Graphic Design Software Review

Why Use Graphic Design Software?

The top performers in our review are Serif DrawPlus, the Gold Award winner; CorelDRAW Home & Student Suite, the Silver Award winner; and Corel PaintShop Pro, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.

When you first begin learning how to use graphic design software, the features and capabilities seem overwhelming. The more intuitive and easy-to-use the software is, the quicker you will learn and be able to create intricate designs. The best graphic design software also provides robust tools and features to help you create those innovative and creative designs.

While photo editing software offers a few tools that you can use to help add design effects to your photos, it lacks the capabilities and features to create intricate illustrations, animation and designs. Graphic design software has the features and capability to build anything, from animated figures to covers for books. With all the photo effects, digital imaging tools and illustration tools, you can create all kinds of different designs for a wide variety of formats. However, if you are just looking for software to help you make your own unique blog banner or Facebook header, the design tools that come with photo editing software will suffice.

With most graphic design software, you can create anything from cartoon illustrations to newspaper layouts and advertisements. The graphics industry sets the standard of common techniques, and the software must provide all of the necessary tools to meet those guidelines. While several design software programs have shifted into paid services, like Adobe Creative Suite 6, we have focused on testing graphic design software instead of services. The services have more advanced features and capabilities, but they also come at a higher price.

Design software offers tools that fall under two main categories: photo editing and illustration. These tools help you create logos, illustrations, animations, advertisements, blog banners, posters and so much more. The tools also give you more creative control over the designs you display on your websites and blogs. Not only can you choose what pictures and designs to display, but you can also add special effects and text or adjust the size of your designs so that they do not slow down the loading time on your website or blog. While blogs offer some creative design, graphic design software helps you create intricate images and designs that you can resize without losing quality.

To provide the fairest comparison of software, we evaluated entry-level graphic design software that falls between $20 and $130. We also offer reviews on photo editing software, which is similar in design and function to graphic design software.

Graphic Design Software: How We Tested, What We Found

When you are learning how to use new software, you focus on how easy the software is to use and if it can complete the tasks you want in a timely manner. To evaluate the software, we focused on both the illustration tools and the photo and image editing features each program has. Since our comparison chart takes into account which tools each software lacks, we focused on what tasks we were able to complete and how long it took to complete them. We used those figures to comprise a score that reflects how easy the software is to use.

In order to evaluate the software, we gathered three control images to use on each of the programs. To explore the different effects the software offers we used a portrait, an image of a landscape and a still image. We then used common design tools, such as cropping, inserting text and resizing, and applied them to each of the images, noting how long it took to complete each task. The software interface plays a significant role in how quickly we could find the tools, with clean and user-friendly workspaces helping the most.

To test the illustration tools, we created a poster, a blog header and a logo. These common tasks required a combination of tools. We not only evaluated how quickly we were able to do each of these tasks, but we also focused on the speed of the software and the quality of the image after manipulating it, which all comprise our ease of use score. The software that lacked illustration tools, such as the pen tool or vector brushes, required more time to create logos, posters and headers. While they are not necessary to create designs, these efficient tools help you use your time productively.

Overall, the software performed similarly. Each software program offers photo editing tools that produce similar results. If you are looking for software to create dramatic effects on your photos, you should take into account the amount of photo filters the software has.

The workspaces and tools differ from one program to the next. However, most of the software programs allow you to create your own custom workspace, which helps you navigate the software. Software with pre-designed templates or support within the application helps with usability because it shows how to do certain tasks or create an effective design.

How you will use your graphic design software will impact which software will work best for you. We created an ease of use score that reflects how quickly we were able to complete common tasks with the design software. In addition to ease of use, you will want to find a program that has all of the tools you will need to create your designs. Our comparison chart displays the various tools each software has.

Top Ten Reviews seeks to evaluate products and services in hands-on tests whenever possible. We try to simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We used free downloadable trials of the software to conduct our tests. The companies had no input or influence over our testing methodology, and the results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.

What Else is Important in Selecting Graphic Design Software?

Aside from photo editing and illustration tools, you should consider other features before purchasing a graphic design program. These additional features are reflected in our scores, recommendations and articles about graphic design software. When focusing on features, you should consider the following:

Printing: How Important is the Finished Product?
When you have finished designing a project and all that is left is to present it to others, you want the best printing features available. When creating print articles, you will want the ability to set up your page to bleed so that the creases of your magazine will appear continuous and colored. Equally important is the option to show your printer’s marks. This will help you immensely in the package and print process.

The best graphic design software has an on-screen color proof that confirms the colors on your page are what you think they are. For example, it confirms that a rose-red heart you created will print as the right color, and not a dark shade of pink. Using a Pantone swatch significantly helps with this problem as Pantone creates the colors with an exact chemical process that ensures it will print as the same color from anywhere. Prepress support is also important when you are printing your design. The software will automatically ensure there are no errors before the project is sent to the printer and alert you of any changes that need to be made if there are any.

Importing & Exporting Files: Will You Use Other Files on Your Software?
Compatibility can be an issue with graphic design software. You do not want to find yourself sharing files with others that they cannot open because they don't have the same program as you. Most software supports different file types, especially the common ones such as JPEGs, BMPs and PDFs. The more file types that the graphic software offers, the more versatile it becomes. You do not want to limit your designs or your learning by file types.

Our comparison chart takes into account the different types of illustrations and designs you will create using the software and the tools that are necessary to do so. It also focuses on support options, particularly video tutorials, manuals and in-application support. Any program will have a learning curve, and having a variety of support options helps troubleshoot problems. It also significantly helps you learn how to use the software in an efficient manner.

Graphic Design Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations

Three graphic design software programs stood out among the others in our comparison: Serif DrawPlus, CorelDRAW Home & Student Suite, and Corel PaintShop Pro. These software programs all feature the pen tool, Pantone swatches and grids, guides, and snap-to alignment that help you create intricate and accurate designs. Serif DrawPlus also includes both vector tracing and brushes, which most of the other programs lack. Vector tools allow for creative control and the ability to create truly unique designs. We focused on the ease of use for each of these software and weighed it heavily. While all of the design software offered user-friendly interfaces, our top three choices offer advanced tools and still maintain their usability.

If you are hesitant to make an investment in learning graphic design, then the ACDSee Photo Editor serves as an affordable option. The software costs significantly less than the other programs on our lineup and it still maintains the basic tools and features necessary to create the best graphic design.

Software » Multimedia » Graphic Design Software Review
Rank #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10
10-9  Excellent
8-6    Good
5-4    Average
3-2    Poor
1-0    Bad
Serif DrawPlus CorelDraw Home & Student Suite Corel PaintShop Pro Adobe Photoshop Elements Xara Serif PhotoPlus ACDSee Photo Editor Corel PhotoImpact CyberLink PhotoDirector PhotoStudio
Serif DrawPlus CorelDraw Home & Student Suite Corel PaintShop Pro Adobe Photoshop Elements Xara Serif PhotoPlus ACDSee Photo Editor Corel PhotoImpact CyberLink PhotoDirector PhotoStudio
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Illustration Tools
Pen Tool
Vector Tracing
Vector Brushes
Custom Brushes
Gradients & Opacity
Pantone Swatches
3D Effects
Custom Guides
Snap-to Alignment
Text Wrap
Tablet Compatibility
Font Styles 671 461 374 927 600 568 515 556 252 674
Photo & Image Editing
Photo Filters 48 76 88 104 67 62 77 54 42 49
Templates 16 148 115 117 1000 None 29 200 24 None
Color Correction
Noise Removal
Automatic Lens Correction
Content-Aware Scaling
Perspective-Based Editing
Mask Tools
Animated GIFs
History Log  
Batch Processing   
Panorama Merging    
HDR Imaging   
Export to Social Media   
On-Screen Color Proof
Bleed Setup
Printer's Marks
Prepress Check
File Compatibility
Help & Support
Support Forums
Video Tutorials
In-Application Support
Email Support
Phone Support
Live Chat  
System Requirements
Windows 10   
Windows 8
Windows 7
Windows Vista
Windows XP