5 Popular Graphic Design Software and How to Choose One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore different graphic design software programs and select the best one to achieve your graphic design goals.

[Featured image] A graphic designer in a jean jacket and black-rimmed glasses leans on a desk covered with a keyboard, monitor, and disposable coffee cup.

Chances are, you've heard of Canva or Adobe. These are just two popular graphic design software tools that creatives use to make images, videos, and other types of media or art for brand marketing and other creative pursuits. Graphic design software refers to apps and programs that graphic designers use to create, edit, and manipulate digital images.

They allow designers edit and resize images, produce original illustrations, combine text, color, and shapes, and bring their vision to life. The finished products may appear in brochures, websites, mobile apps, and social media. 

Keep reading to explore five popular software programs for graphic designers and some steps to choosing the best one for you.  

To compile this list, we consulted findings from G2, a software marketplace where millions of consumers review and discover software. G2’s Summer 2022 Small Business Grid® Report for Graphic Design compiles reviews from users based on satisfaction, ease of use, and other factors [1].

1. Adobe Illustrator

Available through the Adobe Creative Cloud app, available for PC and macOS

  • Category: Vector graphics

  • Features: Templates, blank document presets, workspaces for touch-enabled devices, sync with InDesign

  • What it’s best for: Designing vector graphics that can be scaled larger or smaller without affecting image quality

  • Cost: $20.99 / month

2. Canva for Teams

Available in the cloud

  • Category: Display ad design, photo editing, desktop publishing, data visualization, design systems

  • Features: Collaborate on designs, brand templates, design approval, asset and permission management

  • What it's best for: Scaling the entire design process, teamwide, for people at any skill level

  • Cost: $149.90 / year for the first 5 people

3. Adobe InDesign

Available through the Adobe Creative Cloud app, available for PC and macOS

  • Category: Desktop publishing

  • Features: Templates, blank document presets, workspaces for touch-enabled devices, sync with Illustrator

  • What it's best for: Creating long-form multi-page documents, such as books, magazines, reports, or brochures

  • Cost: $20.99 / month

4. Microsoft Publisher

Available for PC

  • Category: Desktop publishing

  • Features: Pre-designed templates for creating greeting cards, yearbooks, email newsletters, etc.

  • What it's best for: Precise layouts and styling for professional publications

  • Cost: $159.00 one-time fee

5. Foxit PDF Editor

Available on PC or macOS

  • Category: File converter, PDF editor, document creation, e-signature, desktop publishing

  • Features: Advanced PDF editing, automated workflows, embedding media capabilities, document protection and security

  • What it's best for: Creating, editing, filling, and e-signing documents from one app

  • Cost: $159.00 one-time fee

How to choose graphic design software

Given the range of prices, features, and use cases for different graphic design apps and software, it’s important to choose software that aligns with your goals and interests. Follow the steps below to make the best software selection for your needs.

Professional designers may be looking for the advanced features of Creative Cloud, while a marketing manager working on social media content may need easy-to-use software catered to beginners, such as Canva.


Reflect on your design goals.

What are your design goals? You may be searching for jobs as a graphic designer, starting a graphic design business, doing freelance work, or designing graphics to promote your business. Try asking these questions to get you started:

  • What kind of graphic design projects do you want to complete?

  • What areas of graphic design do you want to focus on?

  • How would you describe your long-term interest in graphic design? 

Take a graphic design course. 

Learning graphic design skills and concepts can make selecting the right software for your purposes easier. Look for courses that introduce you to different software programs and guide you through using them to complete projects. 

Research graphic design software. 

Become familiar with software programs and what they offer, how much they cost, and how you can use them to complete projects. Marketing industry leader Hubspot recommends DesignWizard, Canva, Adobe Express, and Lunacy as the best free programs for beginners and marketers. 

As you gather more information, make a list of features like a photo editor or background remover that you need a software program to have. Here are some examples of what you may be looking for: 

  • Intuitive, easy-to-navigate user-friendly interface

  • Templates and pre-made designs that you can customize without having to start from scratch 

  • A help desk or support documentation for learning the different features

  • Pro-level features and capabilities for completing advanced designs 

  • Features that are optimized for certain tasks or projects 

What software programs do employers use?

Adobe Creative Cloud is popular for graphic designers, while Canva is designed to be easy-to-use for anybody in any industry (not just designers). Peruse job listings on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed to find out which program employers prefer their designers to be proficient in. If you're hoping to go freelance, review social media profiles and portfolios of freelance designers who offer the kind of services you want to offer. 


Experiment with different software tools. 

Before deciding on graphic design software, you can sign up for free trials or basic plans of the software that suits your needs. That way, you can feel confident in selecting a program and making a long-term investment in it. Be sure to give yourself enough time to complete a project, even a small one, and test all of the features of each software before committing to your favorite. 

Learn graphic design at CalArts

Taking online courses can be a great way to gain exposure to important graphic design software and skills for today’s business world. CalArts' Graphic Design Specialization takes you through the fundamentals of graphic design, typography, image making, history of graphic design, and brand development. This series of courses may just inspire graphic design newbies to hop on this exciting and creative career path.

Article sources

  1. G2. “Insights from G2’s Summer 2022 Reports, https://company.g2.com/news/summer_reports_2022.” Accessed June 9, 2023.

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