Industry Insights

Adobe Creative Suite Competitors Review & Comparison

The Adobe Creative Suite powerhouse has long dominated the design and content creation world. However, in recent years, other players have been entering the sphere — some gaining some significant momentum. The scope of professionals and hobbyists using design tools is vast, and there are more job titles in the design field than ever before. They range from graphic designer, user-experience (UX) designer, user-interface (UI) designer, web designer, illustrator, animator, pattern designer, type designer, and the list goes on.

The Adobe Creative Suite has remained the industry standard since it first released Illustrator® in 1987. Today, with the extensive amount of people working in the design space and more freelancers than ever before, designers are beginning to look to other software for their needs. In this article, we will go through the top design tools and those gaining momentum in the design field. 

"Free" Options

With free, user-friendly options entering the playing field, it is becoming easier for anyone to create their own designs or to get their feet wet in the design world. Some professionals are even opting for free software and saving the cost of an expensive subscription.

Adobe Spark

Free for anyone to use, Adobe Spark is Adobe’s answer to the free creative app market. The web-based tools allow anyone to produce content for visual storytelling. Anyone with an Adobe account, or with Facebook or Google account credentials, can log in and use the program. The home page gives you three clear options for tools related to what you want to create — Post, Page, and Video. There is nothing to download or install, and you can start building your work right from your browser.

There are correlating apps available for download through the iTunes app store, and currently, only Post is available for Android. Spark Post allows you to create memes or single image graphics with text overlays and formatting considerations for various social networks and devices. The automation of the program provides for easy-to-edit posts. With Spark Page, you can generate single page scrolling web pages, and it also allows for formatting and adding effects. Spark Video creates storyboards using video clips, images, icons, or text.


  • Three great tools for effective brand storytelling

  • Easy to use

  • Creates visually pleasing web and social content

  • Great for non-professionals looking to up their social graphics game


  • While the free version allows you to create, edit, and share, your output will include Adobe branding.

  • You have to upgrade to the paid premium version to access certain customization features and to remove the Adobe branding.


Canva was initially made for non-designers with a drag and drop, easy to learn interface. It offers an enormous collection of templates to follow. In 2015, Canva conducted a survey of 500 small and medium-sized businesses and found that 78% of companies had people who weren’t professional graphic designers creating customer-facing marketing materials. In acknowledgment, Canva created Canva for Work to smooth the path for users in this situation.


  • Free and premium subscription model

  • Very simple to learn and use

  • Integrated with a stock image bank

  • Great for small businesses who may not have a professional designer on staff


  • Limited functionality

  • Limited customization

  • Must upgrade to the premium subscription to access more features and the Canva for Work option

  • Little option to go beyond simplistic designs


This open-source, vector-based graphics editing program is commonly known as Adobe Illustrator’s free counterpart. Inkscape has a clear and user-friendly interface that is great for any budding designer who may not be ready to shell out for a subscription. It provides many tools, shapes, paths, text, markers, and effects that border on competing with those of Adobe Illustrator.


  • Wide-ranging toolkit

  • Good placement and path tools

  • Saves files in several relevant formats that designers need to use

  • Great for the graphic designer who is just starting out


  • Can be slow

  • Although it has an impressive set of tools, it doesn’t have the extensive range like industry standard Illustrator

  • Steep learning curve

  • No inbuilt support for PMS Colors


GIMP is to Photoshop what Inkscape is to Illustrator. GIMP is a free, pixel-based editor that is frequently updated and is the leading free photo editing software. It offers high-quality photo manipulation and the option to create your artwork from scratch. The toolkit includes customizable brushes, filters, image enhancement tools, and support for plugins. GIMP is a “volunteer developed” program that allows users to have input on new features — meaning it is frequently updated


  • Includes an array of features and tools

  • Runs on many platforms

  • Can open almost any image file

  • Great for those photo editors looking for a minimal investment for their needs


  • Steep learning curve

  • The interface is cluttered and can be distracting

  • Can be buggy

The Professional Powerhouses

While the free options of today’s increasingly digital world offer some powerful tools, the professional designer, or those needing more complex options, may want to opt for paid premium software. There are some absolute powerhouses out there — many of them share similarities, and each has a particular set of challenges. Although the Adobe Creative Suite remains the industry standard, other players are becoming real competitors.

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

Having been available almost as long as Adobe Illustrator (Illustrator was released in 1987, and CorelDraw was released in 1989 — the same year as Photoshop), Corel’s powerful program is a strong player in the graphic design world. The suite includes five design programs, CorelDRAW for vector illustration and page layout design, Corel CAPTURE for screen captures, Corel CONNECT for content browsing and file management, Corel Font Manager, and Corel PHOTO-PAINT for photo editing. Corel recently released the 2019 version of the suite in March and now offers an option for macOS, which is a long-awaited addition. This release also welcomed the inclusion of a web platform, allowing users to buy a license and integrate it with Office 365 or Google Drive accounts. The web app allows for some editing and design but has a way to go before it is as full-functioning as the desktop program. Designers have praised CorelDRAW for containing default features that its rival, Illustrator, would require a plugin to be able to perform. All in all, Corel has a place in the professional design world.


  • Capable and professional level features

  • A one-time purchase — expensive upfront but a worthy investment for what you get in the long run and they also offer a subscription-based model

  • A user-friendly interface and serious elements for complex graphic design work

  • A one-stop shop for editing, design, and page layout

  • Supports most file formats and can be used interchangeably with .AI files


  • With the vast number of features, it could take a while to learn to use them all

  • For years the program was supported only by Windows, as such, the Mac and Web platforms are still showing some bugs

  • For professionals and those starting out, there are not as many online resources to help solve issues as there are with the Adobe suite


From parent company Serif, the Affinity suite of professional creative software is gaining serious momentum in the design world. There are three programs in the line, which only launched in 2015; Photo, Designer, and Publisher offer all of the tools a creative professional will need. Affinity Photo is their pixel editing program and is a serious rival to Photoshop. Someone familiar with Photoshop would catch on to the program quickly as if offers many similar tools such as layers, blend modes, and masks. There are some features, though, that make the program stand out against Photoshop such as live brush preview which shows a live preview of how the brush will work before you start painting — handy when working out blend modes. Affinity Designer is their answer to a vector graphics editor which comes with the standard pen and shape tools for vector design. Self-described as “the fastest, smoothest, most precise vector graphic design software available,” Designer is comparable to Illustrator.

While it is a compelling and legitimate alternative, experienced designers creating complex works will notice that they are behind Illustrator in terms of the overall toolkit. The third program in the Affinity line is Publisher, which aims to take on Adobe’s page layout powerhouse, InDesign. Publisher is newer to the Affinity line, only being released last year and is still in beta form, but it shows real promise. It has adapted modern web design needs, and when creating works, it has document presets for most popular devices making page creation a breeze and seamless across all devices. While the Affinity line has received praise from many designers since its release, it is still lagging behind Adobe in some aspects.


  • One-time purchase model of US$49.99 per program, making it an affordable alternative to Adobe Creative Suite (CS)

  • Suitable for beginners to learn on while still sophisticated enough for designers on a budget

  • The iPad apps are proving to be powerful

  • Supports PSD and AI files along with most other essential file formats

  • Clearly developed to support a streamlined workflow


  • As the line is still relatively new, there are some small bugs

  • Not as many advanced features as Adobe CS

  • Not as many online resources for assistance with the program as Adobe, there are however more and more all the time

  • A little limited for typography tools

Adobe Creative Suite

Finally, there’s the industry standard Adobe Creative Suite. This line of programs is known as the industry standard and leads the pack when it comes to graphic design software. These robust programs have been in the game a long time and are tried and true. Many budding designers, however, complain about the high price and subscription model, and longtime users have been cranky since they made the change to subscription. Even still, the estimated number of subscribers is over nine million, and the “cloud” doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. The Adobe Creative Suite is the only subscription that gives you access to not just photo and graphics editing, but also video and web design. The suite is a mighty player in the creative industry as a whole.


  • Each of the design programs in the suite is a tried and true, powerful application

  • Because of the subscription model, you never have to pay for upgrades

  • It’s the industry standard — if you are working within CS, there should be no issues with file transfer

  • Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign work seamlessly together if you have different needs within a project

  • The applications are reliable, both on Windows and macOS


  • Expensive subscription pricing model

  • No option to outright buy standalone apps

  • Expensive for non-professionals and those wanting to learn design skills

  • No pricing guarantee — Adobe could raise the subscription cost at any time

Overall, Adobe still reigns when it comes to polish and advanced capabilities. For professional graphic design applications, they are still out in front of their competitors. This lead, however, does not mean that some of the other players are not making an impact or could potentially affect Adobe’s position. Many designers are opting for different applications for their professional needs. Businesses are starting to employ user-friendly and cost-effective options for quick and easy design. With design and digital identity becoming such an important piece of any business’s model, we are sure to see some of these players making strides to become more functional, more advanced, and more widely used.

Erika Jones

Erika Jones

Erika Jones is a Tech Reporter and Content Marketer with CMSC Media. Erika enjoys combining her creativity with her technical skills through graphic design. She has a background in communications and marketing and has a flair for social media and content creation. Erika is an avid traveller and enjoys seeing firsthand how technology connects us all in business and pleasure.

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