The 5 Best Design Apps for Designers on a Budget

Shianne Edelmayer 10-02-2020

Not all designers have the money to spend on expensive hardware and software. Recent design graduates, for example, may not have the resources to compete with their more-established colleagues.


However, there are some crucial pieces of design software and business apps that you must have in order to build up your career and start making money. So how do you do that when you’re broke?

With that in mind, here are the best design apps for designers on a budget. Our list includes the best cheap or free design software you can find online, as well as other apps worth checking out.

1. Canva

Canva Design Software Free

The first design app you absolutely need to get your career off the ground? A basic account with Canva.

We’ve talked about this design software before, pitting Canva vs. Adobe InDesign Adobe InDesign vs. Canva: Which Is Best? We decided to pit Adobe InDesign vs. Canva across a range of different categories to see which is the best graphic design program. Read More . While we acknowledge that Canva isn’t the most professional design tool, it’s a great place to start.


Canva is absolutely crucial if you need a design app to hold you over during a budget-induced crunch. This is especially true if you’re looking for an app that can design a logo or handle simple, vector-based art.

While Canva does push its premade templates above all else, you can use its workspace tools to design your own templates from scratch—so long as you stick to Canva’s licensing agreements.

Your ability to design templates can also be added as a workplace skill to your portfolio.


Gimp Design Software Online Free


The next free design program that you should take a look at if you’re a designer on a budget is GIMP.

GIMP is an open-source image editor. Like Canva, it has an Adobe Creative Cloud equivalent in Photoshop. We have previously pitted GIMP vs. Photoshop What Can Photoshop Do That GIMP Can't? What can Photoshop do that GIMP can't? Quite a lot! Learn more in our comparison of GIMP vs. Photoshop. Read More , so we recommend that you check that article out.

While GIMP is not as robust as Photoshop, if you’re a designer on a budget it will help you with simple image-editing tasks. You can create gradients, color fills, and flip on-screen elements—the same as you do in Photoshop. GIMP can also handle additional tasks like creating paths, spot healing, and selections.

NB: The learning curve for GIMP can be steep. This is because there are not as many tutorials explaining how to use the program in comparison to Photoshop. Nor is there a dedicated help center.


3. Clip Studio Paint

Clip Studio Paint Design Software

Let’s say GIMP gets the job done, but it doesn’t serve all your needs. Or let’s say you have a small budget to buy design software online, but that budget is not big enough to afford a monthly subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.

When that happens, another alternative you can use is a mid-sized image editing program like Clip Studio Paint. It’s a tool popular with illustrators for its use of layers, its expansive color palette, and its brush sets.

The best part about this program is that you can buy the standard Paint Pro version for $49.99. There’s also a free trial.


Clip Studio Paint is about as cheap as you’ll get for an industry-standard tool, and works well for anyone who is more involved in the art-focused side of designing.

4. Google Slides

Google Slides Design App

Do you need to put together a slideshow for a business proposal, but don’t have access to a subscription-based program like Microsoft PowerPoint? Try Google Slides, which is a presentation-focused design app that is free-to-use and connected to your Google Drive account.

Google Slides allows you to create amazing presentation decks from scratch for a variety of different purposes. You can use Google Slides to make charts, add animated GIFs to your slides, or recolor objects and images that might not be up to standard for your work.

To learn more about the program, read our article detailing how to create a presentation in Google Slides How to Create a Presentation in Google Slides Still unfamiliar with Google Slides? Here's how you can create a basic presentation from start to finish. Read More .

5. Gmail

Gmail for Business

Another thing you’ll need as a freelance or contract designer is a dedicated, reliable email service. No ifs or buts.

It goes without saying that everyone needs an email address, but if you’re a designer you’ll need a work-oriented one, too. This is so you can reach out to potential clients and apply for jobs.

Luckily, you can use Gmail for this task. With GSuite for Business, you can also turn your address into one that is associated with your website. This will give your emails an air of consistency and professionalism for a relatively inexpensive cost.

Pricing plans vary, and can be billed per month.

Pro-Tip: Buy a Drawing Tablet!

Drawing Tablet for Designers

Having recommended a bunch of must-have apps for designers on a budget, we now turn our attention to the essential hardware. With a drawing tablet being THE one piece of equipment all designers need, regardless of budget.

This is extra important if you’re working in an art-focused field like illustration or animation.

A drawing tablet will make it much easier to create unique designs on your laptop or desktop computer. The lifespan on these tablets tends to be very long too. For example, I had my first tablet for approximately six years before I decided to upgrade to a bigger and better one.

Good, industry-standard tablets can cost a lot of money, so, if you’ve got a limited budget, there’s a high chance you’ll be priced out. However, there are a few starter tablets that will still do the trick.

Here’s a list of the best drawing tablets for digital artists The 7 Best Drawing Tablets for Digital Artists If you want to become a digital artist, you'll need a drawing tablet. Which is the best drawing tablet for you? Read More to help you get started.

These Design Apps Will Help You Get Started

Being a designer on a budget is definitely not fun. When you’re first starting out in this field, your inability to afford the programs that you need can feel like it’s negatively affecting your career.

However, these apps will help you get through a rough patch or two, at least in the beginning. And once you have a bigger budget at your disposal, you can upgrade to bigger and better programs.

Looking for more information on working within a budget? Then check out the best apps to create fast graphic designs The 9 Best Apps to Create Fast Graphic Designs Adding visual elements to your written content doesn't have to be a drag. Here are the best apps to create fast graphic designs. Read More .

Related topics: Design, Drawing Software, Graphic Design, Image Editor.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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