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15 BEST GRAPHIC DESIGN SOFTWARE 2021 | FREE & PAID

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By Luca Tagliaferro

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Freelancing has become a very lucrative and rewarding way for creatives to make money online. Not only is the online marketplace booming, but there are also new and exciting ways to put your talent to use.

Whether you’re a professional bored with your 9-5, or a junior graphic designer looking for experience - freelancing could be the solution. In this article, we’ll explore the top software graphic design freelancers are using, and how to make money online. 

How to get freelance jobs in Graphic Design

The hardest part of starting a freelance graphic design career is to make the initial decision. It can be daunting - wondering how you’ll get clients, and if you’ll be able to pay the bills. Fortunately, remote freelancing has become increasingly popular in recent years. Not only for designers but also employers.

 

Today, there are thousands of sites where you can post your portfolio. However, in my experience, there are only a few sites that will actually get you a steady flow of work. 

 

Have a look at my article on the best freelance websites for designers. Start with these to get your first freelance design orders.


You can also choose to create a blog and promote your work to a niche audience. Check out my post on how to start a blog. Establishing yourself as a leader in your industry is a surefire way to get more work.

This is exactly what I did. You can check out my story on how I became a global digital marketing influencer through blogging. I hope it will inspire you to be the next big graphic design blogger.

Best graphic designing software 2021

Graphic design software has come a long way since SuperPaint first launched in 1973. Today, there are so many options, it can be hard to know which one is the best fit. As a freelancer, some of the biggest deciding factors are: 

  • What services clients are looking for

If the project requires freelancers to collaborate on Adobe Photoshop, then you’d need to consider that. Perhaps check out what the majority of freelancers are using on places like Fiverr or Upwork.

  • What your skills are 

If you do predominantly publications, InDesign will be a better option than Photoshop or Affinity Designer. If you want to have creative freedom and offer a variety of services, go for something like Adobe CC.

  • What you’re looking to charge for your work

Experience and professionalism have an impact on fees. However, if you’re using top-of-the-line software, you could reflect that in your offer

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Best paid graphic design tools

Best free graphic design tools

 

Best paid graphic designing tools

It might be tempting to opt for free software, especially when you’re starting out. However, paid tools can give you the upper hand in a competitive freelance market. The additional features, support, and quality of work will set your services apart.

In addition, even though paid software is an initial investment, it will eventually pay for itself. If you already have a few years of experience in graphic design working for an agency or as an in-house designer, the best option is to get the tools you trust. Even if it means making a (small) dent in your profits.

Adobe Photoshop

 

 

Adobe Photoshop is the industry-leading graphic editing software used by designers worldwide. Packed with features and tools, it has always been a popular choice among graphic designers. That said, the latest version of Adobe Photoshop takes things to a whole new level.

Favourite features

Cloud-Based - Perhaps one of the features I love the most as a digital nomad is that it’s all on the cloud. That allows me to access my work anywhere, on any computer. Best of all, it’s secure and backed up.

 

Effortless Syncing - Another cool new feature is preset syncing. I don’t need to go through the tedious process of installing my presets if I change devices, they’re already synced.

 

Collaborate - Easily invite others to collaborate and edit your cloud documents.

 

Pros

  • Trust - Professional software trusted by thousands of designers worldwide. As a freelancer, using professional tools will set you apart from your competition.

 

Cons

  • Steep learning curve - If you’re a novice, Photoshop does come with a steep learning curve. All the amazing features might overwhelm you at first, but once you get the hang of it, anything’s possible.

Pricing

 

Photoshop offers several pricing plans, depending on who you are: an individual, an education provider or a business. For individuals, the price starts at £9.98/month.

 

 

photoshop review -luca tagliaferro
photoshop pricing

Adobe InDesign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For print and digital media, Adobe InDesign is the go-to layout and page design software. It allows you to effortlessly create beautiful graphic designs with all the features you’ll need already integrated.

Favourite features

Interactive Design - InDesign allows you to create immersive digital media. Design an interactive user experience with audio, video, animations, and slideshows.

 

Easy Review - Getting feedback has never been easier. Share your designs online through the Adobe interface to get comments directly on your work. 

 

Automatic Adjustments - Perhaps one of my favourite features. Auto adjustment allows you to change everything with the click of a button. Imagine finishing a week-long project - the doc is formatted, ready to publish. Then you realize it’s all in the wrong layout! Or when a client changes their mind halfway through and suddenly wants it all in landscape instead? Auto Adjustment is the smart way to quickly adjust any text document. Just choose your parameters and apply the changes.

 

Pros

  • Quality - When it comes to publications (print or digital), you want to use the best possible software. Any designer will tell you that Adobe can’t be beaten. You can also use InDesign in conjunction with the other Adobe products.

 

Cons

  • Limited uses - Adobe InDesign is great for publications, making it the perfect tool to create visual communication. However, that’s not a good thing if you want to expand your offering as a freelancer.

Pricing

Does Adobe InDesign have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 7-day free trial.

indesign review - luca tagliaferro
indesign pricing

Abode Illustrator​

Adobe Illustrator is one of the best tools for - you guessed it - illustration. I recommend incorporating Illustrator into your software portfolio as your go-to vector program.

This tool is perfect for icons, symbols, logos, patterns, infographics, and more.

Favourite features

Vector-based - Perfectly scalable designs created by one powerful tool. So your artwork stays crisp no matter how big you need it to be.

 

Creative freedom - With Adobe Illustrator you can access all your work on the cloud. From presets to brushes, the way you like it on any device, anywhere.

 

Adobe Sensei - AI is everywhere these days, and I’m excited about what it holds for the future. With Adobe Illustrator, you can get a taste of its creativity. Create vectors by auto-tracing your hand sketches. Add colours to your design by extracting them from a photo you love. The possibilities are endless.

Pros

  • Versatility - Adobe Illustrator allows you to create everything from single design elements to entire compositions. You also have the freedom to create designs of literally any size. From billboards to icons.

 

Cons

  • Needs powerful hardware - Adobe Illustrator is a big boy. Be ready for the minimum system requirements before you add this one to the cart.

Pricing

Adobe Illustrator offers a 7-day free trial. The paid plans start from £19.97 per month for an individual and topping up to £238.42/yr.

illustrator review
illustrator pricing

Adobe CC

Adobe CC (Creative Cloud) is the full creative cloud subscription. I’ve added it because for many designers,

one tool simply doesn’t cover the scope of their work. Adobe CC gives you access to all the above and more:
 

  1. Photoshop

  2. Illustrator

  3. InDesign

  4. Adobe XD

  5. Lightroom

  6. Acrobat Pro

  7. Animate

  8. Dreamweaver

  9. Premiere Pro

  10. Premiere Rush

  11. After Effects

  12. Dimension

  13. Audition

  14. InCopy

  15. Lightroom Classic

  16. Media Encoder

  17. Character Animator

  18. Prelude

  19. Fuse

  20. Bridge

 

Favourite features

All in one - Adobe CC gives you access to all the best tools Adobe has to offer. As a creative designer, there might be a few of these tools you’ve never even tried. A whole new career may lay ahead of you. 

 

Discount pricing - Probably the biggest advantage of going for Adobe CC is the discount you’re getting. The combo price is more affordable than buying Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Not to mention all the other tools, new releases, and updates you’ll have access to.

 

Behance integration - Behance is a social media platform for creatives owned by Adobe. Having the Adobe CC package gives you access to the Behance ProSite. Stunning portfolio websites, absolutely free with Creative Cloud. This includes hosting and unlimited pages.

 

Pros

  • All-in-one discounted offer - Adobe CC gives you access to all the amazing tools that Adobe has on offer. It also means you’ll always be using the latest versions, and have access to the newest updates. For everything it offers, Adobe CC is perfect for designers who don’t want to be limited by software.

 

Cons

  • Subscription - Adobe CC gives you the ultimate freedom, but it’s never truly yours. I get the idea, offer amazing tools on a subscription so it’s “affordable”, but still, sometimes you just want to know something is yours - forever.

 

Pricing

The annual plan paid monthly - £49.94/mo

Annual plan prepaid - £596.33/yr

Monthly plan - £75.85/mo


Does Adobe CC have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 7-day free trial

 

 

adobe cc review - luca tagliaferro
adobe cc review
adobe cc pricing 2021

Affinity Designer

 

 

Affinity Designer is relatively new in the industry, but that doesn't mean it hasn't made waves.

 

Designed to work on Mac, Windows, and iPad, Affinity Designer is setting new standards for design software. The combination of functionality and affordability has made it a favourite in the freelance graphic design world.

 

Favourite features

Vector or Raster - One of the drawbacks of other tools is that you have to choose. But not with Affinity. Easily switch between vector and raster workspaces with a single click. You can also combine techniques. The possibilities are limitless.

 

Special Zoom - The zoom feature isn't just easy to use, but also provides you with a great deal of zooming power. E used Getting into those fine details has never been easier with a 1M % zoom effect.

 

No subscription - Unlike Adobe, the team at Affinity has listened to the people! Not everyone likes a subscription. Affinity is a one-time purchase, and you can use it on as many computers as you like. Shut up and take my money.

 

Pros

  • Photoshop Alternative - Professional, yet affordable. Affinity Designer is the best possible Photoshop alternative.

  • The layout is recognizable and it’s an easy switch if you’re used to Adobe Photoshop.

 

Cons

  • Lacking features - There aren’t many features missing, but it does get a bit irritating when it’s that one feature that you need.

  • Luckily, all updates on version 1 of Affinity Designer are free to download. So, voice your needs! They might just listen.

Pricing

Mac - £47.99 once-off

Windows - £47.99 once-off

iPad - £19.49


Does Affinity Designer have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 30 day free trial on Mac/Windows

affinity designer review.png

XARA

 

Xara Designer Pro X is a no-frills all-in-one design tool that delivers on speed and functionality. It’s built on a high-performance vector rendering engine, making it super responsive.

 

What’s more, the Xara Pro+ package gives you complete access to a full suite of programs. From illustration, and photo editing, to advanced page layout, web graphics, and web design.

Favourite features

Cloud Access - Uploading your designs to the cloud makes for easy collaboration and review. A nice add-on to an already loaded offer.

 

Multi-purpose UI - From illustration to photo editing, everything you need is in one place. This can be very useful for designers that offer an array of services.

 

Affordable Subscription - For a monthly subscription, Xara Designer Pro X is a really affordable option. Without the need for additional tools, you can still create beautiful graphic designs at a fraction of the cost of other software. 

 

Pros

  • Powerful yet easy-to-learn - It has all the necessary features to satisfy any experienced designer. But, it’s also simple enough to encourage beginners to keep going. Xara has a ton of tutorials, and they offer how-to hints through Xara Xone. 

 

Cons

  • Confusing packages - Xara Designer has a Pro+ and a ProX package. The former is subscription-based, and the latter is a once-off purchase facilitated through Magix. Make sure you check out the comparison before making your purchase. What’s more, they send constant reminders to renew subscriptions or buy the package. It’s just a bit annoying.

 

Pricing

  • Pro+ - £16,95/mo for 1 user, billed annually

  • Xara Designer Team+ - £9,98/mo per user, min. 3 users, billed annually

  • ProX - £109.00 once-off (Regular price £219.00)


 

Does Xara Designer Pro+ have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 14-day free trial

Does Xara Designer ProX have a Free Trial? Yes, there’s a 7 day trial without any registration required.  If you’d like to increase it to 30 days, you’ll need to register and get your extension code.

xara designer pro review - luca tagliaferro
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CorelDraw

CorelDraw feels like a professional graphic design tool, but the learning resources make it great even for beginners. The different pricing options and tools make it the perfect option for beginners through to professionals.

Favourite features

Endless Content - CorelDraw has been around for a long time, giving you access to an extensive library of high-res photographs, digital images, fonts, professional templates, interactive frames, gradients, and vectors.

 

Exceptional Vectoring - Famous for its vector capabilities, once you start using Corel there’s no going back. Corel’s versatile shaping and drawing tools have been industry favourites for over 30 years. 

 

CorelDRAW is FINALLY on Mac - CorelDraw used to be only for Windows. Luckily, you can now use this amazing tool on any device. Work on Windows, Mac, web, iPad, or mobile. You can also design on the go with the new CorelDRAW App.


 

Pricing

Subscription - £299.00 (Includes £49.83 VAT)

Once-off - £539.00 (Includes £89.83 VAT)


Does CorelDRAW have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 15-day free trial

coreldraw review .png
coreldraw pricing review

Best Graphic Design Software for Beginners (Free & Paid)

 

In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the best graphic design software for beginners.

 

When starting out as a graphic design freelancer, you'll want to use software that's easy to learn or doesn't require a huge learning curve. We’ll also explore why each of these programs is a favourite among new designers looking for their first freelance job in graphic design. 

Canva

If I were going to choose only one tool to have with me on my travels around the world, Canva would be it! This tool is perfect for quick designs and offers templates for almost everything. While it's easy to get started with Canva, you can design a wide range of products for your clients.

Favourite Features

Easy to use - You can edit and customize Canva templates in a few easy steps, making it the best free graphic design software for beginners. Gain inspiration from the community and create effortless designs with Canva’s library of free layouts and graphics.

 

Browser-based - No need to install bulky software, it’s all in the browser. Working online makes it easy to work from anywhere.

 

Social Media - This is where it gets interesting. With Canva, you can schedule your posts to go live directly from within your Canva account. This makes it perfect for social media graphic design.

 

Pros

  • Drag and Drop easy - There’s a whole new freelance graphic design opportunity arising from Canva. This easy-to-use tool is great for creating simple social media posts and much more. Depending on your clientele, this might be all you’ll ever need.

Cons

  • Freemium - While there is a “free” version, the quality restrictions don’t make it worth it if you’re charging people for your service. Canva Pro won’t break the bank, but it’s also not that much cheaper than Adobe Photoshop. The decision comes down to what type of designer you are.

 

Pricing

  • Basic - Free

  • Canva Pro - £10.99/mo or £99.99/year (up to 5 people sharing)


Does Canva Pro have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 30 day free trial for Canva Pro.

canva review
canva pricing

Sketch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketch is an easy-to-use vector-based design software created with Mac in mind. Beginners will love the intuitive interface that helps you easily spot components that you can then drag and drop into place.

Favourite Features

Design assistance - Sketch has templates, grids, and “snap” functionality to lock elements in place. The ultimate tool for newbies.

 

Web and Mobile Friendly - Mobile is a huge source of traffic these days, and your designs must be mobile-friendly. With Sketch, you can create responsive vector designs that adapt to screen sizes and resolutions.

 

Great Resources - With the Sketch libraries, custom plugins, and community, you can rest assured that you’ll find the help you need. 

 

Pros

  • Community  - Sketch is fairly new, but it’s already popular. The community is also able to create and share plugins - this really helps solve common design workflow issues. 

 

Cons

  • Mac only - You either love it or you hate it - Sketch loves it. Sorry, Windows.

 

 

Pricing

  • Standard - £9/mo per editor (or £99/yr per editor)

  • Business - Contact Sketch


Does Sketch have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 30-day free trial, no credit details are required.

sketch review

Gravit Designer Pro

While Gravit Designer (or Designer.io) offers entry-level users a free version, you might want to seriously consider the pro version. As a full-featured vector graphic design tool that works on any device, it’s worth the small annual fee.

 

The paid version offers many great features. From unlimited cloud storage to advanced export options and touch screen functionality.

Favourite features

Quick to use - With an intuitive user interface, you accomplish more in less time. There are also great ready-made templates and presets you could use for inspiration.

 

Multi-platform compatible - Pro accounts have cloud integration. This means you can pick up where you left off anywhere and from any device. In addition, with automatic syncing you don’t have to worry about hitting that save button, it’s already done.

 

Customizable interface - If you’re a designer working with multiple tools, it's useful to customize your interfaces to match. Small things, like Dark Mode, can make all the difference. 

 

Pros

  • Great UI - The user interface is intuitive and easy to use - also if you don’t like it, change it. It’s 100% customizable.

Cons

  • No real-time collaboration - For a paid, cloud-based design tool, I expected to have this feature. Not a deal-breaker, but I hope they see this.

 

Pricing

Basic - Free

Pro - £37.49 /year at 50% off (Usual price £74.99/yr)


Does Gravit Designer Pro have a Free Trial? Yes, there is a 15-day free trial. Sign up for a new Gravit account and the pop up will appear to try Gravit Designer Pro.

gravit designer review. -luca tagliaferro
gravit pricing - luca tagliaferro

Sketchbook

Sketchbook has positioned itself as the ideal tool for people who love to draw. If you’re working with a drawing tablet, Sketchbook might be the perfect fit.

The idea is to have a digital tool that makes you feel like you’re drawing on paper. The interface is simple and unobtrusive. Easily hide your toolbox so you can focus on your work.

Favourite features

Best UI - Small details make this one of the best user interfaces. The quick-access toolbar, easy sliders, and full-page editing help simplify the design process. 

 

Two-hand draw - The “two-hand” draw mode allows you to stay in the Favouritezone while quickly accessing your tools with your other hand. Just hold down the home button when you’re in full-page mode. This will bring up all your tools and remove them again when you let go.

 

Flexibility - With Desktop and mobile versions, you can design wherever and whenever. It's all synced, so you can continue right where you left off. 

 

Pros

  • Great for Tablets - Easily scan your drawings into Sketchbook with your smartphone or tablet. From here it’s smooth sailing with stylus compatibility. 

  • Trace and illustrate as if you were working on a piece of paper. Intelligent design functions help to take things to the next level.

 

Cons

  • Confusing Marketing - To be free, or not to be free, that is the Sketchbook question. Back in 2018, they opted to make the entire program free, then retracted it again with the latest update?

  • Make up your mind! It’s now managed by Microsoft, so we should see some stability going forward.

 

Pricing

  • Mobile - Free

  • Mac - £17.99 one-off

  • Windows - £17.99 one-off


Does Sketchbook have a Free Trial? No, but you can try the free version on Mobile. Take note, zero refunds on purchases from Sketchbook.

sketchbook review
sketchbook pricing

Best Free Graphic Design Software

 

GIMP





 

 

 

 



Gimp is an open-source graphics editor that functions much like Photoshop - just completely free. Its user interface may take some getting used to for beginners, but once you get the hang of it, Gimp is very powerful and boasts many capabilities. What I love the most about it is the community element. With a ton of scripts and plug-ins already created by the community, you can quickly find what you're looking for.

Favourite features

Highly Customizable - Once you know what you're doing, you can enhance your productivity with GIMP. You can customize your UI and add 3rd party plugins to optimize your workflow.

 

Compatibility - Gimp works great with several other free software tools and devices. Incorporate Scribus, Inkscape, and SwatchBooker into your workflow for the best design results. Or, use Gimp on multiple devices - the hardware support means you can work on any device and still experience exceptional speed.

 

Lightweight - Compared to other tools, Gimp is very lightweight. This maximizes the utilization of computing resources, leading to greater performance.

 

Pros

  • Open Source - Free forever, Built by designers for designers. GIMP has regular updates, a ton of flexibility, and a helpful community.

 

Cons

  • Clunky - GIMP is more confusing and not as well-rounded as Photoshop. It will take some time to get used to.

 

Pricing

Gimp is Free! However, you can make a donation to support the core team of developers if you wanted to.

gimp review. -luca tagliaferro

InkScape





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Perfect for beginners, you’ll love the user-friendly interface. Inkscape offers a free vector design tool that has all the features and capabilities you’ll need.

You can also access the community gallery - a great way to get inspiration, and also to inspire others. 

Favourite features

Regular updates - Since it’s open-source, Inkscape's community is a huge asset. As new needs arise, plugins and updates help keep the software up to date and relevant.

Flexibility - The design capabilities of Inkscape are endless. Offering many of the professional tools you’d expect from Adobe, Inkscape is great for diverse applications. If you know a bit of code, you can also make changes to your personal playground.

Ease of use - Free software, and especially open-source, can often be clunky and complicated. Luckily, Inkscape doesn't have that problem. As a beginner, it’s easy to use the streamlined interface. There is also an extensive knowledge base to help you learn the ropes.

Pros

  • Best free vector software - While I still prefer Illustrator, Inkscape comes in a close second. And, as free software, it does tick quite a few boxes for many new designers.

 

Cons

  • Limited support for .AI and .EPS files - This does pose some issues for commercial use, as these are popular formats to use in asset stores.

Pricing

Inkscape is Free! You can donate, though. All donations go to their outreach mentorship programs and the costs of running the Inkscape project.

inkscape review
vectr review - luca tagliaferro

Vectr





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vectr is a free cloud-based tool that allows you to create unbelievable vector graphics with ease. Think of it as a simplified version of Adobe Illustrator and Affinity - just without the price tag.

 

Great for beginners, this tool will help you learn and grow as a designer starting out.

Favourite features

Web-based editing - This is helpful for freelancers who work remotely. No need to download bulky software, just plug and play. Its online functionality also makes it great for freelancers to share and review designs with clients.

 

Cross-Platform - While Vectr used to be 100% web, the newest cross-platform feature allows you to install the app on multiple devices. Vectr will also automatically save and sync your work in real-time. A great feature for a free tool.

 

Easy Start - Vectr’s intuitive tools, a wide range of tutorials, and educational resources help you get started fast. The learning curve is more like a humble line. 

Pros

  • Web Accessible - Vectr is web-based, so you don't need to worry about having space on your laptop or PC. Great if you’re not working on the best device.

 

Cons

  • Limited capabilities - You won't find nearly as many features here as you will in premium apps. Photo and image editing are seriously lacking.

Pricing

Vectr is Free to use online! They could show ads to offset some costs.

sketch manager review

Sketch Manager




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketch Manager is a management tool created for Mac. Simplify mundane tasks that use to waste hours. Now you can manage your Design System with just one plugin.

  • Create and manage folders

  • Rename items

  • Find unused symbols & styles

  • Delete items

  • Duplicate symbols & styles

  • Manage symbols, Text styles, & Layer styles 

Pricing

3-in-1 pack - You'll be charged US$59.98 (this includes US$9.99 for VAT in the UK). This includes the Symbols Manager, Text Styles Manager & Layer Style Manager.

What are the benefits of graphic design software?

A competent tool for graphic design allows designers to produce impressive pictures and graphics.

Top Software for Graphic Designers - And the winner is...

 

 

Many designers will use a number of these tools to get their work done, it really depends on your personal needs. I would consider the following factors:

 

  • Features

Are there specific features you need, like a tool specifically for photo editing or vector designs?

  • Pricing

If you’re already used to a program, I wouldn’t let pricing be the deciding factor. However, if you’re new to graphic design and still testing the waters, maybe go for a more affordable option to start with.

  • Scalability

Do you plan on starting an agency in the future, then getting to know a tool that allows a business plan package might be a good idea?

  • Support

Support is often overlooked until you need it. As a freelancer, you want to have a technical support team ready to assist when things go wrong.

 

If I had to go with one platform, I'd have to choose Adobe CC.

The main reason would be the number of features, add-ons, and benefits you get for the price. It’s tried and trusted by industry professionals, and even if you’re a beginner it’s a great platform to learn. 

 

Check out my post on freelance platforms, so you can start making money using your graphic design skills. You’ll soon see that a small expense for the right tool is nothing in comparison to the income you can make through freelancing.