What is the Best Graphics Software?

Have you ever wondered what the best graphics software is?

My answer - it depends.

Computer graphics programs are generally created to work with particular types of images, so it depends on what type of images you’re working with and what you want to do with them. The two most common types of images are bitmap and vector.

Bitmap Graphics Software

Another name for bitmap is raster. Bitmap programs are pretty well synonymous with photo-editing. Bitmap images are created from millions of small dots called pixels. The more pixels, the higher the quality of the image. If you want to apply effects such as lighten, darken, sharpen, blur, crop, color correct, colorize, paint, and other operations along those lines, bitmap software will work best.

Bitmap graphics excel at displaying a multitude of colors in photographic images. Your phone or digital camera produces bitmap images. The shortcomings of bitmaps are large file sizes and the fact that they cannot be enlarged beyond a certain point without pixelating. When a bitmap image is scaled beyond its capacity, it begins to look blocky because it’s composed of pixels. The most common bitmap file types are jpg, png, and gif.

The grandfather (grandmother?) of bitmap graphics software is Photoshop. It’s been around since 1988 and has undergone many updates since then, with new features continually being added. In fact, for the average user, you’ll never scratch the surface of most of its capabilities. You pay a price for those features - both in terms of money and the learning curve required to use the software effectively. Adobe software is now subscription-based. You can’t purchase Photoshop outright. You may use it only as long as you pay the monthly fee.

If you don’t have the need or the budget for Photoshop, the most popular open source (free) equivalent is GIMP. While GIMP doesn’t have all the features of Photoshop, it has more than enough for the casual user. In fact, many of GIMP's tools and operations work in a similar way to Photoshop and other bitmap programs. You can get a head start as a graphic designer or just learn how to touch up your own photos by mastering GIMP. 

My GIMP Graphics Course is designed for those with no prior computer graphics skills. I like to say you’ll be an “ExperGIMPer” when you complete the course.

A very nice bitmap program that falls somewhere in between GIMP and Photoshop, in terms of price and capabilities is Affinity Photo. The program I use the most right now is a very old version of Photoshop, from back in the day when you could actually buy the software. I’m anticipating that at some point, a Windows update will render my old Photoshop software inoperable. When that happens, I plan to use Affinity Photo instead.

Vector Graphics Software

Vector images are not composed of pixels. Vectors consist of lines and curves based on mathematical formulas. Don’t let that scare you! You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to work with vector graphics.

Many of the tools are similar to those used in bitmap programs. But, the primary vector tool is the pen or path tool or some variation of that. Those tools allow you to create and shape the lines and curves used to build vector drawings. Vector images have the advantages of small file sizes and infinte scalability without pixelating. They’re commonly used for logos, icons, and various illustrations created from scratch. If you need an image placed on a billboard or the side of a building, a vector image can be scaled to that size easily with no loss of quality.

As GIMP is to Photoshop, Inkscape is to Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape is the most popular and full-featured, free vector graphics program. I just finished what I consider the most thorough course on Inkscape. With 120 video lessons, I cover in detail how each of the tools and operations work. There are graphics assignments that allow you to practice the skills as they’re covered. And the course culminates with a fun project - recreating the playing board for an imaginary board game.

Inkscape Adventure Course

There are also some vector programs that fall between Inkscape and Illustrator. For the Mac, Sketch is a popular program. Corel Draw is available for Windows. The full version is rather pricey, but a home and student version is also available. And, last but not least, the makers of Affinity Photo have a program called Affinity Designer which runs on both Windows and Mac.

I plan to create courses for both Affinity products in the future.

Artistic Drawing

An area of computer graphics that doesn’t fall fully into either the bitmap or vector divisions above is what I call Artistic Drawing. You can get by in the first two types of computer graphics with minimal artistic skills, but for the artistic drawing software, you’ll need to have at least some basic drawing or painting ability.These programs typically produce bitmap images, but you'll be drawing and painting them from scratch.

One of the best programs for this type of art is Corel Painter. And a free alternative is Krita.

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