Adobe Illustrator is, without a doubt, the industry standard, and for good reason, too. Adobe Illustrator is a professional level vector graphics editor made for, well, graphic design professionals. Illustrator is the backbone of many graphic design careers. But if you're a student, or short on cash, you might be searching for an Illustrator alternative that won't break the bank.
Whatever your reason, know that there are plenty of options for an Adobe Illustrator alternative, and none of them will break the bank. Many of these free and paid alternatives to Adobe Illustrator can replace all of the functionality of Adobe Illustrator once you learn how to use them.
Our best Adobe Illustrator alternative: Affinity Designer
When I first learned how to draw on my computer, Inkscape was my go-to tool. It was a simple introduction to vector graphics, and it could even translate to dealing with raster images. As I grew in my graphic designer skills, though, I felt like I needed to move beyond vector illustration.
I tried and tried to watch Adobe Illustrator tutorials and I just couldn't get into it. I felt like Adobe Illustrator didn't really offer much more than Inkscape, so why would I pay for it?
So I started another search for an alternative to Inkscape, and what I found really intrigued me. Designer tries to be the best of both worlds: Graphic design software AND vector graphics editing, too! This was much more up my alley, because it was an Adobe Illustrator alternative that did more than Adobe Illustrator alone.
Pro: This drawing tool does a great job at vector graphics and raster images
Affinity Designer really does deliver on its crossover capabilities. It doesn't matter if you're trying to do light photo editing, create your own illustrations, or create segments for a web design; Affinity can probably do it.
Despite it being a cottage industry, Affinity's programs are made for advanced features. You can do all of the normal vector editing tools (combine, clip, etc.) - and you can immediately switch over into raster graphics editing tools, too. You can move back and forth at will.
Pro: A one time fee
One of the big advantages of Affinity programs is that they are a one-time fee. The fee is pretty affordable. I found Affinity products during the pandemic, and honestly, I have a lot of respect for the creators. Throughout the entire pandemic, they offered a steep discount and a great free trial so that people could get on board with their programs if they were suffering job losses or other difficulties.
Pro (or con, depending on who you are): No affiliate program
Sites like mine operate on affiliate fees and revenue from ads. It's not because we like monetizing our work, but rather, because it costs cold hard cash to give away this information. But Serif, Affinity's parent company? They don't do an affiliate program.
What does that mean for you? It means that I'm recommending Serif's software with literally no promise of monetary gain for me. Its intuitive user interface and advanced features stand on their own.
Con: Optimizing for both vector and raster graphics leaves a little bit behind
I can't just give you pros, so here's my big con: it can be hard to do some of the manipulations you expect in Affinity Designer. Some you can do by moving the file over to Affinity Photo. But some things, I just find it easier to pop over into Inkscape to finish up. For a one time fee, it's not a bad tool and it makes some things a LOT easier.
One specific area where I've ended up using Inkscape instead is in automated raster tracing. These advanced tools are available in Inkscape, but for some reason, Affinity hasn't added the "trace BMP" feature yet. Speaking of Inkscape - if you're short on cash, it might be the next best Adobe Illustrator alternative for you.
Best Free Adobe Illustrator Alternative
There are a lot of free alternatives to Adobe Illustrator out there. They range from apps for Desktop, Mac OS, iPad and other tablets, and more.
Free Adobe Illustrator Alternative on Desktop: Inkscape
If you're looking for a desktop app with advanced tools and features, Inkscape is where it's at. It's a mature, open source software for vector graphics. This vector editor is a real competitor to Adobe Illustrator. You can do things like edit SVG files (scalable vector graphics), trace rasters, and even design for t-shirts, stickers, and more.
Inkscape only has a free version because great programmers work on it together. It has a pretty intuitive interface and overall, I'd rate it as having highly transferable skills, too. It's the best Adobe Illustrator alternative I've got for you if you've got no money in your pockets.
Free Adobe Illustrator Alternative on Web: Vectr Editor
Vectr is a free vector graphics editor on a website that is more or less a clone of Inkscape. It's great if you need to use some Inkscape tools, but you're lacking access to a real computer. For a web designer who's working on an iPad or Chromebook, Vectr can really help you in a pinch.
I'd say it's good in a pinch, but I quickly moved beyond Vectr and into Adobe Illustrator alternatives that were a little more finished and complete. The ads can be annoying, but obviously, their tool is supported by ad revenue.
Free Alternatives To Adobe Illustrator For iPads: Vectornator
This one is for Mac users only (iPad, really) - Vectornator is a free graphics editor based on the Apple ecosystem. Optimized for Apple, it's free to use, and serves as a good alternative to Inkscape if you're working on something small or mobile.
Gravit Designer: Paid OR Free Adobe Illustrator Alternatives
Gravit Designer is a newer program in the grand scheme of things, but it's really come a long way. Gravit Designer offers both a free version as well as a paid option. So you can get used to the software and start creating right away. Then, if you need more storage or more access to tools, you can upgrade at any time. If we're being honest, that's how we wished that all of these design tools worked.
Thinking about sticking with Adobe Illustrator?
Pro: The best paid tool out there, hands down
Simply put, Adobe Illustrator is the gold standard - it's what every other program is compared to. It runs on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and even to a certain extent on iPad and other tablets. It runs well on my Microsoft Surface Pro 7 as well.
Pro: Cross-program compatibility
Adobe Illustrator plays well with other programs. You can take something out of Illustrator and bring it right into After Effects, Photoshop, or even into another, non-Adobe program. Your creative process isn't limited to the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite - you can bring it anywhere you'd like. For picky graphic designers, that's a dream come true.
Con: A learning curve
Like other vector graphics editors, Illustrator has a pretty steep learning curve. I don't use it as regularly as some other Adobe products, so even I feel overwhelmed sometimes by all the tools it provides. But there are so many great tutorials, and Adobe does a good job of keeping its user interface consistent across platforms.
Con: A monthly fee
Yes, everyone loves Adobe tools, and no one likes paying for them. The monthly Creative Cloud fee can hold some people back, but there are definitely ways for you to work the fee into your monthly budget. If you're looking to specialize in Illustrator only, you can always license just Illustrator and skip the other parts of Adobe CC. There are also plenty of discounts available for students, teachers, and nonprofits.