Whether you are just starting out on your creative journey or looking to expand your design skill set, we understand that it is not always easy knowing which software to pick. With the range of programs out there, it can be overwhelming trying to sift through them all. But while this may be true, choosing the right one for you can play a massive role in improving your skills and getting you where you want to be.

That is why we researched and put together a list of the top graphic design software in the industry, to simplify the task and help you understand what may or may not work for you. We hope our suggestions will give you more clarity moving forward!

Please note: this is by no means an all-encompassing pros and cons article, nor does it cover all of the best design software in the industry. We've pulled together the most pertinent points from our research, but before purchasing or subscribing to any type of software, we recommend you do a little more digging to ensure you find the right fit.

Photoshop:

Few of you will need an introduction to Photoshop, but for those of you who may not be familiar with it, Photoshop is an image-editing program. It has become synonymous with editing and photo manipulation in recent years, but is also used for graphic design as a whole.

So what are its pros?

  • It provides many design tools. You can do almost anything with this application, from working in 3D to photo retouching, creating custom brushes, isolating elements from backgrounds, designing websites, and so much more. What you do with this program is entirely in your hands.
  • It is a fantastic program for photo manipulation or retouching. While Photoshop can do a lot more, its primary specialty still lies with photography. Whether you are looking to create a cyberpunk scene or a surreal composition, or even edit a high fashion shoot, Photoshop can help you.
  • It includes an integrated photo and video library through Adobe Creative Cloud. With this library, you do not have to spend hours looking for the right image on other sites.
  • It allows you to edit more than just images. With Photoshop, you can work on videos and animations with just as much ease.
  • It offers a mobile application, which is useful for quick fixes right at your fingertips.
  • It is widely recognized and used by designers everywhere. Much like “Googling” has become a part of our familiar lingo, so has “Photoshopping”. Many businesses use it, making it a good skillset to have under your belt.

… and its cons?

  • It is part of Adobe Creative Cloud, which means that it is paid for on a subscription basis. There is no option to purchase the software entirely, so the month-to-month costs can add up over time if you are a long-time user. For a base plan, you are looking at $9.99/month, but the costs go up if you add on Adobe’s other programs.
  • Although it offers many features, the user interface can be quite complex and unintuitive for someone just starting out in the design world. It can be a steep learning curve and a continuous journey of learning and re-learning for even the most seasoned designers.

The verdict:

If you are willing to invest the time and money to learn Photoshop well, then it is a fantastic application. Knowing the program will open many doors for you and get your foot in the professional graphic design space. If not, it might be better to go for a cheaper or more basic program like Sketch, GIMP, or Affinity Photo.

InDesign

InDesign is a page design and layout software that allows people to create and publish documents in digital, print, or even social media. It can be used to create flyers, posters, magazines, newspapers, and really anything that incorporates large amounts of text, and is particularly useful for multi-page designs.

So what are its pros?

  • It has a very well-balanced interface that allows for easy global page adjustment.
  • The quality of the content it produces is top-notch.
  • It enables quick collaboration with others, allowing them to design and share documents, color schemes, logos, and more.
  • It can include a wide range of downloadable fonts.
  • Documents are optimized to work with commercial printers.
  • It makes layout easier than ever by snapping to keep things in line.
  • You can save styles, so in one click you can have your design work looking cohesive.

… and its cons?

  • For smaller jobs, InDesign struggles to rival what other software, like Illustrator, can do. If you are looking to edit images or create shapes, this is not the program for you.
  • Like with Photoshop and other Adobe Creative Cloud products, InDesign functions on an expensive subscription basis.

The verdict:

Though InDesign is primarily used for publishing design, it does what it does extremely well. As a publishing tool, it helps designers easily format their work to fit industry standards, making it the best option with regards to creating digital and print material. If you work with layout and bodies of text on a consistent basis, then InDesign is worth trying out! However, if you find that the price is too much to stomach, you can always turn to a solid alternate: Affinity Publisher.

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer is a graphic design software that was initially released on Mac and later on Windows as a competitor to Illustrator. It offers all the essential tools for vector design, making it invaluable when creating anything from headlines and frames for copy, UI designs, illustrations, mockups, and much more.

So what are its pros?

  • Unlike Adobe products, purchasing Affinity takes only a one-time fee ($49.99), which comes with free future updates.
  • It maintains a massive document history, meaning that you can press the undo button thousands of times. The history also does not reset when the document is closed and opened again.
  • The Designer iPad app, which is just as feature-packed as the desktop version, is a huge bonus. To get the iPad version, you have to pay an additional $19.99.
  • The zoom function is unparalleled.
  • It offers seamless switching between vector and raster graphics with the different Personas (the app is broken down into three Personas: the Draw persona for vector editing, the Pixel persona for raster textures and pixel brush strokes, and the Export persona for exporting specific areas of your design)

… and its cons?

  • There is not massive support for plugins to extend the functionality of the software.
  • You cannot save natively to other file types, like .AI or .PSD (without exporting the file) and file compatibility is limited, considering that .afdesign can only be opened by Affinity Designer.
  • It is missing some more advanced features that software like Illustrator and Photoshop have, so overall it is not as robust.
  • It can feel a little clunky.
  • It can be a little basic when it comes to typography tools.

The verdict:

Affinity Designer is ideal for graphic designers and digital artists who work often with both vector graphics and raster images. If you do not necessarily need AI files for your line of work and are not too attached to the Adobe software, then Affinity is a great and affordable alternative.

Fresco

Fresco is a powerful drawing app …. [that] brings together the world's largest collection of vector and raster brushes, plus revolutionary live brushes, to deliver a totally natural painting and drawing experience”. Although launched in 2019, it is already proving to be a worthy competitor for Procreate.

So what are its pros?

  • It comes with a free, basic version. Although quite limited, it is a decent option if you are not yet willing to commit to the $9.99/month fee and want to test it out first. You can always upgrade to the premium version should you choose to stick with it!
  • It has an intuitive interface that makes it very straightforward and smooth to use.
  • The live brushes, which are arguably one of Fresco’s key features, use Adobe’s Sensei AI platform to give you the closest thing to painting and blending with real watercolor and oil paints. The idea is to make your art look like a real-life painting, with wet watercolors and creamy oils.
  • It goes hand in hand with Photoshop, which means you can use them in conjunction to combine images, create with layers, and retouch your art. And all your creations get saved in the cloud.
  • It can run Photoshop brushes.
  • It can be used on many platforms, like iPhone, iPad, Windows, and Apple desktop, and it supports Wacom tablets.

… and its cons?

  • It is expensive for non Creative Cloud subscribers, with a monthly fee of $9.99.
  • Although it has live brushes, it does not yet have a comprehensive collection of them.
  • Customization for brushes is not too readily available and you cannot yet create custom color palettes nor input hex codes.

The verdict:

Fresco is an up-and-coming app that is designed for artists who want to create digital paintings and drawings. With its wide variety of brushes and the addition of the realistic live brush, it can be quite appealing to artists on the go. Though the app feels quite stripped back compared to its rivals, with some updates and tweaks we think it could become a serious contender. Because of its steep price, for now, it might be best for existing Creative Cloud subscribers, who either want to use this app alongside Photoshop or already have access to all Adobe software.

Inkscape:

Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics designer and editing software free for all to use on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. Its primary function is to create vector images in SVG format and can be used to design both artistic and technical illustrations like infographics, logos, typography, and so on.

So what are its pros?

  • It has a unique format that makes its UI clean and consistent.
  • It is open-source, which means that the development of Inkscape is community-oriented and individuals can delve into its source code to help develop it. Not only does that mean it is constantly evolving but is also a great place for passionate individuals to collaborate and come together.
  • It runs smoothly across multiple platforms.
  • It uses SVG, which allows graphic designers to scale their designs to any size without losing the original quality.
  • It is a lightweight software with fewer CPU demands that runs well on slower, older, or cheaper computers.
  • It is free!

… and its cons?

  • If you are accustomed to working in software like Illustrator or CorelDraw, it can be quite a steep learning curve.
  • It does not have the strongest text formatting tools.
  • Because of its lack of CMYK support, it is not ideal for anything that is intended to be printed.
  • Since it is not the industry standard, not as many businesses and clients will recognize it as a viable alternative to a titan like Adobe. This can pose issues if you are looking to get a job in a studio or agency, or if you are working with designers who regularly send you Adobe files.

The verdict:

If you need a vector graphics software but are not willing to pay the prices that other software demand, Inkscape is a solid option. And if you are not looking for immediate work in a studio, but are instead a hobbyist or online business owner who does not need a program as comprehensive and complex as Illustrator, then Inkscape might be for you.

Illustrator:

Illustrator might not need much of an introduction, but for those who are unfamiliar with it, it is an industry leader in vector creation tools. Because of its unique design, it provides graphic designers with the capability to create anything from logos to detailed illustrations.

So what are its pros?

  • It allows for in-panel editing, which essentially enables designers to edit multiple art boards at once. This makes workflow easier and saves time spent on designs.
  • It has a highly customizable and helpful UI, giving you extra flexibility in your workspace and letting you work in your preferred manner.
  • It is capable of creating print-ready graphics.
  • Because the program is based on mathematical equations instead of pixels, you can scale your images as large as you would like. You do not have to worry about losing resolution.
  • It creates manageable files that are not too big to save or transfer.
  • It is compatible with almost any computer system (though it does eat up a lot of space).
  • It can be used to design a range of things - from illustrations to logos, website mockups, cartoons, charts, graphs, and much more.
  • It is well recognized in the industry.

… and its cons?

  • With all of its features, it has a steep learning curve that can demand a lot of time and patience. If you are looking to create something beautiful and realistic, you will likely need to invest a lot of resources towards learning this software well.
  • As with all other Adobe products, the pricing is expensive.
  • It looks similar to Photoshop. This can be good for some who like the familiarity, but for others, it can cause unnecessary confusion for two very different software.

The verdict:

Illustrator is widely considered to be the go-to software for vector designers. With the features and the results it produces, it is a very high caliber option for anyone looking to create professional work. But that does not mean it is for everyone - hobbyists and beginners who might not want or need to take advantage of all it has to offer could be better off with cheaper and simpler programs.

Procreate:

Procreate, a powerful and popular digital illustration app available for iPad, is all the rage these days. It is most commonly used for digital art, ranging from sketching to painting, lettering, and drawing.

So what are its pros?

  • It is available on the App store for a one-time fee of $9.99, making it one of the most affordable software.
  • It comes with a wide selection of brushes but also gives you the option to download others made by your favorite Procreate artists or design your own. With the latest 5x update, you can also import your favorite Photoshop brushes.
  • Its UI is highly intuitive and gives you tools to work quickly and efficiently. With just two fingers you can zoom in and out or rotate your canvas, and smoothly transition between your tools.
  • You can work with a wide range of formats like JPG, PNG, PSD, PDF, and more, which is convenient if you use more than just Procreate. By exporting your file, you can edit your illustration and its layers in software like Photoshop.
  • If you follow any designers on social media, you will likely have seen their Procreate time-lapse recordings. The app records every stroke you make and then allows you to export your artwork as a video file.
  • It is perfect for designers on the go, who just want to create with their iPad and a Pencil.

… and its cons?

  • Because it is a hand drawing app and does not have vectors, drawing smoothly might come as a difficult task. And while it includes clipping masks, simple layer masks are still quite basic.
  • Although it is a cheap software, it does require you to own an iPad and some sort of stylus (ideally the Apple Pencil), both of which can ramp up the price. To learn more about which pencils and iPads other designers recommend, you can read our guide.
  • Unlike other programs, it does not offer a free version or free trial for you to play around with.
  • Resizing (to make it smaller) or rotating an image can pixelate your graphic.

The verdict:

With its cheap price and ease of use, Procreate has quickly become a popular app for digital artists of every skill level. It does what it advertises extremely well, particularly in comparison with its existing rivals. For designers looking for a mobile digital art studio, they will be hard-pressed to find one as easy to manage and with equal results.

Xara Designer Pro X:

Xara Designer Pro X is a powerful all-in-one program that was launched in 2018. It claims to offer a “single application for all your creative work”, with tools that enable you to work on page layouts, illustrations, photo editing, and  WYSIWYG (‘what you see is what you get’) web design.

So what are its pros?

  • Even though it is a robust program, it is still light and fast enough that it does not bog down your system.
  • You can get pretty much all that you need from just one software.
  • You are able to zoom in up to 25,000% and can use the Direct Action Tools to speed up your work.
  • The software has unlimited undo and redo capacities.
  • You can easily import and export to other programs, like Adobe or Corel in their native file formats.
  • It offers an easy way to view, edit and update Xara documents with a web browser on any tablet or computer, making it a good solution for collaborative projects and working on the go.
  • It comes with a free trial.

… and its cons?

  • After the initial year of updates, you have to pay for upgrades at a discounted price.
  • It is not available on Mac, which can be a barrier for some, and it has higher computer requirements.
  • The price is steep, with the paid version starting at a $199 one-time fee.
  • It can be quite complex to learn, especially if you are accustomed to different software.

The verdict:

Xara Designer Pro X is a good solution for designers or businesses who are not too attached to the Adobe Creative Cloud software but want something similarly comprehensive that they can use for a variety of projects. Although it comes with a hefty one-time fee, it is a better alternative for those who have been turned away from Adobe’s subscription model.

Sketch:

Sketch is a popular digital design app that is primarily Mac-based. According to the company, it is a “design toolkit built to help you create your best work — from your earliest ideas, through to final artwork". It is generally used for UI and UX design of websites and apps but does not include print design features.

So what are its pros?

  • It comes with a massive library of plugins that can be seamlessly integrated.
  • Since it has been around for over a decade, there are plenty of tutorials and articles to keep you learning. Its community of designers is also extremely helpful should you have any questions.
  • It is easy to pick up the basics.
  • It is a powerful and simple tool for layout and vector designs, as well as wireframing and prototyping, making your design process much faster with its intuitive commands, templates, and lightweight files.
  • It improves the workflow of teams because it provides an efficient way to handle large projects.
  • Its price is affordable, with a one-off payment of $99. This includes free updates for a year, after which you can continue using it but without more updates.
  • It comes with a free trial for you to test it out.

… and its cons?

  • Because it uses many of OS X’s features, it is not compatible with Windows programs. So while you can use Windows apps that can interpret Sketch files for you, they do not have the capacity to edit them.
  • It was not built for photo editing.
  • It is susceptible to bugs and crashes.
  • It does not have a built-in CMYK profile, so it is not ideal for professional printing purposes.

The verdict:

For designers who want a speedy and intuitive program, Sketch shows a lot of promise. Because it was created with UI and UX designers in mind, and focuses on designing rather than the complications of more complex software, it remains one of the best and most widely used UI tools.

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite:

CorelDRAW is a collection of professional graphic design software that comes with a large range of features for designers to produce graphics, websites, photos, and other designs. It is primarily used in the professional space for marketing and advertising purposes, such as for logos, brochures, business cards, and so on.

So what are its pros?

  • It offers a free trial and if you purchase the full version upfront, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • With CorelDRAW, you have the option to customize your ideal design space with tools, a custom desktop, etc. The Corel Font Manager also allows you to easily organize your fonts.
  • As a robust suite, you can create anything and everything, whether that is signage, apparel, blueprints, branding, illustrations, and more.
  • It provides functionality between its programs, meaning that there is no need to jump between them for a multi-page layout.
  • It comes with a LiveSketch tool, which adjusts and combines your strokes with vector curves.
  • It delivers projects with professional-quality output.
  • It has extensive file compatibility.

… and its cons?

  •  CorelDRAW is perhaps better-priced than the Adobe model, with an annual fee of $399 or a one-time purchase fee of $785 (for the current version), but is still very expensive as an option.
  • Its layout is not the most intuitive, making it hard to find certain features.
  • You will probably need to dedicate a good amount of time to properly learn it.

The verdict:

CorelDRAW was designed for beautiful graphics and illustrations, making it a viable option for designers and businesses that are more print-focused. For those who work more closely with logo designing or marketing materials, it is certainly known across the industry as one of the top suites in the game.