The best Illustrator alternatives are well worth considering if you want to avoid paying for an Adobe subscription. Part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of apps, Illustrator remains the industry standard vector art software for a reason, but there are alternatives.
Illustrator has dominated digital art, illustration and graphic design for a long time, and we still rate Illustrator as the best vector program in our pick of the best graphic design software. But if you’re looking for Illustrator alternatives, our team of reviewers has some recommendations.
Whether you no longer want to pay for a Creative Cloud subscription or simply fancy learning to work with a different interface, this list will start you on the adventure of working with Illustrator alternatives. Some of these options have a one-off fee, some require a subscription, and some are even free or have free versions. Our reviewers have tested the tools to see how they compare and we’ve taken on board feedback from other designers too in order to evaluate each program’s feature set, versatility, ease of use and use of resources (see more about how we test software).
If you’re looking for more creative tools, see our pick of the best Photoshop alternatives and the top iPad apps for designers. Or if you want to stick with Illustrator, get Adobe Creative Cloud now or learn everything you need to know in our article on how to download Adobe Illustrator. Otherwise, read on for the best Illustrator alternatives.
The best Illustrator alternatives today
We reckon the best all-round alternative to Illustrator is Affinity Designer. First launched in 2014, this vector editor from British software company Serif has gradually grown in popularity and influence, and for good reason. Not only is it powerful and feature-rich, but its one-off purchase price (£48.99, discounts are sometimes available) is far cheaper than an Illustrator subscription.
Unencumbered by legacy code, the software tends to run a little faster than Illustrator, or a lot faster if you have a relatively new Mac (which is largely why it won an Apple Design Award). Can it do everything that Illustrator can? There are some gaps, which we detail in our Affinity Designer review, but generally, yes. Working with other designers who use Illustrator isn’t usually a problem either because Affinity Designer can import and export AI and PSD files.
Affinity Designer also boasts a few features that Illustrator doesn’t have, including the ability to switch between raster and vector workspaces within the same tool, one-million plus zoom, and unlimited redos. You can also use the full version of Affinity Designer on iPad (for £19.99, but currently half price), with optimised features for the Apple Pencil.
If need a vector drawing program primarily for digital design, then Sketch is probably the best of Illustrator alternatives, as long as you’re using a Mac. First launched in 2010, Sketch’s strong focus on UI and icon design quickly led it to become the industry’s go-to software for app and website prototyping.
It’s not a fully comprehensive drawing programme, so it doesn’t have all the features offered by Illustrator. You wouldn’t use it to create complex illustrations or art. But by the same token, it has a simpler and more user-friendly interface that makes icon and UI design quick and easy.
A Sketch licence costs $99 and will give you one year of free updates. Once your licence has expired you can still use the app for as long as you want, but you will need to renew if you want the latest updates.
First launched in 1989, CorelDRAW is an Illustrator alternative that has a big following among artists and illustrators. In fact, it’s hard to say whether CorelDRAW or Illustrator is the ‘better’ tool. Both are packed with features and both have their passionate advocates. Because the interfaces and approaches are quite different, fans of each tool will argue, with equal vehemence, that theirs is the easiest to use, but there’s no real objective way of settling this.
CorelDRAW isn’t exactly a cheap Illustrator alternative, but it is more flexible in terms of how you can pay because you can get the software in several ways. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2021 is available for a one-off payment while the new version requires a subscription. It adds in new features including dynamic asset management and a faster adjustments docker for photo editing. There’s also CorelDRAW standard, which is aimed at enthusiasts rather than professionals.
It can easily import Adobe AI and PSD files, so there are no problems with compatibility, and CorelDRAW now has a browser-based app and iPad app too, making it easier to use the program on the go. It does work out a little cheaper than Illustrator but really the main reason to choose CorelDRAW over Illustrator would be if you prefer the interface and workflow. If you’ve never used it, you might want to take advantage of the free trial to see how it feels in practice.
Inkscape is a free and open source vector editor using Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as the native format. It’s lightweight, so will run on quite low-powered computers, but it’s surprisingly capable for a free tool, with a lot of useful features including layers, object grouping, drawing, shape, calligraphy, pencil and pen tools, path simplification with variable threshold, bitmap tracing and Boolean operations.
Inkscape natively supports opening or importing a range of formats, including SVG, PDF, EPS, AI (Adobe Illustrator) and CDR (CorelDraw). As well as Windows and Mac, it will also run on Linux. The main downside lies in its performance: it can be quite slow and laggy at times. But for a student or beginner wanting to create digital illustrations and vector graphics for free, and not wanting to spend any money, it’s an excellent choice.
Corel VECTOR is a new option from Corel and it’s worth considering as an Illustrator alternative if you want browser-based vector software at a cheaper price. The software used to be called Gravit Designer, and it used to offer a free option.
It now requires a subscription, but at $69.99 a year, it’s cheaper than the full professional CorelDRAW Graphics Suite – and cheaper than Illustrator. The interface is clear and intuitive, and we’ve found the program could cope with jobs running from icon design and prototyping to vector illustration and animation.
Vectr is a completely free, browser-based illustration tool that offers a quick and easy way to get started with vector editing thanks to its intuitive interface. As it’s based in the web browser, anyone with an internet connection can use it, and that makes it quite straightforward for multiple people to collaborate on a design, too. Each image has a bespoke URL you can share with others, and you can export your finished work as an SVG, PNG or JPEG file.
Overall, Vectr is super-simple, which can be seen as a positive or a negative. It can’t replace the feature-rich capabilities of Illustrator, Affinity Designer or CorelDRAW, but that means it has a very low learning curve (there are very good tutorials featured within the app itself). If you’re a beginner looking to create, say, a social media graphic with minimum time and effort, this is a sound option.
VectorStyler is a relatively new Illustrator alternative that seems to be expanding its offering. It used to be available for Mac only but there’s now a Windows version too. Its big sell is its wide range of scalable vector brushes and the inclusion of tools that some users might miss in other alternatives to Illustrator, such as a shape builder, a blend tool and a pattern tool.
This Illustrator alternative can handle Illustrator files, and you can also import AI brush collections. We’ve found the interface to be easy and intuitive, and there are plenty of interesting filters and tools. The downside is that at $95, VectorStyler is twice as expensive as Affinity Designer, which tops our list of the best Illustrator alternatives, and there’s no iPad app or wider ecosystem of other software. That said it does have those features that Affinity Designer lacks, so it will be worth the money for some users.