Graphics software

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Graphics software are computer programs used by designers to create artwork.

Raster software

Raster software is used to create raster graphics. Common used software is:

Adobe Photoshop is the granddaddy of photo editing. It works in printer-friendly CMYK colours as easy as in RGB colours.
Gimp is the open-source and free software alternative to Photoshop. Expect every function of Photoshop to be found in Gimp, but do not expect similar smooth operation.
Low budget commercial alternative to Photoshop. Paintshop Pro works with a slider-panel to make quick and easy adjustments to digital camera images. The work flow is comparable to the one in Adobes Lightroom and Apple's Aperture.
Artweaver is a freeware alternative to Photoshop. Workspace layout and windows are similar to that of Photoshop. Feature set includes: layer management, image cloning, a history function, transparency, pen tablet support, and a host of the common filters in Photoshop.

Vector software

Vector software is used to create vector graphics. Common used software is:

Adobe Illustrator is a widely used vector illustration program. Available stand-alone or as part of an Creative Suite with Photoshop and InDesign (and optional other programs, depending on the suite you choose). A good tutorial for using Illustrator is available here.
CorelDraw is the behemoth of vector design. Maybe not the easiest to work with, but it can make custom true-type fonts, it converts more formats than others and does multi-page as well. The quality of Corel's conversion from bitmap to vector can be a good thing to start with.
Sodipodi is an open source vector design tool.
Microsoft visio might be a first available vector illustration program for people using office suites. Like other office programs, Visio lacks working with printer-friendly CMYK inks. Prime colours without screens are hard to define.
Freehand is no longer developed since it was acquired by Adobe, but it is still for sale. For hard core artwork designers Freehand's easier pen-tool, multi-page and paste-inside functions alone make it a worthy alternative to Illustrator and save you many hours on recreating artwork. The program is old but supports many operating systems, and is lightning fast on new machines. Tutorial for vectorizing in Freehand can be found here

Things to consider when choosing your software

There has been much discussion over the years about which programs are better. Keep in mind when you are evaluating a software package to purchase or open source package to use, that you will probably have to output your designs to a professional printer. Not all commercial printers have all programs available, and not all features are compatible with their output hardware. Contact your printer first to make sure they'll be able to use your files.

Another thing to keep in mind when selecting software, is to choose one where you feel yourself most confortable with. If you are familiar with Photoshop, you will probably feel right at home in Illustrator as well. If you are skilled in Visio you can achieve great result even the toolset is more limited than Illustrator's. It all comes down to how well you know the software and how much time you want to invest to learn new skills for a particular software package.

See also