Best painting software for artists: 9 digital painting apps for Mac and PC as used by professionals

Discover the best Mac and PC applications for digital painting – including a plugin that lets you use Corel Painter inside Photoshop, Rebelle's new version and more.

We've talked lots about our favourite mobile apps for artists and designers that like to work on the move, but here we're taking a look at some of the best and even not-yet-released Mac and PC painting and sketching software for artists, as used by professionals. Here are eight of our favourite painting applications for artists.

Best painting software: Adobe Photoshop CC

Let's start with one you've  all heard of and no doubt use regularly - Adobe Photoshop

With Photoshop, you'll get access to thousands of brushes that you can add to by downloading more or creating your own, and it's constantly being updated thanks to Adobe's Creative Cloud subscription model. Photoshop CC 2017 introduced new features such as in-app search, Adobe Stock templates and search, Typekit Marketplace and tighter integration with Adobe XD. It's integrated with the new MacBook Pro's Touch Bar support also.

At the last Adobe Max conference three updates to Adobe's creative tools was released - Adobe's Project Felix app and Adobe XD for Windows was announced. 

Adobe Photoshop CC is available from Adobe's website for as little as £10.10 per month incl VAT as part of your Creative Cloud plan, and there's a 30-day free trial available, too.

See all of the plans here.  

Image: A digital painting created in Photoshop by artist Takumer Homma for a Digital Arts tutorial that you can read by clicking here.

You might also like: 86 best Photoshop tutorials

Best painting software: Corel Painter 18

Corel has just released the all-new Corel Painter 2018, and we love it. 

You can find out all of the details about Corel Painter 2018 in our review, but to give you a quick overview you'll find eight new features and enhancements including glazing, applying a texture source and customisation of your interface layout.

Corel Painter 18 is available for Mac or Windows for £359.99 incl VAT from Corel's website, or as an upgrade to registered owners. Previous purchased brush packs are fully functional in Painter 2018. You can also download a free trial. 

Rebelle 2

If you love painting with watercolours then it's tricky to beat the natural, realistic look of watercolour painting within Rebelle 2

Rebelle 2 adds paint software making improvements to its watercolours, acrylic brushes, multi-touch support and selection tools.

The painting program by Escape Motions mimics the way real colour mixing, blending and drying works, so you can create digital paintings by using custom brushes, smearing and creating water drops by tilting the ‘canvas’.

With Rebelle 2, users can create custom brushes or use default shapes with a new brush engine. Users can create stencils in combination with watercolour diffusion, use a range of selection tools, smoothly transfer work to Photoshop (PSD), and a new simplistic user interface.

The first Rebelle version was to create the most natural watercolours in the world of digital art, but in the new version, focussed on making sure its acrylics provide a more realistic look.

Rebelle 2 is available for Mac or Windows for US$89.99 from Escape Motions, and there's a free demo available if you'd prefer to try before you buy.

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If you like the sound of Corel Painter's natural brushes but are already a Photoshop user, you might be interested in Corel's ParticleShop plugin. The 2017 version released 11 entirely new brushes in the Core Pack, and six new individual brush packs.

Users can expect to achieve more natural, hand-painted effects with thick, pronounced strokes. New brushes include Art Brush, Billowing, Blendy, Crawler, Expression, Gesture, Grunger, Heat Trail, Ionized,Natural and Textural. 

ParticleShop is a plugin compatible with Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, CorelDRAW Graphics Suit, TechnicalSuite, Corel PaintShop Pro and Corel AfterShot Pro.

The new brush packs include: Impression Pack, Blenders Pack, Expressive Pack, Grunge Pack, Nature Pack and the Creepers Pack.

ParticleShop Core Pack is available for £39.95/US$49.99 from Corel's website. Additional brushes packs cost £24.95 each, and can be purchased online or in-app.

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro is much more than a sketching tool. It's not quite as natural or realistic as some of the other software mentioned here, but you will get lots of choice and customisation options when it comes to brushes and a nice, easy to use interface.

The latest version has been optimised to fit the Windows 10 Creators Update available from April 11, designed for both stylus and touch input. New features include 140 different brushes (for pencil, watercolour, pastels and markers), textured brushes and SketchBook Extras, unlimited layers and larger canvas size and a stroke stabiliser.

SketchBook Pro is available to try for free, after which it'll cost you US$29.99 (around £23) a year or $4.99 (£3.80) per month from this dedicated website.

You can also get a mobile version for iOS, Android and Fire tablet, which has just been upgraded to Sketchbook 4.0.

ArtRage 5

ArtRage 5 is another great piece of painting software for artists working on Mac OSX or Windows 7 and higher (it's also available for iPhone, iPad and Android). It offers brilliantly realistic tools and canvases and is one of the most natural-looking painting applications around.

Use Watercolours, traditional canvas textures, graphic design tools and create your own tools with the latest version. Tweak various layers and filter and layer blend modes.

As well as acrylics, ArtRage also offers chalk, oil paints, watercolours, inking pens and more.

You can buy ArtRage for Mac and PC for US$79, and there's a lite version available for $19.99, too.

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Microsoft Paint 3D

Microsoft’s new 3D creation tool Paint 3D will be part of the new Windows 10 Creators Update . Microsoft announced the app in conjunction with the Surface Studio last September. Since then, it’s remained accessible only to beta-testing, but now everyone can see how much they like (but probably hate) it.

Although it’s called Paint, like the 2D app we’ve come to despise over the years, Paint 3D is rather different. It’s design encourages cartoon-like 3D objects and scenes, constructing 3D objects and placing them into a scene, like this beach one. The canvas is the only 2D object. Experiment with doodling in 3D, using text and stickers 9even create your own bot) and watch it back on the replay function, Time Machine.

There’s also the Remix 3D community, where you and other members can import, edit and share digital objects and ideas.

But there’s a few issues with Paint 3D, as Mark Hachman points out in his How to Use Paint 3D feature.

You can download Paint 3D for free for your PC from the Microsoft Store.

Mental Canvas

Mental Canvas is a fully immersive 3D space where PC users can hand-draw concepts and walk through them to see every aspect and angle, similar to VR painting tools such as Google’s Tilt Brush and Story Studio’s Quill. And we’re sure the app will benefit similar sectors, such as architecture and art production for theatre.

The core technology for Mental Canvas was originally developed at Yale University, and it’s currently building design, advertising and media partnerships. Mental Canvas was designed to work on Microsoft's Surface Studio and works best on devices with touch capabilities, and although will first be released with Windows, a Mac version is expected to follow shortly.

It’s best to see what Mental Canvas can do by watching previous artworks created in 3D move around here.

Mental Canvas will be released exclusively on Windows 10 Creators Update. Download Mental Canvas from the Microsoft Store for free.

Black Ink

Black Ink, created by independent software studio Bleank, allows artists to create any brush they like to aid concept art and graphic design projects - and it claims to be the first digital drawing app to introduce brush shading.

In February seven new features were released with the latest version of Black Ink, including a shading editor allowing artists to program their brushes down to the pixel and control how they interact with the canvas. Other features include a smudge effect, large brush preview, a new brush manager, over 10 new brush types and colour parameters.

Black Ink is available for Windows PC (XP, 7, 8 and 10) and is a free update for current licence holders. It can be purchased from £59.99/US$59.99 at Bleank or Steam

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