Top 12 Best Digital Art Programs for Drawing, Painting & Illustration : Free and Paid

Jan 18,2022 PM 18:38

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drawing in medibang paint software with XP-Pen Artist pro 16 display drawing tablet.jpg

In recent years digital advancements have designers leaving pen and paper behind, allowing them to create visual image files using their computer mouse or Graphic Drawing Tablets.

if you are good at freehand pencil/drawing then a tablet is great to have your work already created in the digital realm without transferring it there later to work on more. sketching basically, i'm not good at it but a good sketcher would probably love a good tablet.

and, if you need to edit (especially for raster images) down to individual pixels and pixel groups then a tablet is very helpful.

tablets are great to have when you need to transfer a raster image into a vector environment and vice versa because you are definitely going to need to edit pixel by pixel to get edges to blend etc.

Almost any professional graphics software will work for Drawing tablets, as they have pretty much a stranglehold on the digitizer tablet market. So you should pick the right software for your needs and preferences.

I tried out a lot during the years: photoshop (cs6 - cc ), krita, gimp, paint tool SAI, mypaint, corel painter, Clip studio paint and maybe more, just can't remember. I own a XPPen Artist Pro 16 graphics tablet with laminated screen 15.4-inch .

What I can say is that every software has their own advantages. The question is: what advantages are good for you personally. That's why I suggest to try different softwares before you decide which one is the best for you.

I can name some really-well known ones and I'll say my own personal opinion about them.

5 Best Paid Digital Drawing programs for Artists :

On this side we've the comercial programs. They can be very pricey but they have the advantage in that you're buying a high quality product right out of the box made by paid professionals. They won't suffer from a lack of updates or bugs like most opens source programs do.

1. Adobe Photoshop CC

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free trial and subscription model

Adobe Photoshop CC software.jpg

The king of photo editing, painting and hands down the best program. When you see an amazing painting eight out of ten times was made on photoshop. On the free side only Krita comes close to match it's raw power.

Get this one if you can.

This one is the favorite for all professionals mainly due to all the highly advanced tools it has and it's second to none brush engine.

Some people get intimidated by it, but it's actually very easy to learn. Because you won't be needing most of its tools as the majority are mainly used for photo manipulation —not for painting. In fact if you learn to use this program you'll know the basics of all the others.

All painting programs want to be as good as it (whether they admit it or not).

Most tutorials and learning tools are made for photoshop so it's ideal for beginners and pros alike. All painting programs owe something to this one.

It's main drawbacks are the fact that it's a very heavy program that will demand a lot resources from your computer, like memory and RAM. Not for the faint of heart.

Photoshop is the industry standard. It's easy to find tutorials, brushes, or anything else you need,

This is subscription based now. Has so much stuff featured and it's good at doing anything. There are different tiers starting from $15/month (Photoshop + Lightroom + other stuff) up to $100 (All adobe apps + adobe stock). It has everything. Tons of options like custom brushes, workspace customization, plug-ins, filters, effects, 3D support, and many more features. Not sure if you can buy older versions for a fixed amount... There's a trial too.

While it can be faulty, Photoshop is still "the industry standard". At some point you'll have to learn how to use it in one way or another. It can be complicated, frustrating and the default brush engine is not that good with lineart, but still, it's can be considered the best in everything overall.

2. Paint Tool SAI

Platforms: Windows. | Price: Free trial and one-time payment

paint tool SAI.jpg

Really popular and cheap for its capabilities. Has a free trial. It has a pretty good drawing engine overall.

This is the program all other “manga” painting software want to be. Manga artist love it. It's legendary.

It has an amazing watercolor brush and eight out of ten times most manga style art, on the internet, is made with this software.

It's very lightweight and very easy to learn and master. In fact the “easy” part of its name is not just a trademark; it really is easy.

Artist love it for it's lack of lag, great paint feeling and it's superior linear to even photoshop's.

Paint Tool Sai's in house brush stabilizer engine is considered as one of the best, if not the best out there. 

Paint Tool SAI has a blending engine (wet mix) that has been implemented in software such as Clip Studio Paint, Krita and forks such as Medibang Paint.  Especially with textureless brushes.

However it does suffer from the drawback in that its developers are too content “being at the top” and they seldom ever (if ever) update or fix bugs for it.

SAI is absolutely amazing for digital painting. It is so responsive to the pressure and movement of the pen and it's great. Once you get the hang of it, it isn't hard to use at all and you make amazing paintings.

3. Clip Studio Paint

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free trial and one-time payment

clip studio paint.jpg

Taking advantage of Paint Tool Sai's lack of — “enthusiasm”— comes Clip Studio Paint, especially for lineart. Formerly marketed as Manga Studio in North America.

Clip Studio paint is a specific software to use for digital painting and comic drawing. This software offer a lot of easy method to drawing comic (something like comic panels, comic page, comic cloud etc) and have a lot of artistic brushes to help you on drawing. Any professional artist use this software usually have manga style drawing .

It's very similar to Sai. But it has much more features. It leans heavily on artist that want to publish comics/manga as such it has many features that help on it including vectors.

It's a bit pricer than Sai, but it,s development team is much more committed .

Clip Studio and other painting software (Easy Paint Tool SAI) have excellent line correction, the brushes are much easier to customise and the default brushes are a lot more impressive. In general they're quicker to learn, quicker to use, and just feel much more organic.

 The app features an advanced user interface with all the tiniest details that are important for producing professional work.

While using the XPPen Drawing tablet, this program responded beautifully to the pen's movements, making bold, thick lines when pushed down hard, and light, thin lines when pressed softly. 

This software also gives you access to plenty of assets including characters, backgrounds, props and effects that you can quickly add to your panels. There are over 10,000 free assets, and many more available for a few dollars each.

4. Corel Painter

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android. | Price: Free trial, one-time payment and  subscription model

corel painter.jpg

A great realistic painting tool, bridging the gap between traditional media and the digital world.

Corel allows you to customize anything you want, be it brushes, palettes, papers, colors, patterns, gradients, etc. It has every professional tool to provide the user with a seamless drawing experience. There are over 900 brushes in Corel Painter with an addition of 36 new brushes for diverse drawing requirements. It also offers a range of amazing tools for creating the perfect composition. Additionally, you can also import content from others to complete your drawing.

This one is a favorite for many professionals due to it's power to emulate real life tools/ traditional media. The feeling of painting with actual oils and the like is second to none. If you come from a traditional background this one is the very best bet.

It's awesome - the real brushes simulating the real deal are uncanny, it's almost too good to be believed. However, some of the functions are extremely clumsy to use - resizing or moving images, rotating layers etc, small details which can frustrate the user or slow down the workflow.

Higher tier, expensive stuff . Just like photoshop, profesional love it but I personally don't recomend it for hobbyists, like me, due to the fact that it's too pricey (money you should be investing in learning).

It's also very complex and it has a high learning curve so it can be incredibly confusing specially for people that don't know anything about digital painting.

5. ArtRage 6

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free trial and one-time payment 

ArtRage software.jpg

This full-featured digital painting software from Ambient Design, with new digital editing tools, provide improved performance. The advanced features make creating art a fun and easy activity.

The strength of this drawing software is the natural colours and textures it gives you. You can push the digital technology to the limit and still achieve realistic pain tones.

You can start with pencil sketches. Then you can move to real-to-life pain simulation modes. The oil paint mixing is particularly sophisticated. And it helps you create a personal colour pallet you can save.

On ArtRage, you can customize your paper to get the desired effect and allows you to design brushes, composition tools, pattern and gradient fill, filters, etc. 

The latest version comes new tools such as the natural pencil, flexible custom brush editing along with previous tools. The user can personalize everything and can adapt the software to one's needs.

There are also a good range of support options available on the website, such as manuals, tutorials, as well as an online community for advice, suggestions, tips, and tricks.

Artrage is a cheap alternative for a program of Corel Painter that emulates traditional medium like oils and water colors.

7 Best Free digital art software

First let's talk about the ones you can get for free “as in gratis.” It's said that there is no such thing as a “free meal.” But this is an exception as most of these were done by talented people that believe in freedom of software (open source) . Neat uh?

6. Gimp

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux. | Price: open source, Free

gimp.jpg

Since it's free and has a lot of freedom, GIMP is a wonderful software utility that can perform a variety of drawing and editing related functions for its users.

Even painters that love it tend to heavily modify it to suit their needs. I was using gimp for Graphic Design for more than 2 years and I guess I'd say it's more of a photo editing rather than digital painting software.

It also suffers from the drawback that it's creators want it to be an image editor and painter features aren't a priority for them. Updates can take years to materialize.

Developers tend to care more about catering to other developers than the average users (hence it's weird version numbering and confusing “save as” option) .

But if you want a solid photoshop replacement this one is the one you should try.

 It has both basic and advanced features so that it meets everybody’s requirements. From having simple paint features to having image rendering capabilities, the software has a great number of features. 

Many incredible artist use this program. Once you get used to the UI you'll be doing amazing works of art in no time. Best of all, you'll get the best of photoshop at no charge.

The older GIMP version was a bit complicated with functions that were hard to understand and use. However, the most recent version is easy to use and it comes with a great deal of tutorials that can be found on its website that make using the software extremely easy. Visit to download the software for free GIMP.

7. Krita

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux. | Price: open source, Free

Krita software.jpg

Krita seems to be one of the most underrated free and open source painting apps on the market, despite it being in development for over 10 years. Krita has an intuitive and customisable interface, where the dockers and panels can be set up to maximise your workflow.

Its free, open source, and very powerful. It is great for beginners who don't have the money for photoshop and you can do most things that you can do in photoshop. Have fun and enjoy!

This one is my personal favorite and in my opinion the best. The developers are hardworking knowledgeable individuals and in some aspects this software is even better than photoshop. 

This program was designed with 100% of painters in mind. It's been used by profesional artist as a serious alternative for photoshop and it has every tool you could possibly need and even more!

Looking for an amazing brush engine? Perspective tools? layers? Masks? brush customization? This program has you covered.

The tool offers 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 get those perfectly smooth lines every time.

Its developers made it possible to use photoshop brushes on this program neat uh?

8. MyPaint

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux. | Price: open source, Free 

mypaint.jpg

MyPaint is a free and open-source raster graphics editor for digital painters with a focus on painting rather than image manipulation or post processing.

It has a lovely, endless canvas (raster) & nicely done brush engine. My favourite with highly realistic pencils with grits, dusty charcoals and pastels. 

This one's mains strength is that it's simplicity and great UI makes you focus on painting and let's you forget about everything else. 

It has great preset tools, like Krita, and you will be working right away expressing yourself. This program is the one that stimulates my imagination the best. There developers make you forget about the burdens of software making it one of the easiest programs to master.

If you ever want to work on files back and forth between MyPaint and Krita or Gimp, always choose the format ORA for exports and imports. ORA keeps your file's layers intact when opening the file in other softwares.

Its main drawback is that it takes developers ages to update and they're focusing mainly on linux. It may require some technical knowledge to install on mac OS devices.

9. Medibang Paint Pro

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free 

meidibang paint.jpg

If you're looking for a great, free alternative to Clip Studio Paint, have a look at Medibang Paint Pro. 

Medibang Paint Pro is a lightweight digital drawing tool with a strong focus on creating manga art and comic books. 

It comes loaded with 800 free pre-made tones and backgrounds that you can use. It also has more than 50 brushes, and a huge selection of free fonts you can use within your projects.

This one is a favorite of manga artist due to it's simplicity and the fact that it resembles the legendary Paint tool sai. It's not open source but it's still free.

It's strongest points are how lightweight it is, the fact that it's multiplataform, and it's free “cloud service.” This means that you could be working on any device and continue your project in any other. Say you sketch in your ipad and finish in your PC.

It also has tools for comics which makes it a serious contender. Lightweight digital drawing tool with everything you need to illustrate comics .

10. Sketchbook Pro

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free and Paid

Autodesk Sketchbook software.jpg

SketchBook is available on iPad, Android , Windows and Mac OS. This is a very good software as replacement for pencil sketches.  it's the perfect tool for those just getting started with stylus pen art.

This sketching tool is free for Android and iOS version, but a paid one for Windows and Mac OS desktop version. Sketchbook pricing starts at $19.99 as a flat rate, as a one-time payment.

The Autodesk Sketchbook is perfect for beginners as well as intermediate users as it comes with a lot of customization option. The exceptional interface helps in maximizing the drawing space of every device. 

The drawing engine of the sketchbook can handle 100 mpx canvas while maintaining the zoomed-in feeling you get when you work on traditional canvas. Professional artist choose Sketchbook because it is fast and precise.

 The Copic color library offers a nice selection of colors along with the color palette, as well as a list of web safe colors.  If you’re unfamiliar with Copic, it's a much-loved color standard for illustrators.

There's a wide range of digital pencils, pens, markers, and airbrushes to choose from, all accessed via a simple but intuitive UI that enables you to pin your favourite toolbars to the screen.

 It's flexible and fast, too, enabling you to work with layers, transparency options, annotations and advanced blend modes. With Dropbox integration plus the ability to import and export Photoshop-friendly files, it's an ideal digital art app for working. 

11. FireAlpaca 

Platforms: Windows, MacOS. | Price: Free

Firealpaca free drawing software.jpg

FireAlpaca is the free Digital Painting Software that is available in 10 languages which is great, especially for beginners in digital art. 

It has all the basics of digital art like pencil, brushes, selection tools, eraser, eyedropper, move tool, hand tools, and bucket. 

In addition, the application has a gradient tool, shape tool, and pen tools for manipulating symmetry and shapes. 

Simple tools and controls let you draw an illustration easily. New convenient tools will be added one after another!  and one real plus is that it can run on less powerful older hardware.

Pen, Pencil, AirBrush, and Watercolor are ready to use in the default setting. You can customize your own pen too! Crisp stroke with pen and soft edged watercolor effect are the most popular brush types.

Lineart can be easily created using the rectangular shape tool which is included in the FireAlpaca drawing program.  

And you can also apply an array of colors such as red, blue, green and yellow to mix up the colors.

Impressively, FireAlpaca comes with features crafted for comic book artists. It has an onion skin mode. Which can can be used to create frame by frame animation/gifs.

12. Artweaver

Platforms: Windows. | Price: Free and Paid

Artweaver free drawing software.jpg

We encounter the Photoshop-like interface in this free version of a digital art software, looking like the ancient relative for it, and to be fair, the first impression was not wholly false. 

The toolbox is significantly weaker, than in Photoshop, but similar to the old versions of it, existed about a few years ago. The name for commands and their placement is undoubtedly the well-known thing you’ll nail within the first seconds of using Artweaver.

The application provides you with a diverse set of predefined brushes and pencils that can be used to create amazing pieces of art.  So while you can choose from a variety of predefined brushes, you can also tweak them to suit your exact needs.

 For professional users, Artweaver offers layers, layer gatherings, choice instruments and backing for different record groups.

Users can also move, dock, and resize the canvases and palettes as they please. 

Artweaver has two options available. The Artweaver Free suite is a free version of the program. Admittedly, it's a more basic version. But it gives you some of the best free digital art software available.

The paid version, Artweaver Plus, has all its advanced features. And it's still good value for money.

Conclusion

Drawing software is an essential tool for an artist or illustrator, professional to novice wishing to create digital art. 

In terms of paid programs, Adobe Photoshop is always wonderful but is pretty expensive, especially if you don't have a student discount or if you want the full CC suite. 

Most people seem to prefer Krita, especially if they're just starting out. If I'm looking at free programs, I prefer Medibang Paint Pro—it's simpler than Krita but has an interface more familiar to me than GIMP.

Afterward, go buy any tablet and app you wish, it does not matter. You will know how to draw on any of them. Without good basic drawing skills all of the apps in the universe will not help you.

If you lack a tablet for painting upon, consider XPPen as a cheaper and more affordable tablet than Wacom. Forget Intuos and Cintiq by Wacom, when XPPen offers more features for deco and artist series tablet at less price. 

Draw, draw incessantly.


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