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Buying the Best Drawing Software: What You Need to Know

Digitize Your Drawings With Art Applications
The products you'll see throughout our Buying Guide

Whatever type of art you create, there is a demand today for digital art. It's important to have the software you need to edit your photographs, manipulate your sketches and create art from scratch. Although you can find free drawing software, those programs aren't likely to have what you need because they don't even scratch the surface of a full feature set. Professional drawing software may be beyond your budget. There is a solution that lies in between, and these drawing programs we feature offer the powerful tools and features you want, and they're easy on your wallet.

If you're running a Windows operating system on your personal computer, then you've no doubt come across the included Paint program. It's fun to create doodles with, but a burgeoning artist or graphic designer is going to run into some limitations with its basic tools. Many of the products by Adobe, Corel and other companies make excellent illustrator, graphic design, CAD and photo editing programs, but they are specific to certain tasks and may cost you more to get all of the tools you need. However, if you want the best drawing software at a price you can afford, keep reading. And be sure to learn how to get the most out of digital drawing tools in our articles on drawing software.

Types of Graphics & Images

Generally, the drawing software we feature here includes the basics of several different types of drawing software so you can create and edit almost any file type. Which software you choose depends on what you want to do with digital drawing software.

A vector image is made up of lines and curves that remain infinitely smooth, which means you can scale over and over and the image never loses quality. So if you need to create an image in drawing software and then increase the size to make a poster, banner or billboard, you need to use software that supports vector image creation.

The benefit of using drawing software that supports vector images is that your files are smaller in size. One issue you may run into is cross-compatibility, but many of the drawing programs we feature support several file types, such as SVG, PIF and EPS. Many programs have their own file types, too, such as Corel's PAT, CDR, CDRW and CDT.

Rasterized images and graphics are common and have the most common file types. These are usually photographs or bitmap graphic images. They are made up of pixels, which are tiny squares that compose the image. If you zoom in or increase the size of a raster image, you can see the outlines of those pixels, which means they do not scale up well. The more you increase the size of a rasterized image, the poorer the quality becomes. However, these image types compress well, meaning the size of a file is generally smaller than vector images. Popular raster image file types include JPG, GIF, BMP and PNG. Another common file type is PSD, from Adobe Photoshop.

There are many 3D drawing programs in which you can create three-dimensional models. Applications devoted to 3D creation are popular, but you can find suites that let you turn your two-dimensional illustrations into 3D by a rendering process. The 3D file types include OBJ, OFF and more. Often the file types you find are exclusive to the program, such as 3MF by Microsoft or BLEND by Blender.

When you want the freedom of a pen or pencil and a pad of paper, but the benefit of technology, you want drawing software that supports the use of a digital drawing tablet and pen. The majority of the sketching software we feature here offers that support, so you can create freeform drawings with a pen rather than a mouse. You can even use an iPad if you prefer. This gives you more precision in your graphics and the ability to create completely unique art that's quick and easy to digitize.

Photo Editing
Typically, drawing software doesn't limit you to editing graphics and sketches only. You can import photographs and change the opacity, texture and pattern of an image. Photo editing software includes more tools specific to making a photograph the best it can be, from contrast to brightness and effects to transparency. Several drawing applications also include these tools.

Creative Tools

One of the benefits of using drawing applications like the ones we feature here is that you're guaranteed to get the basic tools you need for editing photographs or manipulating illustrations and sketches. You get pencil and pen tools, a text editor, a gradient tool and the ability to change the opacity of drawings and photographs. All of the drawing software here also supports vector and raster images, so you can import photographs or illustrations of almost any kind and manipulate it how you see fit.

In Xara's Photo & Graphic Designer software, you can blur, dodge and change the colors of any photograph. It also includes a red eye removal tool and perspective correction. You can even transform a bitmap image into a vector image, which lets you scale the image as large as you need.

AutoDesk's Sketchbook includes more than 100 illustration tools so you can get the right brush, pencil or marker type and width you need for a particular look. If you don't see a brush you need, you can create a custom brush.

Flexible Features

Beyond the tools you need to manipulate photos and sketches, many of these drawing applications have powerful features you would expect to find in professional-grade graphic design software. In AutoDesk's Sketchbook, you can create layers upon layers for images and make flipbook animations. In addition to the preset colors, you can also make your own colors, name them and save them for future projects. Xara's drawing program lets you make Flash animations, eliminating the need for pricier software.

Corel Painter Essentials makes it simple to transform your photographs or drawings into illustrations. You can create art that looks like it was painted on canvas with the realistic brushstrokes of this drawing application. You can use a variety of filters to apply effects on your sketches and photos in openCanvas, and you can record your drawing process so you can replay it later to see how you created your illustration from beginning to end.

File Compatibility

When you create work for a client, you want to make sure you can easily transfer the files and know that your customer can view and use your work. For this, file compatibility is important. The most common file used today is JPG, and it's compatible across all of the software in our review. Most mid-level drawing applications today also support PNG, BMP, TIFF and GIF. The best and most versatile drawing software, such as Xara Photo & Graphic Designer and Serif DrawPlus, supports PDF and EMF files, which means you can receive and edit Adobe Photoshop files and an Enhanced MetaFile used for printing.

Best Drawing Software for Graphic Tablets

Almost every piece of software on our lineup supports graphic tablets, so you can intuitively create illustrations, comics and graphics without having to rely on a clunky mouse and mousepad if you have a digital drawing pad. You can easily add elements and effects to your drawings in software that supports graphic tablets. You can colorize your illustrations, animate your comics, add shadows and lighting to give your images depth; or you can create works of art that appear as watercolors, oil-painted canvases or lifelike 3D renderings.

Of all the applications we evaluated, we found many of them to be good choices for those who want to use their digital graphic tablets. Corel Painter Essentials offers some of the most realistic brush strokes from a computer graphics program. In Serif DrawPlus, like other drawing software that supports tablets, you can adjust the pressure sensitivity of your pen and tablet for even greater precision. Xara Photo & Graphic Designer includes a slider that lets you remove bumps and ridges from your freehand drawings to create smooth lines.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer
Xara Photo & Graphic Designer

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer contains all the expert tools and features to compete with high-end art software. Thankfully, you don't need to be a professional to use this sketch software. It is very easy to use. Most drawing software has a sharp learning curve to become familiar with its interface and limits, but Xara is intuitive to use from the start.

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Best Drawing Software for Beginners

If you're brand new to the world of digital drawing, you want a program that caters to beginners who have a lot to learn. All of the tools and features you could possibly want is tempting, but if you don't know how to use them, they're going to remain unused and worthless.

Real Draw Pro offers a variety of ways to help you. MediaChance, the company that makes Real Draw Pro, created a handful of video tutorials so you can learn how to create liquid vectors and other illustrations. If you have technical issues, you can read through the FAQs page on MediaChance's website, or email the creator.

Corel Painter Essentials is also a good choice if you're a newcomer because it offers more in terms of support than any other drawing software we evaluated. In addition to Corel's extensive list of how-to video playlists on YouTube, the company offers a digital user guide, online forums, email and phone support, and optional training, which costs extra.

Any of these drawing applications can give you the tools you need to create and edit your art effectively. Each title in our lineup includes features you'd expect to find in pricier, more advanced drawing software. As you grow as an artist or designer, you may want to upgrade to professional art software, but these programs can serve your needs well until then.

Corel Painter Essentials
Corel Painter Essentials

Corel Painter Essentials

You don't need to fear art software with Essentials in the title. Yes, Corel Painter Essentials is a scaled-down version of Corel's professional Painter application, but for an introduction to digital drawing and to hone your skills, Painter Essentials is a great place to start. This software is for people who want to edit and create professional-looking digital art but don't want to pay too much for software and don't mind the absence of some of the expert features in professional-grade graphics software. Essentials is a functional art program at a fraction of the price of Corel Painter.

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