Software: Drawing programs

Sketchbook Pro

With the news that Adobe is intending on forcing artists to pay monthly I sat down to compile other choices for digital artists of which there are many. Most cost over $25, some of them are free and even two are online solutions.

I categorized them bitmap and vector. My personal favorite is Sketchbook Pro because of it’s ease of use, superior pencil mimicking and small foot print (how much space it takes up on the hard drive) all which contribute to make it the best solution in my opinion. As you can see it’s relatively cheap in comparison as well.

Below is a comprehensive list of drawing software available to the digital artist in 2013. If I missed your favorite, comment below, explain why and I will gladly add it.

Bitmap software

Adobe Photoshop (PC and Mac)- $49 per month subscription

When it comes to drawing programs Photoshop is without a doubt the most well known Right out of the box it’s not the best drawing software but and is relatively decent when you finagle with it a bit. My favorite tools in Photoshop include the Liquify brush and the Free Transform tool

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (PC and Mac) -$59
Hands down my favorite simply because it’s so easy to use, can be installed on a Motion LE1600 Tablet PC which you can get dirt cheap these days, it’s got some killer drawing tools and you can easily create custom brushes as well as edit the toolbar to your liking.

Corel Painter (PC and Mac)-$199
Painter is an extremely powerful tool but it’s interface has been sorely lacking since it’s introduction back in the early 90’s. Features include mixable paint, dripping watercolors and a brush nozzle that will let you turn any art into a brush. Personally not a fan.

Ambient Design Artrage (Mac/PC/Android)-$49.90
Artrage started out as a winner of a proof of concept software contest for the release of Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC edition. It has since grown into a powerful painting and drawing app and is easy on the wallet to boot. There are many features but my favorite is the mixable paint. Drag one color over another and the two smear! I don’t believe any other program can boast that.

Open Canvas (PC) -$59
Not very familiar with Open Canvas. Anybody? Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?

PaintTool Sai (PC)-$5
PaintTool Sai’s interface to be convoluted and poorly designed and I had trouble even finding out how to make a brush to draw with. It felt like an old program that has not been updated in years.

ArtWeaver (PC)-$37.65
Artweaver is a relatively decent piece of drawing software and it’s interface is reminiscent of old school Photoshop 5 or 6. It has many of the tools you’d need to sketch but I find it lacking

TV Paint (PC/Mac/ Linux/Android)- $1522.79
A very expensive and powerful piece of software that is much more than a drawing tool. You can storyboard, composite and do particle arrays with it. That said, I find it’s interface and toolset to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen and really would only use it if forced to. It’s pencil tools however are almost as good as Sketchbook Pro’s.

Pixarra Twisted Brush (PC) -$19
Not a bad Photoshop replacement but it’s interface seems a bit cluttered and not so user-intutitive. Does support pressure sensitivity though.

CG Illust (PC)-$80
This online software and being free it’s certainly the right price but I found it to stutter if I drew too fast. Your results might vary.

Sumo Paint (PC , Mac and free ONLINE)-$19
A truly remarkable piece of software that you feel right at home using because it’s essentially the same thing as Photoshop… Online. (Online)
Pretty much the same thing as Sumo Paint and free as well. it has pressure sensitivity which works well. Tends to stutter a bit if you draw too fast.

Project Dogwaffle (PC) Free
Project Dogwaffle is an ambitious project of one man who has built it into an interesting array of tools. It’s basically easy to use, can be used to draw with and even has animation and particle plugins. that said, I don’t think i would ever use it in a professional environment but the prive is right.

Sketchpaint (PC)-Free

Gimp (PC/Mac)
The GIMP is arguably the most powerful free photo editor available today. With that comes the Photoshop comparisons. Often lauded as the “free Photoshop,” the GIMP does offer many features similar to Photoshop, but it has a steep learning curve to match. Unless I’m missing something though, it does NOT support pressure sensitivity which is a deal-breaker for me.

Vector Software

Autodesk Sketchbook Designer– $75
A capable vector editor similar to Sketchbook Pro

Adobe Illustrator -$49 per month subscription
Long the juggernaut of vector editing, there really isn’t anything that can beat it as of yet. Personally I’m not a fan of it’s drawing tools as well as it’s kludgey interface but if you want streamlined crisp vector art, Illustrator is hard to beat.

Pixelmator (Mac)
Not the greatest painting/drawing tools, but is a great alternative to Photoshop for most people.

Intaglio (Mac)
Intaglio supports both bitmap and vector but is primarily a very simple Illustrator clone.

Artboard (Mac)
A VERY simple vector program.

Inkscape (PC /Mac/Linux)- Free
Currently the only free vector drawing program and it works very well for what it is. Not as advanced as Illustrator but what do you expect for the price?

Acorn (Mac)
Vector-based. Used by tons of UI designers.

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Two more:

    Acorn for OS X : Vector-based. Used by tons of UI designers.

    Pixelmator for OS X : Not the greatest painting/drawing tools, but is a great alternative to Photoshop for most people.

  2. You should talk about open source software too. It’s free and a lot of it is extremely powerful. And it’s free.
    Did I mention it’s free?
    And professional quality too!
    And free!

    • Yeah I had Gimp up there initially but Gimp is an AWFUL drawing program and it does not support pressure sensitivity so I chose to ignore it. The others are all animation software and I’ll cover them in a different post.

      • Just wanted to point out that Gimp does in fact support pressure sensitivity. I use it all the time and its pressure sensitivity is just as good as any other program. As for it being an “AWFUL drawing program,” I guess that’s a matter of opinion. I’ve always thought Flash was a pretty terrible drawing program – mainly because of its inferior brush tool – but people still do some pretty good stuff with it. I think you do a disservice by leaving Gimp out of the list – especially since the omission is based on faulty information – but, hey, it’s your list.

        MyPaint is more or less the open source answer to SketchBook Pro and is cross platform.

        For those of us on Linux, Krita is an awesome digital painting program as well. For that matter, TV Paint and Inkscape (and Gimp should you decide to include it after all) also run on Linux, though you fail to mention that.

        • Okay fair enough… I did not care for Gimp back when I used it a few years ago but honestly have not tried it with a Cintiq. I based my assumptions on what others have reviewed and got my info about it’s lack of pressure sensitivity on a forum. When I tried to download it their servers were down and this article’s deadline was looming hence my reasons. Actually I don’t seem to be able to access the Gimp site from work so I will take your word for it. Care to write a small description of Gimp for the site?

        • Ok I finally got to download Gimp and I still do not see pressure sensitivity anywhere. it certainly doesn’t do it out of the box. It’s pretty good for free but beyond that, I don’t see it’s use in a professional environment. I totally agree about Flash and wish Adobe would yank it’s head out of it’ds ass and actually create a decent brush engine in the program.

  3. Great compilation, I’ve not even heard of a few of these programs! Also, I’d just like to add that Inkscape is available for use on Mac’s too.

    I’m sad that Adobe is forcing people to commit to a subscription platform; their software is extremely hard to beat, and I can’t justify spending time to learn a completely new program. As if artists wages weren’t tough enough to live on, some of those who want to stick with Adobe are going to have the extra burden of keeping up with a costly subscription.

    Guess it’s time to stock up on Ramen noodles… 😉

  4. thats cool, thanks. just wanted to point TVPaint is available for Mac as well.

    • Oh okay cool, thanks! I did not realize! I will adjust it!

      • TVPaint also runs on Linux . (as well as Mac and Windows) . And TVPaint is also running in Beta version on the Android OS . I have it running now on my Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet and it works great.

        And I have to agree with Matt Tardiff’s post : the interface of TVPaint may seem daunting at first (newbies find all the options in TVPaint’s default interface to be a little bit TOO MUCH ) , perhaps it could be said that like some exotic cuisine it is an “acquired taste” but once you get to know it and don’t bring false expectations to it (“why isn’t it more like Photoshop/Mac & Cheese?” ) it is completely customizable and is a wonderful ANIMATION tool as well being great for still illustration and painting.

        • Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it’s a bad program… it is indeed useful and very powerful, but it DOES have a bad interface. A good interface by definition is one you can pick up easily and without much trouble. TVPaint is far from that. I add to the list that it supports Android. Forgot about that!

  5. I disagree that it’s some onerous burden. It’s $600 a year and a full tax write off. Added to the fact that many artists go the piratebay route I can see it being tough. But artists need to pay for their software. As a result the suite becomes much much cheaper. I don’t hear people crying over paying $49 a month for Internet and another $16 total for both Hulu and Netflix. If they can’t afford it then they should consider increasing their rates.

    • I humbly disagree with you Robert. To me, this is not the same as in the past. I feel that the problem that Adobe is not seeing (or is ignoring) is the plight and business model of the creative artist in general. The guy who does freelance to make his money. Many of them do not have a steady job and work gig to gig instead of for a studio (which then pays for the software themselves).

      Let’s say you get a gig and buy Photoshop with the way it has always been until now. You add the price of your budget and boom you’ve got Photoshop now for eternity because like it or not Photoshop CS3 is still pretty damn awesome on it’s own. Now you can make money with that version (that you legally paid for) and produce more money for yourself because you own it outright free and clear. You can also work on other things in between jobs.

      I personally use Flash CS3 a lot which I bought when I had a high paying gig years ago along with the entire Creative Suite. I’ve made my money back many times with it getting new jobs over and over. But those jobs were never STEADY and there were many many dry times where months would go by where there was not a gig coming in. Did that mean I stopped being an artist? Stopped animating? Stopped creating? No. Of course not, but with Creative Cloud I would have had to pay monthly for that privilege to use the software each month.

      With the Creative Cloud way, everything changes. In the new scenario, you buy the Cloud, pay for it for the length of the gig and then when you don’t have money to continue the payments, you lose it. Flat out. Gone. All the stuff you’ve done is useless to you unless you pay the extortion fee to use it again. Because that’s really what it is; extortion.

      Using the scenario above about the car, yes at least at the end of the lease you can pay off the rest of the cost of the car. If you’ve got to go this way fine then at the end of the lease you have the option to pay off what’s left of what Photoshop or Flash would cost and it ends there. We should be able to end with something. Even with cellphones, you pay a monthly fee for service and get a phone at a subsidized price. At the end of the contract, you OWN the phone. You’re not forced to give it back. You own it because you paid it off. Please Adobe don’t stab the creative people with your creative dagger. We don’t make money hand over fist like you do. Give us the option to KEEP the software.

      • Not to mention there is no incentive for Adobe to come up with useful new features any more. Their software is so mature, any new features are likely to be of interest only to a few users and not justify the upgrade price. Now you have to “upgrade” just to use the same features as before. That’s what it amounts to.

        Also, check out Manga Studio 5. $50, Mac and PC, and supposed to have excellent tools.

  6. Thanks Zak, I’ll adjust it. I’m not worried about Adobe’s Cloud thing… hackers will set it all straight in time. the fact that they say you can use it offline tells me that they will just block the app’s ability to check in to the server to verify it’s official. The current CS6 suite does that now in fact.

  7. How inconvenient is the monthly subscription vs outright paying for the whole Master Collection?

    Amazon currently has CS6 MC on sale for 2,089.99 (for Mac) At 50.00 a month, it would take 42 months (3.5 years) to have paid that same amount. At the end of that 3.5 years, you have a whole software bundle that would be out of date by possibly 2 versions, yet the subscription user will have continued use with the most current versions. As a freelance artist, I found it’s a much more cost effective solution to pay the 50.00 a month subscription than it is to fork over 2,089.99 at once. What am I missing that makes the subscription a negative situation? I was almost doing cartwheels when I was introduced to the subscription.

    Is the real complaint that these starving artists are no longer going to have access to current pirated Adobe products?

  8. I’m a huge proponent of Sketchbook Pro. Though PhotoShop is the industry-standard for paster/bitmap based projects, I find that SBP IS easy to use and cuts to the chase when I want to flesh out character designs.

    I don’t mean to sound bias or to hop aboard any “bandwagons” but….the program is smooth as butter.

    • Completely agree! I love Sketchbook Pro. It’s so easy to use. I wish they would make a timeline so I could do boards with it better. Have you tried the new Storyboard Pro? It’s pretty cool and now has a similar brush tool reminiscent of Sketchbook’s!

  9. TvPaint is an animation program a it’s core. Yes it has some amazing brushes and pencils. But at the hearts of it there is an amazing traditional animation program. The interface may sometimes be a little wonky but it’s customizable.

  10. Hello. I was wondering from this list what software you think would be the most affordable but easiest to learn on for ages 10-18. I have children that draw anime and manga and they want to learn how to use their tablet (I just bought them a Bamboo) and to color it with the software. Which ones do you recommend? We tried Photoshop but it was very confusing for a child 11 to learn. Any thoughts on what would be good and cost effective that he could understand with a little training? Just curious as to your thoughts.

  11. Che estupido y coreldraw????

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *