The Best Software for Graphic Designers: What Are the Tools You’re Using This Year?
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As the marketing and advertising industry recovers alongside the economy at large, graphic designers have embraced a number of trends that revolve around embracing more socially conscious and optimistic design aesthetics. Whether businesses are creating these designs in-house or bringing in third-party artists or agencies, graphic designers are leveraging a wide gamut of powerful design tools in order to deliver on the creative demands of clients and consumers.
To give our community of B2B service providers insight into the types of professional design suites and DIY tools being used by other graphic designers in the field, we reached out to business owners and marketing executives to find out what solutions their teams are using.
The Creative Community Recommends the Best Graphic Design Software
As digital content and social channels drive a constant demand for visual assets, graphic designers are uniformly busy across every industry. Solutions ranged from desktop-based software to mobile apps and included a number of fairly specialized tools. We parsed through the most popular responses and organized them by function.
Before we break down some of the more specialized tools, however, a number of responses made it clear that when it comes to graphic design tools currently in use, two vendors were providing designers with multiple software solutions to address a number of challenges.
Adobe’s Design Tools
Adobe is known as an industry leader with a broad offering of applications and services that support the creative community in almost any digital media endeavor. In this list of professional tools, experts touted four of Adobe’s most important graphics tools.
The InDesign platform plays a major role in the graphic design process by providing tools for creating page designs and app interface layouts across multiple channels. The tool costs individual users $34 per month, or users can access Illustrator as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud platform for $53 a month for individual users or $80 a month for business teams.
“Adobe InDesign is a complete graphic design tool that helps our team to design magazines, brochures, and other useful content. I prefer the software because of how easy it is to learn.” —Paula Glynn, Director of Search Marketing & Digital Strategy, Pixelstorm
Adobe Illustrator CC
Adobe’s vector graphic software is considered an industry standard for illustration and aids designers in the creation of icons, logos, typography, and other image-based designs for print, web, and video content. The tool costs individual users $34 per month, or users can access Illustrator as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud platform for $53 a month for individual users or $80 a month for business teams.
“My favorite design software for branding design is no doubt Adobe Illustrator. Sure, there are other alternatives, but it’s hard to find the software that offers the features and tools that Illustrator has to offer.” —June Escalada, Founder, IllustratorHow
Adobe Photoshop CC
A long-standing staple of design software for small- to medium-sized businesses, the brushes and layering tools included with Adobe’s Photoshop aid users in editing images and creating composite digital paintings to support graphic designers across a multitude of projects. Individual users can access Photoshop for $34 per month, or they can pay a premium of $53 per month for access to the entire Adobe Creative Cloud platform as an individual user or $80 per month for business teams.
“Most people would underestimate Photoshop CC 2020 as a graphic design software but for us, it is one of the best easy to navigate and user-friendly softwares out there. It works best as a gateway graphics designing software and maybe in the future, my content and creators will try out other much more complicated softwares.” —May Flanagan, Founder, Global Green Family
From the Adobe catalog of design tools, XD provides graphic designers with a powerful UI/UX design tool that incorporates wireframing, prototyping, and collaborative tools. After a short trial, XD can be accessed at $10 a month on its own, or part of the Adobe Creative Cloud platform for $53 a month for individual users or $80 a month for business teams.
“While it’s typically used for more advanced kinds of dynamic content and 3D transforms, I find that Adobe XD also works well for creating logos, graphical imagery, and supplementing materials for social media. In the past, we’ve even used Adobe XD to prepare LinkedIn banners without investing in unnecessarily expensive, difficult to use software.” —Paul Sherman, Chief Marketing Officer, Olive
The Corel brand has a long history of being a leading software solutions provider in the productivity arena. Amongst its productivity solutions are a number of long-standing creative software platforms that many in the industry still consider the best go-to solutions.
CorelDRAW Graphic Suite
Touting itself as a full suite of tools that brings the user’s work “from wireframe to wow,” CorelDRAW allows users to create vector illustrations, create document layouts, edit photos, and collaborate with both clients and other design team members. The Graphic Suite is the most advanced of the CorelDRAW tools, and users can purchase the software outright for $449 to $499, but can only access the current version of the software. An annual cost of $249 allows users to always access the most current version of the software and receive updates and upgrades.
“We prefer using CorelDraw because it lets our designers scan sketches and drawings and automatically converts them into vector designs, without having the need to virtually draw them.” —Ryan Stewart, Founder, Webris
An extremely powerful suite of photo editing tools, designers can mix images with modern design elements to create insightful branded elements. The editing workflow is made faster and easier by artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. PaintShop Pro comes in several variations, with bundles ranging from $40 to $180.
“The creative features, straightforward interface, and speedier performance of PaintShop Pro are sure to boost productivity. The platform’s tools and features are fully customizable, so you can create your own bespoke editing environment.” —Diego Cardini, Founder, The Drum Ninja
The Gravit design platform is a recent acquisition of the Corel brand and provides Corel with a full-featured, multi-platform vector graphic design application. The tool provides solutions for creating vector illustrations, designing web and app UI, and editing images and photos. The standard edition is free but requires the user to work online and has few features. The pro version of the software ranges from $49 to $99 per year.
“Gravit Designer is a great software for vector-based designs. The best thing is that the software is fully customizable according to our needs and we use it to edit photos, create logos, animations, and illustrations. Gravit Designer is super easy to use with a flat learning curve. It’s our go-to choice for social media graphics, email illustrations, and website posts.” —Jon Buchan, CEO, Charm Offensive
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A Wide Array of Design Solutions Across Various Platforms
Beyond Adobe and Corel, there are a number of other solutions on the market that provide graphic designers with the necessary functionality across different platforms.
Traditionally, graphic designers do their best work on desktop-based platforms, as these software suites can take advantage of the increased memory and processing power of the more robust workstations. There are many full design suites on the market, but several stood out to our respondents for both versatility and value.
Graphic designers appreciate powerful tools that provide flexible and customizable tools, and Inkscape provides an open-source, cross-platform functional alternative to expensive design suites.
“Inkscape is a powerful tool with infinite capabilities and I have been using it for a wide range of reasons such as creating website graphics. With Inkscape, I have been able to create high-quality vector graphics and improve my experience because Inkscape gives access to hundreds of Inkscape extensions that users can download and incorporate into the design process.” —Ramakrishna R., Co-Founder & CTO, CureSkin
The Affinity products are designed to be used on Windows-based platforms as well as Mac and iOS devices. Affinity Designer is a leading solution in creating concept art, print projects, UI designs, and any other graphic design projects your team might be faced with. The flexible workflow is designed for all types of work styles and supported by a number of automated, time-saving tools. The application is available on desktop platforms for $50 and $20 for mobile devices.
“Since launching our application, we’ve spent the last five years refining it to achieve our unshakable vision of a powerful, super-smooth tool that enhances your workflow while allowing your creativity to flourish, and Affinity Designer helped us achieve that goal. I’m completely hooked on it.” —Jake Smith, Managing Director, Absolute Reg
“Affinity Designer lets us bounce between macs and iPads when creating logos, icons, UI designs, or web mock-ups. We find it incredibly fast and easy to learn. The included vector and raster design tools haven’t let us down on any project. It’s fantastic to be able to start a project on our iPads when interacting with a client and then continue the work on our laptops. The transition back and forth is seamless.” –Christopher Lara, Boston Manager, TheeDigital Boston
Xara Designer Pro X
The Xara Designer Pro software provides powerful illustration and photo editing tools alongside the “what you see is what you get” web design tools considered to be some of the most powerful and fast tools in the industry. For individual users, the tool costs $17 per month, while teams are billed at $10 per user.
“I’ve tried many of the graphic design tools on the Market, and Xara brings the most value to the table for our needs. The Xara Designer platform offers over a million archive photos and illustrations as well as thousands of templates that we can use. We use the platform to create illustrations, vector art, and for photo manipulation. It’s a great all-in-one solution for us.” —Dave Nilsson, Company Director, ConvertedClick
Web and Mobile Apps
As technology increasingly shifts to cloud-based and mobile-focused solutions, more industries are finding success in creating graphic design tools and editing applications. Some of the most recommended tools from our respondents were web- or mobile-based solutions.
The Canva online tool has exploded across the small business landscape as its free access level makes for an extremely robust marketing content generation tool. The paid level at $13 per user per month makes the video editing and graphic design tool a powerful branding engine that teams can use to collaborate on content and create graphics and collateral to support your brand.
“When it comes to web and mobile applications that make designing social media images, advertisements, infographics, and other branding tools easy, Canva reigns supreme. It requires very little training, and most people can become proficient with it in minutes.” —Phil Strazzulla, Founder & CEO, Select Software Reviews
This Mac-based application allows graphic designers to access an extremely powerful design tool that includes an entire library of fully customizable brushes. Because it’s designed for mobile interfaces, Procreate’s UI is built with touch commands in mind and helps to make the workflow extremely intuitive. This powerful tool is extremely accessible and affordable as a $10 download on the Apple store.
“If you’re an artist working on your own website, graphics, or social media, you have to give Procreate a try. This tool blows Photoshop out of the water when it comes to design flexibility and convenience. If you have an iPad and Apple pencil, be ready to get highly addicted.” —Abby Herman, Director of Strategy, Snap Agency
A unique entry in this list, the MIT-designed web application that is open source and can be accessed across multiple browsers and used to create and edit scalable vector graphics. The program has been translated into addons for various browsers and a standalone widget on Opera.
“There are a few online editors that will do the job just as well as Adobe Illustrator if you need to rapidly output SVG or alter an existing SVG file. However, one of my top recommendations for the finest graphic design software is SVG-Edit. Because it’s open-source, you can alter it to your needs after downloading if you have coding skills.” —Ansh Gupta, Founder, Empire Crafter
Another alternative that accomplishes a similar set of tasks is SVGator, which allows graphic designers to animate. The versatility and ease of use make this a tool that is used daily in office.
“SVGator has also been a great go-to of ours to allow our graphic designers to do their own drag and drop SVG animations.” —Brandy Arnett, Founder/Lead Website Developer, Vibrandt Media
For designers with little experience but a need for impactful digital content, Picmaker’s free templates can be enhanced with the platform’s automated tools that can suggest design elements, help remove existing backgrounds, and help to match your designs to your branded color palette. Individual users get several free features, while more professional tools and functions can be accessed starting at $8 per month and go as high as $20 per month.
“We like Picmaker because even people with no design experience can edit images. We use Picmaker to create images and designs for our landing pages. I have little technical expertise and this DIY tool is a lifesaver.” —Ruben Gamez, CEO, Docsketch
The Vectr website is a free vector-based graphic design tool that allows users to create and share a URL with collaborators to bring concepts from the planning stages through to deployment online. Vectr is an online tool that can be used with the Pixlr photo editing tool discussed below.
“The Vectr platform has a short learning curve. As a result, if you can’t afford to purchase more expensive vector applications, this is a wonderful place to start. There are roughly 30 different Vectr software tutorials available on their website, making it quite easy to get what you need.” —Daniel Foley, Founder, Daniel Foley Marketing Agency
Digital photo editors play a crucial role in the digital graphic design landscape. The ability to modify, enhance, and improve existing images is necessary to create powerful and influential digital content. Our respondents had some amazing suggestions when it came to video editors.
The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a cross-platform open-source image editor that provides users with sophisticated tools and access to third-party plugins.
“Gimp is a well-designed, free graphic design program. It comes with a flexible photo editor that runs on all major operating systems. Users’ requests are taken into account by the developers, who make every effort to improve the software’s functionality.” —Vanessa Dyer, CEO & Founder, The Magickal Cat
Pixlr E, the brand’s versatile photo editor, is an online tool that can create and format images for any social channel or platform. There is a free version with limited features, with a paid access ranging from $4.90 per month up to $30 per month depending upon your service level and payment arrangement.
“Pixlr provides a lot of tools for intricate editing, but it also has a lot of tools for rapid changes. This is useful for folks who need to make quick edits to their photos. This is also user-friendly for those who are unfamiliar with the nuances of photo editing but yet want to create professional-looking photographs.” — Daniel Foley, SEO Manager, The Halcyon School
Useful for quick corrections, retouching, or complex projects with multiple layers, Affinity Photo is a versatile tool known for its speed, power, precision, and for being the only editor that can be used with PC and on both macOS and iOS platforms. The app can be purchased for $50 on desktop platforms and $20 on mobile Apple devices.
“If you work with a lot of photos, you’ll see that Affinity Photo outperforms other, more popular alternatives with tasks such as bitmap scaling and whitespace calculations. If you’re tired of struggling with hard to use interfaces, it’s time to try Affinity.” —Adam Fard, Founder & Head of Design, Adam Fard UX Agency
Presentations and Infographics
Businesses operating in the modern economy are largely driven by data and analytics. Graphic designers have always been involved in translating data into meaningful infographics and presentations. However, the growing role of data and the streamlining of operations everywhere has led to an increasing demand for software focused on creating presentations and infographics.
Your brand’s reputation is extremely important and you need the right graphic design tools to create creative collateral that supports that reputation. Visme helps graphic designers build that reputation through presentations, charts, infographics, and branded content. Beyond the basic free account, users can be billed on an annual basis equal to $15 to $29 per user per month.
“Visme focuses on brand aesthetics and includes tools for preserving color palettes, photos, videos, and other materials associated with your company or brand in the creation of charts, slideshows, storyboards, and even social media ads. The files created with Visme can be distributed as view-only links, encouraging team collaboration and input.” —Daniel Foley, SEO Specialist, CloudTech24
With a wide array of templates, objects, and iconography available to users, Easelly provides a robust platform for building infographics that through an API can be generated with existing data, updated, and revised live online. The tool is exceptionally affordable, at only $60 annually for the full business use license.
“For individuals who haven’t worked with infographics before, Easelly allows you to create and edit various infographics, which you can then show in PDF or JPG format. You can create all of the diagrams you need and then publish the finished layout to your website, social media, or other channels in seconds.” —Robert Henry, CEO, Best Coffee
The Noun Project
A project designed to enhance and expand visual iconography across the digital landscape, the Noun Project provides users with access to basic icon downloads on a free basis, while enhanced download and licensing options are available with a variety of enhanced options for $3 per icon or $40 per user per year.
“I provide a graphic design service that offers the client the ability to adjust their presentations when needed by supplying the client with high-end designed PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides presentations, so the Noun Project is crucial because it allows me to search through and add vector icons directly to my presentation.” —Marike Herzberg, Freelance Presentation Design Specialist, Marike Designs
Unique Graphics Tools
Graphic design plays a role in creating any number of visual assets across multiple channels and platforms. Some of the suggested applications recommended by our respondents offer very targeted solutions to specific creative endeavors.
Clip Studio Paint
Designed for drawing and painting, Clip Studio Paint provides users with a natural brush feel that exceeds many graphic design platforms. Users can also download and customize a wide array of brushes. The software provides a free trial, after which time it can be purchased for a flat $50 for the base program or $219 with added features.
“Clip Studio is my favorite software since it employs bitmap/pixel technology, which makes it lighter than vector-based software when we need to draw a detailed drawing on a computer with standard specs or a quality tablet.” —Ryan Dalal, CEO & Founder, Merge PDF
Primarily geared towards the illustrator and 3D designer crowd, Daz 3D has a free studio for users to deploy customized 3D content, but also includes a paid marketplace of content users can use to create interactive 3D spaces.
“For animators, illustrators, and designers, this is the best free graphic design program. It has 3D animation, figure posing, and rendering capabilities. With the right digital resources, you may also build fantastic digital settings, animations, and graphics that appear to be extremely realistic.” —Naomi Bishop, Chief Insurance Officer, Surfky
Khroma is a free, online artificial intelligence-based tool that learns what colors you prefer and creates any number of palettes for you to choose from, save, and deploy in your designs.
“Khroma utilizes artificial intelligence to learn the colors you prefer and then develops an infinite number of palettes for you to discover, search, and store. Khroma’s search function enables you to search and filter the generator by hue, tint, value, color, as well as hex and RGB values, among other parameters. Give it a shot and see how it goes for you!” —Matt Weidle, Business Development Manager, Buyer’s Guide
ColorPick Chrome Extension
A useful extension that allows the user to select specific color values from webpages, ColorPick requires the Chrome browser to function.
“We use the ColorPick Eyedropper Chrome browser extension in building out the imagery and social media graphics we use by helping us to identify the hex color codes of any color in the browser, making it super easy to put together color options or palettes with inspiration from websites we like.” —Quincy Smith, Co-Founder, TEFL Hero
An online collaborative tool used for teams to design and configure UI, Figma allows teams to collaborate, prototype, and design systems for their clients. The platform has a free starter mode, with paid tiers for small agencies and large design firms ranging from $12-$45 per month.
“Figma is designed primarily for creating User Interfaces for mobile apps and websites. However, we’ve also found it helpful in creating graphics for social content strategies, presentations, and even creative paid ads. Built with cloud collaboration in mind, Figma has improved our workflow from internal collaboration through to client review and collecting feedback.” —Andrew Newby, Graphic Designer, seoplus+
“It makes it very easy for our designers to create, share, and collaborate with our team when they are prototyping websites or apps for our clients.” —Kenneth Metral, CEO, Cosmico Studios
“Figma allows for collaboration, is easy to work with and share with clients, and does not cost very much.” – Chris Mendes, CEO, 2Leaf
A free open-source painting program with a focus on helping artists create concept art, textures and mattes, illustrations, and comics, Krita offers users an intuitive interface.
“Krita is the greatest free graphic design software with an open-source. It will be most beneficial to comic book artists because it has a collection of tools designed expressly for these activities, such as halftones and ready-made templates. However, the software can also be used for other forms of drawing, as it provides vanishing points, smooth forms, layer masks, and many other drawing tools as part of its interface.” —Jeff Cooper, Manager, Messagely
Graphic Design Solutions That Support Your Brand at Every Stage of Growth
Whether you oversee the graphic design needs of a small startup or you’re part of an agency working with multiple clients, our community has provided input on a tool that will meet your design needs. If you find that your organization could instead use a B2B partner to help with your graphic design needs, or you need more resources to explore other graphic design trends and strategies, UpCity’s channels are a great place to focus your search.
About the author
David J. Brin
Having recently escaped a 20-year career in Food & Beverage operations management, David is now a Facility Director for a Code Ninjas franchise, a STEM-education concept that uses game development to teach children how to code in various programming languages. David got his start writing professionally as a communications assistant for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and has been a freelance copywriter providing white-label services to clients since 2016. His clients operate in industries ranging from managed IT services and software development to marketing and advertising.