Designers used to be limited to just a few options for professional graphic design tools. Now the field is open, and designers can choose from a variety of design tool options, including open source platforms. Graphic design tools are no longer limited to PC or Mac operating systems. You'll also find plenty of iOS and Android mobile apps, with support for Linux and Chrome OS.
The dizzying array of editing tools can make it difficult to choose the best graphic design software. Our collection focuses on some of the old but goodies, like Adobe Photoshop, as well as some of the newer ones on the block, like Affinity Photo.
1. Affinity Designer
Affinity Designer is an excellent choice for personal projects or novice graphic designers with an intuitive user interface. It is a worthy competitor to Adobe Illustrator, with a similar set of design tools and added easy-to-use features. It is suitable for individuals who want a budget-friendly alternative without sacrificing functionality.
Affinity Designer boasts a 1,000,000% zoom, which puts it right in the CAD realm. If that's too good a resolution, you can set the level you want. Another important feature is the version history. You can go back up to 8,000 steps, making it an excellent choice when working with clients. That and zoom puts you in charge of revisions.
Color management: Supports multiple formats, including ICC, CMYK, and RGB
Time-saving tool: Consistent branding in your workspace
Real-time changes: Preview edits and blends on the fly
One-time purchase: No subscription fee
Fewer demanding resources
Raster and vector workspaces in one program
Excellent customer service
No cloud service
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iPad
2. . Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator wrote a book on vector graphics software. It sets the standard for professionally designed logos, artwork, infographics, icons, and more. You can work from bare-handed sketches to vector drawings that can be scaled to any size. Adobe Illustrator works with graphics differently, using mathematical formulas instead of pixels to resize infinitely.
Adobe Illustrator offers a seven-day free trial, but you'll need to provide a credit card to get started. If you choose the annual plan, it's paid monthly — it costs $20.99 per month. Otherwise, you will pay $31.49 per month for the monthly plan. Either way, it's expensive. However, Adobe Illustrator is one product that will let you learn something new all the time, even if it's not the most user-friendly software available.
Adobe Sensei AI: Match colors from photos with automatic extraction
Extensive library: Adobe Stock Templates, including 90 million images and icons and thousands of fonts
Creative Cloud: Manage your projects on the go
Data aggregation: Keep infographic data up to date with statistics
Social media: Tutorials to maximize your marketing
Integration with other editing tools in the Adobe family
Start from scratch or choose a template
A wide variety of vector design tools
Expensive subscription plans
High learning curve
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iPad, Android
3. Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is a valuable alternative to Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator for touch work on existing images. It works with layers and filters to create stunning effects, with both vector and raster images. The software also supports SVG file formats such as CorelDRAW. While you can create templates, none are included with the program. However, it's lightweight with a generous 90-day free trial.
Affinity Photo has garnered many awards in recent years for its versatility and functionality. It packs a lot of features for the price. You can make advanced edits with 360-degree image editing, panoramic stitching, and HDR merging. It provides real-time editing without bloat. You can also work with PSD files. It also supports non-destructive live filter layers for ultimate creativity.
Powerful digital editing tools: Includes HDR merging, raw editing, and layer editing
One-time purchase: No subscription plans or in-app purchases
Optional overlay pack: Offers additional editing tools free with registration
90 days free trial
No keyword tagging feature
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iPad
Canva is an all-in-one solution for creating a variety of projects, such as infographics, web designs or T-shirts. It uses an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that is easy to use for individuals with no previous experience in graphic design. The program has a large selection of images, templates, backgrounds, and fonts to get the ball rolling. While Canva offers some of these items for free, many images and graphics require an in-app purchase.
Canva shines because it can work with a variety of industries, thanks to its large template gallery. The sampling we saw looked professional and offered an excellent starting point for brainstorming. There are three pricing plans, including a free plan for individuals and small teams. Paid plans offer the full range of goodies, although only 100 GB of cloud storage
Drag-and-drop design: Easy-to-use interface to start creating right away
Collaboration tools: Easily share projects with team folders and real-time collaboration
Social media integration: Can create posts that go directly to popular platforms
Easy to learn
Free version available
Wizard for on-the-fly build
Rich collection of resources and tutorials
Limited free stuff, with in-app purchases
Platforms: Web browser, Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
5. Adobe InDesign
Adobe InDesign is the company's answer to standalone desktop publishing programs. While you can use it with other Adobe programs, it speaks a different language that some people may find difficult to use. It is best suited for posters, presentations, and documents with a lot of images. You can create a home style quickly, making it an excellent time saver.
The support documentation is very helpful. However, it is a resource, like most Adobe programs. InDesign offers a full line of tools, from resizing to subject-aware text wrapping to color location. The software certainly packs in its usability, but sometimes it seems difficult to find the right settings. Users may find that they will not take advantage of all the available functions, which is a shame, given the cost.
Paragraph style settings: Allows users to create a home style to ensure consistent branding
Adobe Creative Cloud integration: Take advantage of a rich resource library of images, templates, fonts, and more
Ebook creation: Offers easy-to-use setup guides and templates to create professional-looking ebooks
Excellent for presentations with lots of images
Not compatible with other Adobe products
Large file size
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Pixlr is an image editing web app that you can use in your browser for desktop work or in a mobile app that is supported on both iOS and Android platforms. It's the perfect basic program if you need the essential editing tools covered without all the bells and whistles (and learning curve) of more sophisticated offerings.
Previously part of the Autodesk family, Pixlr is now independent. It has some of the welcome features of many similar apps, including its complementary program ecosystem. It supports several file formats, including SVG and PSD. The price is also right for this web-based design application. It has a free trial and a free version. Unfortunately, the free version has a lot of ads.
Drag and drop interface: Easy to use without much editing or image design experience
Template library: Includes professional-looking templates with collage and market-driven options, such as multi-sized ads, flyers and business cards
Social media content: Choose from Facebook event covers, Pinterest pins, and LinkedIn company posts, among others
Social media integration
Version options for skill level and needs
No TIFF or BMP support
Limited number of templates
Platform: Cloud, web based, iPad, Android
7. Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop has long been the industry standard for desktop publishing. It's a popular favorite with graphic designers for a reason. Its suite of image editing tools supports beginners to professionals with a user-friendly interface and a plethora of well-written tutorials. Graphic design software puts you in control, from canvas size to artistic filters.
Like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop offers a seven-day free trial. Interestingly, you can get Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom for less. The trial for Photoshop includes 100 GB of cloud storage, and Lightroom includes 1 TB. It also has some additional functionality with its paint application, Adobe Fresco, and its storytelling program, Adobe Spark. The collaboration between programs is amazing.
Design tool suite: Includes some interesting effects, like 3D brushes and Keith Haring
Content aware content: Focus on your message without distraction
Time-saving features: Streamline workflows with batch operations and script automation
Free mobile app with subscription plan
Extensive library of stock images, templates, fonts, videos and icons
Excellent integration with other Adobe programs
Support for multiple file formats, including JPG and PNG
Packages are expensive
Steep learning curve
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android