The 8 Best Advanced Vector-Based Illustration Programs of 2021

A collection of drawing software for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Illustration software offers vector-based graphics editing and drawing capabilities for creating simple and complex non-photographic designs, technical diagrams, and illustrations such as logos and stylized art.

Most also offer basic typography and page layout capability for producing small documents. These advanced drawing tools are powerful enough for high-end professional design and business use.

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Adobe Illustrator: An Affordable Vector Editor

Adobe Illustrator
What We Like
  • A professional image editor.

  • More affordable than other paid software.

What We Don't Like
  • No one-time payment option.

  • Will take a while to get familiar with all the tools.

Illustrator is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. This once expensive software is now available as a reasonably priced subscription service. The industry-standard vector drawing app is well supported among professionals, particularly those with a print-oriented environment. Create logos, icons, and intricate illustrations for the web, print, video, and mobile devices

Illustrator introduced pixel-perfect artwork creation. Use it to draw shapes and paths that align to the pixel grid seamlessly so you'll never have to deal with anti-aliased icons again.

Although Illustrator has a challenging learning curve, Adobe offers video tutorials and user guides to simplify the learning process.

Price: $20.99 /month, or more with a different Creative Cloud plan; free during the trial

Illustrator works with Windows 10, Windows 7, macOS High Sierra (10.13), and macOS Sierra (10.12).

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CorelDRAW Graphics Suite: Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

CorelDRAW 2018
What We Like
  • Relatively easy-to-use user interface.

  • One-time payment option.

  • Comes with several other tools.

  • Provides access to a web version.

What We Don't Like
  • Upgrades aren't free for the perpetual license.

  • Subscription must be paid yearly, at once.

Besides getting CorelDRAW, the core application for vector-based illustration, you also get Photo-Paint for image editing, Corel Website Creator, and several other utilities, fonts, and clipart in the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite.

As an affordable graphics suite, it's a popular choice among small business users. The newest version includes the state-of-the-art Symmetry mode, Block Shadow tool, PhotoCocktail, and WordPress integration.

Price: $499 one-time annual fee; free during a 15-day trial

CorelDRAW works with Windows 10, Windows 8.1, and Windows 7.

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Inkscape: Free Vector Illustrator

Inkscape screenshot
What We Like
  • Advanced features for a free program.

  • Supports extensions.

  • Runs on multiple platforms.

  • Works in lots of languages.

What We Don't Like
  • Seems laggy at times.

  • Slow installation.

Inkscape is the open-source community's free alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Although it doesn't match Illustrator's full range of features, it is a worthy alternative with advanced and professional qualities for vector-based drawing. 

Inkscape features include:

  • Pencil, pen and calligraphy tools
  • Shape tools
  • Text tools, kerning, letter spacing and line spacing
  • Advanced fill and stroke options
  • Gradient editor
  • Color selector and color picker
  • Layers

Price: Free

Inkscape can be downloaded for Windows, macOS, and Linux.

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Affinity Designer: A Feature Powerhouse

Affinity Designer screenshot
What We Like
  • Awesome features.

  • Runs on iPad and desktops.

  • No monthly cost.

What We Don't Like
  • Must pay to use it beyond the trial.

Serif's Affinity Designer is a professional graphic design software that claims to be the fastest and most precise vector graphic design software available.

The modern interface works in any color space and is cross-platform compatible. It offers adjustment layers, effects, and blend modes. The workspace is customizable with docked and floating UI modes.

Affinity Designer boasts an impressive list of features, including these:

  • Professional print controls
  • Advanced type capabilities 
  • Shapes library
  • Force touch, stylus pressure, tilt, and other controls
  • Create your own brushes and nozzles
  • 1 million+ zoom, and save your favorite zoom levels
  • Light or dark user interface
  • Supports several languages

Price: $49.99; free during a 10-day trial

Windows and macOS users can install Affinity Designer.

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Xara Designer Pro X: Elegant Vector Graphics Editor

Xara Designer Pro X
What We Like
  • Ideal for web and graphic design.

  • Supports older Windows versions.

  • Requires minimal system resources.

What We Don't Like
  • Steep price.

  • Blocky, unattractive user interface.

  • Trial is only seven days long.

  • No Mac or Linux version.

Xara Designer Pro X promises amazing speed, a small size, reasonable system requirements, a moderate price, and a robust feature set. It comes with loads of tutorials and video demos to ease the learning curve, and its loyal base of users are zealous. Xara is proud it introduced the world's first vector anti-aliasing in its all-in-one program that incorporates illustration, photo editing, page layout, websites, and more. Additionally, 

  • Xara's Zoom tool zooms to 25,000 percent
  • Offers unlimited undo and redo
  • Supports a wide range of import and export file formats
  • Generates PDFs, even those including transparency or graduated fills
  • Supports CMYK color separations, spot color plates, and Pantone color support.

Price: $299.00; free during a 7-day trial

Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista are supported.

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Canvas X: An Advanced Graphics Editing Tool

Canvas X 2019

Canvas GFX Inc.

What We Like
  • Built for business use.

  • Perpetual and one-time payment options.

  • 30-day money-back guarantee.

What We Don't Like
  • Impractical for novice illustrators.

  • Price is on the higher side.

  • Runs slowly on older computers.

Canvas X from ACD Systems is aimed at a user base of large corporations and technical professionals, specifically aerospace, energy, research, and engineering. Still, it should not be neglected as an all-purpose graphics tool for small business users, web designers, educators, and creative professionals. The one drawback of this powerhouse is its intense learning curve. 

  • Includes color management 
  • Suitable for commercial printing and any advanced image or export format
  • Include text formatting and style tools along with editing, proofing, and annotation capabilities.
  • Offers a template library for illustrations publications, presentations and animations.
  • Shares documents with secure encryption and password protection.

Price: $149 /year or $359 for three years; free during 14-day trial.

This program runs on Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, and Windows 7.

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Canvas X Draw: Adobe Illustrator Alternative for Macs

Canvas Draw 5

Canvas GFX Inc.

What We Like
  • Touch Bar support.

  • Use a free, extended trial.

  • One-time payment and subscription options.

What We Don't Like
  • Built for Macs only.

  • Will take some learning to understand it all.

Canvas X Draw for Mac is designed for business professionals and creatives. A comprehensive set of vector tools and advanced raster image editing capability position all of a project's graphic elements in a single document. This program supports:

  • Pressure sensitive Wacom tablets
  • 128-bit password encryption
  • Unicode text engine and UI
  • Copy and Paste with RTF
  • Improved drop-down menu
  • 2D and 3D vector objects
  • Autotrace capability

Price: $89 /year or $249 perpetual license; free during a 30-day trial

Canvas X Draw works with macOS Mojave (10.14), macOS High Sierra (10.13), and macOS Sierra (10.12).

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Intaglio: Perfect for MacDraw Users


Purgatory Design

What We Like
  • Several licensing options.

  • Supports new and old vector formats.

  • Compatible with old Mac software.

What We Don't Like
  • Must contact them directly to purchase the program.

  • Works with Mac systems only.

Intaglio is an affordable vector drawing program for Macs from Purgatory Design. The program carries the legacy of MacDraw into the modern Macintosh world. Mac users who grew up with MacDraw should feel right at home, and those new to Mac drawing can pick it up quickly.

  • Intaglio supports many vector and bitmap file formats
  • Reads legacy drawings from AppleWorks, ClarisDraw and MacDraw II/Pro
  • Works with SVG, PDF and EPS files
  • Converts bitmap images to vector paths
  • Contains 2D drafting features
  • Exports vector files 

Price: $89.00 (1-user license), $379.00 (5-user license), $599.00 (10-user license); free during a trial period

macOS 10.8 and later are supported.

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