Drawing and Art Software Programs

It's almost like working at an easel—and some are free

Tattoo artists brainstorming and sketching with digital tablet in tattoo studio office

Hero Images/Getty Images

When you want to create a drawing from scratch with a computer art program, you want an actual art program, not a glorified photo editor. Cheap photo editors are easy to get since everyone edits photos. Decent art programs aren't as plentiful, but there are some very good free and affordable options:

of 06

Corel Painter Essentials

Corel Painter Essentials is surprisingly affordable and has an amazingly user-friendly interface with a natural feel and sane defaults. You can quickly start drawing and painting even if you aren't very familiar with computer software. It's great for younger or inexperienced computer users. As a bonus, its photo editing option allows you to create some enjoyable art effects, unusual in such a bargain package.

of 06

The Gimp

The Gimp is a free, open-source software program, meaning it's legally free to use and modify. If you've used The Gimp in the past and found it unfriendly, give it another try: Later versions are full-featured, stable, and a lot more intuitive to use. Controls can still be a little complicated, but the upside is a level of flexibility that many proprietary programs don't have. If you're new to this type of program, check out the many tutorials (be sure they're recent) so you can learn how to use layers properly and find all the features you want.

of 06


ArtRage has an interface that's incredibly easy to use. ArtRage is great for kids or people who are more comfortable with paper than pixels because it feels almost like working at an easel. Despite its simplicity, you'll find many serious artists using it. The creators aim to give artists a seamless, natural media experience. You can use tracing paper and choose mediums and colors from large tuck-away palettes. The full version allows you to pin references to the side of your drawing space.

of 06


Inkscape is what you want for creating vector graphics. It's open source, so it's free, powerful, and flexible. Like most drawing programs, it rewards you for checking out the manual and tutorials, but once you have the hang of the basics, it's straightforward to use. It's particularly useful for converting raster (pixel-based) images such as jpegs to scalable vector drawings.

of 06


SketchUp is a free 3-D drawing program with lots of useful features. It's not simple—3-D programs never are—but it has a tutorial popup that opens beside your window, offering animated tool tips as you work. The software has an active community and you can download a variety of finished objects and buildings from the SketchUp "Warehouse." If you're doing anything with landscape, building, or interior design or just want to play with perspective, give it a try. It's a bit expensive, but the results are impressive.

of 06

Comic Life

Comic Life isn't a drawing program per se but a comic strip layout program, offering loads of page styles and layouts, thought and speech bubbles, and creative text for titles. You just drag-and-drop your images into the panels. It's moderately priced and is available for Mac, Windows, and iPad. Its seamless integration with iPhoto is remarkable, and the drag-and-drop interface makes it easy even for young children to be creative. If you enjoy drawing cartoons but struggle with the crisp presentation that makes a strip look great, scanning them and using Comic Life for your layout could be the answer.