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The best alternatives to Illustrator

best alternatives to illustrator - MacBook screen displaying Adobe logos
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Looking for the best alternatives to Illustrator? We’ve got you covered! Adobe Illustrator CC is a graphic design application for desktops and tablets. Its primary feature is the ability to work with vector graphics—images that don’t lose quality on scaling.

If you’re a graphic designer or digital artist, working with both raster and vector images is a compulsory part of your day-to-day workflow. While you can use one of the best photo-editing applications like Adobe Photoshop to work with raster images, Illustrator is the most popular graphic design tool, and ranks highly among the best drawing apps specifically when it comes to working with vector images.

However, Adobe Illustrator certainly isn’t the only vector design tool in the market, and there are many less expensive and more beginner-friendly options. In this buying guide, we take a look at five of the best.

But if you are looking to download Illustrator, then we've got you covered: check out our guide to download Illustrator for free or with Creative Cloud.

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Adobe Illustrator CC – industry-standard vector graphics creation
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What are the best alternatives to Illustrator?

Illustrator may be the most popular and versatile application in the industry, but Adobe’s pivot to the cloud-based subscription model in 2011 has many designers looking for a more economical option, with a fair number of products competing to be the best alternatives to Illustrator.

If you’re looking for a straight-up Illustrator alternative, your best bet is to go with Affinity Designer. It has been developed by Serif, and has faithfully recreated most of the features present in Illustrator without any of the bloat. However, Affinity Designer is still complex, and has a bit of a learning curve. If you’re looking for a simpler graphic design app that lets you quickly put something together for your project, Canva is an excellent choice.

For Mac users only, Sketch is an exclusive design tool that lets you work with vector images to create digital artwork and web design prototypes. Gravit Designer, on the other hand, is a powerful cross-platform alternative from the creators of Corel Draw that’s available for desktops, tablets, and the web. Finally, if you are looking for a free application, nothing beats the latest version of Vectornator.

The best alternatives to Illustrator you can buy today

best alternatives to illustrator - Affinity Designer in use on a computer

Affinity Designer is the best alternative to Adobe Illustrator (Image credit: Serif)

1. Affinity Designer

The best alternative to Adobe Illustrator

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS (iPad only)
Developer: Serif
Price: $24.99 (Windows/Mac) / $9.99 (iPad)
Reasons to buy
+Highly affordable+Similar features+Streamlined UI+Raster workspace
Reasons to avoid
-Somewhat steep learning curve

Developed by UK-based software company Serif, Affinity Designer is powerful graphic design software with features to match and a price tag to compete with Illustrator. In fact, Affinity Designer can be yours forever for the same price that would have normally bought you a single month of subscription to Adobe’s software.

Affinity Designer has most of the features graphic designers have come to know and love in Illustrator. It even adds a few extras, like unlimited redos, one-million plus zoom, and a bonus workspace for working with raster images within the app. Performance-wise, Designer’s lack of legacy code means that it generally runs faster than Illustrator. Some users may even find Affinity Designer easier to navigate, thanks to a more streamlined interface.

Affinity Designer costs $24.99 on Windows and $24.99 on Mac. Each license is valid for unlimited use, meaning that you only pay for another subscription if you’re using the software on a different platform. Affinity Designer is even available on the iPad for $9.99, which means that you can also draw using the Apple Pencil.

best alternatives to illustrator - Canva's creative panel being demonstrated

Canva is a no-frills graphic design tool for beginners (Image credit: Canva)

2. Canva

A no-frills approach to graphic design

Specifications
Platform: Web, iOS, Android
Developer: Canva
Price: Free, $12.95 or $9.95 a month
Reasons to buy
+Layer-based+Easy to use+Asset library
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks several advanced features-Can’t export to PSD or AI

Canva is a web-based design suite that allows you to create attractive graphics quickly and easily. Unlike Illustrator or Affinity Designer, it doesn’t allow you to export files in vector format. However, the main draw is simplicity and ease of use, rather than the advanced graphics manipulation offered by the likes of Illustrator.

Canva lets you create brochures, posters, invitations, social media content, presentations, logos, infographics, and more. The app is layer-based, allowing you to stack objects on top of each other to create a composite graphic. You can easily add text, upload images, and use preset templates to get the designs you want without a huge fuss. If you are a paid subscriber to Canva, you also get access to a huge library of assets to choose from—including photography, videos, backgrounds, and clip art.

Canva, the base tool, is available completely free of charge. It includes access to all the tools and a basic asset library. If you want more features, such as more templates, fancy effects, and a larger asset library, you can subscribe to Canva Pro for $12.95 a month. You can also pay annually to get the discounted price of $9.95 a month.

best alternatives to illustrator - a demonstration of Sketch and its design panel

Sketch is a UX design tool for macOS devices (Image credit: Sketch)

3. Sketch

An exclusive design application for Mac

Specifications
Platform: macOS
Developer: Sketch
Price: $9 per user a month / $99 per user a year
Reasons to buy
+Simple and intuitive+Perfect for UX design+Excellent collaborative features
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks complex functions-Subscription-based pricing

Sketch was launched primarily as a design application for logos and websites. It’s immensely popular for website prototyping, but can also be used to create other forms of vector art. UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) designers in particular are known to swear by this software.

Sketch’s intended use is wireframing and prototyping, as well as website and app design. Thus, it does not contain the tools required to draw complex illustrations from scratch. However, the lack of complex features makes Sketch the perfect tool for web designers looking to draw a quick mockup of their website or app. It’s even better when used collaboratively, allowing a team of designers to make changes to a design mockup simultaneously.

Sketch costs $9 per user a month or $99 per year. Currently, it’s only available on macOS. If you’re on a different platform, you can check out Lunacy by Icons8—which lets you open, edit, and store .Sketch files on Windows.

best alternatives for illustrator - Gravit Designer in use on a computer

Gravit Designer is an Illustrator alternative offering maximum compatibility with the largest number of platforms (Image credit: Corel)

4. Gravit Designer

Maximum compatibility graphic design app

Specifications
Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome OS, Web
Developer: Corel
Price: $49 a year
Reasons to buy
+Linux compatibility+Supports .AI and .Sketch files+Unlimited cloud storage+Advanced functionality
Reasons to avoid
-Limited free version

Gravit Designer is a diverse graphic design tool that allows you to design interfaces, artwork, illustrations, branding materials, and more. It features many of the traditional graphic design tools found in Illustrator, including the pencil and pen tools. 

Of all the applications mentioned on this list, Gravit Designer is compatible with the widest range of platforms. It features a web-based version that can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, as well as downloadable applications for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Chrome OS. It also supports the widest range of importable file formats, including .AI and .Sketch. Files can be exported as SVG, PDV, PNG, or JPEG. If you want seamless compatibility at less than half the price tag of Illustrator, Gravit Designer is your best choice.

There is a free version that can be accessed forever via web or app, but it’s limited in features like offline and touchscreen support. Gravit Designer Pro is available for $49 a year, granting features like unlimited cloud storage, offline mode, touchscreen compatibility, color spacing, and more. A trial version is also available for those who want to test drive Gravit Designer Pro.

best alternatives to illustrator - Vectornator in use on a computer

Vectornator is a free drawing application and design tool for Apple devices (Image credit: Vectornator)

5. Vectornator

The ultimate free graphic design alternative

Specifications
Platform: macOS, iOS
Developer: Linearity
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+Native UI+Layer-based+Touch-friendly+Completely free
Reasons to avoid
-Apple-only

Developed by Linearity GmbH, a company founded only in 2017, Vectornator has already positioned itself as one of the most versatile drawing and illustration applications for the iPad, iPhone, and Mac. It allows you to design interfaces, create layouts, and draw entire illustrations from scratch. 

Vectornator’s UI is designed specifically for the macOS interface. Everything feels familiar to the operating system, to the point where you might even mistake it for a native application. Since the launch of version 4.0, you get a layer-based vector design tool with features like artboards, auto trace, a color picker, a free icon library, and much more. That’s all in addition to detailed documentation to help you get started with the software. 

Vectornator is available completely free of charge for iOS and macOS. It can be downloaded and used without paying any one-time or monthly subscription fee.

How to choose the best alternative to Illustrator for you?

Adobe Illustrator is the oldest and the most well-known vector design app in the market. As with most software, the best alternative will depend largely on your purpose for it. Features like touchscreen support, platform compatibility, and pricing models also have an important role to play. 

Users looking for a tool that allows them to quickly create simple designs may prefer Canva, while those with more advanced requirements will find the platform completely unsatisfactory. Meanwhile, Affinity Designer is great for advanced users but not beginners. If you want to do some freehand drawing, Vectornator is your best bet, but UI and UX designers will find Sketch much more useful.