Artists and illustrators have a new super-tool in their arsenal - Drawing Apps. Tech-savvy creatives are making the switch from paper to digital and reaping the benefits that drawing apps and art apps offer - powerful drawing tools, special effects, the ability to create vectors or raster images, and even 3D models.
There are a ton of drawing apps, art apps, painting apps, and sketch apps available now to creatives, each with their own USP. Some excel in vector drawings, others in graphic illustrations. There are dedicated apps for image manipulation, mimicking hand drawing, and 3d modeling. While several apps come only in paid versions, there are plenty of free drawing apps available as well.
What are the best drawing apps?
Here is a list of the best drawing apps and art apps in 2021 to express your ideas as digital art.
No list of creative apps would be complete without listing offerings from Adobe. Adobe has led the pack for decades, and Adobe Photoshop is still the professional's choice for raster art creation. Photoshop is one of the best drawing apps for Mac and PC; they also provide accessory apps for mobile devices and tablets.
The biggest drawback of Adobe’s offerings, especially for beginners, is that you now must purchase a subscription to use these apps. For established pros with stable cash flow, this presents a little problem, but for aspiring amateurs and beginners, there are plenty of apps that offer good functionality at a fraction of the cost.
If you’re looking for an app that combines the ease and simplicity of drawing on your mobile device with the power of Adobe Photoshop, check out Photoshop Sketch. When combined with your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, Photoshop Sketch allows you to fine-tune images created on your tablet later on your computer.
Just as Photoshop is the industry standard for raster pictures, Illustrator is the go-to for vector art. Illustrator is used to creating everything from basic graphic design tasks like logos to elaborate and beautiful landscapes and portrait photos. With a little practice, you can make nearly anything into a vector in Illustrator.
Similar to Photoshop Sketch, but for vector drawing, Illustrator Draw allows you to create vector drawings on the go easily. You can then save them to your creative cloud account and fine-tune them in the full program later. Both Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw are free downloads, but if you want to export the images for later editing, you’ll need a Creative Cloud subscription.
Sketchbook from Autodesk is one of the most robust raster drawing programs you will find. Compared to Photoshop, Sketch is a purpose-built platform for artists on the go. It’s not meant for photo editing or other tasks, so the program focuses on just what you need to draw on your tablet easily. The program is available for Macs, PCs, iOS, and Android devices. Unlike many apps that stick to proprietary or generic formats, Sketchbook conveniently has the option to export to Photoshop PSD format with layers intact. The best part? Autodesk has now released the full-featured drawing program for free.
The Astropad Studio is a different sort of app that can be a great help to folks looking to create digital drawings. For Mac and iPad users, Studio allows you to connect your iPad wirelessly to your desktop and use it as if it were a drawing tablet. The interface is pretty smooth, but make sure you have a clean system with plenty of free memory to avoid lag. You’ll also want a great stylus like the Apple Pencil.
The Affinity set of art apps is poised to take a significant bite out of Adobe’s market share. These programs are full-featured to the point of having things you have to buy aftermarket in Adobe. Designer is Affinity’s answer to Illustrator. It is a desktop vector art program with every feature you could ever want. Designer is available for Mac desktop or iPad.
Affinity is also ready to answer your raster art needs. Photo by Affinity is analogous to Photoshop. Its user interface is a bit smoother, however, with cleaver skin changes based on the type of task you’re looking to complete.
Both Affinity apps are inexpensive when compared to Photoshop and Illustrator. If you’re looking for a great program to learn photo editing or raster drawing with, look no further than Photo and Photo for iPad.
For all the painters out there, Inspire Pro turns your iPad into the ultimate painting canvas. This is one of those simple raster drawing apps that can produce some really fantastic artwork thanks to super realistic brushes and massive canvas sizes. You can download Inspire Pro from the Apple App Store.
A few key features make Medibang’s apps the best drawing app for some artists. The app is available on any platform you can think of, from Windows and Mac desktops to Apple and Android tablets. They all have a cloud feature, which allows you to easily store, share, and open your work from any device. This is one of the free drawing apps you really should check out if you want to start drawing today easily and cheaply.
Procreate is an iOS-only app designed to fully harness the power of Apple’s popular iPad Pro and Apple Pencil combination. More than just a drawing app, Procreate combines many of the powerful tools you’d expect to find in a much more robust program like Photoshop. Layers, custom brushes, and all sorts of special effects are available on your tablet. You can export images, with intact layers, straight to PSD format to open in Photoshop. For on-the-go art, check out their iPhone version as well.
Zen Brush is a simple ink brush app for mobile devices. Of the drawing apps for free, it’s super inexpensive and fun to use, but it is pretty limited. But then, ink and paper are pretty limited too, but that hasn’t stopped artists from making amazing artworks with them for the last thousand years.
Pixelmator Pro is a Mac OS app that combines many features and functions of other apps all into one tidy app. Pixelmator features many of the best features for drawing and the standard photo editing functions of other editors. It also features a "layouting" mode for publishing and graphic design work. Their iOS app for mobile is really more of a photo editor rather than an art app.
Those in the graphic design world know that there’s a lot more to digital art creation beyond hand sketching. Illustrator and other vector programs use shapes to “assemble” designs, and this is the idea beyond the Assembly app. By simplifying this process, the app allows users to create logos and design elements with ease quickly. Assembly is made for iOS devices.
Formerly iDraw, Graphic is a full-featured vector design program for Mac, iPhone, or iPad. The program has all of the features of its more popular competitors, and it allows for the creation of anything from portraits to technical layout and CAD style drawings.
Inkist is a super basic drawing app that is available for Mac computers and iOS devices. The mobile app is currently free. It’s not flashy, but it has all the right features to make your artwork pop.
Luckyclan’s ArtStudio is a full-featured raster art app for iPad or iPhone. It features multiple canvas sizes, layers with masks, over 400 brushes, unlimited undo/redo, and even over 40 filters.
Rizer’s Pixaki has a bit of a limited audience, but if you’re into pixel art, you’re going to love it. Export your creations to GIFs and other simple animation formations. The program can open and save to all the popular formats, including Photoshop, PNGs, and ZIP archives. Start with a sketch or photo, and soon you are rocking it retro style like it’s 1990.
Available on Google Play for Android tablets, Painter is a user-friendly drawing app that you’ll love. Organized workflows make navigating the screen easy and keep the workspace less cluttered. Powerful tools like 3D rendering and over 80 brushes make this one of the best full-featured art apps for Android devices.
If you’re looking for great drawing apps that can work on nearly any computer or tablet, you’ve got to check out ArtRage. ArtRage is available in multiple versions, including their free drawing apps called ArtRage Lite for Windows and Mac computers. This program and a loyal following of users, with many fantastic tutorials and inspiration available from other artists.
The Concepts App is an interesting program aimed at professional designers that work on Apple, Windows, and Google devices. It uses vector drawings to store ideas; it is very much like a pocket notebook that has gone entirely digital. From brainstorm to “exploring happy accidents,” as the company puts it, to rendering captivating color illustrations and sharing them with the built-in presentation mode, Concepts has your creative brain covered.
If drawing comics is your beat, Comic Draw is worth checking out. The app is tailor-made for creating single-panel cartoons on your mobile device. You can pair it with the company’s Comic Life app for desktop on either Windows or Mac. Put your frames together into a full-featured comic spread with these art apps.
If you’re looking for a doodle and sketchbook app to collate your ideas and let your creativity go on a walkabout, you’ll love this app. One of the best free drawing apps we know of, it's super simple and yet powerful. With a simple toolset and a blank page, let your mind go creative on Paper.
Available for Mac desktop, iOS mobile devices, and Android, Tayasui’s Sketches app is an artist favorite for many reasons. The user interface and app functions are some of the smoothest on the list. The clean look of the sketch space can’t be beaten. Color blending and gradient tools, along with patterns and the most realistic brushes you can find, round out this fantastic app. Not many free drawing apps offer so many great features. If you really like what you see inside of Sketches, there is an upgraded Pro version available with even more brushes and tools. The community is an excellent source of both advice and examples.
As the name suggests, one of the best parts of Sketch Club is the club. The first rule of sketch club: everyone talks about Sketch Club. Combining social media inside the app, you can share your creations and comment on others. Who doesn’t love browsing an art gallery on your tablet? The community features daily themed challenges and lots of featured artists whose works you can browse for inspiration. The Sketch Club app is available for Apple iOS in the App Store.
If your Android tablet isn't feeling the love with all of these iPad apps in the running, don't lose heart. Artflow is a beautiful drawing app for Android that features a clean user interface and lots of pro features like layers and custom brushes. It is the perfect drawing and painting app to create paint your dream.
Art Set app for Ipad features tools that look very similar to ones in real life. Art Set 4 is the redesigned and upgraded version of Art Set with more advanced tools for digital painting. This paint program now also has a 3D paint feature along with a workspace that adjusts according to your needs. Although it is a free drawing app for iPad, the pro version gives a ton of features that are essential like setting canvas size of any resolution, auto backup, layers, and 150 more brushes than the free version.
This app also features pastel tools which give the feel of real pastels. You can also blend colors on the app using your fingers. iPastels is a free drawing app which is especially useful when you want something to improve your skills when you are in the early stages of your learning. This iPad Pro drawing app has features like layers, apple pencil support, high accuracy which is done by "floating point accuracy." The blending of pastels also can be done without much effort in this art drawing app. One unique feature of this easy drawing app is that you can show the pictures as tiles alongside each other; this feature is called the seamless pattern editing mode. Don't have an iPad? Don't worry, iPastels is also a drawing app for the iPhone.
Brushes Redux is a free open source painting app which is used both on iPad and iPhone and the work syncs between the two. Other features of this iOS app are the ability to autosave, unlimited undo and redo, adding layers among others. This digital drawing app is quick and easy to use with OpenGL based painting engine and offers 64-bit paint. On their 3.2 version of the app, they are now providing experimental apple pencil support and started the iTunes file sharing option.
If you are looking for an iPad drawing app that has dedicated tools to create manga and comics, this might be the perfect app for you. Not only this, but you can also do illustration, drawing, and painting on this art app. To get six months free subscription a user has to sign up for the EX version of the app. This online drawing app is specially designed for professionals as it has a different exporting option like a movie or animated GIF's, it supports apple pencil, and Wacom bamboo sketch. One can draw moving illustrations as well in this drawing app for iPad.
An award-winning app, uMake is an iPad Pro drawing app for 3D design. Its website claims that uMake is the first 3D design app created for iPad. This 3D modeling and design app gives the features of desktop CAD software on the iPad. An excellent tool for those who are learning 3D modeling and the ability to do so on iPad opens the door for more creative work on the go. They also provide video tutorials on different topics so that it gets easier to learn how to use the app and to create desired results. Some of their best features are 3D tools to pull and push, augmented reality features, and complex surface creation making it one of the best drawing apps for iPad pro. They offer a 14-day trial and then you can subscribe monthly, quarterly, or yearly based on your requirement.
This android drawing app is suitable for those who want to learn drawing or painting. It has a feature called basemap which helps a user to set a photo as translucent and draw over it. This Android painting app is very similar to someone tracing on a paper and drawing over the original. This free app is suitable is more amateurs and has additional features on the pro version which can is through in-app purchases.
ibis Paint is the of the best drawing apps for Android out there. It has some unique features like recording your drawing as video, and SNS features where you can see and learn from videos other users have made. Other features like fast open GL technology, 142 brushes, 37 filters, and 700 fonts makes it an obvious choice for people looking for an android drawing app with lots of plus points. Apart from this, there are separate features for those artists who are interested in creating manga. To get more features like lesser ads, additional fonts, and materials, gradation map filter, etc. one has to purchase through in-app purchases.
Dotpict drawing free app is available on Android, iPhone, and iPad. This drawing app is only designed to create pixel art. Some features of the dotpict app are different sharing and exporting options, zoom of canvas to see fine details, and display of grids among others.
As the name says, RoughAnimator is used to create animations. RoughAnimator drawing app lets you create hand-drawn frame by frame animations on multiple kinds of devices like Android, iOS, and desktop as well. This animation app offers essential features like unlimited layers, onion skinning, audio, and video import, apple pencil and Wacom stylus support, and more but at a price. What better way to start learning animation on your mobile?
Sketch by Sony is a simple Android and iOS sketching app in which brushes and other tools are used to create digital art. The drawing can be done using a finger or a stylus, and the user can create layers in this application. Sony has provided a big community in this app where people can explore other works and showcase their work as well. One can also personalize their feed and collaborate with other artists to create new work. The in-app purchases can access some additional features.
Pigment describes itself as adult coloring app, but it looks like kids will also have a lot of fun with it. It is an app to color already drawn pages by professionals and many exclusively by Disney. There are more than 4000 pages to choose from and its drawing tools like pencils, markers, and paintbrushes give you the feeling like you are using natural colors and tools. There are unlimited colors to choose from the color wheel, sounds fun right? To get features like premium brushes and the entire library you have to subscribe to the premium version.
Hexagon is a software for creating 3D models. It has all the tools a graphic artist would need. Some of the outstanding features are DAZ Studio Bridge, freehand modeling brushes, micro displacement modeling tools, comprehensive UV mapping modules, and more. In Hexagon, you can see real-time shadows and instant ambient occlusion. With this modeling software, you can create 3D models for game development in high quality.
An excellent platform for someone who wants to make a foray into the world of 3D drawing. With Sculptris, you can create base models which can then be refined in other software like ZBrush. The 3D software can locally redefine the internal structure of the model you are working with. Sculptris has tools that will make you feel like you are working with real clay. You can also paint a wrapped texture on the mesh surface with this software. (Please note that sculptris was last updated in 2011 and may not function in newer systems)
Blender is an open-source, free 3D software, which supports modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, composition, and motion tracking, editing video, and 2D animation pipeline. Developed by experts from multiple fields around the world, Blender has a built-in powerful path-trace engine that offers real results. It has advanced sculpting and other tools through which you can create and transform the models with ease. Blender has a flexible interface in which you can adjust the layout, colors, fonts, etc. There are a lot of add-ons created by users that can be used by anyone using the software.
ZBrush is one of the best software for digital sculpting. With the customizable brushes, you can create shapes, textures, and paint virtual clay. The advanced tools offered by ZBrush is the same as the tools used by designers and artists worldwide. The software has a Non-Photorealistic Rendering (NPR), which enables you to see the artwork in a whole new way. You can convert the 3D artwork into 2D drawing and transfer the sculpted artwork into a comic book. Through ZBrush, you can add overlaying textures, draw outlines, and apply various effects from built-in presets.
Krita is an open-source painting program, made by artists to provide affordable art tools. This free painting app can be used to create conceptual art, texture and matte, illustration, and comics. Krita, designed for both amateurs and professionals, provides an intuitive interface. This interface can be customized according to your workflow. The dynamic brush tool in Krita can be used to create drag and mass and you can smoothen and stabilize your brush strokes. There are more than nine different brush engines like color smudge engine, shape engine and more through which you can customize your brushes, to suit specific requirements.
Aseprite is a program through which you can create 2D animations. Through this program, you can also create sprites, pixel art, retro-style graphics, and everything related to the 8-bit and 16-bit era. Aseptrite can work on Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu. The program can organize layers, create animations, and custom brushes. The work can be saved in GIF, PNG, and JSON format.
Hexels is a grid-based painting, animation, and design program. With Hexels, you can create complex designs and stunning drawings. With the combination of digital art tools and geometric grid, through which you can paint in free form with the precision of vector art. Powerful software for a pixel artist who can keep track of the colors and gradients with the palette. The canvas can be turned into animation, and a sprite sheet can also be exported easily. This program can be used on Windows as well as Mac devices.
Started in 2014, My Paint is an easy-to-use tool for digital artists. My Paint supports graphic tablets by Wacom and similar devices. Due to its versatile and easily configurable brush engine and productive tools, you can create great artwork.
Corel Painter Mobile is a powerful tool for creators that allows them to paint when a moment of artistic inspiration strikes. It allows artists to paint, trace from scratch and easily color in images.
Things to consider when choosing a drawing app:
If you're serious about taking up digital drawing, consider your hardware choices carefully. Ideally, you'll want to sample the exact tablet and computer setup with the stylus of your choice. In short, some are glitchier than others, and creating art requires more finesse than some can deliver.
If possible, consider a tablet with a stylus made by the same manufacturer, for example, the Apple iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. This ensures the two pair perfectly for the smoothest possible drawing experience. Do check out our list of the best Drawing tablets for Graphics, Art, and Illustration.
Also, look for pressure sensitivity. Different styluses handle the task differently. The feedback provided with pressure sensitivity adds an extra realism that makes drawing on your tablet as close to analog pencil and paper as you can imagine.
As with all apps, be sure to check the operating system used by the app of your choice. The most popular platforms are Windows, macOS, Apple iOS, and Android, and unfortunately, very few apps work on all of them.
Raster vs. Vector Drawing Apps
In the digital world, there are two sorts of images you can draw. Raster images, like JPG or PNG photographs, are drawn pixel by pixel. If you zoom in or enlarge the picture, it will get blurrier and blurrier if it exceeds the pixel size of the image. Think of this as drawing on paper, and you are limited by how large your paper is. You cannot expand the paper size like you cannot expand the pixels. Drawing a raster image is as simple and reasonably intuitive, depending on the app.
Vector drawings solve this problem but unfortunately, add much more complexity. Vector images, like AI or EPS formats, are the world standard in the printing industry. These pictures are made more like computer programs than photographs. In vector drawing applications, you make many paths (lines or shapes) that make up your image. It takes a bit more practice. Some vector apps make the process super simple, but the professional programs with all the bells and whistles take a bit of getting used to.
No discussion of online drawing apps would be complete without a word about three-dimensional drawing apps. If you're looking to create 3D modeling or going for that other-worldly feel that is everywhere, you'll want to make sure to pick the best drawing app that is capable of producing 3D images too. And don't feel left out if you got your drawing apps for free, some of these include 3D rendering also!
Now that you have an idea of how many free drawing apps are out there to choose from, you may feel a bit taken back. But remember, the most fun part of finding the best canvas for your project of choice is the adventure of trying them all out! So which do you think is the best drawing app?
Disclaimer: The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the final product. All images are copyright to their respective owners.
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