Best Drawing Software and Apps in 2021 (Free & Paid)
There are so many software and apps for drawing illustrations and manga digitally, and it's easier than ever to get professional-level software as long as you have a device. This article compares nine drawing tools, both paid and free, to help you decide what's best for you.
Choosing Drawing Software and Applications
Key criteria to consider when looking for drawing software:
Different software and apps are available depending on the device you’ll use to draw.
For Desktop (Windows/macOS)
The following is a list of desktop drawing software. Some offer dedicated specialties such as comic creation.
The following is a list of drawing applications, some geared towards creating comics and manga and available on the iPad, Android tablets, or both. The iPad supports pen pressure when you draw when using an Apple Pencil or a BambooSketch.
The following is a list of drawing applications for iPhones or Android smartphones.
● Software by Purpose
First, think about your drawing goals, what you want to draw, and whether your art will stay digital or go to print. This will help you find the drawing tools and software that are right for you, which is especially important if you want to draw comics.
Drawing Professional Illustration, Comics, and Design
Choose a drawing tool that allows you to post your picture to social media. Posting to social media helps make drawing more fun while you get used to drawing digitally. Software and apps for drawing simple illustrations are cheap and free. A helpful strategy is to draw rough sketches in your spare time and then use professional drawing software to finish up your work.
This article introduces the best tablets for beginners to digital art!
Drawing Software and Applications
From here, we will introduce the features of each drawing software/app as well as information about price, support, and trial versions. For first-time users, it’s wise to choose a drawing software or app with reliable support from the company that produces it. Furthermore, trial versions allow users to try something out before investing in them so you can make a more informed choice about which one suits you best.
- Photoshop CC (Windows/macOS)
- Clip Studio Paint (Windows/macOS/iPad/iPhone/Android)
- Paint Tool SAI (Windows)
- ibisPaint (iPad/iPhone/Android)
- Procreate (iPad)
- Adobe Fresco (iPad/Windows)
- MediBang Paint Pro (Windows/macOS/iPad/iPhone/Android)
- Corel Painter 2021 (Windows/macOS)
- Krita (Windows/macOS)
- Paintstorm Studio (Windows/macOS/iPad)
- GIMP2 (Windows/macOS)
A professional graphics software that’s popular with professional designers, photographers, and editors. Abundant in features, it is also useful for drawing illustrations. Photoshop CC requires some customization, so it is suitable for intermediate artists.
Photoshop CC is prominent in the design and photo processing industry, and many design schools use Photoshop to teach students. This versatile software can export multi-page data for use online, in print, and for videos.
You can draw in Photoshop, but it wasn’t created with illustration or comics in mind. It takes time and effort to customize the pen and brush tools, and features like pen pressure are turned off by default. However, if you are looking for a highly-customizable program, Photoshop CC will work well for you. An update in 2017 added a stabilization function to the pen and brush settings.
Since it was initially software for photo processing, it is quite good at adjusting colors. It also supports CMYK, the go-to format used for printed works. Since Paint Tool SAI does not support CMYK, the two software are often used together.
Photoshop CC is suited for intermediate users, so we recommend it if you know what you want to create and are happy to customize your software. Another similar software, Photoshop Elements, has limited functions but can draw digital illustrations without any problems and costs less than US$100.
Developer: Adobe Systems Co., Ltd.
Support: For some issues, the Adobe support team can be contacted via their official contact form or a chat feature. Although the official website has a community forum for asking and answering questions, these topics are mainly related to design and photo processing. There is not much information on illustration and comics.
There are also many books and online websites that introduce Adobe Photoshop, but again, there is little information specializing in illustration and comics.
Download the full-feature seven-day trial version from the Free Trial Download page.
Note: To use all the features, you must obtain an Adobe ID and register for the trial version.
How to purchase:
You can buy Photoshop CC from the official website and other digital software purchasing sites.
Creative Cloud Photography Plan: $9.99/month
- Photoshop CC is a monthly subscription service.
- When purchasing from the official website, Adobe accepts payments through credit card, PayPal, and wire transfer. You can pay with cash if you load it onto a prepaid debit card, available separately from many retailers.
● Clip Studio Paint (Windows/macOS/iPad/iPhone/Android)
Clip Studio Paint is a versatile software that supports a wide range of specialties, including illustration, comics, and animation. It comes with a plethora of digital art tools, so you can start drawing with it right out of the box. Clip Studio Paint is suited for those who want to create various kinds of works, including illustration. There is also a version available on the iPad/iPhone/Galaxy/Android/Chromebook.
Professional creators use Clip Studio Paint in the illustration, manga, and animation industries. Schools use Clip Studio Paint to teach comic, illustration, or animation courses. This software has an outstanding reputation for how it feels as you draw. Clip Studio Paint supports multi-page data export for digital, printed work, and movies. With features for arranging images and text, it’s suitable for simple design work as well.
Furthermore, it is useful for specialty comic production, such as for webtoons. It comes with webtoon canvas settings and the ability to split vertical works into multiple smaller works. Last but not least, artwork production can be recorded with its canvas timelapse feature and then shared to social media in video format.
It takes some time to learn how to use all of the software. However, some features such as the editable 3D drawing figures are great for beginners. You can change their pose and angles to help create base sketches.
In addition to pens and brushes, it also has many other digital art tools such as color and monochrome screen tones. You can download and add pens, brushes, tones, etc., from Clip Studio ASSETS, our official material service, and you can import Photoshop brushes (extension: .abr). Pens and brushes have a high degree of freedom, and once you get used to them, you can customize them to suit your style.
There are two versions, PRO and EX. Multi-page comics and full-fledged animations can be created with the higher grade EX version. Clip Studio Paint is a powerful software that allows you to create various genres of illustrations, comics, webtoons, and animation. The tablet and smartphone versions for iPads and Samsung Galaxy devices have the exact same features as the desktop version. When using it on multiple devices, you can use a cloud service to migrate your works and settings. Another advantage of this software is that you can create the same pens and brushes regardless of OS.
Developer: CELSYS, Inc.
You can contact support via the website’s official contact form. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section, a wealth of detailed explanations, tutorials, and videos by professional creators. Not only that, but there is also a Q&A service, Clip Studio ASK, that allows users to ask and answer each other’s questions. Many users also use social media to exchange information.
You can also find books about this software. However, because it is continuously releasing new updates, the information may not match the latest software specifications.
- For Windows and macOS, you can use all the features (*1) for 30 days after downloading from the free trial version page on the official site. If you apply for a monthly usage plan, you can use it for up to 3 months free of charge (*2).
- Clip Studio Paint for Galaxy is now available in the Galaxy Store worldwide.
- Clip Studio Paint for Android/Chromebook is available for download from the Play Store.
- The iPad version can be used for free for up to three months (*2) if you download it from the App Store and apply for a monthly usage plan.
- The iPhone version is free to use for one hour every day after downloading it from the App Store. It can be used for an unlimited amount of time with an in-app purchase.
Note 1: In order to use all the features, you must obtain a Clip Studio account and register for the trial version.
Note 2: This is only for the first time you apply for a monthly use plan. You also need to apply via the app.
Please refer to the help section on the official website for more information.
How to purchase:
Clip Studio Paint can be purchased and downloaded from the official website via Paypal, credit cards, bank/wire transfer, WebMoney, and check.
In addition to the official website, you can purchase the packaged version at online stores and events.
Both iPad and iPhone versions can be downloaded from the AppStore.
One-time payment (download version)
- PRO: US$49.99 (tax included)
- EX: US$219.00 (tax included)
Windows/macOS/iPad/iPhone/Galaxy Monthly usage plans
A flexible monthly usage plan for a single preferred device (Windows/macOS/iPad/iPhone/Galaxy). You need to apply from the app.
- Clip Studio Paint PRO: US$4.49 (tax included)/month (Annual: US$24.99)
- Clip Studio Paint EX: US$8.99 (tax included)/month (Annual: US$71.99)
There are also other great deals available for multiple devices. For more information, please refer to the official website.
- Clip Studio Paint PRO: US$0.99 (tax included)/month (Annual: US$6.49)
- Clip Studio Paint EX: US$2.49 (tax included)/month (Annual: US$16.99)
Note: When using pen pressure detection or Galaxy Dex mode, please use a Clip Studio Paint plan other than the smartphone plan. Visit the following site for more details about Plans.
● Corel Painter 2021 (Windows/macOS)
Corel Painter 2021 is a multi-functional graphics software suitable for creative works. You can draw comfortably with its 900+ versatile brushes and high customizability. It’s suitable for painting realistic style works.
Corel Painter is a long-selling software that is a standard for drawing and painting. The long and smooth stroke of its unique brush engine allows you to draw intuitively with realistic painting strokes as if you were painting on paper. Although expensive, its preset brushes and intricate customization make it suitable for a range of painting styles. However, the focus on realistic brushstrokes makes it less ideal for creating cartoon or comic styles.
To improve the speed of launch and operation, we recommend that you check the specs of your computer before installing and use a computer with specs that exceed the software’s minimum specifications.
Corel Painter 2021’s independent color selector allows you to select a color while checking it against other colors. It also has a Color Harmonies function that lists colors that match the selected color. So even if you aren’t confident in picking colors, these features help inexperienced artists choose colors more easily.
It’s annual subscription is available for both Mac and Windows, and includes free brush packs and updates as soon as they are available. A low-priced version of Painter Essentials 8 is also available. Although it has fewer brushes, the freedom of customization and the independent color selector is comparable to the full-featured version.
Corel also has an android-compatible app called Painter Mobile that comes in both free and paid versions. The paid version comes with more functions.
Developer: Corel Corporation
You can contact user support from the website’s official contact form. Detailed manuals and user galleries are also available on their dedicated tutorial website, and several books have been published that teach you how to use this software.
How to purchase:
Download the desktop version (Windows/macOS) from the official website.
- Annual subscription: US$199
- One-time payment: US$424 (Free 30-day trial available)
● Krita (Windows/macOS)
Krita is an open-source, free graphics software. This new digital illustration tool is complete with basic drawing functions and brushes.
This software is available for free. Unlike other software, Krita supports Linux. You can also use many brushes and import additional user-created resources, a feature unique to open-source software.
In addition to the ability to create an infinite number of layers, it has vector layers that you can use to transform figures and text without losing image quality. Krita also has a symmetry drawing tool that allows you to draw objects with intricate patterns.
Even though it is free software, it has an animation creation function, which supports frame-by-frame animation and simultaneous playback of animation and imported audio.
The drawback is that you will need to get used to brushstroke lag if you want to draw with it. This lag exists regardless of device, so if you are looking for high-performing brushstrokes, we recommend Clip Studio Paint.
Krita is available for purchase from Steam or the Microsoft Store.
Beta versions for ChromeOS and Android are also under development and can be downloaded from the official website.
Developer: Krita Foundation
You can contact support from the website’s official contact form. Krita also has tutorials and a Frequently Asked Questions page. Furthermore, you can download additional resources and browse their user gallery.
Price: Free, US$9.99 (Steam), US$9.79 (Microsoft Store)
● Paint Tool SAI (Windows)
Paint Tool SAI is a software with a simple interface and a smooth brush engine. However, it lacks functions such as text input, gradients, and figure drawing, so we recommend it for artists who want to create illustrations rather than comics.
Artists love this software due to its excellent stabilization and the overall feel as you draw. However, it only has a handful of methods for adjusting colors, and it does not support CMYK output. You’ll need to switch to another software to carry out these steps. Still, it is one of the leading drawing software for beginner illustrators.
Paint Tool SAI lacks strong user support and requires basic knowledge of Windows to use. SYSTEMAX is developing Paint Tool SAI Ver.2 with text input and ruler features. A beta version is currently available on the official website, and users who own Paint Tool SAI can use it free of charge. Some artists use the beta version to draw manga.
Developer: SYSTEMAX, Inc.
The official website has a Frequently Asked Questions page but no official community.
The software comes with a simple manual.
Paint Tool SAI has existed for over a decade, so plenty of books are available to explain how to use the software to draw illustrations, as well as numerous tutorials online.
Download the trial version from the official website.
You can use the trial version for free for 31 days after installation.
How to purchase:
Purchase from the official website.
The website accepts payment via Paypal and credit card.
Price: JPY 5500
● ibisPaint (iPad/iPhone/Android)
A fast-growing free app that lets you draw illustrations and manga on your smartphone or tablet. We recommend ibisPaint for artists who want to draw on their smartphone or tablet.
ibisPaint is a free illustration and manga drawing app. The UI design is optimized for smartphones and tablets. In addition to more than 2500 textures and screentones, it also has a full range of manga production features such as a frame border function. However, canvas size and dpi are limited. A B5 or A5 canvas cannot have 600 dpi resolution, a requirement for printing black-and-white comics.
The free version displays ads and limits the number of brushes. Watching an ad will unlock these functions for a limited amount of time. Purchasing the paid version removes ads and brush restrictions. If you become a premium member of their monthly membership system, you can use the member-only filters as well.
You can also record your drawing process as a timelapse video and post it to their official website and Twitter.
ibisPaint is compatible with Clip Studio Paint, so you can upload ibisPaint artwork to the Clip Studio cloud, then continue working on the same layers in Clip Studio Paint.
Developer: ibis mobile inc.
Check the official website for Frequently Asked Questions and tutorials. It has a lot of useful content, perfect for digital art beginners. You can also contact support from the website’s official contact form.
In addition to an Official YouTube channel, other users’ tutorial videos are also available on their official website gallery.
How to purchase:
Free version (ibisPaint X)
Download the app from the following links. To become a prime member, you need to purchase it within the app. You can also buy the paid version for Android in the app (Remove Ads Add-on).
- Download the iOS (iPad/iPhone) version from the AppStore.
- Download the Android version from Google Play.
Paid version (ibisPaint)
Purchase the paid version of (ibisPaint) from the AppStore.
- Free (with ads and limited functions)
- Paid (ad-free version): US$7.99
- Prime Membership: US$2.99/month
● Procreate (iPad)
A classic and well-known iPad paint app that won the Apple Design Award. Its wide canvas with touch operation ensures a comfortable drawing experience. The simple UI makes it easy to find features.
Procreate has many digital features, such as brush customization, perspective rulers, clipping masks, text tools, and animation. Not only is it rich in features, but it also has a clean interface that’s easy for beginners to understand. When you start the app, it displays an impressive video on how to use it and a high-quality example image file.
There is a Procreate app for the iPhone with fewer features called Procreate Pocket.
Neither application has a trial version available and, therefore, unfortunately, no way to test them out before purchasing.
Developer: Savage Interactive Pty Ltd
Procreate’s official website has a mail contact form and a user community.
There are plenty of user tutorials available online too.
Trial version: No trial available.
How to purchase: Purchase from the AppStore.
●Adobe Fresco (iPad/Windows)
Adobe Fresco is a painting software released by Adobe in 2019.
Like Procreate, Adobe Fresco is also designed for use with pen and touch-operated devices. Its main feature is its ability to mimic aspects of traditional painting, such as color mixing and bleeding. It uses live brushes that bleed and mix colors as real art supplies would. You can also adjust the amount of water and how the paint mixes for each brush. Mixing yellow and blue mix in Fresco makes green, an aspect that is not often reproduced in other digital painting software. You can also use both raster and vector brushes on the same canvas. In this way, Adobe Fresco is similar to Clip Studio Paint in that it combines both the feel of watercolor and oil painting with the benefits of working with vectors.
Adobe Fresco is highly recommended for those who already use Adobe products. It specializes in drawing and rounds out Adobe’s other specialized area software (photo processing, design, animation, etc.), resulting in a full, robust digital art workflow. Furthermore, it uses Photoshop brushes as well as Adobe’s cloud service.
Developer: Adobe Systems, Inc.
Support and manuals:
As with Photoshop, you can make inquiries using chat and email via the inquiry form on the official website.
Official website tutorials focus on watercolor and oil painting.
Instead of a trial version limited to 30-days, the app is available as a free scaled-down version in a freemium model.
How to purchase:
Adobe Fresco can be purchased on its own from the Abode official website, Adobe creative cloud, or the App Store (iPad version).
The Windows version can be downloaded from the official Adobe website.
In addition to its own separate plan, it also comes in a plan with Photoshop or the Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps plan.
Price: Free for Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers or $9.99 a month for non-subscribers.
● MediBang Paint (Windows/macOS/iPad/iPhone/Android)
MediBang Paint is free software with many features for drawing manga. If you register as a user and log in, you can unlock more features. It’s a good way to try out many kinds of features for free.
This app is a free simple drawing tool. Although you cannot customize it as much as paid ones, it has essential functions for drawing manga, such as frame borders and screentones. It’s made by the same company that makes the apps Jump PAINT and MangaName. These are apps for creating comics rather than illustrations.
It comes with various cloud functions, including access to over 1000 screentones and 20 fonts. You can save your work on the cloud to continue working on it on other devices. To use these functions, you must register as a user and log in. Note that you cannot transfer settings such as those on pens and brushes between different operating systems, such as a computer and an iPad.
If you are looking to draw black-and-white comics, MediBang Paint or Clip Studio Paint, the de-facto industry standard, are both good go-to options.
Developer: MediBang Inc.
You can contact the developer from the email form on the official website. Additionally, their website offers tutorials, materials, and an FAQ on basic app usage and announcements. You can search for OS-specific queries, but results can sometimes still come back with mixed OS results.
Tutorials and speed paints are also published to their user service, ARTstreet. If these aren’t enough, you can also purchase books that introduce how to use the app.
How to purchase:
- Download the desktop version (Windows/macOS) from the official website.
- Download the iPad version from the AppStore.
- Download the iPhone version from the AppStore.
- Download the Android version from Google Play.
Price: Free (with ads)
● Paintstorm Studio (Windows/macOS/iPad)
Paintstorm Studio is a low cost, advanced painting software available for Windows, macOS, and iPad. It has a wide variety of brushes and many customizable features. If you draw digitally, you should check this software out.
The iPad version of Paintstorm Studio has almost all of the same functions as the desktop version. However, you cannot share files between devices.
There are many default brush settings, allowing you to draw natural objects and backgrounds using CG-like effects. Many of the default brushes have a traditional feel, suitable for impasto painting. However, you can customize brushes to suit detail work and other drawing styles such as manga and anime-style illustrations.
Paintstorm Studio also has a Mixer palette that allows you to mix colors. It’s quite a unique drawing tool, and having some previous knowledge of CG will help when working with this app. Paintstorm Studio is available in both English and Japanese.
Developer: Sergei Komarov
Paintstorm Studio’s website has a contact form and a user community.
- Download the desktop version (Windows/macOS) from the official website. You can launch the trial version up to 30 times within a limited amount of time.
- For the iPad, there is a feature-limited version, Paintstorm Studio Lite.
How to purchase:
- You can repurchase the desktop version (Windows/macOS) from the official website via Paypal and credit card.
- The iPad version can be downloaded from the AppStore.
- Desktop version (Windows/macOS): US$19.00
- iPad version: US$12.99
● GIMP2 (Windows/macOS)
GIMP is a long-established open-source, free software with an abundant amount of functions for image processing and the ability to add user-created plug-ins. Due to this high amount of software customizability, GIMP requires some computer skills to use.
The functions available for image processing are almost the same as similar paid software options making it a good choice for adjusting color illustrations. However, since GIMP was initially developed for photo manipulation, it’s not recommended for print or movies.
If you have the technical skills needed to manage its customization abilities, GIMP can be an asset to illustration production.
Developer: The GIMP Team
Check the official website for Frequently Asked Questions and tutorials.
Many websites share links to guides and paperback books on GIMP, making information on software usage accessible.
How to download:
Download GIMP from its official website.
Article by Art Rocket