Top 12 Best Digital Art Programs for Drawing, Painting & Illustration : Free and Paid

In recent years digital advancements have designers leaving pen and paper behind, allowing them to create visual image files using their computer mouse or Graphic Drawing Tablets.

if you are good at freehand pencil/drawing then a tablet is great to have your work already created in the digital realm without transferring it there later to work on more. sketching basically, i'm not good at it but a good sketcher would probably love a good tablet.

and, if you need to edit (especially for raster images) down to individual pixels and pixel groups then a tablet is very helpful.

tablets are great to have when you need to transfer a raster image into a vector environment and vice versa because you are definitely going to need to edit pixel by pixel to get edges to blend etc.

Almost any professional graphics software will work for Drawing tablets, as they have pretty much a stranglehold on the digitizer tablet market. So you should pick the right software for your needs and preferences.

I tried out a lot during the years: photoshop (cs6 - cc ), krita, gimp, paint tool SAI, mypaint, corel painter, Clip studio paint and maybe more, just can't remember. I own a XPPen Innovator 16 graphics tablet with laminated screen 15.6-inch .

What I can say is that every software has their own advantages. The question is: what advantages are good for you personally. That's why I suggest to try different softwares before you decide which one is the best for you.

I can name some really-well known ones and I'll say my own personal opinion about them.

5 Best Paid Digital Drawing programs for Artists :

On this side we've the comercial programs. They can be very pricey but they have the advantage in that you're buying a high quality product right out of the box made by paid professionals. They won't suffer from a lack of updates or bugs like most opens source programs do.

1. Adobe Photoshop CC

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free trial and subscription model

The king of photo editing, painting and hands down the best program. When you see an amazing painting eight out of ten times was made on photoshop. On the free side only Krita comes close to match it's raw power.

Get this one if you can.

This one is the favorite for all professionals mainly due to all the highly advanced tools it has and it's second to none brush engine.

Some people get intimidated by it, but it's actually very easy to learn. Because you won't be needing most of its tools as the majority are mainly used for photo manipulation —not for painting. In fact if you learn to use this program you'll know the basics of all the others.

All painting programs want to be as good as it (whether they admit it or not).

Most tutorials and learning tools are made for photoshop so it's ideal for beginners and pros alike. All painting programs owe something to this one.

It's main drawbacks are the fact that it's a very heavy program that will demand a lot resources from your computer, like memory and RAM. Not for the faint of heart.

Photoshop is the industry standard. It's easy to find tutorials, brushes, or anything else you need,

This is subscription based now. Has so much stuff featured and it's good at doing anything. There are different tiers starting from $15/month (Photoshop + Lightroom + other stuff) up to $100 (All adobe apps + adobe stock). It has everything. Tons of options like custom brushes, workspace customization, plug-ins, filters, effects, 3D support, and many more features. Not sure if you can buy older versions for a fixed amount... There's a trial too.

While it can be faulty, Photoshop is still "the industry standard". At some point you'll have to learn how to use it in one way or another. It can be complicated, frustrating and the default brush engine is not that good with lineart, but still, it's can be considered the best in everything overall.

2. Paint Tool SAI

Platforms: Windows. | Price: Free trial and one-time payment

Really popular and cheap for its capabilities. Has a free trial. It has a pretty good drawing engine overall.

This is the program all other “manga” painting software want to be. Manga artist love it. It's legendary.

It has an amazing watercolor brush and eight out of ten times most manga style art, on the internet, is made with this software.

It's very lightweight and very easy to learn and master. In fact the “easy” part of its name is not just a trademark; it really is easy.

Artist love it for it's lack of lag, great paint feeling and it's superior linear to even photoshop's.

Paint Tool Sai's in house brush stabilizer engine is considered as one of the best, if not the best out there. 

Paint Tool SAI has a blending engine (wet mix) that has been implemented in software such as Clip Studio Paint, Krita and forks such as Medibang Paint.  Especially with textureless brushes.

However it does suffer from the drawback in that its developers are too content “being at the top” and they seldom ever (if ever) update or fix bugs for it.

SAI is absolutely amazing for digital painting. It is so responsive to the pressure and movement of the pen and it's great. Once you get the hang of it, it isn't hard to use at all and you make amazing paintings.

3. Clip Studio Paint

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS. | Price: Free trial and one-time payment

Taking advantage of Paint Tool Sai's lack of — “enthusiasm”— comes Clip Studio Paint, especially for lineart. Formerly marketed as Manga Studio in North America.

Clip Studio paint is a specific software to use for digital painting and comic drawing. This software offer a lot of easy method to drawing comic (something like comic panels, comic page, comic cloud etc) and have a lot of artistic brushes to help you on drawing. Any professional artist use this software usually have manga style drawing .

It's very similar to Sai. But it has much more features. It leans heavily on artist that want to publish comics/manga as such it has many features that help on it including vectors.

It's a bit pricer than Sai, but it,s development team is much more committed .

Clip Studio and other painting software (Easy Paint Tool SAI) have excellent line correction, the brushes are much easier to customise and the default brushes are a lot more impressive. In general they're quicker to learn, quicker to use, and just feel much more organic.

 The app features an advanced user interface with all the tiniest details that are important for producing professional work.

While using the XPPen Drawing tablet, this program responded beautifully to the pen's movements, making bold, thick lines when pushed down hard, and light, thin lines when pressed softly. 

This software also gives you access to plenty of assets including characters, backgrounds, props and effects that you can quickly add to your panels. There are over 10,000 free assets, and many more available for a few dollars each.

4. Corel Painter

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android. | Price: Free trial, one-time payment and  subscription model