Graphic Design Software: What It Is and How to Choose One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Explore different graphic design software programs and what they do, and begin the process of selecting 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.

What is graphic design software? 

Graphic design software refers to apps and programs that graphic designers use to create, edit, and manipulate digital images. Graphic design software helps 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. 

Graphic design software is usually categorized according to its main functions or a designer’s purpose in using it, including page layout, illustration, photo editing, and web design. In addition, you can find software available for people at different levels of experience, including beginners, people who need only basic graphic design functions, and career designers who need the most advanced features. Whether you choose an expansive set of professional graphic design tools like Adobe Creative Cloud or a straightforward image editor will depend on your or your team's specific needs. 

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

Vector vs. raster: What’s the difference?

As you research graphic design software, you may come across the terms vector and raster. A raster image consists of thousands of tiny squares called pixels. Photos are an example of raster images. Types of raster files include PNG, JPEG, and GIF depending on the number of pixels the file contains. Some examples of software that can be used to edit these file types are Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Photo, and Canva.

Instead of pixels, vector graphics use lines and shapes, or paths, on a grid. Vector files are higher resolution than raster and are used for scalable design collateral such as logos. Some examples of software that can be used to edit these file types are Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, and Gravit Designer.

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5 user-preferred software programs for graphic design 

In this table below, you’ll explore five graphic design software programs that are available at different price points, support different graphic design goals, and that users prefer. 

To compile the list from a wide range of options, 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 who work at companies with 50 or fewer employers and scores software programs based on the following: 

  • Users’ satisfaction with program features, quality of support, ease of use, meeting requirements, ease of admin, ease of doing business with, and ease of setup

  • Programs’ market presence: number of employees, review, web and social presence, and growth [1]    

The table lists the graphic design apps and software programs with the highest G2 scores and provides information on the category, features, what it’s best used for, and the cost. 

Graphic design softwareCategoryFeaturesWhat it’s best forCostG2 Score (satisfaction + market presence)
Adobe Illustrator (Adobe Creative Cloud app, available for PC and macOS)Vector graphicsTemplates, blank document presets, workspaces for touch-enabled devices, sync with InDesignDesigning vector graphics that can be scaled larger or smaller without affecting image quality$20.99 / month97 / 100
Canva for Teams (available in the cloud)Display ad design, photo editing, desktop publishing, data visualization, design systemsCollaborate on designs, brand templates, design approval, asset and permission managementScaling the entire design process, teamwide, for people at any skill level$149.90 / year for the first 5 people97 / 100
Adobe InDesign (Adobe Creative Cloud app, available on Windows and macOS)Desktop publishingTemplates, blank document presets, workspaces for touch-enabled devices, sync with IllustratorCreating long-form multi-page documents, such as books, magazines, reports, or brochures$20.99 / month95 / 100
Microsoft Publisher (available for PC)Desktop publishingPre-designed templates for creating greeting cards, yearbooks, email newsletters, etc.Precise layouts and styling for professional publications$159.00 one-time fee82 / 100
Foxit PDF Editor (available on PC or macOS)File converter, PDF editor, document creation, e-signature, desktop publishingAdvanced PDF editing, automated workflows, embedding media capabilities, document protection and securityCreating, editing, filling, and e-signing documents from one app$159.00 one-time fee80 / 100

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 graphics software that aligns with your goals and interests. Professional designers may be looking for the advanced features of something like Creative Cloud, while a marketing manager working on social media content may need software for beginners. Follow the steps below to make the best software selection for your needs.

1. Reflect on your design goals.

Start by gaining clarity on what you want to accomplish in graphic design so that you can select the best software to meet your goals and create professional designs. For example, you may want to find employment as a graphic designer, start a graphic design business, complete freelance work, or design graphics to promote your business. Try using the following questions as thought starters:

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

  • In what areas of graphic design do you want to focus?

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

2. 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. 

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specialization

Graphic Design

Make Compelling Design. Learn and apply the principles of graphic design towards a comprehensive branding project.

4.7

(14,807 ratings)

297,940 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Visual Communication, Branding Communication, Graphic Design, Art History, Typography, Creativity, Graphics, Design Theory, Color Theory, Adobe Illustrator, History, Adobe Indesign, Art, Graphic Arts, Adobe Photoshop

3. Research graphic design software. 

Using the table above and what you learn from a graphic design course, continue researching graphic design software programs to become familiar with what they offer, how much they cost, and how you can use them to complete projects. When searching the internet, try typing in search queries like “free graphic design software,” “best graphic design software,” "image editing software" or “graphic design software for beginners” to narrow the results. For example, marketing industry leader Hubspot recommends DesignWizard, Canva, Adobe Express, and Lunacy as 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 

4. Find out which software programs employers and freelance designers prefer. 

Depending on your graphic design goals, you may need to become proficient in specific programs to satisfy requirements for a position you want to fill or to complete certain freelance projects. Peruse job listings on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed to find out which software programs employers prefer. In addition, review social media profiles, business pages, and talent pool profiles of freelancers who offer the kind of services you want to offer. 

5. Experience software for yourself. 

Your last step before deciding on graphic design software should be to sign up for free trials or basic plans (if available) of the software programs you’re most interested in. 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 with Coursera 

Taking online courses can be a great way to gain exposure to important graphic design software and skills for today’s business world. Coursera offers graphic design courses to align with different goals and experience levels. Explore the options below: 

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professional certificate

Google UX Design

This is your path to a career in UX design. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that will have you job-ready in less than 6 months. No degree or experience required.

4.8

(53,586 ratings)

654,886 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

User Experience (UX), UX Research, Wireframe, Prototype, User Experience Design (UXD), Usability Testing, mockup, Figma, Adobe XD, UX design jobs

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course

Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Graphic Design is all around us! Words and pictures—the building blocks of graphic design—are the elements that carry the majority of the content in both ...

4.8

(15,843 ratings)

647,748 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 1 month(s)

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Skills you'll build:

Creativity, Graphics, Design Theory, Color Theory

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specialization

Graphic Design Elements for Non-Designers

4.7

(934 ratings)

32,818 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 4 month(s)

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Skills you'll build:

textual elements and manipulation, Color Theory, online design, Graphic Design, Print Design, textual elements

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specialization

Branding: The Creative Journey

Begin your Career as a Branding Specialist. Master branding strategies, branded content generation, image creation and customer experience

4.6

(855 ratings)

32,966 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 5 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Creativity, Journalism, Branding, Communication, CX, Advertising, Logo, Brand, Brand Identity, Employment, Leadership, Management, Customer Experience

Article sources

  1. G2. “Insights from G2’s Summer 2022 Reports, https://company.g2.com/news/summer_reports_2022.” Accessed November 8, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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