The best free graphic design software

We’ve rounded up a selection of the 22 best pieces of free graphic design software around.

Not everyone has the cash to spend kitting themselves out with the most expensive graphic design software, particularly when starting a new business or embarking on a new career in design. Many will default to Adobe’s fantastic Creative Cloud suite of applications, but for those who want to do the groundwork there is a lot of free graphic design software out there that can do the job just as well.

But to save you from doing said groundwork, and to help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve compiled this list and divided it into five sections:

  • Vector art
  • Image editing
  • 3D software
  • Data visualization
  • Other useful tools

So scroll through this list and try out some of the free applications available to you – you may not need that Adobe subscription after all…

Vector art

01. SVG-Edit

Free graphic design software: SVG-Edit
Although SVG-Edit is limited to the SVG format it’s surprisingly capable for free graphic design software
  • Platform: Web Browser

If you’re looking to quickly output SVG, or edit an existing SVG file, there are a few online editors that will do the job just as well as Adobe Illustrator. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an open format that allows you to reproduce your Vector drawings programmatically, and one of the nicest projects is SVG-Edit.

This is built entirely on HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript without requiring any server-side processing. So not only can you use it to create and edit documents, but as it’s open source you can also download and modify the code – making your own version if you want.

The standard, albeit basic, toolset of every vector-image editor is here, and although it’s limited to the SVG format it’s surprisingly capable.

02. Inkscape

Free graphic design software: Inkscape
Free graphic design software Inkscape has very good SVG integration and supports a number of advanced features
  • Platform: Windows/Linux (Mac possible if you’re technically minded)

As with many of the free options available, Inkscape focuses on the SVG format as its primary file format. This highly capable editor has a very good SVG integration, supporting many of the more advanced features that aren’t always available in other apps – such as alpha blending, cloned objects, and markers.

Full support for different colour modes means this is a viable alternative to Illustrator for both print and web design, and although the interface is somewhat simpler than Illustrator, it’s still possible to achieve extremely sophisticated artwork. Of particular note is the ability to trace bitmap images, support for variable width strokes and native import of Illustrator files.

There are source binaries available for Windows, Linux, and Mac, and compiled versions currently offered for Windows and Linux.

03. Serif DrawPlus Starter Edition

Free graphic design software Serif DrawPlus
DrawPlus isn’t really intended for professionals, but it’s got some impressive feature considering it is free graphic design software
  • Platform: Windows

Although at first sight you might think DrawPlus isn’t really intended as an app for professionals, it’s actually surprisingly capable, and as it’s offered in a free version it muscled its way into our list of free graphic design software. DrawPlus is designed to be intuitive in use, and has a wide range of tools that mirror functionality in Illustrator, but in a more approachable manner.

There are also some nice extra features that are actually implemented in a more user-friendly way than Adobe’s software – 3D being a prime example, where you can quickly make an object 3D via extrusion, apply a wide range of 3D styles or draw your own bevel profile that’s instantly applied to your object. Similarly there’s a collection of brushes and pre-defined templates to get you started working quickly.

The app works happily in CMYK, allowing you to easily output print-ready artwork and it’s also capable of working with Pantone colour profiles.

Image editing

04. Pixlr

Free graphic design software: Pixlr
Free graphic design software Pixlr comes with more than 600 effects
  • Platform: iOS, Android

Pixlr claims to be “the most popular online photo editor in the world”, which may have something to do with the fact that it’s free graphic design software.

But it also boasts more than 600 effects, overlays, and borders and lets you do all the main things you’d expect from a photo editor, from cropping and re-sizing to removing red-eye and whitening teeth.

And if you’re used to using Photoshop, then you’ll find Pixlr’s user interface easy to pick up quickly, as it’s very similar. This free app is available in both iOS and Android varieties.

05. Paint.net

Free graphic design software: Paint.net
For photo editing, free graphic design software Paint.net is an excellent alternative to Photoshop
  • Platform: Windows

Paint.net is a Windows-based alternative to the Paint editor that Microsoft shipped with versions of Windows. Don’t let that put you off, though, as it’s surprisingly capable, useful and free graphic design software.

The focus is on ease of use, and there’s a definite tendancy towards photo editing rather than artistic creation. That said, there are a range of special effects available, allowing you to easily create fake perspective, blend and push pixels around the canvas, tile and repeat selections, and so on.

A good range of selection tools, support for layers, and adjustments such as curves and brightness/contrast mean that Paint.net is a great alternative to Photoshop for photo editing, especially if you can do without some of the more recent additions to Photoshop’s toolset.

06. Sumopaint

Free graphic design software: Sumopaint
Free graphic design software Sumopaint works in the browser, and requires Adobe Flash to use
  • Platform: Web browser (requires Adobe Flash Player)

Sumopaint is a highly capable browser-based image editor. All the standard features you’d expect from a desktop tool are present and correct (and by buying the Pro version for $19 you can install a desktop version of the app if you prefer).

You need the Adobe Flash Player to use this tool, so you’re not going be using Sumopaint on your iPad. That said, it’s lightweight and quick to load, and the free version is very usable.

The standard range of tools and adjustments you’d expect are all included. Brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning, gradients, etc are all quickly accessed from the Photoshop-esque floating toolbar. It can also open saved documents from your hard drive, making Sumopaint a perfectly viable option for editing and reediting.

07. GIMP

Free graphic design software: GIMP
GIMP is a popular, free graphic design software alternative to Photoshop
  • Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac

Open-source free graphic design software that debuted on Unix-based platforms, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Today it’s available in versions for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

GIMP’s interface differs somewhat from Photoshop, but a version of GIMP is available that mimics Adobe’s look and feel, making it easier to migrate over if you’re ditching Photoshop. The full suite of tools is available here – everything you’re accustomed to is within easy reach, including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement.

The team that oversees development has worked hard to ensure compatibility too, so you’ll be able to work with all the popular file formats without any trouble at all. You’ll also find a very capable file manager built in, along similar lines to Adobe’s Bridge.

3D software

08. Daz Studio

Free 3D software
Normally retailing at $249, 3D software Daz Studio is currently available to download completely free of charge
  • Platform: Mac, Windows

Daz Studio is a 3D figure customisation, posing and animation tool that enables artists of all skill levels to creating digital art using virtual people, animals, props, vehicles, accessories and environments.

With Daz Studio, you can create custom 3D characters and avatars, design virtual environments, produce graphic design elements and much more. The latest version of Daz Studio 4.5 normally retails at $249 but is currently available to download free of charge.

09. Blender

Free graphic design software: Blender
The superb animation Big Buck Bunny was made using free graphic design software tool Blender
  • Platform: Mac, Windows, Linux

If you’re serious about 3D but struggling to afford software, then you’re in luck. Blender is a free, open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems.

Started by Blender Foundation founder Ton Roosendaal back in 2002, Blender is now largest open source tool for 3D creation. Its makers are constantly working on its development, but you can pretty much do anything 3D related with this software, including modelling, texturing, animation, rendering and compositing.

10. Sculptris

Free graphic design software: Sculptris
Master the art of digital sculpting with Pixologic’s free graphic design software Sculptris
  • Platform: Mac, Windows

If you’re interested in the art of digital sculpting, check out 3D software Sculptris, from Pixologic. Perfect for all skill levels, the software is a great starting point for users new to the discipline and more experienced CG artists will find the software a quick and easy way to realise concepts.

Sculptris is based on Pixologic’s ZBrush, the most widely-used digital sculpting application in today’s market. So, when you’re ready to move on to the next level of detailing, skills learned in Sculptris can be directly translated into ZBrush.

11. Houdini Apprentice

Free graphic design software: Houdini
Get to grips with the Houdini graphic design software with this free Apprentice version
  • Platform: Mac, Windows, Linux

Houdini is a 3D animation and visual effects tool, used widely throughout the media industry for film, broadcast, entertainment and visualisation. And its cheapest version costs just a little under $2000.

But the makers of the programme – Side Effects Software – are a good bunch and, knowing that cost can be an issue, offer an Apprentice version for free. With this you can access all of the features of the full version in order to develop your skills in the software and work on personal projects. The programme is purely for use non-commercial and learning purposes.

Data visualization

12. Google Developers

Display real live data with Google Developers
  • Platform: Web browser

Google chart tools are powerful, simple to use, and free. You can choose from a variety of charts and configure an extensive set of options to perfectly match the look and feel of your website. By connecting your data in real time, Google Developers is the perfect infographic generator for your website.

13. Vizualize

free graphic design software: Vizualize
Free graphic design software Vizualize could be the start of how résumés will be portrayed in the future
  • Platform: Web browser

After the success of our post on an infographic résumé, it was only a matter of time before this infographic résumé generator turned up. You can visualise your resume in one click and also take a look at previous examples. Enabling people to express their professional accomplishments in a simple yet compelling personal visualisation, we think this is the start of something big.

14. Easel.ly

Free graphic design software: Easel.ly
Free graphic design software Easel.ly offers a dozen free templates to start you off
  • Platform: Web browser

This free web-based infographic tool offers you a dozen free templates to start you off, which are easily customisable.

You get access to a library of things like arrows, shapes and connector lines, and you can customize the text with range of fonts, colours, text styles and sizes. The tool also lets you upload your graphics and position them with one touch.

15. Infogr.am

Free graphic design software: Infogr.am
Customising the data that makes up the infographic takes place in an Excel style spreadsheet
  • Platform: Web browser

Infogr.am is a great free tool which offers access to a wide variety of graphs, charts and maps as well as the ability to upload pictures and videos to create cool infographics.

Customising the data that makes up the infographic takes place in an Excel style spreadsheet and can easily be edited, watching the software automatically change the look of the infographic to perfectly represent your data. When you’re happy with your infographic you can publish it to the Infogram website for all to enjoy and even embed it in to your own website or share it via social media.

16. Visual.ly

Free graphic design software: Visual.ly
Harlem Shake – remember that? Visual.ly is great free graphic design software plus a community for infographics creators
  • Platform: Web browser

Visual.ly is a community platform for data visualization and infographics set up in 2011. It allows you both to create infographics and get them shared on social media. The website is also able to match those commissioning infographics – including brands, companies and agencies – with its community over more than 35,000 designers.

Other useful tools

17. Prezi

How to create a presentation : Prezi
How to create a presentation that will impress – use Prezi’s free graphic design software
  • Platform: Web browser

Prezi is a stylish online presentation creation tool that lets you use images, videos, objects or simple text, and animate them using a wide range of effects. It supports all the major mobile and desktop platforms and allows you to run your presentations as executable files as well.

The finished presentations can also be shared directly from Prezi on all major social networks. Prezi comes both as a free and paid service, but even the free version has all the options you need.

18. Expression Web 4

Expression Web is free graphic design software to download from Microsoft’s website
  • Platform: Windows

If you’re a PC user, Microsoft has made its Expression Web 4.0 software free of charge. There’s no tech support available for free downloaders but its a pretty powerful alternative to likes of Dreamweaver that won’t cost you a penny. In this article, illustrator, artist and graphic designer Stefan Lindblad explains why it offers an alternative worth investigating.

19. Google Fonts

Free graphic design software: Google Web Fonts
No list of great free graphic design software would be complete without Google Web Fonts

The Google Web Fonts project – renamed Google Fonts – recently did a deal with font service Monotype to make its free fonts available for desktop use. Monotype’s SkyFonts software is normally used to rent commercial fonts for short-term use.

But the new deal means you can access desktop versions of hundreds of Google Fonts – previously only available for use as web fonts – via SkyFonts, for as long as you want. You can also find more free fonts right here on Creative Bloq…

20. Behance

free graphic design software: Behance
Sign up for Behance using either your email address or via your social network

With millions of views each month, online creative community Behance is quickly becoming the place to be for artists of all disciplines. It’s a fantastic way to see what your peers are up to as well as finding new work and creative inspiration from top web designers and agencies. Find the best ways to get your work noticed on Behance here.

21. WordPress

free graphic design software: WordPress
Create your own portfolio blog with WordPress’s free graphic design software

There are a whole lot of designers who don’t have their own blog, but it’s a great way to showcase your fantastic work, get recognition in your industry, earn extra income and get new clients.

WordPress is the most popular platform for blogging, and while it can be a little fiddly to set up, there’s lots of helpful information online to get you going. Check out these articles:

22. Dribbble

Free graphic design software: Dribbble
Dribbble is a great source of inspiration as well as a designer’s tool

Dribbble enables designers to share their creations easily, and is a good source of inspiration as well as a great way to promote your own work. Check out this article to find out which designers you should be following on Dribbble.

And there’s more…

More free tools, features and plugins are available to help you get the best out of software you may already own. Here are just a few of the collections we’ve put together:


Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart is managing editor of Creative Bloq. Craig has written about everything from cars and design to football and tech for numerous national newspapers, websites and magazines, including Classic Ford, The Scotsman and T3.

Original Article By Craig Stewart Graphic design  

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