Being a digital artist and getting the right hardware for the job, such as a powerful computer and drawing tablet, is one thing. Finding the right software to work with, especially if you’re a beginner, is a whole other game.
There are so many options out there that you can easily get overwhelmed looking for the right one for you. Luckily, we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. We scoured the internet and other resources, as well as our own collective experience, to come up with a short list of drawing apps you can start with.
Generally, when shopping for a drawing app, there are two key considerations you need to make. First, what kind of features do you want? Second, how much are you willing to spend on the app?
Some software has just about every feature you could ever need, as far as creating and manipulating images is concerned, letting you paint and edit photos however you want. Meanwhile, they might be very expensive.
Others have a narrower, but more powerful, set of tools designed for very specific tasks. In that sense, you should also figure out whether you need specialized or more general purpose software.
When it comes to pricing structure, apps vary. Some are completely free; others charge you a one-time purchase fee, while others charge a subscription fee. Some come completely free but require you to pay for certain features.
You’ll also have to figure out which pricing structure you’re most comfortable with. Luckily, we have specimens employing all the above structures. The good news is, whether you’re on Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, or Android, you’re guaranteed to get software to do digital art with on our list.
And now, without further ado, let’s get started!
The digital art programs & software that every beginner artist needs to know…
1. Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop is the OG of digital art software. It has been at the forefront unchallenged for quite a while, though recently competing apps have begun to offer similarly powerful, if not more powerful, alternatives. That said Photoshop is still quite formidable, especially considering the fact that it gets regularly updated with incredible features and functionality.
Adobe Photoshop is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, an ecosystem of related digital art programs. That means it’s easy to share your assets and settings with other apps and devices in your account in the ecosystem, such as styles, colors, images, brushes, and so on.
There are also lots of plugins you can use to extend the capabilities of the program even further.
Adobe Photoshop can be purchased on Creative Cloud as a single app ($20.99/month), as part of the
2. Corel Painter
The latest version of Corel Painter has lots of cool features for artists, especially iOS and MacOS users. There’s now support for Sidecar on MacOS Catalina, which lets you mirror your Mac’s screen on your iPad so you can paint with an Apple Pencil.
If you have a MacBook Pro, you’ll also appreciate the support for the multi-touch trackpad and Touch Bar.
Within the app itself, there are also cool new features like 12 different artistic styles based on AI to choose from. For painters, there is a new paint workflow that lets you clone tinting and make realistic oil paintings.
One of the best things about Corel Painter is how versatile it is. You can adapt it to many different styles, including illustration, concept art, manga, fine art, and photo art.
Corel Painter has a one-time cost of $429.
3. Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is a great cheaper alternative to Photoshop. One of the problems for consumers looking to find alternatives to Photoshop is that the competition can rarely do as much. Affinity Photo does almost as well, with similar features to some of Adobe Photoshop’s most powerful tools, such as content-aware fill.
Another cool thing about Affinity Photo is that it works well with Photoshop files (PSD files) and can handle images over 100 megapixels without breaking a sweat. It has most of the brushes, filters, and effects you’ll need.
The best news is that you can get all of that for just $25.
Procreate is an iPad-only tool that’s great for digital artists of all skill levels. It has most of the features and functionality you would find in a desktop app, including a text tool, color pickers, and layer creation capabilities, as well as professional masking tools.
It even supports PSD files! The latest version takes full advantage of the Apple M1 chip, letting you see AR previews of your work and paint right on top of 3D models. There are over 100 brushes to choose from to let you mimic traditional art more effectively. You can also use the brush engine to create your own brushes.
Procreate costs $9.99 on the App Store.
5. Rebelle 4
Rebelle 4 is a new player on the market, released at the end of 2020 to replace Rebelle 3 and improve on its shortcomings. It’s a unique painting software that seeks to emulate traditional art as closely as possible.
With it you can create realistic wet, dry, acrylic, and watercolor paintings. It has over 170 brushes, as well as a feature that allows you to download your favorite brushes and share them.
On the painting front, it has great oil and watercolors, texture and stabilization capabilities, canvas, tool, and layer features.
Rebelle 4 costs a one-time price of $89.99
6. Artweaver 7
Artweaver is a great painting program for beginners with a full set of features. It has a very large collection of brush presets, which you can further customize and save according to your needs. The user interface is very intuitive and easy to use, and you can customize it to your liking.
This program only works for Windows, so take note of that when purchasing.
Artweaver comes in two tiers: the free version, and the Plus version, which costs $41.16.
7. Adobe Photoshop Sketch
Adobe Photoshop Sketch is a great Photoshop-like tool for iOS and Android users. It comes with the same familiar layout users of Adobe tools are used to, with a few tools on the right and a brush panel on the left of a very large canvas where you can do your work.
This tool is mainly designed for digital artists who want to modify existing works with some digital artwork. It works very similarly to Photoshop, with lots of brushes and also pressure sensitivity.
Since it’s part of the Adobe ecosystem, you can easily connect it to Photoshop and Illustrator, making your work across programs and devices more unified. The best part is that it is absolutely free for Android and iPad users with an Adobe ID.
The only downside is that the application has limited storage, and you’ll have to pay an additional amount monthly to get extra storage space.
Krita is a free and open source painting program that’s been around for 17 years now (since 2004). It has a user-friendly interface that’s easy to use and customizable. The panels and dockers are at your mercy, letting you set up as you need for your workflow.
Krita has over 100 professional brush presets and 9 brush engines to help you create your own. There’s even a Color Smudge engine, a Particle engine, and a Shape engine. You can also import texture packs and brushes of your own if you want, and there’s a brush stabilizer to help your lines stay smooth.
9. Autodesk Sketchbook
If you lean more towards fine details and technical drawings, then you’ll appreciate what Autodesk Sketchbook has to offer. It can scan drawings and digitize them, and features lots of cool tools for architectural drawings, illustrations, and industrial designs.
This is more of an intermediate tool than beginner, though, with a bit of a steep learning curve, so it may take some time to get used to. That said, if you’re planning to go into technical drawing, it can prove to be the most powerful and useful tool you have ever worked with.
You can finish most projects within the app, as it tends to have everything you need, there’s a large community to ask for help when you get stuck, and, best of all, it’s absolutely free if you have an Autodesk ID.
In case you want to get multiple licenses, however, you will only have to pay $85 per year.
10. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
Gimp is a free and open source alternative too Photoshop. It is a favorite among amateurs who shun Photoshop, and their Github is actively maintained by a small but dedicated group of volunteers from different parts of the world.
With Gimp, you can do image composition and authoring, photo retouching, and graphic design. It might not have the same familiar interface and user-friendliness of Photoshop, and it has a steep learning curve, but its power and capability are worth it.
The best of it all: GIMP is absolutely free!
And with that we come to the end of our article. As you can see, there are lots of options to choose from when starting your digital art journey. You should find something from the list above that works for you, whatever your needs.
The trick is to pick a tool, commit to learning it, and create, create, create. Until next time, happy drawing!