Today’s graphic designers live in amazing times with no shortage of apps and programs available to help turn big ideas into brilliant digital art designs. You also have more gear than ever before, including the option to create with a stylus pen.
With a stylus, you can enjoy more freedom to create fluid movements with your hand than using a mouse. And when paired with a pro-level drawing program, the stylus is uniquely positioned to help artists do more, from anywhere.
Here are our picks for the best drawing apps that make use of a stylus, with both free and paid options.
Top drawing apps to use
Every artist has their preferences, and the software you choose may depend on the type of art you create. If you like to create comic art, for instance, you’ll use a different tool than someone who makes logos for a business.
You can actually use the more robust tools on our list for a variety of applications, but they often have a steeper learning curve and bigger price tag.
is free, open-source software that works for Windows, Mac, and Linux users. Like other sketching apps, it's pen-based but is especially useful for creating comic art with premade panels.
Krita supports animation functions, including audio, and comes with premade templates. If you want to get the most out of this free program, you can import textures from third-party sources.
You can choose to use Krita for free, but you can also pay for premium options via Steam
and the Microsoft Store
. The paid version includes the same features, but it provides automatic updates and support. There’s also a mobile Krita app in beta, so keep an eye out for more information if you like to work on the go.
2. MediBang Paint Pro
is very popular among anime creators, but it boasts useful applications for all types of graphic designers, too. It also includes a neat community feature called Art Street, which offers competitions for the best art. This social aspect is one of MediBang’s standout features, but it also has great tutorials that walk you through how to do a variety of manga effects.
With access to more than 1,000 screen tones and 20 fonts, this cloud-based tool lets you save your work to your account and continue on any logged-in device. It’s available for free for PC, iPad, iPhone, and Android.
is a very easy-to-use drawing tool that’s free forever for Windows and Mac users, or you can pay to remove the ads on Steam
. This app is best for vector art and doesn’t include the same textures ability as its competitors. However, its perks include a very simple design that anyone can learn with time.
FireAlpaca works in 20 languages and boasts pen, pencil, airbrush, and watercolor brush in the default settings. You can also customize additional brush options. FireAlpaca is a very light program that takes up few resources, even with its comic templates and a handy perspective tool. You can run it on an older computer with lower processing capabilities.
4. Autodesk Sketchbook
If you don’t need to edit photos or refine existing images, consider a draw-only app like Autodesk’s Sketchbook
. It boasts easy-to-master tools that will help you turn your big graphics ideas into reality.
Use Sketchbook to draw on your tablet, Mac, or desktop PC. You can also export your project to Photoshop when you’re done without losing layer data.
Sketchbook is totally free to use, too, so it’s the perfect tool for those just getting started with stylus pen art.
Corel is well-known in the graphic design space, and it continues to impress artists with products like CorelDRAW Standard
. This app actually comes bundled with Corel PHOTO-PAINT, and offers features for professionals and hobbyists.
You’ll enjoy hundreds of brushes tools, vectors, photo editing filters, and typography tools, making this the gold standard for anyone interested in professional ad or graphic design.
CorelDRAW is available for Windows only at the lower-priced tier, but it’s compatible with 9 of the top file types. You can try it free for 15 days to see if the $300 price tag is worth the investment.
6. Adobe Photoshop
is a go-to tool for aspiring artists, students, and professionals. Use it to create, edit, and easily share your work to the cloud or with others in social communities like Behance. Photoshop’s key perks include smart sharpen filters, color correction tools, and photo retouching to help work look even better.
However, Photoshop is a powerhouse option with a steeper learning curve. It's also somewhat expensive compared to other products, but you have the option to pay for a monthly subscription, which is more manageable than an outright purchase. Photoshop is available for iPad and desktop platforms.
The Procreate app
is an iPad Pro exclusive that works with the Apple Pencil. It uses many of the effects you would want in a desktop software solution, such as layers, brushes, and filters. While you may not want to do heavy editing on your iPad, you can easily export the finished Procreate project to other programs, such as Photoshop.
Apple enthusiasts who want a handy, powerful, and portable drawing option will enjoy this easy-to-master drawing option. It even allows you to create and sell your own brushes to others. You can buy Procreate for a one-time fee of $9.99.
is open-source 3D animation software for creating 3D models and big-budget movie animations. However, it’s gaining popularity among those who just want to draw.
One of Blender’s cooler features is the grease pencil mode, which lets you create artwork from simple lines. You can use the mode to make all kinds of vector-based artwork, sculptures, storyboards, animations, comics, and more.
And if you need inspiration or a starting place, Blender hosts a ton of templates from its community. Even better, this PC drawing app is always free to use.
is an entirely vector-based drawing program that lets you draw and manipulate objects. It’s also perfect for creating shapes and designing logos. It’s open-source and completely free, too, and has become popular for both nonprofit and commercial uses.
Users love it for creating clip art, typography, flowcharts, diagrams, and infographics, as well as simple cartoons. The items you create in Inkscape are the SVG file format, but you can also export in PNG, OpenDocument Drawing, DXF, sk1, PDF, EPS, and PostScript.
You have the option to draw free-hand with your pen or you can use the shape tools to get a just-right look to your drawings. The Boolean operations
make it easy to convert selected objects in the file to “paths” using simple directions like “exclusion, combine, or break apart.” You can render as you draw, too, and watch your drawings come alive.
Inkscape is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows users.
, you can create realistic-looking paintings with only your stylus. Use the multiple brush customization settings to create oil, watercolor, or pastel finishes. You can also record as you work, so you can show off your entire process.
Artrage makes it feel like working on a real canvas, and it includes blending modes. The app is available in the Lite version as an iOS and Android mobile app, or you download the full-featured desktop version (Vitae
) for Mac or Windows.
Bonus app: Rebelle
, from Escape Motions, bills itself as “the first painting software with physical color mixing based on traditional pigments.” If you know your color wheel, you’ll be impressed by the realistic use of color and texture, which mimics real-life painting. No surprise, then, that Rebelle was developed by an artist, which gives it an extra touch of authenticity.
This award-winning software allows you to experiment with oils, watercolor, acrylics, and a variety of other media types, along with plenty of paper finishes. You can even blow paint, use a palette knife to create 3D effects, and take advantage of stencils for a more consistent look.
Rebelle is a great way to experience what mixed media feels like in real life, without the mess or additional materials. You can buy the standard version for $89.99 or opt for “state-of-the-art” Pro edition for $149.99. Both versions are available for Windows and Mac.
How to pick the right stylus drawing app
When you’re trying to figure out which app is right for you, consider the following:
- Start with your device, which may determine which app is the best choice based on processing power and/or operating system.
- Look at the galleries on the websites of each app to see what’s even possible.
- Take a peek at tutorials to learn how long it will take for you to master all the features.
- Keep your budget in mind. Many of the art apps on our list are free, but some offer “lite” versions for half the price of the full-featured desktop tools. Also, look for trials so you can familiarize yourself with the tool before buying.
Remember that the stylus tool you use matters, too. While some computers come with a stylus, others require a separate purchase. Stylus pens can have any number of their own features, too, including shortcut buttons and extra-comfy grips. Do your research to make sure that your stylus is compatible with your PC or laptop so you can achieve the level of detail you want.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.