Looking for the best graphic design software? Take your designs to the next level with these top 10 graphic design tools that every designer needs in their toolkit.
While designers used to be limited to a handful of professional graphic design software and tools, there’s now a dizzying array of design programs, tools, and software to choose from. From versatile multi-purpose software packages to specialist tools and resources for both print and digital design work, designers are absolutely spoilt for choice – however, the overwhelming number of options can make it difficult to know which graphic design software is right for you.
As both design and technology continue to evolve, designers need to stay on top of the most popular design tools of the moment, and ensure they regularly evaluate and refresh their design toolkit to stay ahead of the curve – and keep their skills up to scratch.
Recommended by a panel of professional designers, we’ve curated this list of some of the best graphic design tools on the market – including a mix of tried-and-tested favorites and exciting newcomers on the scene. We’ve also done a deep dive into each tool’s features, applications, and pros and cons to help you choose the right tools for you.
From Adobe Photoshop and Blendr to Figma and Envato Elements, here are the top 10 graphic design tools every designer needs in their creative toolkit.
Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular graphic design programs on the market. First released in 1988, it’s become a go-to tool for design and image editing. Used by a wide range of creative professionals – from designers and photographers, to web developers and content marketers – for everything from basic image resizing and retouching, all the way through to illustration, digital art and photo manipulation.
Featuring a user-friendly interface, a wide array of editing tools, and a ton of online tutorials, Photoshop is suitable for everyone – from beginners all the way through to the pros actually making money from it. It provides users with full control and endless creative possibilities, which you can get to grips with by following along with Photoshop tutorials, courses and learning resources.
Digital artist and collage expert Paria Mahboobi, AKA Labyrinth of Collages says, “Adobe Photoshop is the main program I use for my work. I have experimented with other Adobe programs, but I always go back to Photoshop. I love to scan things like flowers, paper, and my own writing to include in my work, which can be easily edited in Photoshop.”
Adobe Photoshop costs USD$20.99 per month, or USD$9.99 per month under the Photography plan, which also includes Lightroom and Lightroom Classic. Under the Creative Cloud plan, you can access all Adobe programs for $52.99 per month. Photoshop also offers a seven-day free trial, and is super collaborative, pairing seamlessly with other Adobe products.
Adobe Illustrator is the go-to graphic design software for vector drawing, design, and editing. Considered the industry standard, it allows users to create everything from illustrations and digital art to fonts and logos. Illustrator provides designers full creative freedom, and plenty of shortcuts to help speed up their workflow.
“I use Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign every day, but if I had to pick my favorite it would be Illustrator – especially for branding,” says Kristy Campbell, founder of Pink Pony Creative. “I pair it with my Wacom drawing tablet, which has totally changed the game for me. I’m able to do so much more, create better work, and it’s made the process so much easier!”
Adobe Illustrator is USD$20.99 per month, or USD$52.99 per month under the Creative Cloud plan, which also includes Photoshop, InDesign, and more. Adobe offers prospective Illustrator users a seven-day free trial of the program, alongside other Adobe products.
Adobe InDesign is one of the top tools available for desktop publishing and layout design. Used by graphic designers, artists, and publishers for designing both digital and print projects, it’s a go-to program for creating posters, flyers, brochures, magazines, newspapers, presentations, books, ebooks, and other marketing materials.
Indesign can be used on its own, or in conjunction with other programs in the Adobe Creative Cloud, such as Illustrator or Photoshop. As opposed to other Adobe programs, InDesign isn’t used to create designs or images, but rather to assemble layouts using text, images, and drawings built in other programs.
As with other Adobe programs, InDesign is USD$20.99 per month for an individual subscription or USD$52.99 per month on the Creative Cloud plan. It also offers a free trial.
Sketch is an easy-to-use digital design app used for UI, mobile, web, and even icon design. It’s a vector-based app, meaning that every shape you draw can be resized to any dimension without losing sharpness. This ensures your designs will always appear high quality, even on a retina or high DPI screen.
Alongiside web design and UI design, Sketch can also be used for wireframing or prototyping thanks to the platform’s huge library of plugins. However, Sketch is for Mac users only – while there is a Windows app available that can open and interpret Sketch files, you can only work in Sketch on a Mac.
“Sketch is just so much easier to use than an app like Photoshop,” says Adi Purdila, web design instructor for Tuts+. “I cannot tell you just how much time it’s saved me. Speaking from a web designer’s point of view, one thing that I also love about Sketch is the quality of the render, which means the designs that you can create are very, very close to a finished HTML/CSS result or web page. And because of that, you can really perfect a design, even on the coded version. It’s just great.”
Sketch has a one-off cost of $99, which then allows you to use the program for as long as you like. While you can still use the app after your initial annual license, you’ll need to renew it for any new updates, which costs $69 a year.
Figma is one of the top tools taking the design world by storm. It’s a free online design interface that’s super versatile and can be used for all kinds of design work – from wireframing websites, designing mobile app interfaces, and prototyping designs, to crafting social media posts, and everything in between.
Figma provides designers with all the tools they need for the design phase of their projects, including vector tools for illustration, prototyping capabilities, and code generation.
“I use digital tools such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Figma. I mostly use these tools as I like their intuitiveness and the vastness of features they offer – Figma is amazing for prototyping,” says Ivan Stajic, UI/UX Designer at PopArt Studio.
But, arguably the most valuable benefit of Figma is its capacity for live collaboration. All designs are saved online, meaning anyone can access them from anywhere, anytime. This allows team members to access designs simultaneously to workshop ideas, provide feedback, or make changes in real time.
“Figma is my absolute favorite everyday design tool,” says Mariana Gonzalez, designer at Float. “Most of my work right now is web design, illustrations, and marketing assets so being able to do everything in Figma is incredible. I have everything in one place and my team is able to give me feedback right in the app and work simultaneously. I do use Illustrator on my iPad sometimes but I always continue and finish the illustration in Figma.”
Figma is totally free! Simply head to the Figma website, register a free account, and start working on your designs right away.
Procreate is a powerful and intuitive digital illustration app used by designers, illustrators, and digital artists, most commonly with a tablet and stylus. The software combines the tactile feel of traditional art – recreating tools like pens, paint, and pencils – with all the benefits of digital art – such as quick deletion, instant sharing, and hundreds of resources at your fingertips.
“Along with multiple illustrators and creators worldwide, we were hooked by the creative freedom possible with Procreate,” says Envato Author and design agency, Pixelbuddha. “On one hand, it’s simple and intuitive. And on the other, using Procreate allows customers to experiment and combine brushes any way they like — you can even create brand new brushes!”
Packing in all of the design tools you’d expect from a desktop program, Procreate allows artists, illustrators, and designers alike to draw and design flexibly and portably. With a minimal, smooth interface, intuitive tools, and impressive canvas resolutions, Procreate includes customizable brushes and a heap of useful tools for tweaking and editing your artwork, like blur, color balance, sharpening, QuickShape, StreamLine, and many more.
“Procreate has given artists more tools that allow us to work in a more precise way,” says Procreate artist Jessica Marie. “I particularly like using the new snapping feature and being able to instantly create color pallets from reference photos.”
Procreate is available to download from $9.99 – a refreshing one-off cost compared to many design programs. It’s also compatible with other Adobe apps and programs, allowing you to integrate your various workflows seamlessly.
“I started using Blender firstly because it’s a great program to have in your toolbox, and secondly because it opens up so many possibilities,” says digital artist and YouTuber Jeff Kepler, AKA Seventh Voyage. While you can do a lot in Photoshop, Blender allows you to pretty much create whatever you want, at whatever angle you want, working in a 3D space – so there really are no limits. Even if you don’t want to get heavy into 3D, you can use it to set up basic shapes and camera angles, render that out, and then start overlaying images in Photoshop. This way you have an accurate perspective and a nice guide for your work.”
Blender can be used for everything from 3D modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, and motion tracking, to even video editing and game creation. NASA even uses it for many of its public models.
For many Blender users, though, the most popular tools are modeling, sculpting, texturing, and animation. “For more complex artworks, sometimes I use Blender to create a 3D basis for my scenes,” says digital artist, Farely. “It helps me to choose the right perspective and draw accurate light and shadows.”
Blender is free, making it super accessible for all. However, since it’s being continually refined by advanced users, it may present a steep learning curve for newbies.
Cinema 4D is a professional 3D software, used for modeling, animation, simulation and rendering. Offering a fast, powerful, flexible interface and extensive toolset, Cinema 4D is used for 3D design, motion graphics, VFX, game development, and more.
Cinema 4D is known for its impressive functionality, with each variant streamlined for a specific function or 3D design style. It offers a wide variety of tools and features, including polygonal modeling, rigging, animation, lighting, texturing, and rendering. It can also be easily integrated into workflows with other programs, such as Adobe After Effects – the industry-standard software for video editing and animation.
“I toggle between Adobe Suite, Cinema 4D, and Figma on an average day,” says 3D designer and digital artist, Khyati Trehan. “But when I’m exploring ideas, especially in 3D, I go straight to Cinema4D.”
Cinema 4D is on the pricier side, coming in at $700 for an annual user license. But, there’s a 14-day free trial available, as well as a free education version for students and teachers.
Trello is one of the most popular project management tools on the market. Used by everyone from designers and web developers to marketers and small businesses, Trello is a collaborative tool used to track team projects and tasks, visualize workflows, and provide an organized overview of a project from start to finish.
Trello uses boards that contain parameters such as lists and cards. Each card features a broad range of task information, including a description, due dates, checklists, file attachments, automation, comments, and more, and can be moved from list to list as a project progresses. Trello is super useful for keeping tasks organized and is often used by designers and design teams to assign tasks, visualize projects, and track work progress in real-time.
A big part of Trello’s appeal is its versatility, accessibility, and ease of use. As opposed to full-featured project management software, Trello prioritizes lightweight functionality and accessibility to create a seamless collaboration tool. Trello integrates well with other applications, such as Slack, Salesforce, and Gmail, and can be boosted with plugins or “power-ups.”
It’s totally free! However, Trello does offer paid packages with additional features, including the Standard tier for $5 per month, the Premium option for $10 per month, or the Enterprise plan, starting at $17.50 per user a month (all paid annually).
Envato Elements is a subscription-based service offering unlimited access to a wide range of graphic assets and design templates. Tailored to the needs of agencies, designers, marketers, and other professionals who need creative assets on a frequent or high-volume basis, Envato Elements is a one-stop-shop for photos, graphics, illustrations, fonts, actions and presets, and more.
Elements is the ultimate creative subscription for designers, videographers, artists, photographers, or any other creative professional. Arguably one of the biggest benefits of an Envato Elements subscription is the extensive content library featuring over 60 million available items, with new content being added every week. It also has a vast range of asset types to choose from, there’s something for every project.
“On Elements, everything is so easy to download and is ready to use instantly,” says Kristy Campbell. “It helps me save so much time when creating textures and brushes, backgrounds, and even looking for cool fonts – Envato has it all covered! I would highly recommend Envato Elements to other designers, the time it saves is 100% worth the money.”
While some creative stock websites limit your access to assets you’ve legally purchased, with an Envato Elements subscription, there are no download limits. That means you can access your favorite assets from the Envato Elements library whenever and wherever you want – as many times as you need them. Plus, all Envato Elements assets are covered by a simple, lifetime commercial license.
“The best thing about Envato Elements is that I know I’m not hurting another artist or stealing their work to create my own,” says digital artist and designer, Frankie Lee. “I can legally obtain everything and can keep track of all my licenses. No one gets hurt, and that makes good wholesome art!”
An individual Envato Elements subscription costs just $16.50 a month, with a 30% discount for students and teams can join from $10.75 a month per member.
And that’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the best graphic design tools on the market right now. To learn more, check out these blogs on the top Graphic Design Trends for 2022 and these 8 Expert Tips to Boost Your Career as a Freelance Graphic Designer. Or head to Envato Elements, get your subscription and start creating today!