Graphic Design Without Photoshop: Free or Cheap Design Tools to Help Artists

Let me start off by saying I am cheap and I can’t stand how much Adobe charges for their products. As a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator trying to find her footing in Los Angeles, finding cheap tools to design is a must.

Not to mention that I used to have a downloaded version of Adobe Photoshop on my old laptop that broke. So that’s disappointing. On top of all of this depressing money talk, I was never really taught how to use Illustrator, InDesign, and the newest Photoshop in college. I know the basics of each one, and I could learn a lot easier if I had the programs. But I’ve found my way around them for so long that I find it easier to just work my own way.

So if you’re like me — in desperate need to find some other tools besides Adobe — or you just want to supplement your Adobe programs (no judgements), here are some tested tools I use to create my illustrations and graphic designs.

Autodesk Sketchbook (Free App)

Autodesk Sketchbook app logo

Autodesk is an absolutely amazing app. It’s free, and while you can buy some of the tools, you have so much to work with already that you don’t need to buy a thing. I’ve used this for four years now, and I’m very happy with the results I’ve gotten.

The only main issue I have with this program is putting in text. There’s not very many options with how to position text (such as centering or spacing). And once you click out of the box, you can’t edit it at all. I’ve run into problems with typos and aligning my text. This can become annoying when you have large chunks of writing to mess around with.

Character design on Autodesk Sketchbook
Character Design (2017) on Autodesk
Poster designed on Autodesk Sketchbook
Graphic Design Poster (2018) on Autodesk


  • Unlimited layers
  • Easy to work layers
  • Droplet color selection
  • Variety of brush sizes and styles
  • Able to import new fonts from online
  • Amazing capabilities for any software, especially a free one.


  • Saved files are stored locally (able to be stored in cloud)
  • Easy to accidentally delete files
  • Unable to vector a design easily
  • Saving as PDF is difficult

Canva (Free App)

Canva logo

This app is a literal lifesaver for bloggers and graphic designers. You can choose from a variety of different templates for social media and webpages. There are amazing templates to work with and adjust.

I know a lot of companies that actually expect people to know how to use Canva (take that Adobe). I create all of my blog’s Pinterest pins with this app, and I know a lot of other bloggers do the same.

Pinterest Pin design made on Canva
Pinterest Pin Design Made On Canva


  • Color matcher droplet
  • Amazing template choices for any kind of designing need
  • A great starting point for projects
  • Great for bloggers and Pinterest board makers


  • Can be frustrating to move content around
  • Limited choices for free fonts
  • Difficult to switch between templates (Free!)

Photopea logo

I’m so glad someone told me about this website. It’s basically an older version of photoshop online for free. I’ve used it to make book covers, touch up photos, and design things I couldn’t on my iPad.

From my experience, you have to use a desktop or laptop computer. Mobile devices and even iPads do not like this website, and you’ll lose your work.

Cover Design made on
Cover Design Made On


  • Great for newbies in the photoshop world
  • Has all the basics of early photoshop
  • Easy to save files in multiple formats


  • Crashes on a lot on some computers without saving-while-working capabilities
  • Doesn’t work well on iPad/iPhone
  • Can lag sometimes

Procreate ($9.99 App)

Procreate logo

I actually first saw this program being used by one of the artists I follow on Instagram, Gal Shir (@thegalshir). He has amazing art videos with the app that make me drool with infatuation.

Graphic design by Gal Shir on Procreate
Artwork by Gal Shir on Procreate

It’s ten dollars, but honestly after buying it with a gift card earned from taking online surveys (could I get any cheaper??), I’ve found that I really like the software.

The undo button, a constant in my life, is a little slow sometimes, and the button placements seem to be a little strange in the layout department, but I’ve really grown to love the way the brushes look on on my illustrative work. My favorites are the hair paint brushes. Oh, they look so dang good. It’s been especially useful for getting rid of backgrounds.

I’m still experimenting with this app, but from what I’ve seen others do, I know it’s amazing.

Rough Sketch Made on Procreate
Rough Sketch Made On Procreate


  • Amazing selection of tools including funky shapes and patterns
  • Great saving capabilities in all formats
  • Endless possibilities for graphic and illustrative work


  • A little hard to navigate at first
  • Layout is a bit wonky especially for most frequently used buttons
  • Maybe not worth $10 for some

What are some of your favorite tools to create digital art? Comment below to tell others about your graphic designing or illustrating experiences. Let’s learn from each other!

One Comment on “Graphic Design Without Photoshop: Free or Cheap Design Tools to Help Artists

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips for Beginner Freelance Writers – Cornfields in LA

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