The Best Graphic Design Tools In 2020

/ design
Vlad Shvets

The advent of digital space has created an increased demand for skilled visual communicators able to represent brands online. A vast majority of graphic designers are no longer working for specialized agencies or consulting companies, choosing to work in-house or as freelancers instead.

These changes in the status-quo have, in turn, propelled the innovation of graphic design software. Designers in 2020 want better, cross-platform, and more affordable tools - a demand which has catalyzed in the creation and growth of companies that are as innovative as they are huge.

Let’s review the most prominent graphic design tools of 2020, to help you pick the ones best suited to your unique creative workflow.

Raster Graphics Tools

A solid raster graphics design tool is a must-have for any serious designer. Every so often we all need to crop a photograph, add some fancy effects to an image, or fix a meme, right?

Before we jump to the list of raster tools, let's just clear up real quick what raster (also called bitmap) graphics actually are.

In short, it's a digital image type that uses tiny rectangular pixels arranged in a grid formation. Together those pixels represent an image. PNG, JPEG, TIF, or GIF are all raster graphics formats. Raster graphics aren't scalable - that's why when you increase the size of an image, it loses its sharpness.

Here are a few of the most popular raster graphics tools these days.

Adobe Photoshop

Pricing:

  • $9.99 per month for a Photography package (includes Lightroom) with limited cloud storage
  • $20.99 per month for a standalone app with 100GB of storage

Available on:

  • Desktop (Mac and Windows)
  • Tablets (iPad and Android)
  • Smartphones (iPhone and Android)

Pros:

  • Advanced features
  • Great learning materials
  • Active community

Cons:

  • A steep learning curve
  • A rather pricey subscription

Photoshop 1.0 was released back in 1990 and has since become the most famous graphic design software of all time. Lots has changed in the last 30 years, but in 2020 Photoshop is still a great option for both beginners and professional designers.

A broad range of functionality in Photoshop is both its main advantage and disadvantage. On one hand, a beginning graphic designer starting to learn Photoshop will find an endless field of challenges and possibilities. It might take years or even decades to master all (or majority) of its features, but in the end, it's all going to be worth it.

The journey is also guaranteed to be fun and engaging, as there are dozens of forums where fellow creatives are sharing their experience, tutorials, and video guides.

However, if you aren't planning to dedicate your career to graphic design, learning about advanced Photoshop features just to edit images of your cat might be overkill. That's why, depending on your editing needs, Adobe Lightroom might be a much better option for you.

Adobe Lightroom

Pricing:

  • $9.99 per month for a Photography package (includes Photoshop) with limited cloud storage
  • $9.99 per month for a standalone app with 1TB of storage

Available on:

  • Desktop (Mac and Windows)
  • Tablets (iPad and Android)
  • Smartphones (iPhone and Android)

Pros:

  • Bulk editing features
  • Much easier to learn

Cons:

  • No advanced features

Adobe Lightroom was introduced in 2006. While it's not nearly as powerful or full-featured as Photoshop, Lightroom is easier to learn with a much simpler interface.

Lightroom has all the features for editing images in bulk. You can create (or purchase) presets and apply them automatically to as many images as you'd like. Lightroom also creates a new file any time you start making edits, so you don't have to worry about messing up the originals.

Affinity Photo

Pricing:

  • $49.99 one-time purchase

Available on:

  • Desktop (Mac and Windows)
  • iPad

Pros:

  • Professional features on par with Photoshop
  • Perpetual pricing model

Cons:

  • No smartphone apps
  • A relatively steep learning curve

Affinity Photo is a professional photo editing application known for its quality and reliability. It's also one of the most affordable raster graphics tools on the market. Affinity Photo has powerful features for fettling and fine-tuning images, as well as modules that reveal great depth, color, and detail in raw files.

A big advantage of Affinity over Photoshop or Lightroom is that it offers a perpetual (one-time purchase) pricing model, making it more appealing and affordable for beginners and freelance designers.

Procreate

Pricing:

  • $9.99 one-time purchase

Available on:

  • iPad
  • iPhone

Pros:

  • Stylus compatibility
  • Great learning materials
  • Active community

Cons:

  • No desktop version
  • No Android version

Procreate is a powerful raster graphics tool for iPad and iPhone devices. If you know how to handle a stylus, there's nothing stopping you from creating stunning graphics and art. Procreate has been around for a while and has amassed a huge social following on Instagram and YouTube by sharing detailed tutorials and the best design works of fellow creatives.

Procreate can easily serve a primary graphic design tool for illustrators, cartoonists, or digital painters. It can also be a great complementary tool used in combination with Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo (Procreate has a slick PSD importer, allowing you to juggle files back and forth).

Pixlr

Pricing:

  • Free plan: basic editing tools, a limited set of overlays and stickers
  • Premium plans start at $7.99 per month

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Has a free version
  • Accessible for beginners

Cons:

  • No desktop apps (although Windows and Mac apps are now in development)
  • Lacks advanced functionality

Pixlr is a free online photo editor that gives desktop apps some serious competition. The basic free version of Pixlr has been around for a long time, but it recently got a technical revamp and introduced a number of premium features.

Pixlr's editor is user-friendly, easy-to-use, and bound to get better with time as new functionality is rolled out. In particular, they just added an AI-powered background removal tool that while only recent, is already one of the most popular features with users of all types. Pixlr also has its own directory of both free and premium stock images.

Vector Graphics Tools

Vector graphics are everywhere, in both online and offline realms of design. Just think of icons, logos, brochures, concert posters, and even those annoying flyers that you get handed on the street.

Vectors are a different animal to rasters. They're built of dots, which are in turn connected by lines and curves to form shapes. Vector graphics have one significant advantage over rasters - they are scalable. That's why, for example, logos look equally good on both tiny business cards and huge prints. SVG, PDF, AI, and EPS are all vector file types.

For years vector graphics design hadn’t been as accessible and popular among the masses as photo editing, mainly because vectors are inherently precise and sophisticated. But in recent years the vector graphics tooling landscape has changed a lot, as better and more intuitive software has entered the scene.

Adobe Illustrator

Pricing:

  • $20.99 per month for a single app
  • $52.99 per month for the all-app Adobe Creative Cloud subscription

Available on:

  • Desktop (macOS and Windows)
  • Tablets (iPad and Android)
  • Smartphones (iPhone and Android)

Pros:

  • Advanced vector editing features
  • Plenty of design resources

Cons:

  • A steep learning curve

Adobe Illustrator is another famous pioneering design software. Even today, it remains (despite growing competition) an industry standard when it comes to working with vector projects.

Featuring a wide variety of tools, filters, and effects, Illustrator is used for designing all kinds of things that require precision: logos, print materials, website mockups, video games, and more. It allows you to produce scalable artwork with pixel-perfect accuracy, while the design presets and templates ensure speed and convenience.

Illustrator supports dozens of third-party plugins, making it truly extensible for all kinds of use-cases - from architecture to data visualization.

Affinity Designer

Pricing:

  • $49.99 one-time purchase

Available on:

  • Desktop (Mac and Windows)
  • iPad

Pros:

  • Pro-level vector software
  • Perpetual pricing model

Cons:

  • No smartphone apps
  • A steep learning curve

A twin brother of its raster-based counterpart, Affinity Designer is a popular vector graphics editor with advanced features for creating illustrations, icons, branding, web design, typography, digital painting, and more. The infinite zooming feature is particularly useful (and loved by the user-community) for ensuring accuracy.

Similarly, the major advantage of Affinity Designer is its perpetual pricing model. Even if creating icons or logos is just a hobby of yours, Affinity Designer is a worthy purchase as it comes with a full set of features and yet won't cost you a kidney.

Vectornator

Pricing:

  • Free (“free as in beer”, or in other words - not open-sourced)

Available on:

  • macOS (MacBook and iMac)
  • iPadOS (iPad)
  • iOS (iPhone)

Pros:

  • Brilliant stylus compatibility
  • Cross-platform across Apple devices

Cons:

  • No Windows version
  • No Android version

Vectornator is an ultimate vector graphics tool for Apple devices. It has a simple interface that makes it easy to use for novices, while still offering all the essential tools for professional designers like auto-trace (means magically converting your raster files into a vector format), unlimited layers, color profiles, live blend modes, and alignment tools.

Vectornator is the perfect solution if you, for example, own a MacBook and an iPad and want to use them both for design work. Vectornator syncs all the projects across the devices, so you won't have to worry about that. The app works best if you know how to use a stylus (Apple Pencil or Wacom for example), especially for illustrating or drawing.

Vectr

Pricing:

  • Free

Available on:

  • Web (there used to be Mac Store, Microsoft Windows Store, and Linux apps - but those are no longer supported)

Pros:

  • Simple and intuitive

Cons:

  • No advanced features
  • No desktop version

If you need to edit a logo or an icon really quick and don't want to download a desktop app, just use Vectr. It’s an intuitive web-based app that’s easy for anyone to learn and use, and perfect for those who don’t need the advanced features of high-end applications.

Once you create a free account, your designs will be saved automatically in the cloud, so you could always come back and edit them on the same device, or even pick up where you left off on a completely different one.

Adobe InDesign

Pricing:

  • $20.99 per month for a single app
  • $52.99 per month for the all-app Adobe Creative Cloud subscription

Available on:

  • Desktop (macOS and Windows)

Pros:

  • Best-in-class software for print design

Cons:

  • A steep learning curve
  • A rather pricey subscription

Adobe InDesign is another versatile vector graphics software that works best for creating print materials like books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, and flyers. Naturally, InDesign is popular among indie publishers, writers, or high-school students working on the school newspaper. InDesign is also sometimes used to design digital creations like newsletters or ad banners.

Although InDesign has a steep learning curve, as is the case with other Adobe's apps, there are hundreds of brilliant tutorials on the web for creators of all experience levels.

Infographic Design Tools

When it comes to designing infographics, you've got two options: either use a regular vector graphics tool like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, or use a specialized infographic maker.

The advantages of the former option is that you'd be using familiar tools and wouldn't be limited in any way. However, you'd have to start from a blank page, get all the proportions and colour palettes right, and create or purchase all the icons and illustrations.

So, if you don't have much experience in data visualization, you might be better off using one of the infographic creators listed below.

Venngage

Pricing:

  • Free
  • Premium plans start at $19

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Simple interface
  • Thousands of free and premium templates

Cons:

  • The free plan is very limited

Venngage is an intuitive and visual tool with a drag-and-drop editor which has thousands of custom-designed infographic templates to choose from (many of which cost nothing to use). The best thing about Venngage is how versatile it is. You can create images for your blog posts, complex infographics, posters, or even ebooks.

Venngage does have a free plan, allowing you to create up to five files. If you want to use the tool day to day or for multiple projects though, you'll have to subscribe to one of the paid plans.

Visme

Pricing:

  • Free
  • Premium plans start at $15

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Plenty of tutorials, webinars, and educational ebooks
  • Possible to create embeddable interactive maps

Cons:

  • Video downloads only possible on a paid plan

Visme is an easy-to-use online graphic design software that allows designers and non-designers alike to quickly create stunning infographics, presentations, or documents.

With thousands of professionally designed templates and millions of design assets like stock photos, icons, illustrations, data visualization tools, stock video clips, and more, users can create stunning visual content that helps them to stand out from the crowd.

Logo Design Tools

Logos seem simple, but creating one is a tough job that can sometimes take weeks or months of work. And if you're not a professional logo designer, hiring someone is to make one is going to be really expensive.

Thankfully, there are modern tools that help you create a logo that looks great and follow the best industry standards, in only a few minutes.

DesignEvo

Pricing:

  • Limited free version
  • From $24.99 per logo

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Lots of templates and icons to choose from

Cons:

  • Quite expensive

If you need to create a logo quickly and effortlessly, DesignEvo might be the perfect choice for you. It's a free online logo maker with 10,000+ templates that you can use and customize as you like.

Note that in order to download a high-resolution raster version of your logo you'll have to pay $24.99. And if you need a vector file (scalable, and thus reusable for different purposes), you'll have to pay twice that.

Looka

Pricing:

  • Subscription plans start at $4.99
  • A one-time purchase option, from $20 per logo

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Very smart and engaging logo generator
  • Flexible payment plans (both perpetual and subscription)

Cons:

  • The AI generator might limit creativity

Looka is another great choice for creating a logo. Just pick a few logo templates you like, choose your color scheme, add symbols, and their logo generator will design endless logo concepts using the power of artificial intelligence.

While Looka might be a perfect option for marketers or small business owners, it will be quite limiting for professional designers. If you feel that's the case, you can always purchase a ready-made logo concept from Looka and use a vector graphics tool to make your own tweaks.

Social Media Design Tools

When designing for social media, we usually don't need the advanced functionality that professional tools have to offer. What matters instead is how quickly and easily we can create graphics that people would enjoy seeing while scrolling through their feeds.

In this chapter we've listed some of the best available social media design tools. The choice is yours.

Canva

Pricing:

  • Free
  • Premium plans start at $12.95 per month

Available on:

  • Web
  • Desktop (Mac and Windows)

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Thousands of templates

Cons:

  • No advanced features
  • The free plan has limitations

Canva is indisputably the most popular image editing software among marketers and small business owners, and it’s not hard to see why. It has an incredibly easy to use interface, a free tier that comes with a lot of useful features, and can be used to make anything from Facebook Cover Photos to Instagram Stories.

In Canva you can layer images, colors, and create impressive typography in a myriad of ways. The resulting graphics look great in terms of quality, style, and proportions.

Pablo

Pricing:

  • Free

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Completely free
  • Doesn't require an account

Cons:

  • Very basic editing tools

Pablo is the fastest and easiest way to create images for social media posts. It’s free to use and you won’t even need to sign in to start creating inspirational quote images, blog post headers, testimonial posters, or social media covers.

DesignWizard

Pricing:

  • Free
  • Premium plans start at $9.99

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Simple interface
  • More affordable than many alternatives

Cons:

  • Video downloads only possible on a paid plan

DesignWizard allows you to easily create personalized images and videos optimized for social media and the web. The basic version is free, but you'd need to pay for the premium visuals, video templates, or if you want to upload your own assets.

RemoveBG

Pricing:

  • Free 1 credit
  • $.90 per image pay as you go plan

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Very simple to use

Cons:

  • Lots of free alternatives out there

Ever wanted to use a particular element of an image but remove the clutter or background around it? RemoveBG allows you to do just that in a matter of seconds. It’s completely automated, so you won’t have to do anything other than upload the photo you wish to remove the background from.

Collaboration Tools

Designers are no longer working in a silo. They're usually members of broader cross-functional teams and need adequate tools to speed up the communication. Below we'll cover a few essential workspace collaboration tools that you might use in your company.

ProofHub

Pricing:

  • Plans start at $45 per month

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Advanced collaboration and project management features
  • Might replace multiple apps

Cons:

  • No free plan

ProofHub is a fantastic online collaboration tool for graphic designers. You can proof, review and approve files, have real-time discussions, communicate using the online chat app, share files, manage file versions, organize notes, and do a lot more in one shared space.

Filestage

Pricing:

  • Plans start at $89 per month

Available on:

  • Web

Pros:

  • Simple file review workflow
  • Real-time collaboration

Cons:

  • No free plan

Filestage is perfect tool to review videos, images, and documents all in one tool. You can comment on files, collaborate in real-time, manage the versions, add branding, and export the comments.

Trello

Pricing:

  • Free plan
  • Premium plans start at $9.99 per user per month

Available on:

  • Web (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari)
  • Mobile (iOS and Android)
  • Desktop (Mac and Windows)

Pros:

  • Has a free plan
  • Simple and reliable

Cons:

  • Might be too basic for complex projects

Finally, if you're looking for a simple collaboration and project management tool, Trello is likely to be the best option. All the information is stored inside the cards, which are in turn arranged on a Kanban board. You can customize the look of the cards, add visual notes, upload files and images, and collaborate with your teammates in real-time.

Font & Color Tools

Fonts and colors are the basic building blocks of any design. And while it's always a good idea to rely on your taste and gut feeling, there are a few handy tools that might help you make even better choices.

Fontbase

Fontbase is a cross-platform font management system. You can organize the fonts on your laptop into collections, preview them adjusting the color or background, and experiment with styling.

Fontbase is free but comes with a premium subscription option, which includes features like advanced search, auto-activation, and advanced glyphs.

Befonts

The idea behind Befonts is quite simple - it’s a platform offering free fonts for creatives. Downloading fonts is easy and the members are encouraged to submit their own free fonts.

Fontspark & Colorspark

If you’re truly passionate about graphics, these two little apps might become irreplaceable in your toolbox. Fontspark helps designers discover and preview fonts, while Colorspark is all about - you guessed it - colors and gradients.

Stock Photos

There are many free stock photo platforms out there. Sometimes you just have to be persistent and check a couple of platforms before you find what you need.

Here are the major royalty-free images directories that we recommend:

  • Unsplash — probably the most popular and widely used stock images platform out there.
  • Pexels — another large and popular royalty-free photos directory.
  • Burst — free stock photos for websites and commercial use.
  • FoodiesFeed — thousands of beautiful food pictures.
  • Freestocks.org — high-quality photos all released under Creative Commons CC0.
  • New Old Stock — vintage free of copyright photos from the public archives.
  • Duotone — free duotone images.
  • LoremPixel — an API that serves stock photos at specified sizes.

Stock Icons & Illustrations

As a graphic designer, you can never have too many icons and illustrations to use in projects. It’s usually easier to modify pre-made assets instead of creating them from scratch. Check out these vector marketplaces:

  • Flaticon — 1593000+ vector icons in SVG, PSD, PNG, EPS formats.
  • Iconfinder — a marketplace for SVG vector icons.
  • Iconmonstr — another big stock directory.
  • Icons8 — SVG icons categorized by styles and trends.
  • Font Awesome — the web's most popular icon set and toolkit, also it's open source.
  • Iconscout — royalty-free icons and images from more than 400 contributors.

When choosing graphic design software, always go with the tools you feel most comfortable with. After all, you need them to fit into your workflow as snugly as possible if you want to produce your best work.

The creative software space is evolving fast, though, and new apps are popping up every month. And so do keep an eye out, or just bookmark this article - we're updating it regularly.

Try Paperform Now!

14 Day Free Trial, No CC Required

13 Types Of Surveys (And How To Use Them To Improve Your Business)

With so many kinds of surveys, it can be difficult to know which is right for you - this guide will help your business find the right option.

Jack Delaney

Survey Vs Questionnaire Vs Poll: What Are The Differences? (With Examples)

Wondering what the differences are between a survey, a questionnaire, and a poll? Allow us to explain.

Jack Delaney

How To Create An Incident Report (Best Practices & Templates)

Need to know how to create an incident report? Look no further.

Jack Delaney
}