Best Sketching Software

Sketching software allows users to create a drawing with digital graphics. Instead of traditional art supplies such as paper and pen, artists create drawings on a computer or tablet using digital tools such as brush sets, color palettes, and more. These drawings can range from 2D drafts that visually communicate how something functions or is constructed to digital artwork. These products can be used by illustrators or designers in many different industries, such as automotive design and traditional construction. These tools allow you to take sketches one step further with functions such as pushing and pulling surfaces to turn them into 3D designs. Sketching solutions typically integrate with general-purpose CAD, as sketching files may be imported to CAD tools to create 3D models.

To qualify for inclusion in the Sketching category, a product must:

  • Offer the functionality to create 2D digital sketches within the platform
  • Allow for users to edit the sketch with a variety of different tools
  • Export sketch files in 2D or 3D

What You Should Know About Sketching Software

Sketching software is meant to seamlessly transition traditional art and design to a digital format to keep this process more intuitive for the user. You can simulate any medium with these solutions—wood, charcoal, paint, or pencil. Artists or designers use a stylus as a pencil or a paintbrush on a screen or tablet to create designs or works of art. One option could be a graphics tablet, which is a smaller screen connected to a computer that acts as a drawing pad. As you sketch on the tablet, it translates your strokes onto the screen.

This software can serve as the basis for more complicated designs or artwork, including animated scenes. Since not every sketching solution is capable of 3D designs, these products are typically compatible with CAD tools. That way, sketch files can be exported into 3D CAD files, allowing for the creation of 3D models.

Why Use Sketching Software?

Digital sketching expands the boundaries of physical art and design. Manually drafting up designs, painting on a canvas, or creating a sculpture takes multiple tools; with sketching solutions, users have a comprehensive selection of tools at their fingertips. Sketching software can support multiple capabilities—including an unlimited color palette, multiple line weights, and unmatched precision and control—within one platform.

Digital sketching software also offers editing capabilities that are not possible with physical art and design. For example, with traditional painting, layers are painted directly on top of each other, making it impossible to edit each layer separately. Sketching software, meanwhile, offers the ability to manipulate individual layers through the use of color, shadows, special effects, and more.

In addition, unlike drafting up sketches in real life, a separate tool is not needed to adjust lines in sketches; the functionality to create curves and smooth lines is built into sketching solutions. In practice, this helps achieve an accurate design quicker, meaning the product being designed can go to market faster.

Who Uses Sketching Software?

Sketching software is commonly used to create technical drawings depicting a process or how something is constructed. Architects use this software to sketch out designs for buildings, so that the full structure of the building can be seen. When these sketches are rendered, they can be used to show the location of windows, doorways, stairwells, and other points of interest. These sketches are often exported as CAD files to then create a 3D model of the design.

Engineers utilize these solutions to depict the structure of a building they construct, or even the individual parts of a product. Sketching solutions also allow engineers to create detailed schematics that outline how a product works. With this information, a manufacturer can bring the product to life.

Artists working in any medium can benefit from sketching products as well, as they enable artists to create digital works of art. Artists have an endless amount of colors at their disposal. The stylus used to create art can function as a paintbrush, pencil, and more. Digital art eliminates the limitations of physical art, since the platform can mimic almost any medium.

Kinds of Sketching Software

While there are not different subcategories of sketching software, some sketching products might emphasize certain applications of sketching. One such application is digital illustration. This style of sketching is most commonly used by artists. They can use a stylus and screen to replace a pencil and paper. Traditional sketching techniques such as layers, perspective, and reshaping translate to these solutions.

Sketching software users who draft up a model of a structure or object utilize these solutions for their 2D CAD capabilities. These products allow users to quickly create a precise 2D drawing without the use of stencils and other technical drawing tools. Similarly, industrial designers use sketching software for its concept drawing capabilities.

Architects and engineers may use these solutions for technical drawing as well. These drafts are intended to visually communicate how something is constructed or how a process works. While there are different applications for sketching software, they are all typically used in these industries to serve as the basis for a 3D model.

Sketching Software Features

Sketching software should offer its users a robust toolkit. The use of a stylus allows the user to create a variety of strokes and line weights. The stylus can act as different tools, such as a paintbrush or pen. Sketching solutions provide other valuable tools, such as rulers and straight edges, so users can ensure designs are as precise as possible. Sketching software should also offer an artist or designer an endless amount of colors to choose from.

No matter the user’s industry, the 2D drafting capabilities included in sketching software are highly valuable. The toolkit in these products make for comprehensive 2D drafting, along with editing and annotation capabilities. Sketching software is so precise that it enables users to annotate drafts with text, dimensions, leaders, and tables.

While some sketching tools allow 3D drafting, the feature is not universal. Many drawings created within these products serve as the basis for 3D models, so those solutions that only allow for drafting in 2D should be compatible with 3D CAD files.

Additional Sketching Software Features

Sketching solutions should offer features that allow users to create the most precise and accurate designs possible. Some sketching products might offer symmetry dimensions so that the design is drafted with uniformity. Various rulers, guides, and French curves may be available for precision drawing. These products should be adjustable for the user’s needs.

For those products more focused on the digital art side of sketching, solutions often have features that enable you to create a work of art right on your screen. These tools may allow you to blend layers of color, add shading, and more.

Trends Related to Sketching Software

Mobile access is quickly becoming a relevant trend in sketching software. Cloud features are popular within many software categories, including 2D CAD. This means that people have access to their apps, tools, and other data at any time so users can draft models on the go.

Different digital art styles are trending in sketching software as well. One current trend is the color channels effect, which distorts reality through colors. Another digital art trend is the double exposure duotone. This is the overlapping of images in a monochromatic to give an “ahead of time” effect. The toolkits offered in sketching solutions could enable you to achieve these trends, and keep up with new and emerging trends as well.

Potential Issues with Sketching Software

Cost – Creating digital art is pricey. Aside from purchasing the sketching solution of your choice, you will likely need to purchase a graphics tablet that comes with a stylus. The advanced nature of the software and its digital tools make a keyboard and mouse ineffective for sketching.

Ownership — When you digitally draft up a design, it becomes far easier to steal than something created on a piece of paper. If a piece of digital art is stolen, you may lose sole ownership over your creation. However, some solutions may allow for you to create a digital watermark, which would prevent theft.

Prototypes are required — 2D designs are often intended to serve as the basis for a 3D design. However, a 2D design simply cannot communicate the same detail that a 3D design tool can. That means you may need to create a prototype of whatever you are designing. This might be the only way to get a complete view of the product being designed so you can ensure there are no flaws before it goes to market.

Rendering — While some sketching solutions offer the ability to draw in 3D, not all of them do. That means that another advantage of comprehensive 3D solutions is their ability to render a design. If your sketching software does not have 3D capabilities, you will need to export your file to a separate solution that supports rendering.

Software and Services Related to Sketching Software

3D modelingIf the sketching product you select does not support 3D designs, you may want to consider finding a 3D modeling solution that integrates with your existing product. These tools can create a 3D model of the product designed with sketching software. Once a 3D model is created, a separate product can be used to render it. This will allow you to visualize your 3D design in a 3D environment.

3D renderingAs only some sketching software solutions support rendering, a compatible software that can render all your 3D designs into a scene might be necessary. 3D rendering software takes the 3D models created and places them into fully realized 3D environments. Integrating a 3D rendering solution into your design process allows you to see your design from all angles in a realistic way, helping you or your clients to check for flaws. 3D modeling and 3D rendering solutions are typically compatible with one another, if not offered in a bundle.

Graphic design services providersIf you are using sketching software for its art and design capabilities and do not have the resources to learn 3D design software, a graphic design services provider may be a good fit for you. These firms can create a visual representation of your brand’s ideas that can be used to attract potential and current customers. While this is not a guarantee, some graphic design companies may be adept at 3D design.

Compare Sketching Software
    Results: 15

    Star Rating

    Sketching reviews by real, verified users. Find unbiased ratings on user satisfaction, features, and price based on the most reviews available anywhere.

    SketchUp is one of the most popular 3D modeling and design tools in the world. Here at Trimble, our mission is to help make our users better, smarter, and more successful through the use of state of the art software and hardware. Trimble is an exciting, entrepreneurial company, with a history of exceptional growth coupled with a disciplined and strategic focus on being the best. While GPS is at our core, we have grown beyond this technology to embrace other sophisticated positioning technologies and, in doing so; we are changing the way the world works. Our solutions are used in over 140 countries and we have incredibly diverse lines of business. Our employees represent this diversity and can be found in over 30 countries, working closely with their colleagues around the world. SketchUp, part of Trimble’s Construction sector, is 3D modeling software that's easy to learn and incredibly fun to use. Today, hundreds of thousands of architects, engineers, contractors, woodworkers, artists, and other creatives use SketchUp Pro, LayOut, Extension Warehouse and the 3D Warehouse to design everything from transit centers to tree-houses and everything in between.

    Creo Sketch is a free 2D CAD application that offers the easiest way for anyone to quickly sketch out product design ideas and share them electronically with customers, suppliers and coworkers. It lets you add color and other visual enhancements to transform quick sketches into finished artwork. What’s more, 2D images created with this app can be imported into other Creo apps and used as the basis for improved 3D CAD designs. By capturing ideas digitally that can be used as trace sketches and developed further in CAD, you can increase innovation, enhance collaboration and get winning product designs to market faster.

    SketchBook drawing app and painting software helps digital artists and illustrators design with professional-grade perspective tools and an intuitive user interface.

    Creo Elements/Direct Drafting (formerly CoCreate Drafting) is a comprehensive 2D CAD system with powerful assembly management and 2D parametric capabilities that allow you to adapt existing drawings and create families of parts or drawings more easily.

    SketchList 3D enables you to create designs for your custom cabinetry and woodworking business

    SmartSketch is an innovative tool for the technical office, combining world class business diagramming with award-winning drawing technology. It is a versatile, cost-effective precision engineering and drafting product that gives EPCs and owner operators a competitive edge throughout the plant life cycle by speeding productivity, cutting costs, and offering a sophisticated degree of automation for detail work.

    3D Visioner is an add-on for Microsoft Visio, extending its capability to show your two-dimensional drawing as realistically looking 3D scenes. Features: Building Plan with Walls, Doors, and Windows Network and Communication shapes Site Accessories, Vehicles, Planting and Garden Accessories Custom 3D models import in .OBJ and .X formats Export 3D scene to .OBJ format FlyView mode and video export Flexible 3D height and angles control Support for multiple users on the same PC Transform your flat 2D Visio sketches to 3D quickly and easily

    ArcSite is the simple, fast way to draw & markup blueprints and floor plans. Take photos and associate them with drawings, manage your own shapes with properties like materials, create your own forms, share and co-edit with coworkers, it is as easy as pen & paper. As a standalone app, ArcSite can also be integrated with AutoCAD, Salesforce, GIS, and/or other cloud apps.

    CloudWorx for SmartPlant sometrics helps you quickly create piping isometric documents from a point cloud with no need for a 3D model

    Isogen is the world's leading solution for the total automation of piping isometric drawing production and is the Hexagon PPM standard system for drawing piping isometrics. Isogen is bundled with Intergraph Smart 3D, PDS, CADWorx, CAESAR II, and SmartPlant Spoolgen and SmartPlant Isometrics

    MacDraft Professional is a 2D CAD app that makes floor plan design, architectural drawing and illustration simple on the Mac.

    ViaCAD 2D is the perfect choice for producing anything from simple sketches to production ready schematics, diagrams, or drawings.

    SmartDraw is the easiest way to create complex and powerful visuals from any device or platform. SmartDraw offers over 4,500 smart templates and more than 34,000 symbols for over 70 different types of diagrams, including flowcharts, org charts, floor plans, network diagrams, and more. SmartDraw is the best alternative to Microsoft Visio® and organizations looking for an affordable yet powerful Visio replacement. SmartDraw allows you to open Visio files even if you don't have Visio installed on your system. You can even batch convert entire directories of Visio files at once. It's best of both worlds. You get the power and ease of SmartDraw and the ability to collaborate with Visio users.

    SmartPlant Markup Plus provides precision view, print, and markup capabilities to the CAD and raster formats commonly used in process engineering applications

    SmartPlant Spoolgen is a proven, industrial-strength application that enables the creation of piping isometric drawings for fabrication and erection from the design created during the detail engineering phase of projects

    Kate from G2 Crowd

    Learning about Sketching?

    I can help.