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Best Graphic Design Software for 2021

As graphic designers, we’re obsessed with shortcuts and methods that make our creative problem-solving jobs easier and more efficient. Ensuring you’re using the best software can make all the difference, but which graphic design software is the right one for you?

Fortunately, Graphic Designers are spoilt for choice with software to select from. However, it’s important to remember that creating artwork for different purposes may require specific software, from vector-based and photo editing programmes, to video editing and specialist publishing software. It’s all about having the right tool for the job.

But don’t worry – we’ve compiled a list of the best graphic design software of 2021, including the pros and cons of each as well as the skill level required, so no matter how advanced you are, you can be sure to find a software that works for you.

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is the alpha of graphic design software. Initially released in 1990, Photoshop quickly became the desired software for photo editing, image manipulation and retouching numerous images. The chances are that if you’re interested in graphic design software, you’ve more than likely came across Photoshop. Image cropping, colour adjusting, layer masking and product mock-ups are just a few examples of the potential techniques. Although the software does have the capability to create logos and other branding material, it’s important to remember the software is based on pixels and not vectors.

With a limitless skill boundary, Photoshop is a fantastic software to begin your graphic design journey.

Used most for: Photo Editing

Skill level required: Beginner

Pros:

  • • Vast selection of design tools
  • • Endless skill boundary
  • • Large library of tutorials available for free online

Cons:

  • • Confusing interface if new to Adobe
  • • Pixel-based rather than vector
  • • Costly subscription (not a free software)

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is all about vector design. Illustrator and Photoshop share a number of similarities; both being developed by American multinational software company Adobe. This, in turn, makes integration from Photoshop to Illustrator somewhat easier. Illustrator gives you a platform to create stunning, vector artwork which ranges from logos, typography, iconography and digital illustrative sketches. Unique tools such as Illustrator’s pathfinder and shape builder tool allow for beautiful vector creations, as well as an endless list of fonts and glyphs for completely customisable type work.

Although Illustrator is a more complex software to learn, the ability to produce stunning vector designs with such attention to detail makes it all worthwhile.

Used most for: Vector Designs

Skill level required: Intermediate

Pros:

  • • Similar interface to Adobe Photoshop
  • • Perfect for Vector exports
  • • Available on tablets (Adobe App)

Cons:

  • • Difficult to learn
  • • Costly subscription (not a free software)

Canva

Canva is a great online resource for those who don’t want to dive into the deep depths of graphic design software, but rather blissfully dip their feet in at the shallow end. It has become a go-to tool for avid social media users from influencers to bloggers – and best of all – you can use Canva for free!

Canva is always updating. Time slashing shortcuts such as the remove background tool and Canvas own auto-animate are just a few of the features you can use. You can also upgrade to Canva’s Pro version which includes access to more advanced features, and a vast catalogue of design templates that your grandparents could figure out.

Used most for: Online Design

Skill level required: Beginner

Pros:

  • • Free Online Resource
  • • Can export vector designs
  • • A vast catalogue of templates (250,000+ free)

Cons:

  • • Limited design tools
  • • Canva Pro requires a monthly subscription

Adobe XD

Adobe XD is an innovative prototyping software that is becoming a hugely valuable asset to possess in your graphic designer’s arsenal. Web and App design is a rapidly growing industry, so learning a prototyping tool with the creative prowess of Adobe XD can be hugely beneficial.

Adobe XD is centred around UX and UI design, and has features and a layout that is similar to that of other Adobe software such as Illustrator and Photoshop. The dieted approach to Adobe XD removes the bulk of unnecessary design features, and leaves you with a slimline, clean and user-friendly UX and UI prototyping programme. It works hand in hand with Adobe Illustrator, so any complex vector designs you design can easily be CTRL+C/CTRL+V into XD, and then further edited. Illustrator isn’t the only software in which XD works accordingly, with software such as Zeplin and Figma allowing for easy collaboration with front end and back end developers.

Used most for: UX and UI prototyping

Skill level required: Intermediate

Pros:

  • • Easy collaboration with a number of software
  • • User-friendly prototyping
  • • Available in a free starter pack

Cons:

  • • Still an early stage software (not as much in the way of complex transitions and states as Sketch)
  • • Cost (free package is limited)
  • • Lack of text capabilities (no underline or bullet point options)

Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro is “Apple’s professional-level video editing software”. Although there are a number of video editing software to choose from; Adobe Premiere Pro CC, CyberLink Power, and Adobe Rush, Final Cut Pro brings an abundance of powerful video editing tools, alongside a simple enough user interface. Like everything Apple, Final Cut focuses just as much on style as it does on performance. It offers more capability than its sibling software iMovie too, for those of us who wish to create content for social media, cinema and television.

Although the professionals may prefer Adobe’s Premiere Pro, Final Cut shouldn’t be neglected. Apple ensures Final Cut is updated regularly, with the most recent update including a new Smart Conform, which crops widescreen content to fit a mobile device, automatically. With automatic colour correction and audio enhancement (including background noise removal), Final Cut is certainly a strong contender for your video editing software of choice.

Used most for: Video Editing

Skill level required: Intermediate

Pros:

  • • Magnetic Timeline
  • • Fast Performance
  • • Quick, easy export

Cons:

  • • No motion tracking may discourage longtime editors
  • • Only available on an Apple Product (iMac, Macbook etc.)

Whilst on the search for the best graphic design software, it’s important to remember it’s really all down to personal preference and what it is exactly that you want to create. This means ensuring that the software you pick works best for you, taking into account your design style, your needs, and of course, your client’s needs. There’s always new software to discover and thankfully, a lot of them allow you to try before you buy – so why not try them out! You might find your perfect software match. Let us know in the comments below what your favourite design software is!

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