFX and 3D animation tool that's popular across the media industry. It's very expensive piece of software, but you can get Apprentice version for free. The only drawback is that it's purely for learning purposes, so you can't use what you create for commercial purposes.

Best graphic design software: SculptGL screenshot featuring stylised human face in 3D

(Image credit: Stephane Ginier)

32. SculptGL

Easy-to-use 3D sculpting tool based in the browser

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free

Reasons to buy

+
Simple to use
+
Works in the browser
+
Surprisingly capable

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks more advanced tools

Want to try some digital sculpting right now without having to download anything? Stéphane Ginier's SculptGL runs right in the browser; although there's also a downloadable version (opens in new tab) and a Chrome app (opens in new tab). And it provides you with plenty of sculpting tools as well as PBR vertex painting and alpha texture support.

SculptGL supports multi-resolution sculpting and is capable of voxel remeshing and dynamic retopology. And it'll import and export OBJ, PLY and STL files. There are more powerful free 3D tools to be had, but as a free app, SculptGL is well worth having to hand.

The best data visualisation software

Best graphic design software: Genially screenshot

(Image credit: Genially)

33. Genially

The best graphic design software for data visualisation

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free and subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile datavis tools
+
Easy to use
+
Lots of sharing options

Reasons to avoid

-
Free version adds watermarks

Looking for the best graphic design software for data visualisation? We recommend Genially. Perfect creating everything from infographics to quizzes and presentations, it enables you to make engaging, visually-appealing and delightfully shareable content quickly and easily.

There's a free version to get you started, with plenty of free templates and resources, but your designs will be watermarked. To remove this, and enjoy advanced features such as offline viewing, you'll need to move to a paid plan.

Best graphic design software: Infogram screenshot

34. Infogram

Create infographics for your website or to share on social media

Specifications

Platform: Browser
Payment model: Free and subscription

Reasons to buy

+
Lots of templates
+
Easy to get started
+
Real-time results

Reasons to avoid

-
Subscription needed to download images

Infogram is a useful free tool for creating graphs, charts and maps, with the added bonus of adding images and videos if you want to create engaging infographics. You can arrange your data in a simple spreadsheet that you can then edit to see the results in real time. And when you're satisfied with the result you can publish it to the Infogram website to embed it on your own site, or share via social media. Also see our guide to the best infographic maker.

What software do graphic designers use?

For most working graphic designers, Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of apps is the standard choice. Its main tools for graphic design are Photoshop (raster image editing), Illustrator (vector image editing), InDesign (desktop publishing) and After Effects (motion design). You can subscribe to the Creative Cloud suite as a whole, or take out a single-app subscription. Either way, you'll also get the Behance portfolio service and access to Adobe Fonts. See our guide to getting a Creative Cloud discount to make sure you find the best price.

For graphic designers on a budget, Affinity's suite of apps (opens in new tab) provide a close approximation to Adobe's tools, namely Affinity Photo (which rivals Photoshop), Affinity Designer (which rivals Illustator) and Affinity Publisher (which rivals InDesign). There is no equivalent, however, to After Effects.

What's the best graphic design software for beginners?

If you're new to graphic design, there are a number of apps that allow you to get started for free. One of our top recommendations is Canva (opens in new tab), a lightweight app for making quick designs in your browser. You don’t need to download anything, and you don’t have to pay either, unless you want to unlock advanced features and extra resources. 

While you learn graphic design theory, Canva will allow you to put it into practice. Once you've reached a certain level of expertise, you'll then naturally gravitate towards one of the paid apps on our list to get more sophisticated tools. 

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Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes, news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at a design and branding agency based in London and Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors. He enjoys photography and wellness and also dances tango.