Given the long list of alternatives out there, it’s cumbersome to research which graphic design software—out of dozens—might best meet your needs.
To start, think about the kind of work you want to do. Generally, there are three types of graphic design software: desktop publishing, photo editing, and drawing. Desktop publishing software puts the focus on page layout, arranging text and graphics to create documents for print & digital use. Photo editing software usually offers a deep set of features for importing and modifying image files. Finally, drawing software gives the user a number of tools for creating art and illustrations with precision.
Beyond that, it helps to graphic design course and have a list of requirements you have to have, as well as features you’d like. For example, do you need free graphic design software for Mac? Does it have to be online? Are you looking for something simple to use or more advanced?
Once you have a good list to work with, you can evaluate the twelve popular alternatives listed below and narrow it down to the best graphic design software for you.
- Adobe InDesign
Adobe InDesign is considered an industry standard for graphic designers and publishers. It’s been around since 1999 and was the successor to Adobe PageMaker. InDesign is suitable for both print and digital designs, making it a popular choice for laying out publications like magazines and books. Its proprietary file format is .INDD, but it can export to a number of file formats, including .SWF and .EPUB for eBooks. Though it’s a powerful program, its learning curve might prove too complex and time-consuming for casual users.
- Adobe Photoshop
Ah, Adobe Photoshop. The photo editing software that’s become so ubiquitous that people use its name as a verb. Hey, can you Photoshop this for me real quick? Although it’s a robust program, not everyone needs all the bells & whistles it boasts. If you need multiple layers, masks and support for various color models, it’s a great choice. Besides its proprietary .PSD and .PSB file formats, it supports many others. Graphic designers who are used to doing heavy lifting are already well-versed in Photoshop. If you’re an aspiring graphic designer, it pays to learn. If you’re not, other software can likely meet your needs just fine.
Founded in 2012, Canva has grown to over 10 million users, and for good reason. Their online design tool is incredibly intuitive and easy for beginners to pick up. With drag-and-drop functionality and professionally designed templates, Canva has become a popular resource for non-designers in a pinch. It’s great for making graphics, but if you need to create multi-page documents, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Canva also doesn’t provide any template locking functionality for brand assets like fonts, colors & logos. But if simple graphics are all you’re after, Canva’s hard to beat.
Remember Picnik, the popular photo editor Google acquired in 2010 and shuttered in 2012? When millions of users found themselves scrambling for a new photo editor, a group of employees set out to rebuild it—and PicMonkey was (re)born. While the silly name might give you pause, PicMonkey is serious about creating a “fast and lightweight” photo-editing experience. It’s also expanded to provide design templates. However, users complain that its free-to-use experience leaves much to be desired. If you want to save the images you edit in PicMonkey, you’ll have to sign up for a paid subscription first.
- Adobe Illustrator
Given their dominance in the industry, it’s not surprising that this list includes three Adobe products. This one, Adobe Illustrator, specializes in vector graphic design. Users can draw sketches, icons, typography, logos and more. Like other Adobe products, Illustrator has a learning curve that can feel too steep to many. However, there’s a wide variety of tutorials and videos online to help users discover features and get the most from their software. Power users appreciate the precise controls, and PC Magazine rates it as one of the best vector drawing applications.
If you’re not an experienced graphic designer, you could be forgiven for assuming CorelDraw is a dinosaur. It’s been around for ages, it’s compatible only with Windows, and, well, it’s not Adobe. But the truth is, CorelDraw is a fully modernized and formidable competitor, with a plethora of features you can’t get from Adobe softwares without plug-ins. It’s popular with production houses and great for designing typography and vector graphics. However, its price can certainly be prohibitive. For Windows-only enterprises, or designers who want professional-level features, CorelDraw is a solid all-in-one choice.
- Microsoft Publisher
We’ll say this right off the bat: If you’re looking for graphic design software for Mac, move along. Microsoft Publisher is, as you might expect, only available on Windows. Different from Microsoft Word (which focuses on text composition and proofing), Publisher shifts the focus to page layout and design. Its proprietary .PUB file format doesn’t always play nicely with other programs, but pages can be saved in other formats. Publisher was designed to be easy to use, making it a good fit for beginners. However, it isn’t designed for professional use, making it a better fit for students and home users.
- Gravit Designer
If you’re looking for a cross-platform design software, Gravit Designer is available on just about everything. It’s available to download on Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS—and if that isn’t enough, you can also use it in your browser. Having said that, it might surprise you to learn that Gravit Designer is totally free. However, this could also be the reason you choose not to use it. Because it’s a free tool created by a small team, it lacks some of the powerhouse features you’ll find in Adobe software or Corel Draw. But if you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend hundreds, Gravit Designer is a great way to get your feet wet.