Essential Software For Artists & Designers

At we are committed to helping our users find the best photo editing and graphic design software to suit their needs. There are enough choices out there to make your head spin; believe us, we know, we’ve looked at all of them too. In the hopes of saving you some time, and maybe even some money, we have compiled a brief list of the essential software that artists and designers need to stay competitive, as well as some free alternatives to these popular programs.

Image Editing Software

Photoshop CS6

While Photoshop Creative Cloud is the emerging new version, this final pre-cloud installment of Photoshop will most likely still be able to do anything you need it to do, and should be able to do so for the foreseeable future. Photoshop has been the gold standard in photo editing tools since the 80s, and should continue to be for years to come.


For users who want advanced photo editing capabilities, but can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on software like Photoshop, GIMP is as close to a free version of Photoshop as you’ll find. Since it is open-source software, GIMP is supported by a huge community of users who help develop new tools to keep it current, and with a wealth of add-ons, you can customize your setup for whatever features you use most.

Design Software

Adobe Illustrator CC

Unlike with Photoshop, we feel there is a case to be made for the Creative Cloud version of Illustrator, even with its monthly membership fee. It seems that there are new developments coming down the pipeline for Illustrator frequently, and a Creative Cloud account allows you to take the most advantage of that.


If you need to create scalable vector graphics (SVG) but don’t want to spend between twenty and fifty dollars a month, Inkscape holds its own against Adobe’s powerhouse. Feature-for-feature, Inkscape provides all the necessary capabilities to create graphics, logos, and other design work. Especially if you are just starting out or freelancing, Inkscape is an excellent free alternative to the industry standard.

3D Animation Software

3DS Max

It’s not often that we describe a product in such gushing terms, but 3DS Max can only be described as “dauntingly good”. It is the hands-down best 3D animation and imaging software on the market today. It has been the industry leader for over 20 years now, and it does nearly everything you could ever think of. The big drawback is the price: a monthly pass is $185/month, or to buy the full program you will pay $3675.


There is no way other software can offer the comprehensive features and tools that 3DS Max does, but for users wanting to create 3D animation and images without spending thousands of dollars, Blender is a very viable free option. It can handle photorealistic rendering, fast modelling, full-featured simulation presets, and also has a built-in compositor. It may never offer the features of its pricey competitors, but unless you can truly justify the price tag for 3DS Max, this alternative will put out a dazzling end product.