5 Drawing Programs For Beginners And The Money-Strapped

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So, you want to get into digital art? Want a way to clean up traditional works? Want to create webcomics, photo edits, gifs, and other fan graphics for your blog? If you’re looking to be successful in the illustration, fan art, online, or convention art scene, there are two things you’re going to want handy: a drawing tablet and a digital art drawing program. Whether you work traditionally or not, having both of these things in your utility belt will only make your life easier.

Just like with drawing tablets, there are cheaper options for creating digital art, too. I haven’t even had Photoshop for my entire career; I started with a free, open-source drawing program like many of you and other professionals. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to feel embarrassed about — especially since most of the low-cost, or even free programs can perform all of the same basic functions as the industry big-wig brands like Photoshop/Creative Cloud or Paint Tool SAI.

Especially if all you’re looking for is drawing capabilities, maybe some fun brushes, layers, and selection tools … you’re going to be able to find them in new places without much trouble.


I think I might be the biggest FireAlpaca fangirl on the entire planet. Before I had my Photoshop subscription, everything I made was done completely in FireAlpaca, and the only issues I ever ran into were when I wanted to make edits using hue/saturation tools or the pen tool that are otherwise available in Photoshop.

I mean, technically FireAlpaca does have a pen tool, but it’s a little less intuitive than its Photoshop counterpart. It does, however, have perspective, circle, and other shape guides that I regularly return to, even though I have Photoshop in my arsenal now. Oh, and it can save/read .PSDs files for easy transfer between programs, and justoh, I could go on forever.

When it comes to lineart, coloring, shading, even painting, this program has everything to offer. And, even better, it’s completely free. From what I’ve been told, it’s also comparable to many of the features in SAI, and I’m especially fond of the free canvas-rotation it offers. Photoshop doesn’t do that (as easily), and I weep daily.

Medibang Paint/CloudAlpaca

To keep this Alpaca-train rolling, the same developers who created its Fire- cousin also released a new program dedicated to creating manga, originally called CloudAlpaca, though renamed Medibang Paint. Equally, as free as its Firey cousin, Medibang offers features like beautiful screentone brushes and shape fill, dialogue boxes, and crisp, clean lines necessary for creating HQ manga/comic pages.

In this promotional video, you can see not only the sleek control of the brushes but also those perspective/shape guides I mentioned previously when fawning over FireAlpaca, especially around the 3:00-minute mark. Japan knows what’s up when it comes to creating intuitive, clean, and compact drawing programscompanies like Adobe should take notes!


While I don’t have as much in-depth experience with Krita, I, personally know a number of artists who utilize the program. From what I’ve heard, it mostly lauds its ease of digital painting, brush customization, and blending abilities compared to the lineart/cell shading strengths of FireAlpaca and Medibang Paint.

In this introduction tutorial, YouTube Artist Jenna Drawing explains some of the expressed concerns of Krita but then goes on to explain how those can be resolved, and how Krita is a perfectly competent drawing program for anyone looking to get into digital painting. While it might not be as user- or beginner-friendly as programs like FireAlpaca, it’s certainly the next step when it comes to honing your painting skills.

As shown in the video, the brush options offered are comparable to those you might find in SAI, or even Corel Painter, including pencil brushes, marker, watercolor, and so on. Especially if you’re a fan of creating traditional-looking works by digital means, Krita might be the route you should take!

Also, let’s talk about how speedpaint videos are the most soothing things to watch, especially when feeling stressed or anxious. It’s not just me, right?

Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint

Though better known as Manga Studio, Clip Studio Paint is the next step up from Krita, and because of that, isn’t as free as its counterparts. Though the normal retail price is around $200, I’ve seen it on sale for a more reasonable ~$75-100 more often than not. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, $200 is still “more reasonable” than Photoshop’s upwards of $600 retail price… I mean, I’ll give Adobe credit, their new monthly subscription options make it way more affordablebut we’ll talk about that later. I digress.

Manga Studio-level programs are those being used for more professional work, technically on the same level of quality as Photoshop and others used the field. Works created with these level of programs are usually those that are used from marketing and website design to those skins everyone pines over in games like League of Legends. When you get into the range of these pay-to-play level programs, it tends to come down more to user preference and skill rather than available features.

Adobe Photoshop

OK, OK, I know I was ragging on Photoshop this entire time, but even I have to give credit where it’s due. Yes, Photoshop is for more than just editing photos and creating graphics, it’s also a high-powered art-making machine. Whether your style is hard lines and cell shading, or digital painting and effects, Photoshop offers the best of both worlds.

Especially if you’re a teacher or a student, Adobe now offers affordable subscriptions packages, that range from single Creative Cloud applications at a time, to the entire library. I subscribe to their Photography package that includes both Photoshop and Lightroom, not just because it’s the cheapest option at $9.99 a monthbut because Lightroom is a gift from God if you also dabble in photography.

While subscriptions are only offered in year-long contracts, you can choose to pay one fee for all months combined or once a month as you go. Compared to what they used to offer in only CDs you’d have to buy from tech stores, this is certainly a great deal. Not to mention, it offers the newest versions, updates, and even Cloud-saving capabilities.

Honestly, I would pay extra just for the autosave functions, especially with storm season coming up. Have you ever lost all power unexpectedly, in the middle of an 8-hour project, after not having saved for too long? It’s the worst thing ever. Worse than stubbing your toe. Worse than having something in your eye. Just the worst.

Mobile Options

Before we conclude, I want to give a quick shoutout to those troopers who create all of their art on mobile devices, like Android tablets/iPads and phones. You guys are incredible. I’m amazed at what you create. I want to give you a quick shoutout too, because you’re pioneers in the evolving mobile world and deserve the best tools, too.

And, while we’re at it, here are some of my favorite apps for anatomy/poses, too: