Selecting the Best Free Drawing Software for Your Needs.

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Graphics Tablet Drawing/Painting Software
electro_neanderthal
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So, you want to get into digital painting, or maybe you want to make a comic book or other type of visual novel (like manga). But now there are a hundred different options and you're short on cash. Hello, and welcome to this tutorial/guide (my first one). I plan to keep this short and sweet (but we'll see).

The first thing I'll say is this: a lot of digital artists have a strong opinion on which one is the "best", and quite frankly, that's just their opinion. Every software is different, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. On with the tutorial/guide!

The Method:

1) Look for free painting/drawing software first. There is no need to waste money you don't have to, and no need to feel worse because you can't afford the software you just fell in love with.

2) Download and try every painting/drawing software. Whether it's free, restricted, or a demo, you need to try a few different options to determine which one will be easiest for you to ignore and let you just get to drawing. There is still a learning curve, but a software that feels better will distract you less.

You're looking for three things here: Cursor/Pen/Canvas Response (how smooth things feel and accurate your lines are); Color Blending; and Features You May Use.

3) Remember that you're not stuck to using a single piece of software, mixing and matching can be a good way to improve the quality.

4) Art is based mostly (98%) on the artist, not the tools.

5) Have fun and draw or paint often.

Just remember this, it's about finding what's right for YOU, not another person. Please keep this in mind, even for the rest of this tutorial/guide, as there is another side to this: The side of misused (or inefficient) programs.

Just because it can, doesn't mean it should:

These types of programs aren't "bad", they're just not suited to painting or drawing in 2D.

1) Photo Manipulation/Photo Editing Software:
Free programs that focus on image manipulation, such as the popular GIMP are great for editing images, generating noise, and doing so much more, but they are severely lacking when it comes to painting and drawing. Can you use these programs to draw? Yes... but it's a rather masochistic way to draw. These programs simply aren't that efficient when it comes to painting and drawing.

They can, however, be used to polish your drawings after using a more appropriate software.

2) Vector based programs:
These programs, like the fairly popular Inkscape, work great for stuff that needs to be scaled and shapes that need to be "engineered" as well as designing logos and websites. And while they can be used to paint/draw, these programs aren't designed around that aspect; so the tools are limited and usually lacking for the purpose of painting and drawing. At the very least, it will take much longer and feel much more frustrating to draw or paint using them.

Free vector programs, in the same ways as free photo manipulation programs, simply aren't efficient at painting and drawing, since they aren't designed around those aspects.

3) 3D modelling software:
These programs, much like Blender, can be incredible tools to do just about anything, except for paint and draw.

Their greatest capabilities, and indeed the only areas where these programs attempt to seriously compete with their expensive software counterparts, lie in 3D modelling, baking textures, animation, etc. They can be professional level software... for working with 3D. If you want to draw or paint with them, though, don't blame anyone for thinking you are a genuine masochist.

Free 3D modelling software just doesn't do 2D painting, drawing, or line-art all that well.

So, that's some... advice, but what if I like more than one?

Here's the beautiful thing: You aren't restricted to just one. It's easy enough to export your image as a file that's readable by another program; and in that way you can get the best of both worlds. Even limited software can be useful for specific functions you want.

Professionals don't always stick to one program exclusively; they often use multiple programs to create and process their art into the final product.

Now, let's say you have a bit of money.

I know this article said "free", but; let's say it's been some time and you've decided to keep doing digital art, and are still unsatisfied in some way, having gone through every free software.

Well, the first decent price point for drawing software comes around the $50 USD (or cheaper) mark. It's a limited market, with only a few programs being widely recognized and accepted (about 3 according to several Deviantart forum threads). Not that there won't be more in the future, it's just that, for now, it's a small market. But it's definitely worth it.

The list may be small, but some people find their forever drawing software at this price point.

Any Suggestions (free, of course)?

Well, since I have detailed how to find a drawing software that fits you, I suppose some examples of popular and fairly decent software should be be included, if for no other reason than to start your search a little faster and help broaden your options. The following list is NOT exhaustive, so don't be afraid to try out anything not listed here. And if you find something you really like, add it in a comment (I think you can do that here) to help other people out.

Krita
Probably the program with the largest number of well developed features; it has good systems for drawing, line-art and painting. It has a pretty large overhead though, so there's a chance it might not have the snappiest response compared to the other programs listed here. Still, it's a very solid program that any professional could use.

Good for Windows, GNU/Linux, Mac OSX; and even the source code is available. There are a couple of paid versions on Steam and the Windows Store, but the free version is the full version (just not updated automatically), so don't worry about being restricted.

Medibang
This company has a lot of products, but the specialty among them all is the creation of graphic novels. As a result, while the color blending isn't stellar, they all have a great system for line-art. So it's a good place to look if you really want to get into that particular type of 2D art.

Overall, their products (all free) cover almost any Windows, Mac, Android, and apple store (but not Linux, sorry).

FireAlpaca
It's a free drawing and painting software that, while not excelling in any one aspect, competes with any other drawing program in one way or another. Good coloring, good line-art tools, friendly for beginners, and even a couple of professionals.

Available for Mac and Windows.

Just a reminder:
Free software is free, and paid software have demos, so don't be afraid to download each one you come across and try it out for a few hours to find your best fit (just make sure the download source isn't sketchy). Try the free ones first, and only try the paid ones if it's within your budget; there's no reason to treat yourself to something you can't afford, as that will just discourage you.

Good luck. Happy drawing and painting!