Edited by Pat Bitton
January 3, 2020
The Best Free Drawing Software for Windows and Mac in 2020
Digital art is fun and rewarding. Some of the biggest names in commercial drawing programs are quite costly though. In this post, we'll take a look at some of the best free drawing software for Windows and Mac.
Best Free Drawing Programs
This list of the best free drawing programs is presented in no particular order and all of them are worth trying. Each has strengths and weaknesses, as well as interface differences that appeal to different types of people. Since they are free, you can try all of the ones that you feel may appeal to you and find the best free drawing software for your needs.
This is a formerly commercial product by Autodesk that was recently made free. Autodesk is a leader in computer graphics software, so you know that SketchBook has an impressive pedigree. The fact that it was previously commercial software also gives you an idea of the quality that awaits you with this program. SketchBook works flawlessly with Autodesk's other software and can also save and load Photoshop PSD files so you can work interchangeably with the world's most popular 2D drawing program.
SketchBook is free but requires a free Autodesk account in order to continue using it. The software is available for PC and Mac as well as a mobile app on iOS and Android. The mobile version allows you to use your device's camera to snap pictures to use as a backdrop for tracing or other artistic purposes.
Developed as part of the free software group, the GNU Project, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) was first developed in 1995 and released to the public in 1996. Originally it served as the answer to Photoshop on UNIX platforms where Photoshop wasn't available. Today, GIMP is also available on Mac and Windows and remains a very close competitor, feature-wise, to Photoshop. Although it lacks some of the more advanced features of the Adobe product, it is free and highly capable. GIMP can load and save PSD files, although some Photoshop features are not supported and will not load correctly.
Having been around for a few decades, there are plenty of user tutorials around so that you can get up to speed quickly with GIMP. The user community is large so finding help if you get stuck while learning is easy. Because it is part of the GNU Project, GIMP is open-source software.
Like GIMP, Krita is open-source software. Unlike GIMP, it has not been around for decades. This allows Krita to have a fresh approach to its digital painting workflow and interface. Krita also focuses very heavily on actual digital painting. It has a wide variety of brush engines that allow you to mimic the results of real-life drawing tools. You'll be able to draw with pens, watercolors, markers, and more in order to transition your real-world pen and paper skins into digital in a much more intuitive way.
Krita is available for free on PC, Mac, and Linux. A paid version is available for $9.99 on Steam and the Windows Marketplace for those who would like to financially support the developers. The paid version does not offer any features that are not available in the free version.
Everyone is familiar with the infamous Microsoft Paint, which has been around for almost as long as Microsoft Windows has. Microsoft Paint doesn't really have a great reputation, because it is so basic and has very little in common with actual painting. Fresh Paint, also made by Microsoft, is like Microsoft Paint's bigger, and much more capable, brother.
Like Krita, Fresh Paint offers an experience that is meant to mimic the physical art of painting. In fact, Fresh Paint began life as a research project by Microsoft on how to simulate the physics of paint in digital software. The wide variety of brushes will allow you to experience many virtual art mediums besides just painting. You can use watercolors, oil, paint, pastels or pens to craft an image just like you would on paper or canvas. Fresh Paint is also great for the kids, as it has a set of coloring pages available that turn the painting program into a virtual coloring book. When you are done, Fresh Paint makes it easy to share your art online with your friends and family.
Because it is a Microsoft product, Fresh Paint is only available on Microsoft Windows.
Until now, we've been discussing raster graphics programs. Raster graphics are saved in such a way that the pixels are static. This means that scaling up a raster image will result in a pixelated, often ugly, mess. The alternative to raster graphics is vector graphics. At the expense of a little detail, vector graphics allow you to scale them up to any size without losing fidelity. This is because vector graphics store their images as mathematical equations rather than as a set of pixels.
The most popular commercial vector drawing program is Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape is a free and open-source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape has been around a while and as such has an impressive amount of features. Just as the raster software above supported the industry-standard raster format, PSD, Inkscape supports the industry-standard vector format of SVG.
Inkscape is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
This software is still in beta, so it is very new to the scene and additional features are still being added. The developers have already done an impressive job providing something that can keep up with the more established competition. One of the things that they have focused on is keeping Leonardo running quickly. It starts up quickly and saves your files quickly so that you can work as efficiently as possible without spending a lot of time waiting on the computer to finish doing something.
Perspective is one of the hardest things for beginning artists to get right. Leonardo's perspective helpers will give you guidelines to ensure that your art always follows the proper perspective. This is great for more established artists too, but beginners will really benefit from it as they get their heads around how perspective works in a range of different situations.
At the time of this writing, Leonardo is only available for Windows platforms, however, a version for Apple computers is in the works. Mac users can sign up on the software's download page to be notified when the software is available for their system.
If you need a higher-quality set of features without breaking the bank, consider Movavi Photo Editor. Although it isn't free, there is a free trial that you can download now and the software offers great features at an affordable price. This is because the goal of Movavi Photo Editor is to be as effortless to use as possible so that you can worry less about learning new software and more about creating great art. Movavi Photo Editor is available for Windows and Mac computers.
Movavi Photo Editor
The easiest way to turn any snapshot into an eye candy
- Improve quality and retouch blemishes
- Add effects and filters
- Crop, straighten, and flip pictures
- Change image backgrounds and remove objects