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October 28, 2010
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Update: 5/2/2014 - Added Clip Studio Paint and Sketchbook Express/Pro. Dogwaffle, Krita, and SmoothDraw coming soon. Updated prices for all programs, and noted programs which are no longer being sold. 

Photoshop is a great program, but despite it's many features it's a bit pricy at $999. I created this list for people with smaller wallets and certain art needs.

The programs are listed according to what type of art they are best suited for.

Don't know what program will be best for you? Most of the paid programs have trial versions available, download them and see what you like best.

Programs:

DRAWING/SKETCHING/PAINTING

openCanvas | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: 59 USD
Screenshot:
Pros: ability to customize brushes, ruler tools, user-friendly interface, some built-in screen tones. Can create "event" files, where others can watch you drawing long after the fact. Updated regularly.
Cons: Not as many drawing/painting tools as other programs, is somewhat limited out of the box.
More info here: www.portalgraphics.net/en/oc/
Recommended for: Artists who are used to Photoshop's layout, who can create their own brushes/functions with ease, who want a stable program with frequent updates.

openCanvas (Ver. 1.1) | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: FREE
Pros: Ability to network with other artists and draw at the same time.
Cons: VERY few tools, somewhat buggy, limited layers function. VERY old program, so it's no longer updated
More info here: wistinga.online.fr/opencanvas/
Recommended for: artists who want to collaborate together over the internet, in-program.

Easy Paint Tool SAI | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: 54 USD
Pros: Very small program size, thus making the program very fast and responsive. Has vector capability, lots of painting and sketching tools out of the box, with the ability to create custom brushes and textures.
Cons: Not always stable, can crash as well as be unable to save at times. Exporting to PSD is a good workaround for this issue. No longer updated.
More info here: www.systemax.jp/en/sai/
Recommended for: artists with slower computers, who want to emulate traditional drawing and painting.
ADDITIONAL INFO: Purchase the license from the official site, but this version is a much better English translation: sai.detstwo.com/sai/

FireAlpaca | Screenshot
Platform: Mac/Windows
Price: FREE
Pros: Simple user interface, meant to emulate more popular programs such as SAI/openCanvas, can save as PSD, other program files. Updated reguarly.
Cons: Very limited brush customization, has some bugs(usually fixed quickly, though). 
More info here: firealpaca.com/en
Recommended for: Anyone who wants something similar to SAI for free, Mac users in need of a more robust free program.
ADDITIONAL INFO: There is a suggestion box on their main site, consider telling the devs what features you want in future revisions.

Sketchbook: Copic Edition | Screenshot
Platform: Mac/Windows
Price: FREE
Pros: Simple user interface, paint tools meant to emulate various Copic brushes and markers, ACTUAL Copic colors included.
Cons: Limited layers function, inability to make custom image sizes, extremely few tools, will ALWAYS ask user to buy the full Sketchbook program. Program design is more suited for tablet PC users.
More info here: copic.jp/en/sketchbook-ce.html
Recommended for: artists who want Copic markers and colors. (The full version, Sketchbook Pro, includes all the Copic functions and more.)

Sketchbook Express/Pro | Screenshot
Platform: Mac/Windows
Price: FREE / Pro: $60
Pros: Simple interface, very tablet-PC friendly with minimal windows and menus. Meant to emulate traditional materials like pens, pencils, brushes. Express version has limited tools and functions. Pro version has everything else. Upon opening, it immediately creates a new canvas to expedite workflow.
Cons: Designed around quick sketches, so there are limited layers (even in Pro version). Can be difficult to work with for finished images. 
More info here: Both the Express and Pro programs can be found in the Mac App Store and Windows Store, along with info.
Recommended for: people who need something light and simple (but robust) for sketching digitally.

TwistedBrush | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: Free / Pro: 99 USD
Pros: Brushes that imitate real tools such as pastels, paints, etc. Small program that is fast and responsive. Autosave feature is included for accidental closing of the program. Updated regularly.
Cons: Free version has a very limited amount of brushes. (The Pro version, however, has thousands of brushes to choose from.)
More info here: www.pixarra.com/
Recommended for: artists who need to emulate real-life tools to create art with a traditional feel.

Seashore | Screenshot
Platform: Mac
Price: FREE
Pros: simple, small program. A good Paint alternative for Mac.
Cons: Very few features for serious artists. No longer updated.
More info here: seashore.sourceforge.net/The_S…
Recommended for: Mac users who need a Paint-like program.

ArtRage | Screenshot
Platform: Windows/Mac
Price: Demo - FREE | Studio Pro - 50 USD
Pros: Program is stable and lightweight. Demo is seriously lacking in tools, but paid versions have many tools available for use. Tools emulate real tools (like paint and paintbrush, blending, etc) to an incredible degree. Updated regularly.
Cons: Program set-up appears more friendly toward tablet PC users, but is still easily usable on regular computers. OS X users will need to have an Intel computer in order to use this program.
More info here: www.artrage.com/
Recommended for: artists who want a simple program, that will emulate real tools.

NekoPaint | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: FREE
Pros: small program size, simple to figure out, responsive brush and eraser tools.
Cons: Not fully translated, buggy at times.
More info here: npaint.sakura.ne.jp/
Recommended for: artists who need a small and simple art program.

Deleter CG Illustrator NEO | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: 75 USD
Pros: a LOT of brushes and tools, photoshop-like filters, stable, easy to learn.
Cons: brushes are difficult to navigate through. No longer updated.
More info here: deleter-mangashop.com/goods_en…
Recommended for: artists who want a stable program for digital art, with SOME ability to emulate real tools.
Additional info: An older version of this program is available at a cheaper price. Note that it has less features and stability than the current version. See here: deleter-mangashop.com/goods_en…

GIMP | Screenshot
Platform: Windows/Mac/Linux
Price: FREE
Pros: Programs works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has many tools and brushes. Simple to learn, brushes can be customized. Updated regularly.
Cons: Can be glitchy at times. (Reporting bugs to the main site and updating frequently can help.)
More info here: www.gimp.org/
Recommended for: Mac and Linux users, artists who want a feature-loaded but free art program.


COMIC-MAKING

Comicworks | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: 156.89 USD
Pros: Crisp inking lines, over 200 Deleter tones. There are useful features like the ability to generate speedlines. Panels are easily generated. Images can be exported to PSD format.
Cons: Very limited color functions. Not as many features as other comic programs, artists will need to work around the program when dealing with things like opacity, blending, blurring. No longer updated.
More info here: www.deleter.jp/eng/cw_english/
Recommended for: artists who want a very simple program with a lot of screen tones, who want to work in black & white only.
Note: COMICWORKS is no longer offered for sale! Deleter is currently in the process of localizing Comicworks NEO, contact them to express your interest in seeing it in English!

Manga Studio | Screenshot
Platform: Mac/Windows
Price: Debut - 50 USD / EX - 300 USD
Pros: A LOT of features. Tons of screen tones, brushes that imitate real pens and other drawing tools, ability to organize pages as projects, and much more. Updated regularly.
Cons: The amount of features makes this program difficult to learn and can overwhelm a new user.
More info here: manga.smithmicro.com/index.htm…
Recommended for: people who have the time to really learn the program, and want a TON of functions.
Note: Clip Studio Paint is a rebranded version of Manga Studio. Both programs have the exact same features/GUI, and both are similarly priced - but you can find Clip Studio Paint here if you're interested.

MangaLabo | Screenshot
Platform: Windows
Price: 59 USD
Pros: Rich with useful features for comic-making. Ability to make panels easily, various brushes and ability to create or download brushes. There are ruler tools and a 3D perspective tool which can help with backgrounds. No longer updated.
Cons: Very limited amount of tones. (You can create your own with an image, though.)
More info here: www.portalgraphics.net/en/cl/
Recommended for: people who want a middle ground between Comicworks and Manga Studio - not overloaded with features and hard to learn, but more potential than the very simple Comicworks.

PHOTO MANIPULATION

Paint.NET | Screenshot
Price: FREE
Platform: Windows
Pros: Lots of Photoshop-like features (clone stamp, text, etc), user-friendly interface. Updated regularly.
Cons: No pressure sensitivity, not suited for drawing at all.
More info here: www.getpaint.net/
Recommended for: artists who work with photos, people who just want a free program to edit personal photos in.

ANIMATION

Pencil | Screenshot
Price: FREE
Platform: Mac (Some Windows/Linux compatibility)
Pros: Simple, small program. Vector and bitmap functionality. Can export as several file types, including SWF files. Can import sounds and images into animation.
Cons: Vector drawing is limited. Windows/Linux versions lack some functions, like the ability to export as certain file types. No longer updated.
More info here: www.pencil2d.org
Recommended for: flash animators who want a simple, free program.

3D

Sculptris | Screenshot
Price: FREE
Platform: Mac/Windows
Pros: Made to work like digital clay. Built for sculptors who are used to working with the real thing. Sculptures can eventually be painted over in the program, as well as ported into other 3D programs.
Cons: May crash once in a while. Tools may be confusing to a new user.
More info here: www.pixologic.com/sculptris/
Recommended for: sculptors who want to try creating digitally.

-------------------

QUESTIONS? WANT ME TO REVIEW OTHER PROGRAMS? Then just comment in the journal with the name of the program you want reviewed.
  • Mood: Artistic
Add a Comment:
 
:iconspringgalaxy:
SpringGalaxy Featured By Owner 6 hours ago  Student Artist
Thanks so much, I hope these will work since I have been trying to get gimp and sai but it won't work. Thanks a ton! Good luck!
Reply
:iconkikirini:
Kikirini Featured By Owner 4 hours ago  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Sorry to hear you've been having issues. Sai is pretty broken, but I'm surprised you've been having issues with gimp. 
Another similar option is FireAlpaca, maybe you'll have some luck with that.
Reply
:iconspringgalaxy:
SpringGalaxy Featured By Owner 2 hours ago  Student Artist
Thanks! I'll be sure to try and get that soon
Reply
:iconghenders12:
ghenders12 Featured By Owner 4 days ago  Hobbyist General Artist
omg thank you i have been looking for a mac program for a really long time now :D
Reply
:iconkikirini:
Kikirini Featured By Owner 2 days ago  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad it helped! I know the feeling, a lot of the best art programs are PC-only.
Reply
:iconskidda666:
skidda666 Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014  New member Hobbyist Digital Artist
Don't forget Digicel's Flipbook for animation and blender for 3D modeling, both are free, Flipbook puts a watermark on your animation until you buy the full version, but the lite version i believe is aroun 80.00 US $.
Reply
:iconsharrael:
Sharrael Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2014  New member Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks!
Reply
:iconsakurakuroappend:
SakuraKuroAPPEND Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I can't remember if I've posted this before (memory is so bad), but is the Nekopaint still free? On the website, I see something about purchase?
Reply
:iconkikirini:
Kikirini Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
 Hm. It looks like they've gone through a major update, which might explain why it's now a paid program. From what I see though, there's no time limit on the trial though. 
Boy, I need to go through and update this list @_@
Reply
:iconsakurakuroappend:
SakuraKuroAPPEND Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Haha, thank you!

Oh, and while I'm on the topic, is there an official English patch? My computer doesn't read Japanese, so I'm just seeing symbols instead. :|
Reply
Add a Comment: