The Best Apps for Graphic Artists to Buy in 2018

Find the best software to create your original artwork

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.

If you're a digital artist, illustrator, or comic creator, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to software. Whether you're a beginner looking for something easy to come to grips with, or need a powerful tool to help you deliver professional results, there's an app out there which meets your needs. There's no need to spend a fortune, either—many of the best tools are free or inexpensive, including those that work across multiple platforms and devices, or specialize in particular areas like manga or real-world materials.

Most apps these days have active communities, extensive tutorials, and strong support from their developers, with many also being surprisingly lightweight. This lets them run on older hardware, making the barrier to entry lower than it's ever been—you can even get high-quality results from a tablet or smartphone.

Our Top Picks

Best for Getting Started: MediaBang Paint

MediaBang Paint
Courtesy of MediaBang Paint

For those just getting started with digital art creation, many tools can seem overwhelming, with dozens of icons and seemingly-endless customization options. This is not the case with MediaBang Paint, a multi-platform app that's lightweight and easy to use, while still being powerful enough to create professional-looking results.

MediaBang Paint is particularly popular with manga and comic creators, with features designed specifically for them like easy panel slicing and multi-page management. It's appropriate for all kinds of graphic artists, though, with more than enough brushes and fonts to get you started, and plenty of tutorials available in both video and article form.

Available on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, cloud syncing is built in, so you can finish working on one device and seamlessly pick it up on another. This is a feature that's rarely found in even highly-priced professional art software, never mind a free ad-supported app like this.

Best for Powerful Features: Corel Painter

Corel Painter 2019
Courtesy of Amazon

As a more affordable version of Adobe Photoshop and with a stronger focus on the needs of digital artists, the popular Corel Painter app is like a well-stocked artist's studio without the mess. With textured surfaces, brushes, and tools, you can mimic painting and drawing with chalk, pastels, watercolors, oils, and many other materials.

Tools like stamps and pattern pens help speed up the creative process, while realistic features like watercolor bleed and absorption help ensure a gorgeous end result. Oil and other thick paints are particularly impressive, with the ability to layer, scrape, and mix as if you had a real palette in front of you.

While its strong suit is its artistic toolset, Painter also offers features for photo enhancement, graphics creation, animation, and text design. Available on Windows and MacOS, Corel offers a 30-day free trial of Painter if you want to ensure it's right for you, along with a cut-down, low-cost Essentials version to get you started.

Best for Comics and Manga: Clip Studio Paint Ex

If your artistic focus leans more towards comics and manga art rather than whimsical watercolors, take a close look at Clip Studio Paint. Developed in Japan and available in two versions — Paint and Ex, the former has all the features you'll need for creating individual static images, while the Ex version adds proper animation support, conversion of 3D models into line art, and multi-page projects.

Tools like vector-based word balloons (with customizable tails) make comic and manga creation easier, with advanced pressure detection ensuring more natural, realistic pen strokes when combined with a tablet and stylus. That's the best way to use the software, although it's not absolutely essential.

Used by over four million creators on MacOS, Windows, and iPad, Clip Studio includes access to a vast library of freely-downloadable content, including brushes, 3D models, and more.

Best Free Option: Krita

Krita
Courtesy of Krita

Proudly free and open-source, Krita's decade-long development has been made possible thanks to fundraising drives from its loyal community of graphic artists. Along the way, the app has developed into a viable alternative to industry heavy-hitters like Photoshop and Painter, especially for those who don't have hundreds of dollars to fork over for creative design tools.

Full of powerful features like brush stabilization to help smooth out shaky lines, full-color management tools, and nine different engines for creating truly unique brushes, it's equally useful for illustrators and concept artists alike.

Krita has wide platform support, both in terms of what it will run on (Windows, MacOS, and Linux), and its ability to import and export from other tools, including layered PSD files. While Krita Desktop is and always will be free, developers make paid versions available on various platforms so that users can easily support ongoing development. There's also a specific version, Krita Gemini, developed for Windows tablets and convertibles.

Best for iPad: Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer
Courtesy of Affinity Designer

Based on the award-winning desktop version of the app, Affinity Designer for iPad is a fully-featured mobile drawing tool with several features that set it apart from the competition. Far from being the cut-down version of a product that we often see on tablets, the app can support thousands of layers and over one million-percent zoom. There's a useful range of typography and vector creation tools, and switching between raster and vector modes is straightforward and seamless.

Significant thought has been put into the mobile interface, taking full advantage of pinch-to-zoom, multi-touch, and other iPad features to speed up regular tasks. For an iOS app, Affinity Designer also has unusually good import and export support, including SVG and Photoshop files, along with other high-quality formats like EPS and print-ready PDF.

Well-priced for such a useful product, if you're a graphic artist who regularly or exclusively creates on an iPad, it's worth taking a good hard look at Affinity Designer.

Best for Enhancing Photos: PhotoDonut

PhotoDonut
Courtesy of PhotoDonut

Unlike the other apps mentioned here, PhotoDonut's focus is on turning photos and other images into gorgeous artworks rather than creating new designs from scratch—and at that, it excels. With a couple of clicks, you can transform an image into a pencil or ink line drawing, watercolor, oil painting, and many other options, and then tweak it to your heart's content. The app's StyleShop is full of textures, filters, and brushes for adding extra variety to your creations, some available at no cost and others at little cost.

The free version of the app does enough for most users, but if you find yourself regularly paying for premium content in the StyleShop, it may be worth taking out a monthly or annual Premium subscription instead. There's also a Pro subscription, which adds advanced features like batch processing, creating and saving your own styles, and freehand drawing. Regardless of which version you're using, several detailed tutorials are available on the website to get you started.

Best for Real-World Tools: ArtRage

ArtRage
Courtesy of ArtRage

Long popular with digital illustrators and painters, ArtRage's main focus is on creating with "real media" painting tools that both look and act like they do in the physical world. Watercolors wash away with water, oil paint can be layered and textured and felt pens blend into each other. The many brush types can be endlessly customized, and paint moved around and altered with a highly-flexible palette knife. The end result? Incredibly realistic-looking artwork that doesn't take forever to create.

The full version of ArtRage is reasonably priced, with a 30-day money back guarantee, and a single license covering both MacOS and Windows. There's also a cheaper Lite version available with a smaller selection of tools, along with iOS and Android apps for a few dollars.

With extensive tutorials and a supportive community, making the most of the app isn't difficult. If you'd like to create traditional-looking artwork in digital form, ArtRage is the perfect place to start.

Best for Cross-Platform Creativity: Autodesk Sketchbook

Autodesk Sketchbook
Courtesy of Autodesk Sketchbook

Autodesk's Sketchbook is a powerful creation tool with around 200 textured brushes, multiple blending and perspective options, and drawing assistance functions like Predictive Stroke. Easy to learn and use, its biggest strength is its seamless workflow, whether that's bringing physical designs into the digital world, working across devices, or sharing your creation with others.

Got a printed design someone handed you, or had a flash of inspiration while drawing in the park? Sketchbook lets you use the camera on your phone or tablet to scan in any line art, ready to work on with a transparent background.

The app is available on Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android, so you can work on whichever device you have to hand. If you're collaborating with others, designs can be exported as layered PSD files, along with other common file types like JPG, PNG, and TIFF.

Sketchbook once required payment to unlock all of its Pro features but was released fully free in 2018. There's also a paid Enterprise version, focused on the needs of larger organizations.

Our Process

Our writers spent 10 hours researching the most popular apps for graphic artists. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 18 different apps, screened options from 16 different developers, and read over 30 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.