8 Best Graphic Design Applications

Find the best software to create your original artwork

These art-oriented software programs are designed especially for painting, drawing, coloring, and creating original artwork. Although some of them also offer tools for working with pre-existing images, the emphasis is on art and the creation process. 

Corel Painter

Corel Painter is like a well-stocked artist's studio, without the mess. With textured surfaces, brushes, and tools, you can mimic painting and drawings with chalk, pastels, watercolors, oils, crayons, pencil, felt pens, ink, and more. Painter also offers non-traditional tools such as image hose, pattern pens, cloners, and special effects. While its strong point is its artistic toolset, Painter also offers features for photo enhancement, Web graphics creation, animation, and working with text.

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Painting of a Macaw using ArtRage
Fred Hsu/Wikimedia Commons

ArtRage is a fun, easy-to-learn program for experimenting with digital art in Windows, Mac, and iPad. The user interface is absolutely gorgeous and designed for ultimate ease of use. Children and adults alike will have a ton of fun painting and drawing with art tools that act and interact just like real-world paint, pens, pencils, crayons, and even glitter! If you're not sure if digital art is for you, give the free version a try. It's time unlimited but lacks a few of the tools in the full version. For just US$30 the full edition is totally worth it for the extra features. A Pro version is also available for a little bit more, and in 2010, an ArtRage for iPad was released.

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SnapArt by Alien Skin
 Alien Skin

Alien Skin's Snap Art is a collection of filters that can give your photos the artistic styling of colored pencil, Impasto, Pointillism, pen and ink, pencil sketch, pastels, comics, watercolor, oil painting, Pop Art, and more.

Snap Art comes with hundreds of presets as well as manual controls, so users can transform photos into artwork quickly and with the precise level of detail that they desire.

Snap Art requires a host photo editor program such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, or Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo.

Autodesk SketchBook
Autodesk SketchBook

Autodesk SketchBook is an innovative freehand drawing and painting program available for Windows and Mac, as well as for mobile devices such as the iPad.

SketchBook is extremely easy to learn and use. If you've been frustrated or overwhelmed by the complexity of other painting/drawing programs, SketchBook is a great way to sketch out ideas, annotate images, and explore computer-based drawing. 

Corel Painter Essentials

Corel Painter Essentials is a simplified, home-user version of Corel Painter professional-level art software. It's designed to help beginners or non-artists create digital art and turn photos into artwork.

Although it is more limited than Painter, Essentials has a worthy set of tools and effects to allow users to explore digital art without being overwhelmed by too many options. It also provides an ideal upgrade path to Painter. 

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Artweaver is a painting and drawing program for Windows that will look very familiar to anyone who has used Photoshop or Painter in the past.

Artweaver features a number of natural media brushes and tools such as chalk, pencils, charcoal, oil paint, felt markers, crayons, airbrushes, acrylic, sponges, pastels, and cloners. Each brush has a number of attributes that can be adjusted for even more variety. In addition, Artweaver offers a solid set of general image manipulation and enhancement tools.

Artweaver offers a free version for non-commercial and academic uses, as well as a paid version with additional features.

Studio Artist Synthetik Software
Studio Artist Synthetik Software

Studio Artist is an award-winning painting, drawing, image- and video-processing application for MacOS and Windows.

Called a "graphics synthesizer" by the company that produces it, it's based on the concepts of music synthesis, cognitive neuroscience and visual perception resulting in a software program that "knows how to paint and draw."

Users can paint and draw manually with configurable tools, or they can use automatic painting actions to intelligently paint an image with artistic effects.

Project Dogwaffle, "the unnatural paint program," is a painting and animation program for Windows with many unique tools for creating pictures. The interface is quirky, but it looks like it has much to offer creative people who are willing to explore it.

You can create your own brushes (including animated brushes), mix colors naturally, and apply a number of special effects. There is a free version of Project Dogwaffle, or you can upgrade to the full version.