As soon as you mention Digital Art and the tools needed to create it, most people will instantly think Adobe Photoshop and while Photoshop is an incredible, versatile program for creating digital works of art it also comes with a hefty monthly subscription just to use it.
Photoshop, powerful as it is may not necessarily be the best fit for the fledgeling digital artist either, given its rather steep learning curve. Better by far for the rookie digital artist is to dive into the amazing world of free digital art software and experiment with different ways of creating art on your computer or tablet, such as simulated painting, structured drawing, image processing and even 3D modelling.
Fortunately, there are numerous free and open-source software programs out there that are of outstanding quality and give some of the commercial offerings a run for their money. We have selected some of the best free creative programs available online, which you can download today and begin using right away, totally risk-free.
Free Digital Painting Software:
Krita is a fully-featured drawing and painting application, available for Windows, macOS and Linux with an Android app currently in beta but unfortunately no iOS version at the moment due mainly to the Apple Stores licensing arrangements and Apples restrictions on open-source software in general.
Created by artists for artists Krita boasts an impressive feature set that rivals those of high-end professional software, including:
Beautiful Brushes, Krita ships with over a hundred professionally created brushes, allowing the beginner digital artist to dive straight in and experiment with pencils, paints, inks, chalks, watercolours and practically any wet or dry painting medium you will ever need.
Vectors and Text Tools, the latest version of Krita has had a massive overhaul of its text and vector tools, making the program a good fit for comic book artists who are looking to add text and speech bubbles to their graphic creations.
Impressive Animation Features, for those wanting to bring their artwork to life Krita features a built-in animation studio, including customisable onion skinning, audio support and the ability to export animations to video format.
With no subscription model, no trials and no limit to what you can create, you should at least give Krita a try, after all, you have absolutely nothing to lose.
Previously a paid-for app Autodesk decided to make their professional drawing and painting software Sketchbook absolutely free to digital artists everywhere, with the one small caveat of having to sign up for an Autodesk ID, a small price to pay to get your hands on this outstanding piece of painting and drawing technology.
Unlike Krita, Autodesk Sketchbook is not open source and as a result, is available on all devices from desktops to tablets and even your mobile phone if you so desired.
Featuring an innovative interface that gets out of your way when you just need to concentrate on your artwork, Autodesk has pretty much thought of everything an artist could desire from a quality drawing application, use simulated inks, pencils, markers and over 190 customisable brushes to create professional-grade artwork.
Adored by architects, product designers, graphic artists and everyone who needs to get their ideas and creativity out of their heads and into the real world as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
A superb example of professional, yet free digital art software available to everyone and anyone at no cost whatsoever.
Free 3D Software:
If you are thinking of taking up 3D modelling either as a hobby or a full-time occupation but don’t want to spend a small fortune on 3D applications such as Autodesk’s Maya, which will set you back approximately £1,800 or just over $2,300 per year, then Blender is the software for you.
Blender has been around for many years now, with its initial launch being well over twenty years ago.
However, a lot of first-time users found it rather quirky and difficult to use, that is until it received a major overhaul in 2018 when Blender evolved into an almost entirely new application, with a massively improved user interface, easier to understand tools and a less steep learning curve.
Although open source and entirely free to download, Blender is now seen as a viable alternative to professional
3D software and is more than capable of rendering images and animations that are indistinguishable from Blenders terribly expensive competitors.
The new and improved Blender has attracted a massive community of enthusiastic, dedicated users, who routinely share their knowledge through numerous Blender courses and tutorials, there is also a multitude of free Blender models and scenes available online that will get you up to speed fast with this magnificent piece of 3D software.
ZBrush Core Mini
Without doubt, ZBrush is the number one dedicated 3D sculpting application available today and has rapidly become an industry standard for 3D character creation. However, it does require a hefty financial investment to get started.
Pixologic, the creators of ZBrush have realised that not everyone can afford this sort of initial investment and so have released ZBrush Core Mini, which is basically a cut-down, but a very capable version of their flagship sculpting application.
ZBrush Core Mini features a minimalist set of sculpting tools, allowing the user to focus on being creative rather than being bogged down by complex toolsets. ZBrush Core Mini retains eight of the major sculpting brushes found in its commercial sibling and allows you to export your sculpts
as .obj files which can be loaded into other 3D applications such as Blender for rendering or further manipulation.
A perfect introduction to ZBrush and a great free sculpting tool.
Free Vector Drawing Software:
Inkscape is a free and open source vector graphics editor which works in a similar way to the industry standard structured drawing application Adobe Illustrator.
Inkscape has a huge following of dedicated users thanks to its unique price point and its suitability for both beginners and more advanced graphic designers.
This amazing application is available on Windows, Mac and Linux and can work natively with most graphic formats including, SVG, EPS, PDF and can also import bitmap formats such as JPEG and PNG.
If you are a beginner looking at trying out vector drawing for the first time Inkscape is the perfect tool for familiarising yourself with vector based illustration.
Free Image Processing Software:
The GNU Image Manipulation Program, affectionately known as GIMP is a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Photoshop.
The program has been around for over twenty years now and has gradually evolved into a powerful application for both amateurs and professionals who need to do any type of image retouching, compositing, photo manipulation, graphic design or digital illustration without spending a fortune.
Available for GNU/Linux, OSX and Windows as a free download, GIMP features many of the features found in professional image editing software, such as layers, brushes, palettes, 3D transforms and much, much more.
GIMP is also entirely customisable and can be further enhanced thanks to the large number of plugins available.
If you are on a limited budget GIMP is the perfect alternative to paid design packages such as Adobe Photoshop and Affinity Photo and allows you to achieve very similar results without spending a penny, well worth checking out.
Photoscape X is another contender for the best free image processing app, available for both Mac and Windows, the free version includes tons of features to quickly and easily enhance your photographs, including filters, effects and numerous tools to transform even the most basic photo into a work of art.
Animated GIF’s are also possible as well as collages and the ability to work with multiple images at the same time.
When you fist launch Photoscape X a range of tools are shown on the left-hand side of the interface allowing for quick and easy photo editing if you aren’t sure what a particular tool can do a simple click will launch a comprehensive video tutorial showing you how to get the best from that feature.
A pro version of Photoscape X is also available but for most casual users the free version has more than enough features to meet the most demanding of photo editing requirements.
Free Image Reference Software:
PureRef is an amazing application that allows you to gather and store all of your reference images in one place. Suitable for 2D and 3D digital artists, PureRef negates the need for grouping and storing images into folders or bookmarks on your computer.
Drag and drop images straight into PureRef and save and reload as necessary, copy and paste saved images directly into your painting or drawing application.
PureRef boasts an impressive minimalistic workspace that can take up as little or as much screen estate as required and its always-on-top setting ensures your reference images are always visible while you work.
A must-have piece of free software for every digital artist, available for Windows, Mac and Linux, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
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