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The best design apps for Windows

Design apps for Windows might seem like an oxymoron. Once, if you were a professional graphic designer, the Mac was the only game in town. Now, though, Windows machines are worthy options for design projects. And there's a huge array of design apps for Windows to use. Yes, there are a few outliers, such as Sketch, that refuse to move away from Apple's platform. But in the main, everything you can do on a Mac, you can use on a Windows laptop or desktop computer. So what are the best apps for Windows for your money? In this post, we select – in no particular order – the best design apps for Windows on the market today, and give you the information you need to choose between them. Want more kit options? See our guide to the best laptops for graphic design. Alternatively, if you're more interested in drawing and painting digitally, check out our pick of the best digital art software.

01. Adobe Photoshop

Industry-standard photo editing and raster design tool. 

Possibly the best known of all design apps for Windows, Photoshop has dominated the profession for the last three decades and remains the go-to for studios everywhere. Indeed, you'll probably struggle to get a job without knowing how to use it. If you’re a freelancer, of course, you have more scope for using other software, but it will probably be difficult to avoid it altogether. But is it any good? Well, with so many design apps for Windows around, you don’t stay on top in an ever-expanding industry for nothing, and Adobe has made strident efforts to update its tool to keep it relevant over the years, for example adding powerful 3D modeling and 3D printing features, and launching an iPad version. This app is getting more and more sophisticated by the day; in March, for example, Adobe added cloud documents version history and support for cloud documents in offline mode

02. Adobe Illustrator

The popular and established vector editing tool

First launched in 1987, Illustrator has been the natural companion to Photoshop for generations of illustrators and designers, and it’s long been considered the standard vector drawing tool for the industry. That dominance is starting to ebb a little, with a rush of new rivals into the space. But it remains one of the most sought-after design apps for Windows. As with Photoshop, its rivals are largely competing on price, and for those for whom money is less important than efficiency, Illustrator remains a hugely powerful and versatile tool, that Adobe is constantly making efforts to improve further. The biggest addition of recent years has been a Freeform Gradients tool that makes it super-easy to create rich gradients, a Global Editing feature that lets you simultaneously make changes across all instances of a similar object, and a smart cropping tool that automatically suggests crops based on AI. Illustrator has also now launched on the iPad, and the latest updates to this app in March and April make it much easier for you to share your work with colleagues and collaborators.

03. Affinity Designer

Professional-grade rival to Illustrator, at an affordable price

Since its release for Windows in 2016, Affinity Designer has offered PC-using professionals a grown-up alternative to Illustrator, including a complete vector and pixel editing toolset, 10 million percent zoom, non-destructive effects and adjustment layers, and more. While some capabilities in Illustrator are absent, such as distortion or warp effects, most of what you can do in Adobe’s tool, you can do in Affinity Designer. And the interface is similar enough that it’s easy to pick up and use intuitively

04. Affinity Photo

Low-cost rival to Photoshop that's surprisingly capable.

Just as Affinity Designer rivals Illustrator, Affinity Photo is one of the design apps for Windows that offers an alternative to Photoshop. And it’s a pretty familiar experience. Brushes, layers, masks, for example, are all treated in the same way as in Adobe’s tool. Affinity Photo is not, however, a carbon copy of Photoshop. Indeed, while some designers will complain that Affinity Photo doesn't do everything that Photoshop does, that's kind of missing the point. Essentially, this most budget-conscious of design apps for Windows is not weighed down with hundreds of features that try to please everyone but is more streamlined for specific tasks. Rather than a fully-fledged graphics suite, Affinity Photo is better described as photo editing software with some good art and design tools, including some distinctive features like a saveable undo history, PSD Import/Export options, and a non-destructive workflow. More recent additions in February's update include the ability to add liquify adjustments as live, maskable layers.

05. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

Vector-based illustration tool with a broad fanbase.

First launched in 1987, CorelDRAW is a vector-based illustration tool that’s mainly focused on Windows (although in 2019 it did finally launch on MacOS). So how does it compare with other design apps for Windows? Well, it’s difficult to recommend it over Adobe Illustrator for features, while Affinity Designer easily beats it on value for money. But CorelDRAW continues to be popular amongst everyone from artists to graphic designers, so its makers are clearly doing something right. In recent years, its standout improvement has been the LiveSketch tool: an innovative line drawing solution for designers and illustrators who want to bypass producing thumbnails on paper and freely sketch-out vector art at the source; this is particularly useful on a drawing tablet.

06. Adobe InDesign

The go-to desktop publishing suite for print media.

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator were pioneers in their respective fields of image editing and vector graphics. But when InDesign arrived on the scene in 1999, it was somewhat late to the party. The market for desktop publishing software at that time was dominated by QuarkXpress. But InDesign quickly took over, largely because of its lower price. Nowadays, of all design apps for Windows, InDesign remains the industry standard for print publishing. And it's evolved over the years to include some pretty nifty digital publishing features too.

07. Affinity Publisher

Cheap and capable rival to Adobe InDesign

Launched in 2019, Affinity Publisher is a low-priced alternative to InDesign, and the sister app to Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo (and a heads-up, there's a 50 percent off sale at the time of writing). One of the cheapest design apps for Windows around, Publisher enables you to work with dynamic photo frames, tables, baseline grids, and linked resources, all backed up with end-to-end CMYK, and headline features include advanced typography options, linked text frames, master pages, and facing-page spreads.

08. Adobe XD

Freemium tool for UI, web, and app prototyping

Launched in 2016, Adobe XD is a vector-based UX design tool that's popular for creating website wireframes and animated, click-through prototypes. Although you don't need a Creative Cloud subscription to use it, XD makes it easy to pull in existing design work from other Creative Cloud apps, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, plus there's a free companion app that lets you preview your work on iOS or Android devices. There's a free version of Adobe XD, which gives you access to a limited number of fonts and 2GB of cloud storage. With a subscription to the full version, meanwhile, you'll get access to the Adobe Fonts Portfolio, 100GB of cloud storage, plus unlimited editors, shared documents, and shared links

09. Photoshop Elements

A simplified version of Photoshop that's cheap and easy to use.

Like Photoshop, but don’t need all the features and want to save some money? Photoshop Elements is a raster graphics editor for entry-level photographers, image editors and hobbyists that contains most of the features of the professional version, but with fewer and simpler options. Photoshop Elements is still about twice as expensive as Affinity Photo, so we’d suggest you take out a free 10-day trial of the latter first before committing. But if you’re already familiar with Photoshop's interface and don’t want to learn something new, it may well be worth the money.

10. Inkscape

Free and open-source vector editor with advanced features.

If seeking a free graphic design tool for Windows, check out Inkscape. This open source vector editor comes with a surprisingly advanced feature set, including complex path operations, node editing, bitmap tracing and path-based text. Plus there's a broad and enthusiastic worldwide community behind it, so if you run into trouble, it's easy to get help and support.

11. Canva

Browser-based graphics editor that's great for beginners.

Launched in 2012, Canva is a graphic design editor that works in the browser; so you can use it whether you’re on a Windows, Mac or Linux computer or tablet. While it’s more limited than full-blown design software like Photoshop, it is capable of creating a wide range of graphic assets, from social media graphics to brochure layouts, presentations to posters. Based on drag-and-drop, and offering a range of templates, it’s a great choice for beginners and amateurs wanting to get started with graphic design. Being housed in the browser, it’s also great for sharing your work and collaborating with others.

12. Pixlr

A freemium image editor that's ideal for quick edits.

Pixlr is a free photo editor that works in the browser but is surprisingly packed with features. You can access the free version immediately, without even having to sign in. And it’s all very intuitive to use, particularly if you’ve used any form of photo editing software before. You don’t just get tools for cropping and resizing, but also more sophisticated features such as shape, lasso, wand, liquify, and clone tools. It’s never going to replace Photoshop, as it’s relatively limited: you can’t work with RAW or TIFF files, for instance. But for a free app, it’s incredibly capable.

13. Gravit Designer

Free vector design app from the makers of CorelDRAW.

Gravit Designer is a full-featured vector design app that you can use either in your browser or on your desktop as a downloadable app. Popular with graphic designers, product designers, and web designers, it has a huge range of features allowing you to work on a diverse range of design tasks, from illustration and printed artwork to UI and logo design.

Brought to you by the makers of CorelDRAW, you automatically start with a 15-day free trial that includes all the features, then you have to take out a subscription, or will be scaled back to the more basic version. This is still pretty impressive: for example, you get 500MB cloud storage and can export PDFs at 72 and 150dpi. But upgrading will allow you to work in CMYK as well as RGB, work offline, export PDFs at 300dpi, get touchscreen support, and access version history.

(Image credit: Affinity)

Source: (creativebloq .com)

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