Graphic design is complicated work, so it requires complicated tools. There are many options for software today, from well-known programs that have been around for decades to new competitors trying to prove their worth. With so many options available, it can be difficult to choose the program that you will spend hours mastering, especially for new designers. So we’ve put together the best of the best for this list to make it a little easier.
Things to know first
If you are new to the world of graphic design, you will need to know basic terminology before choosing a program.
Vector images: Vector images are essential in the design world because you can resize them as much as you want without losing image quality. If you were to take a raster image (a typical JPEG and PNG image) and resize it, the quality would be lost if you increased its scale. This is especially bad for logos and graphics, since they are usually used in different sizes. This is why design-centric programs are useful because they specialize in editing vector images (although some also have raster editing capabilities).
Computer-assisted publications: This form of design is used when creating online or print publications. This involves reorganizing the text and images so that they are clearly understood and visually interesting. Everything from magazines and e-mail newsletters to the website you’re currently on is an example of desktop publishing to some extent.
Work plans: In a graphic design program, a work plan is just your workspace. This is where you actually create your logos, graphics and illustrations.
RGB and CYMK: These are the two main color models used in the world of graphic design, RGB (red, green and blue) being better for online and electronic design, while CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta and black) is better for printed publications.
Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about the performance of these programs.
What to Look for in a Graphic Design Program
With so many options, there is no need to settle for inferior applications. Here are some things to consider before choosing a program.
Intuitive: Graphic design programs are complicated software, and as such can be difficult to design intuitively. Developers can always find ways to make it work, either through built-in tutorials or tooltips that explain various tools and options to new users.
Performance: Design programs can easily slow down the performance of your computer. While this is to some extent expected, it does not excuse programs from being poorly optimized.
Basic tools: Any graphic design program should allow you to do the basics: creating objects (creating shapes and lines), manipulating objects (moving, resizing and distorting these shapes), creating text and accessing color models (like the RGB and CYMK models mentioned above)).
Advanced tools: The most powerful graphic design programs have so many advanced features that we could not list them here. Boolean operations (which, in simple terms, allow you to create more complex shapes), in particular, are very useful for creating unique graphics.
Price model: Many programs have turned to subscription payment models rather than large one-time payments. No matter what you think, there are still quite a few options on both sides.
Finally, we will quickly mention photo editing programs, as they also have graphic design capabilities. We focused on the design-centric programs for this list, but a good photo editor is always a useful tool for a designer.
With all of that aside, let’s start by talking about the actual software.
Known Powers: Adobe Illustrator and InDesign
You probably already know Adobe. Adobe offers some of the best authoring programs available today and, not surprisingly here, that also translates into its graphic design programs: Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign.
Illustrator is just a great vector image editor. It has a huge set of tools with support for third-party plug-ins, and connecting to the rest of Adobe’s products can be vital in some situations. For example, if you need to edit a photo before placing it in a graphic, you can easily edit it in Photoshop or Lightroom then throw it into Illustrator without complications.
Illustrator is easily one of the most powerful graphic design programs on the market, and for professional and high-end users, it’s an easy choice to recommend, especially for its high adoption rate in the industry. It covers all the basics and offers a wide range of advanced tools like creating deep objects and graphical tools (ideal for infographics).
Illustrator, like all Adobe products, uses a monthly subscription payment model. You can use Illustrator for $ 20.99 per month, or get it as part of the Creative Cloud subscription for $ 52.99 per month (which includes all Adobe programs.)
While Illustrator is for vector editing, InDesign focuses on desktop publishing. Posters, magazine pages and business cards can all be easily created in InDesign – and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Similar to Illustrator, when it comes to this form of design, InDesign is one of the most powerful options on the market.
And just like Illustrator, InDesign can also be used in tandem with other Adobe products. It’s probably even more useful here, since you’ll likely use images and illustrations created in other programs in your layouts. You can also install third-party plugins here as well.
InDesign’s pricing model is the same as that of Illustrator, $ 20.99 per month for it individually and $ 52.99 per month to get it as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite.
Adobe Rival: affinity designer and editor
Serif has clearly explained his intentions with the Affinity family of software: these programs are designed to compete with those of Adobe, and it’s easy to see with Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher.
Affinity designer is an excellent vector graphics editor. It can easily match Illustrator in terms of functionality and has a more modern design that works smoothly. You have full access to vector and raster editing, and can switch between them with the click of a button. You can create an unlimited number of artboards, use deep placement grids for easy centering and alignment, and view a live preview of your graph’s appearance after export.
Between the wide range of features and a more modern design, Affinity Designer is an easy recommendation for both experienced and brand new designers. It even manages to arrive at a price cheaper than Illustrator, costing only a single payment of $ 49.99.
Affinity Editor has many of the same characteristics as Designate, just for desktop publishing. Here you get the same powerful tools as Adobe InDesign, as well as a more modern and fluid user interface. Publisher also offers a “live checkout” feature, which will analyze your layouts to detect any hard-to-notice errors (such as overlapping images), which could certainly save your skin multiple times.
Just like Designer, you can also use Publisher in conjunction with Affinity designer and Affinity photo. And, as we said in the InDesign section, it’s extremely useful to have a simple way to edit graphics and photos before placing them in your layouts.
Affinity Publisher follows the same pricing model as Designer, costing a one-time payment of $ 49.99.
Free and Open-Source: Inkscape
All of the programs we’ve talked about so far have fairly heavy price tags, which makes sense as they are among the most powerful programs on the market. However, not only Inkscape manage to compete with these programs (even if they don’t fully match them), it’s also completely free.
This is largely due to the fact that Inkscape is open-source, which means that anyone can open the source code and play with it. This opens the door to third-party modifications and add-ons, which means it’s easy to adjust Inkscape to your liking. With the diversity of graphic design, it’s nice to have a program that can be tailored to your needs.
Even without third-party content, Inkscape is still an incredibly powerful vector editor. You can do all the basics you’d expect, such as creating and manipulating objects, accessing RGB and CYMK color models and extensive text creation options. It also covers some of the more advanced features like Boolean operations.
And, as we said, Inkscape is completely free.
Online design: Vectr
Design programs can be quite intensive on your system, so it’s always nice to see web-based options pop up that can reduce the amount of processing on your computer. It’s part of what makes Vectr so great, but not just for those with limited computing power – Vectr has another key feature that makes it an invaluable tool in any designer’s toolbox.
The best part about this is that each design you work on will have a unique URL accessible to everyone to make changes or to check out. This makes Vectr a fantastic collaborative option for designers working together, or just to show a client. Vectr, at its core, is a simplified, easy-to-learn but still powerful vector graphics editor, but not as powerful as some of the prograde options we have already listed.
Vectr is free to use, but you will have advertisements on the side of your screen. However, there will be a pro subscription in the future to get rid of it.
Dual use: Gravit Designer
Gravit Designer is another web-based option, except that it can also be used offline. It is a powerful vector editor available on the web or as a downloaded program, depending on your preference. You can go back and forth between the two versions with cloud storage, which is great for designers who change a lot of devices.
Other than that, it’s just good software. The user interface is easy to understand, it covers all of the basic functionality that designers need (as well as some of the more complex ones, including Boolean operations), and you have access to a large library of fonts and templates included for your designs.
Gravit is free to use, but you will be missing some options when it comes to colors and exporting. For a full Gravit experience, you’ll want the pro version, which costs $ 99.00 per year. You can read more about the pro version on the Gravit website.
A design suite: CorelDraw Graphics Suite
CorelDraw is a continuation of seven programs all focused on design, including vector editing, desktop publishing, etc. The seven programs can be used together for maximum functionality and it’s easy to collaborate on projects with other designers. (cCollaboration is done with the CorelDRAW.app program included in the suite.) You can also create easy-to-share previews of your work for clients – it even includes chat windows for comments.
CorelDRAW is the biggest draw in this pack for designers, as it is an advanced vector editor that covers graphics, desktop publishing and offers a customizable user interface. In addition to that, there is also Corel PHOTO-PAINT (a powerful photo editor), Corel Font Manager (manages downloaded fonts and lets you install new fonts), CAPTURE (basic screen capture program ) and Aftershot 3 (which is an HDR and RAW image editor).
The CorelDraw suite is available for a subscription cost of $ 249.00 per year, or a single payment of $ 499.00 (although you will lose collaborative functionality in the single payment option).
Versatile: Xara Designer Pro X
To finish our list, let’s choose a program that tries to do everything: Xara Designer Pro X.
Xara Designer Pro X covers vector graphics, photo editing, web design, and desktop publishing in one program. Considering the quantity of this program, it is a very good option for designers wishing to broaden their skills or those who perform a wide variety of work.
Xara Designer Pro X always manages to have solid feature sets for all of the design forms it covers. On the vector graphics side, you will find all the tools you will need to bring your ideas to life. For desktop publishing, you can create layouts and designs with other useful features, such as “Magic Color Match” (which will match text and shape color to design images). For web designers, Xara Designer Pro X comes with customizable templates and 2 GB of web storage for your website (plus an included domain of your choice).
Xara Designer Pro X is available for a single payment of $ 299.00.