The Best Painting Software for Artists

The best Mac and PC applications for digital painting – including full-price, low-cost and free painting apps.

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 nine of our favourite painting applications for artists.

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 (now including designs from Kyle T Webster) 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.

As well as adding Kyle's brushed, the most recent version, Photoshop CC 2018, introduced controls over the smoothness of brushes and a new brush presets panel to make organising your hundreds of brushes easier. There's also the Select Subject tool.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 is available from Adobe's website for as little as £9.98 per month incl VAT, and there's a 30-day free trial available, too.

See all of Adobe's Creative Cloud options 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

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 £304.99 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. 

If you love painting with watercolours then it's tricky to beat the natural, realistic look of watercolour painting within Rebelle 3. 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’.

In Rebelle 3, the latest update released in April, you can choose from a range of imitations of real watercolour papers for your background canvas, some with deckled, rough and irregular edges as well as the normal textured papers. You’ll be able to find more ‘papers’ from the Rebelle website, and more watercolour papers and canvases will be available to download in the coming months. With Rebelle 3 you can now change the watercolour behaviour and other settings in the Visual Settings panel, and there is support for brush rotations by activating ‘Follow Brush’, ‘Pen Tilt’ or ‘Pen Rotation’ settings.

Other subtle yet helpful improvements with the latest Rebelle version include a new ‘DropEngine’ for simulating drips. Drips should behave more naturally now with their appearance influenced by paper structure, stencils and selections. You can see examples of this in Martin Hanschild’s work-in-progress video, or take a look at the Rebelle 3 tutorials on Escape Motion's YouTube channel to see how to use the new features. 

Rebelle 3 is available for Windows and Mac OS for £65.36/US$89.99 from Escape Motions with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you already have Rebelle 1 or 2, you can upgrade for a discounted price of US$39.99. Users can upgrade directly through the application’s menu by navigating to ‘Help’, then ‘Upgrade to Rebelle 3’ or via the Upgrade page.

Users who purchased Rebelle after March 1, 2018 will be eligible for a free upgrade to Rebelle 3. Email newsletters were sent out on May 1. Alternatively, you can download a free Rebelle 3 demo, or try out a reduced Rebelle web version.

Advertisement. Article continues below

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 £44.99 from Corel's website. Additional brushes packs cost £28.99 each, and can be purchased online or in-app.

Autodesk's SketchBook 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.

SketchBook used to offer a paid Pro subscription that would unlock all its features, but as of April 30, the full feature software is available free for desktop, mobile and tablet for artists and designers. There is now an 'enterprise license' option for £90/US$85 for larger organisations, which offers technical Autodesk support and online resources, where the version does not. 

Download Autodesk SketchBook free from the Windows or Mac App stores, or the dedicated website

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 $29.90, too.

Advertisement. Article continues below

Microsoft’s new 3D creation tool Paint 3D was part of the Windows 10 Creators Update last year. Microsoft announced the app in conjunction with the Surface Studio. Since then, it 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 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 Facebook’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 was released exclusively on the Windows 10 Creators Update. Download Mental Canvas from the Microsoft Store for free.

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

Advertisement. Article continues below