Free Drawing and Graphic Design Programs

Category: Software

Buying a drawing or graphic design program makes sense if you draw or design graphics for a living. But for most of us, the need for such software comes seldom, and paying hundreds for a dust-collecting program is not very smart. Fortunately, there are plenty of good, free drawing/graphic design programs available to help you create a logo, brochure or website image. Here are some of the best...

Free Graphic Design Software

Microsoft Paint has been included as a freebie drawing and graphics editor in Windows since Version 1.0 in 1985. That's the good news. The bad news is that the program hasn't changed much since then. You can make shapes, draw freehand with your mouse, add text, then crop, resize or rotate. Mac Paint for Apple computers was abandoned in 1988.

Fortunately, there are plenty of good, free alternatives to commercial graphics tools such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Here are some of the best that I've come across. You'll find options that can be installed on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer. Others run right in your web browser, and don't care which operating system you have.

SVG-Edit is a vector graphics editor that’s good for drawing scalable 2-dimensional objects. It works in your Web browser, using the latest WWW standards including HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. Use it as an alternative to Adobe Illustrator, which costs over $400 as a shrink-wrapped package, or $30/month as a service provided by Adobe. SVG-Edit requires no download, and because it’s open-source, you can even modify SVG-Edit’s code to work the way you want it.

Free Drawing and Graphics Software

DrawPlus Starter Edition by Serif is not limited to SVG file formats and 2D drawing, but it runs only under Windows. It’s more novice-oriented than SVG-Edit, but a powerful graphics editor none the less. Most of Adobe Illustrator’s funtionalities are repeated in DrawPlus, and the user interface is quite intuitive. You can quickly convert an object to 3D via extrusion, apply a wide range of 3D styles, or draw your own bevel profile that's instantly applied to your object. If you don’t know what all that means, relax; you can “just draw” with ease in DrawPlus.

Microsoft Expression Design is a vector drawing program (as opposed to bit-mapped painting). It used to be a paid product, but MS abandoned support in 2012 and made it free.

More Free Graphics Software

If you're looking for a free photo editor that can be used to touch up your photos, see my article 10 Free Online Photo Editors. You can crop, rotate, sharpen, add borders or apply special effects using only your web browser -- no need to download or install anything. Open files from your hard drive or the Web, and save files to local or social media sites.

GIMP - the GNU Image Manipulation Program began as a Linux product and now also runs under Windows and Mac OS. GIMP closely imitates Adobe Photoshop, making it easier to transition from Photoshop to GIMP. All the advanced Photoshop features you’re looking for are in GIMP, including layers, painting tools, color correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement.

For 3D creation, try Daz 3D Following the built-in tutorials, you can learn how to buidl animated 3D figures easily and quickly. Who knows, you could be making money as a game designer a year from now!

Blender is the world’s most popular open-source 3D creation program. Available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, Blender enables self-taught students to create 3D figures, virtual environments, and more without buying expensive software. It comes with tutorials that help you get started quickly.

The art of digital sculpting involves taking bits away from a virtual object, leaving only the nose-twitching bunny you just knew was in there. Sculptris from Pixologic is a great starting point for rookies or a fast, handy tool for experienced artists. It runs under Mac and Windows.

Houdini Apprentice is the free-for-non-commercial-use version of the very popular Houdini 3D animation and visual effects tool. A product of Side Effects Software, commercial versions of Houdini start at $2,000. But the developers have made a full-featured “light” version available free of charge.

What's your go-to solution when you need to create or modify a graphic design? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Free Drawing and Graphic Design Programs"

Posted by:

30 Jun 2016

Do any of these programs directly open, edit, and save PDF graphics files? My most pressing need at the moment is to open an existing file for a book cover and modify it for publication. (I am not a graphic artist, and didn't make the original, but it has fallen to me to make a few changes for a new edition.)

I have tried to use GIMP in the past - but only briefly, and not long enough to master the learning curve.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2016

There is still a free version of SketchUp available at for non-business use. It is powerful and has a great library of things to put in drawings, but I find it takes some practice to use.

Posted by:

Walter T
30 Jun 2016

The vector-graphics program that I use is InkScape, which is open-source software available at It can import and export a variety of file formats, but it uses SVG as its "native" data format.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2016 is a good alternative to Microsoft Paint.

Dan might want to just re-create that cover from scratch.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2016

An excellent new free 3D modeling and CAD software is OnShape. Fully browser based but not lacking in features or capabilities, and a very comprehensive iOS app is also available.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2016

I have been using Cad programs since 1992 professionally.
Mostly Autocad by Autodesk, Architectual cad programs. I own AutoCad 2014 Ultra as well as 2013, 2011 etc going back to Acad11.
I recommend DoubleCad 2D, which I also use at times.
DoubleCad 2D is free from TurboCad. It is a clone of Autocad. It is excellent as a stand alone drafting program. And it will open any cad file and that file can be saved as a Acad .dwg file, which I find useful.

Posted by:

John Silberman
30 Jun 2016

Ifranview has always been my favorite.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2016

Another vote for

Posted by:

Ed Eastman
01 Jul 2016

I was surprised you overlooked While Windows only, it is a remarkably easy to use layered graphics program that is my go-to for everything from adjusting pictures to drawing you are here maps for my work place. It has an API that folks have programmed numerous tools for doing design effects. It is compeable to gimp without the learning curve if you can use me paint. Thanks -Ed

Posted by:

Pat C.
02 Jul 2016

I can't draw worth half a hoot; I know, I've tried for years - no formal education but my imagination outruns my sad lack of ability. No problem, gentle beings, I'm happy with my imagination.

Posted by:

02 Jul 2016

Dan, I suggest you try opening your pdf file with Inkscape. What you do next really depends on what the file contains - text, vector graphics and/or bitmaps.

Bob, I'm a bit surprised you didn't mention Inkscape. Any particular reason?

Posted by:

02 Jul 2016

Three graphic artists (employed!), at widely different times, have each recommended GIMP. But it had too many features and, thus, a really-really steep learning curve. By chance I found, and it's also a smaller version of GIMP. I've been learning its many applications for the last 4 years and still love it! (>All

Posted by:

04 Jul 2016

I believe that Libre Office can open at least some PDF files for editing. Adobe does have software that makes files called PDF that are actually incompatible with some programs, and some graphics PDF files are just an image wrapped in the PDF format.

Posted by:

Bob Milligan
04 Jul 2016

There is a program called Free CAD and it is very good.

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