What Apps Do You Need for Graphic Design?
There was a time when, if you wanted to do professional work on a Windows PC, then Adobe’s design apps were the only game in town. In the 2010s, however, all that started to change, with rival software companies upping their game. But Adobe, in turn, hasn’t taken this lying down; fighting back with both new features and brand new design apps.
In this post, we select – in no particular order – what we consider the best design apps for Windows on the market today, and explain how to choose between them.
Or if you’d like to flex your artistic muscles and get painting digitally, check out our guide to the best digital art software out there right now.
- Adobe Photoshop CC
First launched in February 1990, Photoshop is the grand old warhorse of the design industry. Although it was originally focused on image editing, it’s grown over the years into a sophisticated tool for graphic design in general.
Dominating the profession for the last three decades, Photoshop is undeniably the go-to software for design studios, and you’ll struggle get a job without knowing how to use it. If you’re a freelancer, of course, you have more scope for using other tools in your day to day, but it will probably be difficult to avoid it altogether.
Beyond that, though, is it any good? Well, you don’t stay on top in an ever-expanding industry for nothing, and Adobe has made strident efforts to update its tool to keep it relevant over the years, recently adding powerful 3D modelling and 3D printing capabilities, for example.
It’s also been made faster and more efficient in operation, and perhaps most significantly, the latest version contains small but important tweaks to speed up your workflow. To take one example, you are now able to undo multiple times simply by pressing Ctrl+Z, which might not sound revolutionary, but actually saves a lot of time in practice.
- Adobe Illustrator CC
First launched in 1987, Illustrator has been the natural companion to Photoshop for generations of illustrators and graphic designers, and it’s long been considered the standard vector drawing tool for the industry.
That dominance has started to fray quite a bit in recent years, though, with a rush of new rivals into the space.
As with Photoshop, this has been largely about price, and for those whom money is less important than efficiency, Illustrator remains a hugely powerful and versatile tool, that Adobe is constantly making efforts to improve further.
The latest version, for example, comes with a Freeform Gradients tool that makes it super-easy to create rich gradients, and a Global Editing feature that lets you simultaneously make changes across all instances of a similar object.
There’s also a smart cropping tool that automatically suggests crops based on AI, and the ability to customise your toolbar.
More broadly, the same issues that apply to Photoshop apply to Illustrator too. On the plus side, its industry ubiquity makes it a good tool to learn for your career, and the integration with the Creative Cloud as a whole can help make your workflow smooth and speedy. On the downside, well, there’s that monthly subscription.
- Affinity Photo
Just as Affinity Designer rivals Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Photo provides an alternative to Photoshop for image editing. And it’s a pretty familiar experience. Brushes, layers, masks, for example, are all treated in the same way as in Adobe’s tool.
Affinity Photo is not, however, a carbon copy of Photoshop by any means. Indeed, while some designers will complain that Affinity Photo doesn’t do everything that Photoshop does, that’s kind of missing the point.
If you’re looking for a fully fledged graphic design tool, then, you’ll be better off – as the name suggests – with Affinity Designer, which has pixel design capabilities alongside its range of vector tools. But for photo editing, Affinity Photo offers some excellent tools and capabilities, at a low price; and there’s a free trial option if you’d like to take it for a spin first.
- CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2019
First launched in 1987, Corel DRAW is a vector-based illustration tool that’s mainly focused on Windows (although in 2019 it did finally launch on Mac OS).
It’s difficult to recommend it over Adobe Illustrator for features, while Affinity Designer easily beats it on value for money. But Corel DRAW continues to be popular amongst everyone from artists to graphic designers, so its makers are clearly doing something right.
Other cool features in Corel DRAW include Colour Harmony, which lets you change the look of an object from one group of complementary colours to another; Pointiliser, which lets you create vector mosaics; and the way that every layer is represented with a thumbnail representation of the shape in question.
- Adobe InDesign
Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator were pioneers in their respective fields of image editing and vector graphics. But when InDesign arrived on the scene in 1999, it was somewhat late to the party. The market for desktop publishing software at that time was dominated by QuarkXpress. But InDesign quickly took over, largely because of its lower price.
For two decades now, InDesign has been the undisputed king of print publishing, and has evolved over the years to include some pretty nifty digital publishing features too. The main recent innovations have been small but important ones, such as support for endnotes and better font filtering, as well as better integration with the Creative Cloud.
- Adobe XD
As we mentioned earlier, the launch of Sketch has been the biggest challenge to Adobe’s dominance in this decade, and it was inevitable that they would develop a competitor. That eventually became Adobe XD, which launched in 2016, and remains to this day delightfully free.
Dedicated to making it easy for designers to prototype apps and websites, XD was a powerful tool on launch, and Adobe has continued to add newer and better features on a regular basis. Which is good news for Windows users, because not only has Sketch not developed a Windows version, it’s specifically ruled out doing so.