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.
Best Overall: Adobe Photoshop CC at Adobe
"The gold standard of image editing programs for over three decades."
Best for Windows: Corel Painter at Amazon
"Having the right blend of performance and features, it's the perfect digital art software for Windows."
Best for Mac: Affinity Designer at Serif
"Serif's Affinity suite of image editing programs has become a force to be reckoned with."
Best for Beginners: Autodesk SketchBook at SketchBook
"Straightforward design makes it ideal for beginners."
Best Freeware: Krita at Krita
"Loved by professionals and amateurs alike."
Best for Watercolor-Style Art: Rebelle 3 at Escape Motions
"It allows you to create realistic acrylic and watercolor artworks with little to no effort."
Best for Comic Books: Clip Studio Paint Ex at Amazon
"Trusted by professional comic book artists and manga illustrators around the world."
Best for iPad: Procreate at Procreate
"The award-winning digital art app lets you easily create sketches, illustrations, and more."
Best for Android Tablets: ArtRage at ArtRage
"You can paint using thick oils, delicate watercolors, and even experiment with textures."
Adobe's Photoshop has been the gold standard of image editing programs for over three decades now, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon. Undeniably the best digital art software available out there, it lets you create stunning illustrations, 3D artworks, and so much more. From posters and banners to entire websites and mobile apps, you can design just about anything you want in Photoshop. The program features a diverse array of professional-grade tools that allow you to unleash your creativity. For example, the paintbrush tool, which has been designed especially for illustrators, makes painting symmetrical patterns a cakewalk.
Moreover, you can create with numerous pencils, pens, markers, and brushes that feel just as authentic as their real-life counterparts. The newest version of Photoshop comes with a bevy of advanced features, including a "Paint Symmetry" mode that lets you create intricate patterns (e.g. Mandalas) on custom axes of symmetry while a content-aware fill workspace provides an interactive editing experience. Other goodies include a frame tool for easy masking, multiple undo levels, and live blend mode preview. And since Photoshop is now a part of Adobe's Creative Cloud (CC) suite, it is constantly being updated with new enhancements.
Corel's graphics processing programs are regarded as being among the foremost in the business, and the latest release of Painter is no different. Having the right blend of performance and features, it's the perfect digital art software for Windows. Corel Painter's vast collection of over 900 brushes is organized into 36 categories and includes everything from dab stencils and pattern pens to blenders and texture brushes. You can also import brushes from other artists and even create your own.
The program comes with six new color harmonies that can be saved as sets, making color selection an effortless affair. It also uses guides and grids based on classical image composition techniques, allowing you to create digital artworks that have a unique sense of proportion. Using mirror painting and kaleidoscope tools, you can easily design symmetrical illustrations by reproducing brushstrokes on the opposite sides of the canvas and by having multiple reflections of mirror planes.
With Corel Painter's intuitive guides, you can either quickly convert a photo to a digital painting or paint the canvas using the photo as a cloning source. Then there's the nifty "Brush Accelerator" utility, which automatically optimizes your CPU/GPU settings for 20x faster painting.
Despite being relatively new to the scene, Serif's Affinity suite of image editing programs has become a force to be reckoned with. A key member of that lineup is Designer, which is hands down the best digital art software that you can get for macOS. Winner of Apple Design Award (WWDC 2015), it's a fast and responsive application that supports panning and zooming at up to 60fps. You can preview effects, blending modes, curve edits, and more, all in real-time.
Affinity Designer's engine can easily handle even the most complex of documents and lets you organize objects with layer groups and color tags. An interesting feature of the program is its ability to switch between vector and raster workspaces with one click. This means that you can create scalable artworks and enhance them with detailed textures, seamlessly. In addition to RGB and LAB color spaces (with up to 32 bits per channel), Designer supports Pantone, as well as end-to-end CMYK and ICC color management functions.
Other notable features include unlimited artboards, comprehensive vector tools, live pixel preview, one million percent zoom, advanced grid (standard and isometric) controls, and custom typography styles. Affinity Designer works with all major image/vector file types, such as EPS, SVG, and fully-layered PSD.
Since they are primarily aimed at professional artists, the vast majority of graphics processing programs are quite complicated, with hundreds of features, customizable interfaces, and multi-level nested menus. However, that's not the case with Autodesk's SketchBook, whose straightforward design makes it ideal for beginners. The feature-loaded digital art software sports a minimal and elegant UI that stays hidden until a tool/option is needed, allowing you to work sans any distractions. Its drawing engine can handle canvases up to 10 megapixels in size while still maintaining precision and speed.
Sketchbook comes with a variety of drawing tools, including pencils, inks, markers, and more than 190 customizable brushes that can work with both textures and shapes. As an added bonus, you also get access to the exclusive "Copic" color library. Those who have just started their journey as digital illustrators can benefit from the program's built-in assistive wizards, which come with features like 16-sector radial symmetry and predictive stroke, which automatically smooths out lines and corrects shapes.
Autodesk SketchBook lets you export your artworks in a variety of formats, such as PNG and TIFF. It also supports layered PSD files that are fully preserved with a wealth of information, including layer names, groups, and blending modes.
While paid image editing programs are great, not everyone can (or wants to) shell out hundreds of dollars for one. If that includes you, look no further than Krita. Despite being completely gratis, this open-source digital art software is loaded with features. Krita has been under development for more than a decade and is loved by professionals and amateurs alike. Its user interface is made up of panels which can be moved around to set up a custom workspace, and you can also configure shortcuts for commonly-used tools.
The program comes with 9 unique brush engines (e.g. Color Smudge, Particle, and Shape) that can be tweaked extensively and then organized using a unique tagging system. A pop-up palette lets you quickly pick colors and brushes while the resource manager makes it easy to import brush and texture packs from other artists. Krita features a "Wrap-around" mode that allows you to create seamless textures and patterns, whereas the "Multibrush" tool can be used to mirror illustrations about multiple axes to achieve a kaleidoscopic effect.
Other noteworthy features include full color management support (using LCMS for ICC and OpenColor IO for EXR), PSD compatibility, and brush stabilizers.
Graphics processing programs are incredible when it comes to modern illustrations, but what if they could replicate the old-school charm of traditional art, such as a watercolor painting? Meet Rebelle 3, a unique digital art software which does just that. Simulating techniques like color blending and wet diffusion, it allows you to create realistic acrylic and watercolor artworks with little to no effort.
The program comes with a wide range of tools (e.g. Wet, Dry, Blend, and Smudge), and uses a new "DropEngine" to emulate watercolor drips. You can even "tilt" the canvas to reproduce flow effects and design custom brushes with the powerful brush creator. Rebelle 3 features 22 different paper styles (e.g. Cold Pressed, Washi Fine, Kenaf, Lokta, and Bamboo Soft), as well as a plethora of creative stencils and masking tools.
Also included in the package are new color filters, a "Masking Fluid" layer, and 23 Photoshop blending modes. Rebelle 3 sports a customizable user interface and supports multi-touch gestures. Available for both Windows and macOS, it's compatible with all standard file types, such as PNG, BMP, TIF, and layered PSD.
Tree by Steve Goad
We all love reading comic books, but are you someone who likes to draw/illustrate them too? If the answer is yes, then Clip Studio Paint Ex is exactly what you need. Trusted by professional comic book artists and manga illustrators around the world, the powerhouse digital art software boasts a truckload of specialized features.
These include panel tools, customizable speech balloons, effect lines, and rulers to draw a variety of lines and shapes. You can also add perspective and realistic depth to backgrounds, position 3D figures (with adjustable body shapes and camera angles) directly on the canvas, and do a lot more. The program makes it simple to draw vector shapes in smooth strokes and even comes with a "vector eraser" tool to easily erase intersecting lines. Clip Studio Paint Ex gives you access to thousands of customizable brushes, as well as "effect lines," that can be used to add dramatic effects (e.g. speed, action) to illustrations.
Managing the storyboarding workflow is a breeze too, thanks to the page manager and story editor features. Once complete, the finished manga/comic can be previewed in 3D and even published directly in popular formats such as EPUB.
Apple's tablets have always been amazing, and with the upcoming iPadOS, they are about to get even better. However, if you truly want to take the creative potential of your iPad (and Apple Pencil) to the next level, you need something like Procreate. The award-winning digital art app lets you easily create sketches, illustrations, and more, anytime and anywhere.
You can choose from more than 200 handcrafted brushes, import custom ones, and even make your own using the powerful brush engine. Procreate includes many features that have been developed exclusively for iPads. For example, "ColorDrop" quickly fills your artwork with seamless color. Then there's "Drawing Assist," which automatically corrects your brush strokes in real-time. You can also add vector text, as well as a wide array of dramatic finishing effects and filters (e.g. Warp, Symmetry, and Liquify) to your illustrations.
Other goodies include a full-featured layering system, 250 levels of undo/redo, continuous autosave, and the ability to record the entire process of creating digital illustrations as time-lapse videos (in 4K resolution), which can be then shared over social media networks.
The world of Android offers quite a few great tablets that you can use to illustrate on the go. That said, you also need a digital art app for that, and we have no qualms recommending ArtRage. It comes with a full range of creative tools that do a great job of simulating their real-world counterparts. You can paint using thick oils, delicate watercolors, and even experiment with textures by blending and smearing the paint.
Thanks to a diverse range of realistic tools (e.g. pastels, shading pencils, and precision ink pens), you can sketch and draw just like you would on paper. ArtRage supports unlimited layers and is compatible with all industry-standard blending modes. Using the "Metallic Tinting" feature, you can also add reflectivity to pigments. If you want to use an existing photo as a guide for painting, the same can be done by importing it as a tracing image. The app even samples colors from the tracing image automatically, allowing you to focus on brush strokes. ArtRage is compatible with both Wacom and S-Pen styluses.
Are you looking for more programs to take your digital art to the next level? Check out our article on the best 3D software to download.
Our writers spent 6 hours researching the most popular digital art software on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 15 different software overall, screened options from 9 different brands and manufacturers, read over 170 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.