The Best Art & Design Software

Whether you’re a painter, illustrator, designer, videomaker or photographer, there are hundreds of types of art software to assist you in creating spectacular pieces of artwork that hone traditional techniques in a digital format.

By using specialist tools made available by art software, you can create on a level beyond that of pen and paper, and continuously edit your artwork until it’s near perfect.

Better still, creations made using digital art software give your artwork a versatility that’s not available to traditional practice, as you’re able to save your work in different formats depending on its use and deliver high-resolution graphics that can be viewed and used even on the sharpest computer screen. Such developments are essential for those working in the graphics and games design fields.

This bumper guide looks at the best art software available for various different tasks and reviews them, we hope you will find it useful.

Coloured paint coming out of a PC


Flipbook 6.86

Ideal for: Creating 2D animation

Flipbook is explicitly designed for 2D animation and is somewhat of a less sophisticated take on art software regarding capability and adaptability, but it undoubtedly has a roster of excellent tools that animators will appreciate.

You can connect the software to your scanner and import your pen-and-paper drawings, as well as import pictures in JPEG, PNG and BMP formats. However, Flipbook lacks templates which means, more often than not, you’ll be drawing from scratch. In which case, it’s highly recommended that you use a drawing tablet.

The software is relatively responsive and delivers accuracy when drawn into, so you shouldn’t have any problems with precision and creating detail.

When creating artwork with Flipbook, you can draw shapes, adapt the pencil tool’s thickness, and layer your work with up to 300 frames, both background and foreground.

One of the software’s most popular tools is the ‘onion skinning’ technique that means you can see not only the frame you’re currently working on but also the former and next frame, so you know how each layer is adding to the one before.

By layering your drawings in this way, you increase the likelihood of creating a piece that’s detailed and realistic, taking factors such as light and positioning into account. If you’re just starting out in animation, Flipbook is undoubtedly one of the easiest-to-grasp pieces of art software out there.

To learn how to use Flipbook, spend time watching DigiCel’s tutorial videos which cover everything from importing your pen-and-paper drawings and how to cut, copy and paste, to painting your animation and making it seem as realistic and professional as possible, regardless of your skill level.

You can buy or download a free demo of Flipbook directly from the official DigiCel website.

Flash Professional CC

Ideal for: Interactive web content

Adobe continues to deliver exceptional, of-the-moment art software – in part, thanks to its regular updates – suited to a variety of industries, and its Flash Professional CC update is one that has 2D animators everywhere talking.

Even though the updated version of Flash Professional doesn’t offer a whole host of brand new features, it does deliver significant improvements on its predecessor which makes it much easier to use and, importantly, learn, which makes the software somewhat more accessible for new users. These upgrades include a new interface that is clean-cut and straightforward to navigate, as well as an updated tech capability to export to HTML, full HD video, and even audio.

Specific fields Adobe’s software excels in is the creation of ‘interactive web-based content’, which includes content for games and adverts. The tool is particularly popular for games designers, especially those drawing landscapes for MMORPG’s, for example. Like most art software, you can draw with a variety of tools, all of which you can customise, and layer as you create a multi-faceted, realistic finish.

Character design is possible thanks to the integrated video and audio features; however, the software has been faulted for not offering the most realistic finish – there is better character design software out there. For a somewhat cartoon-like character finish, this software delivers, but nothing more.

If you already use Adobe Creative Cloud, you can add Flash Professional CC to your package for an affordable monthly fee, rather than having to purchase the art software outright. In doing this, Flash becomes one of the most affordable pieces of 2D animation software out there. However, if you’re planning to use the software long-term rather than try it out, buying it outright may be beneficial.

To find out more about the pros and cons of Flash Professional CC, explore Draw with Jazza’s full review on Youtube.

If you’re a beginner and want to get started with Flash Professional CC, the Skills Factory tutorial is an excellent place to start.

To get access to Flash Professional CC, visit the Adobe website and consider the Creative Cloud.

ZBrush 4R6

Ideal for: High poly modelling

If you prefer 3D animation to 2D, ZBrush is an excellent art software and is particularly well-regarded for high-poly modelling – which means it’s ideal for those pursuing professional-grade animation for film and special effects, as opposed to game design and web graphics which require less resolution.

The software incorporates a range of 3D brushes that permit a high level of versatility when designing; you can adapt your brush type and size effortlessly and, consequently, will be able to create exquisite sculptures down to the fine details.

The flexibility of the tool continues when it comes to saving your work; as ZBrush caters to high-poly design, your creation may have billions of polygons, but the software incorporates tools that allow you to reduce the poly count – therefore making your work easier to transfer between computers. This means you also won’t have to wait hours for rendering.

With ZBrush, you can rest assured that you’re getting what you pay for as there are few low-poly modelling tools available with the software, which means you’re getting a remarkably tailored package that does exactly what you need to a high grade – if you’re working in high-poly modelling, that is.

One of the only cons of using ZBrush is its cost; like most professional-grade art software, it’ll set you back a small fortune. However, since launching the software, users have not been charged for software updates, so once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for life and won’t be left with an outdated version in a matter of months.

The software is designed for high-poly modelling professionals and is priced as such, and the same goes for how user-friendly the software is – it can be complicated to learn but, once you’ve mastered the tools, incredibly bespoke and provide you with complete design control.

To get started with ZBrush, explore this beginner’s tutorial and begin sculpting.

You can download a free 45-day trial of ZBrush via the Pixologic website.

Illustrator CC

Ideal for: Graphic design

Adobe delivers another exceptional piece of art software in the form of Illustrator CC, which is particularly well-suited to graphic designers.

If you subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you can easily download Illustrator CC and begin using it alongside other Adobe products. For instance, it’s not uncommon for designers to create images in Illustrator and then edit them in Photoshop, another Adobe offering, thanks to the advanced editing capabilities that Photoshop offers. However, that’s not to say that Illustrator CC isn’t a compelling piece of art software in itself delivering excellent results.

Illustrator CC works on both PC and Mac, so you don’t have to spend hours pondering the alternatives based on your system and has excellent precision-focused creation tools. You can design graphics of all sizes, scanning files and then editing or working from scratch; you can link your computer to a drawing tablet.

Regarding project scope, with Illustrator, there are no limitations. You have unlimited vectors to work with, which means you can create images that are not only eye-catching but retain their quality once exported, uploaded to the web, or printed. However, artwork can not include pixels.

There are few limitations when using Illustrator CC, but that doesn’t mean there are none. As mentioned, the art software does not handle pixels and offers limited editing tools, which means you may have to switch over to Photoshop to polish your work before completion for the best results.

Like with any advanced graphic design software, Illustrator comes with an enormous learning curve; it takes time to master and requires you to have a scrupulous eye to create the best possible detailed artwork. Providing you have time to play with, you can use Illustrator to create exceptional graphics.

To learn how to use Illustrator CC, explore Terry White’s library of useful video tutorials for beginners.

Buy, download or add Illustrator CC to your Creative Cloud via the Adobe website.

DrawPlus X8

Ideal for: Drawing & illustration

Serif’s answer to Illustrator is DrawPlus, which is an exceptional all-around drawing, illustration and 2D animation art software delivering professional standard graphics when used appropriately.

DrawPlus has an array of advanced illustration tools, including vector tools that will help you to create images of unlimited resolution, so you have full flexibility to design to your brief. Similarly, the drawing tools include both pre-made brushes and custom brush capability, which means if it doesn’t have the brush you need, you can alter the colour, weight, opacity and tip, so it meets your needs.

If you draw with a drawing tablet, you can even control the pressure of your brush strokes, which helps to add further depth of field to your images, as well as giving your final piece an authentic, real-life finish.

For precision, this art software uses grids and snap-to alignment, so you can get the details correct. Like similar illustration software, it also permits you to use a ‘text wrap’ feature so you can align text to objects or images, which is ideal if you’re designing for print, such as magazines and leaflets.

If you’re a graphic designer creating for print, you’ll be pleased to know that DrawPlus includes almost 700 different font styles you can choose from and customise for your work, so you have full control over the finished product and can deliver a truly unique graphic design that’s of professional quality.

DrawPlus incorporates a variety of photo editing tools, too, which some say put it above Adobe’s Illustrator. There are around 50 photo filters as well as standard editing tools such as noise removal colour correction, and overall flaw reduction tools. However, like Illustrator, this tool still lacks advanced photo editing capability which means you may want to edit using an advanced tool such as Photoshop, for instance, to finish your piece. As with most creative software, it’s easy to interchange.

Other areas DrawPlus falls down is its photo effects such as HDR imaging and panorama merging, which may be an issue for animators. But if you’re a graphic designer, it’s not much of a problem.

To get started with DrawPlus X8, explore Serif’s video tutorial for beginners.

Download DrawPlus through Serif’s official website and start creating today.

Adobe Photoshop

Ideal for: Image & video editing

For many, Adobe Photoshop is the leader in image editing software, admired by pros the world over. It’s tailored to photographers and designers that required advanced image editing capability, which is good news if you create photo art or digital art that will benefit from to-the-detail post-production.

One of the best things about Photoshop is that it offers almost endless possibilities for what you can achieve with your images through its intricate web of next-level editing tools, from simple balancing to full image manipulation.

There are an enormous amount of editing, photo and design tools that can assist in the creation of images that are both high-resolution and responsive when displayed on mobile or online – an aspect of image sharing that can be tricky with other art software due to file size.

True to Adobe style, Photoshop now includes video editing capability, too. If you’re looking for a tool for colour correction and light manipulation, this is a fantastic tool; however, for more advanced editing, filmmakers would recommend something like Premiere Elements as a specialised tool.

If you’re a graphic designer, you’ll be pleased to hear that Photoshop comes with an integrated library of stock images that you can then use, edit and manipulate for your project. This on-hand tool will save you wasting hours sifting the net for free stock images, and it could save you some money, too.

One of the main faults raised about Photoshop over the years is that its updates are not always fully functional before release, which means, with annual updates, you may discover a handful of bugs that require additional updates to fix. Of course, everything can’t be perfect from the get-go and the Adobe community is very helpful and supportive, but it doesn’t change the fact that bugs do get in the way.

Photoshop is infamously tricky to get to grips with if you’re a new art software user, so follow this tutorial to get started. With some practice, you’ll be a Photoshop professional in no time at all.

Download a free trial of Photoshop through Adobe’s website before buying the full version.

SketchBook Pro

Ideal for: Animation and comic book creation

If you’re looking to create professional-grade comic book art, look no further than SketchBook Pro.

The software is used by some of the comic book industry’s best and brightest, including the likes of I-Wei Huang (Skylander) and Watchmen illustrator, Dave Gibbons. The software has all the tools required to take both 2D and 3D character creations from idea to a finished piece ready for the page.

SketchBook comes with a variety of pre-set tools, including shape drawing, but is best-used free-hand. You can choose from pens or pencils, all of which with different tips and sharpness’s, and even different finishes; for instance, with pens, you can choose from a felt-tip, ballpoint or fountain pen, to name a few.

The software evidently adopts traditional techniques and brings them into the 21st century with ease. You can further adapt the brush strokes you make as you draw by editing the shape and size of your brush, as well as setting the amount of paint used which, consequently, alters the pressure of the drawing. This feature is carried through to erasing as you can lighten lines rather than deleting them altogether, which may save you hours in re-drawing mistakes and, therefore, makes the design process that little bit faster and, in some cases, less stressful. After all, all time adds up.

As if the features mentioned above were not enough, with SketchBook, you can also select from a variety of pattern brushes that add texture to your creations. Some of the most used aspects include stroke tools that create authentic speed and focus lines, as well as shading tools that help you to give your comic book creation three-dimension appeal. There is also a ‘custom brush’ feature so you can create almost anything how you want it; with customised brushes, you have more creative control.

Despite its industry-leading character illustration tools, SketchBook does fall down when it comes to implementing your script. Quite simply because it doesn’t have any script tools, which means you’ll need to create speech balloons from scratch and, even once you’ve done that, you’ll need to check all your text outside the software for spelling and grammar as there’s no tool for that, either. In which case, it’s advisable to use SketchBook to draw your comic book and then carry the character and location designs over to Manga Studio, which has a host of advanced script creation and design tools.

To find out how to create comic book panels in SketchBook Pro, discover Robert Marzullo’s tutorial.

Start your free trial of SketchBook by downloading the software through the official website.

Corel Painter X3

Ideal for: Digital art

For digital artists that admire traditional techniques, Corel’s art software offering is in a league of its own. Corel Painter X3 is considered the best software for digital painting thanks to its extensive library of brushes covering every medium, including oils, pastels, acrylics and much more to suit all styles.

Painter’s ‘image reference palette’ tool is also highly regarded as it allows artists to upload a painting that uses a similar palette to the one they’d like to use, and Painter will then replicate that palette, so you can create with peace of mind that your work is entirely authentic, in-line with your references.

Within the art community, due to its specialist nature, Corel Painter is considered to deliver a realistic finish that competitors such as Photoshop can’t compete with. The finish of its creations is much softer and more refined, in-line with a real painting, whereas alternatives offer a clunky effect-like finish.

Artist Rhoda Grossman nods to Corel Painter X3 as a time-saving device when creating, describing her favourite Painter tip: “The Custom Palette feature in Painter is a real labour-saving device! Shift-drag favourite brush variants and paper textures to the desktop, where they can be grouped in a compact little panel that you can name according to the project or technique you will use it for. You can even add frequently used commands!

Make as many custom palettes as you wish, for various purposes, and use the Custom Palette Organizer (in the Window menu) to manage them.” It’s that easy to try!

The downside of Painter? If you require a CMYK feature, you may wish to take your creation over to Photoshop as Painter does not support this format, which is sometimes essential when printing.

For a full rundown of Corel Painter and its new features for 2018, refer to artist and educator Aaron Rutten’s YouTube channel. Aaron also has a variety of tutorials that will assist you in using Painter.

Download your free trial of Corel Painter 2018 via the official website before buying the full version.

PaintTool SAI

Ideal for: Beginners looking for dgigtal art software

Originally developed in Japan and used extensively for comic book, manga and anime creations, PaintTool SAI is an easy-to-use art software suited favoured by beginners for affordability. It has most of the capability of its competitors, including allowing up to 180 layers and using stabilisers, effects, filters, custom brushes and more; however, they are of a novice slant and lack Photoshop’s advanced effects, for example, which means the software it’s always the first choice for budding designers.

More than anything, it is the style of drawings created using PaintTool SAI that appeal. If you’re looking to draw comic books or art of a similar style to some of the world’s leading publishers and design houses, you can quite easily replicate the line style of such artists with immense accuracy. However, it may be difficult to finish an entire piece using the tool alone. Many artists suggest starting on PaintTool SAI to get your lines and vectors as you want them but then move to a variety of other tools to paint and fill-in some of the finer details, as PaintTool SAI’s palette capabilities are just not up to it.

For authentic manga drawings, look no further than PaintTool SAI. For advanced image editing and effects, try your hand at Photoshop. Better still, use a combination of both to create a superb piece.

Find out how to draw manga with PaintTool SAI via Neko Sama’s YouTube channel.

Download the basic version of PaintTool SAI via the official website.


Ideal for: 3D Character creation & animation

A direct competitor to ZBrush, Mudbox is one of the industry’s leading character sculpture creation tools. With it, you can create intricate characters for games and animated films and do so with complete control over your creation right down to the smallest details and marks.

Unlike ZBrush, Mudbox has been designed for 3D models which means all its tools are tailored to 3D rather than 2 or 2.5D creations, like ZBrush. And with this specialism come a variety of intricate 3D drawing tools.

Mudbox offers fewer brush options than ZBrush, but what it does offer is advanced and tailored explicitly to sculpting, which helps you to create an organic product. Also, Mudbox delivers advanced layer-based texturing which is arguably easier to control than ZBrush, and you can see what you’re building in real time rather than having to wait for your changes to render and then reverting them if you’re unhappy. This feature not only saves you time but also rids the creative process of frustration.

Reptopology, which is the process of transforming your 3D creation, which consists of billions of polygons, into a single model using your designs topology, is one area where Mudbox is vastly ahead of the game. It has numerous reptopology settings, including automatic and guided, which gives you some control of how the design is rendered. However, a con is that for imported or scanned models, the sculpture must be prepared before it is processed, which can take longer. The results are the same as other software, but more attention to detail is required on your part to ensure the rendering captures all the details such as wrinkles, folds, and textures that add your model’s authentic appeal.

To get started with Mudbox, explore maker Autodesk’s library of tutorials videos for beginners.

Download your free trial of Mudbox via maker Autodesk’s official website before subscribing.

Useful Resources

Below, explore a handful of resources that will help you get to grips with digital art and its software.

  • Digital Art Served – explore the work of leading creatives working in digital art and sculpture.
  • Computer Arts – find out insider tips about creating digital art, as well as interviews and tutorials.
  • ImagineFX Magazine – every issue comes with a DVD featuring tutorials taught by industry experts.
  • CGHub – connect with other digital artists, share tips, discuss the latest news, and work together.
  • CG Society – submit your designs with the hope that the passionate team will share them online.
  • Deviant Art – sell your work to digital art lovers around the world, including originals and prints.
  • Ryan Kittleson – explore 3D sculpture tutorials using some of the art software mentioned above.
  • Randis Albion – discover top digital painting tips from a passionate, talented industry professional.

As well as the above, always explore the sites of the software providers for in-depth software guides.

In Summary


Regardless of the type of art you’re pursuing, and whether you’re a novice or a professional, all the mentioned art software has its benefits, some with more specialised subject matter than others.

If you’re a photographer or need to edit images tweak graphics, Photoshop is the industry standard, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be your standard, too, especially if you’re tweaking composition such as exposure and shadows. However, if your work is somewhat more advance and, for instance, you’re looking to create detailed 2D animations for games or ads, the latest Flipbook is an excellent solution. It is not only affordable but also works with a drawing tablet and has advanced capabilities that alternatives lack, including the ability to work with up to 300 frames for a highly detailed finish.

If it’s 3D models and sculpture you like to create, including film characters, weigh up the pros and cons of ZBrush and Mudbox; both have unique properties, but Mudbox is perhaps the more obvious choice for 3D specialists. Or are you a graphic designer? Then look no further than Illustrator. There are little cons of using Illustrator; it’s fast and efficient and has everything you need to create professional-grade illustrations and graphics, especially printed materials such as magazines, books, and leaflets.

For more traditional forms of art, including character design, painting and sketching, look to SketchBook Pro, which is admired by comic book creators everywhere. PaintTool SAI is another good solution but should be used in conjunction with more advanced design tools for the best results.

For fine art-inspired paintings, Corel Painter X3 offers a tool package that’s second-to-none. Some may argue that Photoshop is a good alternative, but that has nothing on Corel’s organic-finish brushes.

Download a free trial of the software that’s most highly rated for your industry and get to grips with their offering before putting the cash on the table for the full version. To enhance your experience and ensure you make a fully informed decision, refer to our resources and suggested tutorials, too.

With these art software recommendations, you’ll be a painting pro or design dynamo in no time.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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