Karol is Web Developer & Designer who knows all the ins and outs of a WordPress. You can reach him on Twitter (@carlosinho)

I don’t know about you, but for me dabbling in anything related to web design can be both extremely fun and extremely frustrating.

To find yourself in more of the former than the latter, you need to have the right tools at your disposal. Hence, working with the best web design software available.

I know it might sound simple, maybe even trivial, but having the right software at hand can really enable you to do a day’s worth of work in just an hour or so. It also goes the other way around – bad software = bad work efficiency.

Today, I want to talk about what I consider to be the best web design software around. I divided this list into four main parts:

  1. Web Design Software for Beginners – these tools are mainly towards complete beginners who’re just exploring options for web development.
  2. Essential Web Design Software – this is the kind of best web design software that everyone can benefit from.
  3. Web Design Helpers – you can think of them as “good-to-haves” – stuff that can make your life easier but isn’t mandatory for every web-design-related task.
  4. New Web Design Software – up-and-coming software that’s new on the market, but has already proven to be extremely useful.

P.S. If you are interested in very simple (easy to use) web design software, then check our website builders review here.


Web Design Software for Beginners

Learn WordPress
WordPress is FREE, but a domain name and web hosts cost $5/mo

WordPress (FREE)

I’m including WordPress on my list of the best web design software purely because, at this point in history, it very much is.

WordPress is by far the most popular website building platform which is VERY flexible.

In other words, WordPress is a piece of software that sits in the background and acts as the engine that keeps your website going. It’s also incredibly popular. According to the newest data, WordPress runs ~32% of all websites on the web. To emphasize it – the statistics goes for all websites out there!

It’s also the tool that I’ve been using for years when building new websites, and the tool that I always recommend to anyone who’s thinking of building a website of their own.

WordPress comes with a slight learning curve (compared to Wix). If you want to learn more about WordPress, we have a handful of guides and tutorials on the site. Personally, I’d advise this one as the best introduction to WordPress and its possibilities.

P.S. While WordPress itself is free, domain name and web hosting (which is included with Wix already) will cost roughly $5/mo. Any web host supports (I’m recommending Bluehost) WordPress nowadays, and they will happily do the initial (blank) set up for you, leaving all the fun stuff for you to do. 

Essential Web Design Software

Photoshop logo1. Adobe Photoshop ($9.99/mo)

Adobe PhotoShop Official Pagehttps://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

Sorry. I know that I might have just spent a couple of minutes telling you how Photoshop is not the be-all end-all of web design. But hey – I want to keep this list complete, so I just have to mention Photoshop as no.1, purely due to its unquestionable position as the market leader among the best web design software.

About Photoshop:

In a sentence, it’s an extremely versatile tool that can be used to work on any kind of design project, not just web design. Its primary purpose is to help you work with raster graphics (click here for more info on what that means). For example, every picture taken by your phone camera is then saved as a raster graphic.

With Photoshop, you can adjust any aspect of an image or a graphic (including the colors, saturation, blurs, sharpness, and so on). You can also create completely custom graphics from scratch (for example, website layouts and visualizations).

You can combine multiple images as part of one project, and make sure that they all fit together by using various filters or performing some transformations.

When you first open Photoshop, you get a blank canvas onto which you can start placing various elements (in layers), and adjust them one by one until you have your final effect.

Photoshop itself is a very manual tool, so to speak. It requires you to know exactly what you want to do and what sort of result you want to achieve. For that, it also requires some design skill and knowledge to really be able to take a full advantage of it.

Either way, it’s still a great piece of software to have in your toolbox, just because there’s simply no web design task that can’t be done with Photoshop.

You can get Photoshop either as part of Adobe’s monthly subscription plan – Adobe Creative Cloud – starting at $19.99 a month, or you can get it for a one-time fee of $699 (visit a local store). Available for Windows and Mac.

I know, not cheap! This is where our second tool comes to play:


GIMP Official Pagehttps://www.gimp.org/

Now that I’ve spent quite a while talking about Photoshop, explaining what GIMP is should be very easy:

In short, it’s the best free alternative to Photoshop on the market.

While it might not have all the features that Photoshop offers, the most important and the most often used stuff is there. It should be more than enough to handle the majority of your web design projects.

You can get GIMP for Windows, Mac, and a handful of other platforms too.

Sketch Logo3. Sketch ($99 one-time)

Sketch Official Pagehttps://www.sketchapp.com/

Launched in 2009, this tool has quickly found its spot among the best web design software out there. It’s somewhat similar to Photoshop, but not quite. I mean, where Photoshop can be used to work on any sort of a design project, Sketch is purely web-design-centered, and it shows!

The great thing about it is that all of the features have been built from the ground up to really address the needs of a web design project. The way the interface itself works and the way all the toolbars and functions are laid out makes working with Sketch very intuitive and much easier to grasp than Photoshop.

More so, Sketch works with vector graphics, which enables you to re-scale the piece you’re working on freely, without losing any of its visual quality (like you do with raster graphics).

Last but not least, you can also take advantage of the mirroring feature, which allows you to preview your work on any mobile device integrated with your main Sketch install.

In short – highly optimized tool, great for web design, much easier to use than Photoshop.

The only downside to Sketch is that it’s available on Mac only. If you want something for Win, you can check out:

Adobe Dreamweaver logo4. Adobe Dreamweaver ($29.99/mo)

Adobe DreamWeaver Official Pagehttps://www.adobe.com/products/dreamweaver.html

Dreamweaver is a tool with a history. It was first introduced by a company called Macromedia, which was then acquired by Adobe, hence brought under the big Adobe umbrella.

Dreamweaver has long been regarded as the best web design software out there, especially in a time when it was basically the only sensible tool on the block.

In short, Dreamweaver provides you with a nice environment to work on your website, which combines a code editor along with a live view. You can adjust your website in either, therefore quick modifications are also possible.

The great thing about it is that you can build a complete website with Dreamweaver from scratch, and have it exported to actual working website files.

In the end, it’s a good beginner’s all-around web design tool. Similarly to Photoshop, you can get it as part of Adobe Creative Cloud starting from $19.99 a month.

Here’s a step-by-step Dreamweaver tutorial

Adobe Color Wheel5. Color Wheel (FREE)

Color Wheel Official Pagehttps://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/

At this point, you’re probably starting to see a pattern here – it’s our third Adobe tool on the list already, and we’re only getting started. But what can I do – Adobe is good at web design things!

Anyway, a color tool absolutely deserves a spot on any list of best web design software. After all, colors are what drives a project’s emotional feel, and what ties the whole creation together.

Specifically, Adobe Color is a color scheme creation tool. It’s all web based and entirely free. There are multiple ways in which you can use it. The most common one is probably to start with a seed color, and then let the tool help you pick additional colors, which will then combine into a nice color scheme.

Having a consistent color scheme is very important for any web design project. Basically, when not done properly, a poor color scheme is a dead giveaway that a website hasn’t been built by someone who knew what they’re doing.

Adobe Color simply helps you to avoid any problems like that by calculating the best fitting colors in the color scheme based on the seed color provided by you. You can set the type of a color scheme that you’re interested in as well. For example monochromatic, triad, complementary, and so on. Don’t worry, this will all become clear as soon as you visit Adobe Color.

Note. If you don’t feel particularly creative, you can also check out Adobe’s directory of ready-made color schemes.

6. Pictaculous (FREE)

Pictaculous Official Pagehttp://www.pictaculous.com/

Initially, I wanted to include just one color tool on this list, but Pictaculous is just too awesome to ignore.

Simply speaking, it’s another color scheme tool, but it works very differently than Adobe Color.

It lets you upload a picture, any picture, then extracts the main color palette used in that picture. This makes it an awesome tool if you’re building a website design where you want to put a certain picture in the background and want to make sure that everything around that picture will fit (color-wise).

Pictaculous is a free web tool.

7. Balsamiq (FREE)

Balsamiq Official Pagehttps://balsamiq.com/

Balsamiq fills an interesting niche when it comes to best web design software. For example, if you want to build a complete web design, you can use Sketch or Photoshop for that. If you then want to turn that design into a live website, WordPress will handle the task perfectly.

But what if you’re at an earlier stage? For example, you’re brainstorming with a team or even on your own, and you simply want to come up with a good layout that would be a nice starting point for further work. This is where wireframing comes into play.

Balsamiq is one of the best wireframing tools around. It’s easy to use and gives you a nice canvas to fill along with all the common website structure elements you could need.

Balsamiq is available for Mac and Windows, and the single user license is $89.

8. Lightshot (FREE)

Lightshot Official Pagehttps://app.prntscr.com/en/index.html

Lightshot is a very simple tool but an incredibly useful one at the same time. It is, by far, the best screenshot-taking tool out there.

When working on any design project, you will find yourself taking screenshots a lot. Especially if you’re working with other people and want to show them something.

What’s awesome about Lightshot is that it integrates with your operating system’s default screenshot taking feature (Cmd + Shift + 9 on Mac or Print Scr on Win). When triggered, it lets you select a specific area of the screen, and then save it or share directly with other people. You can also edit the screenshot before saving (annotate it, add text, arrows, etc.).

It’s totally free and works on Mac and Win.

9. Sublime Text 2 ($70 one-time)

Sublime Text 2 Official Pagehttp://www.sublimetext.com/2

Sublime Text 2 is probably the best code editor on the market. Granted, it’s not a web design tool per se, but it’s hard to imagine taking a web design project and then – in the subsequent steps – not creating any code around it.

Sublime Text 2 has all the goodies you’d need, like syntax highlighting, auto-completing common phrases and commands, and more.

It works on Mac and Windows. To quote the official site, “Sublime Text 2 may be downloaded and evaluated for free, however, a license must be purchased for continued use.” The price tag on that is $70.


Okay, how do you test if whatever you’ve designed actually works on a real web server and acts like a real website?

You can either, (a) buy a hosting account just for the purpose of testing, or (b) install a web server locally.

Let’s stick with the latter.

WAMP and MAMP let you do that. They are a local web server software that comes together with a database engine and PHP processing – in a word, everything you need to get most websites going (including WordPress).

In short – whatever you design, you can then put through WAMP/MAMP and see if it works properly prior to rolling it out to an external (production) web server.

The basic versions of both are free. You can use WAMP for Win, and MAMP for Mac.


Chrome DevTools

Chrome DevTools is one of those examples of the best web design software that somehow doesn’t get enough credit most of the time. Probably because it’s included in Google Chrome by default, so people just take it for granted.

Nevertheless, when working on a fairly finished iteration of your web design project, you’re just one keyboard shortcut away from a wealth of valuable insights and information. When in Chrome, just press:

  • On Win: Ctrl + Shift + i
  • On Mac: Cmd + Opt + i

This will trigger Chrome DevTools. As soon as you press the magic key combination, you will be able to see things like:

  • Your page’s elements structure,
  • the JS console,
  • sources and assets,
  • network simulator,
  • execution timeline, and more.

You will also be able to simulate the behavior of the page on various mobile devices, which speeds up mobile design considerably.

Overall, Chrome DevTools is basically the perfect web design software for debugging and figuring out why something that you’ve designed doesn’t work as planned.

More about Chrome DevTools here.


Web Design Helpers

I’m going to keep this section shorter, only sharing very brief descriptions of each tool – just to pique your interest enough so that you’ll check them out:

1. Canva (FREE)

Great for designing custom design cards, blog images, and all sorts of social media graphics (for Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Very easy to use!

2. Sass (FREE)

Probably the best CSS extension language on the market. Think CSS, but with variables and other interesting elements usually associated with standard programming languages.

3. Bootstrap (FREE)

Bootstrap is an HTML, CSS, and JS framework for building responsive and mobile-first websites. It makes the front-end design and development much quicker. Originally introduced by Twitter.

Page Builders for WordPress

WordPress hasn’t always been a visual-design-friendly tool, but this has changed with the popularization of page builder plugins. In a sentence, those plugins easily put WordPress on par with other best web design software. Some of the popular plugins include MotoPress (premium) and Elementor (free).

1. HTML-Ipsum (FREE)

Everybody needs some “Lorem Ipsum” text for their web design projects. This tool gives you dummy text already in HTML.

2. TinyPNG (FREE)

Make your graphics files smaller without losing any of the quality.

New Web Design Software

Finally, the last sub-group of best web design software. These are the newest and most hip tools on the market:

  • Adobe Spark – Similar to Canva, most useful in its mobile app version.
  • HTML Email – Responsive HTML email templates.
  • Gutenberg – A framework that helps your website print correctly.
  • Avocode – A working environment that helps you (designer) communicate better with a developer.
  • Patterninja – A great pattern-making tool.
  • ProtoPie – Design mobile interactions without code.
  • Coggle – An easy-to-use mind-mapping tool. Great for brainstorming design ideas.

More? Here’s the bonus part:

If you’re just getting started and already have a headache looking at all the best web design software featured in this resource, here are a couple of shortlists to make things simpler.

Do you find yourself thinking:

“I just want to build a simple website”. Use:

“I want to communicate with the person building my site better”

  • Balsamiq, Lightshot, Coggle.

“I want to experiment with web design, but have a small budget”

  • WordPress, GIMP, Adobe Color, WAMP, Chrome DevTools, Sublime Text 2.

“I want the best web design software on the market”

  • WordPress, Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, Balsamiq, Chrome DevTools, Sublime Text 2.


Comments? Feedback? Leave a comment below.

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  1. Avatar

    Forgot another requirement: 3. I would like to be able to password protect ONE page of my site where we have personal contact information without having to password protect the entire website (as I have to in Website Builder).

    • Avatar
      Nick Schäferhoff

      I know that in WordPress, you have this functionality built in. I don’t know about every other website builder since I never had to use this before.

  2. Avatar

    I would like to find a website building software that would allow you to: 1. sort columns by (ex: Last Name, First Name, etc.) and 2. Be able to adjust picture sizes – or even superimpose text over a picture. Is there such a product? I have used WordPress before (but probably the free version from Big Daddy hosting) and it doesn’t. I have also used Website Builder and Web.com and neither of them will do it either. Thanks for your help

    • Avatar
      Nick Schäferhoff

      Hey Joni, WordPress and other website builders can do all of the above. However, much of it depends on the configuration you are using. For example, in WordPress there is the TablePress plugin for all things columns. Superimposing text on images is part of your theme, so you need to find one that supports this feature. In other site solutions it might be the same. So, it’s all a matter of research.

      Does this answer your questions?

  3. Avatar

    We want to make changes on our existing website without depending on the company HOSTING it because they keep charging us for every little thing they do. What is the best way for us to make changes on our own? The company has given us instructions on how to make minor changes such as additional writing, but major changes such as TITLES on PAGES such as ABOUT US, they refuse to tell us and want to charge us $500 for making those minor changes.

  4. Avatar

    Is there any software or tools to develop custom website or custom WordPress plugin to create a website that has e-commerce functionality without any coding knowledge?
    I only know basic fundamentals of PHP, HTML, javascript.
    suggest me a software or any solution to create a website for my idea

  5. Avatar

    I am also front end web designer. In start i used FrontPage (ahh). After tht I used the Adobe dreamweaver in uni time. But aftr family I was out of touch for 10 years. Now aftr long break want to start again so plz give me guide which book I will buy and which SW I use. I know all basic of HTML,CSS,JS

  6. Avatar
    Jay Jabere Crawston

    Beautiful list but you forgot weebly and wix and such. If your not gonna hand code ya might as well just use those. And google sites is even easier and cheaper than those.

  7. Avatar

    I started with hotmetal pro, then frontpage, then tried expression web (too steep a learning curve), then trieD WYSIWYG Web builder (nice but not enough images). Then I moved to Serif’s WebPlus. This is fine but uses proprietary structure. Now I am looking for versatility but don’t want to go as far as Dreamweaver. What would you suggest?

    • WebsiteSetup Editorial
      WebsiteSetup Editorial

      Hi, it depends on the kind of site you want to make but I’d recommend giving WordPress a shot as it’s easy to learn but still offers an incredible amount of flexibility.

  8. Avatar

    Great article. I have been assigned to build a wesite for the High Energy Physics group at my campus. At least i now have a starting point and a rough idea of what to do. Thanks very much. I will take any ideas though. I have been told to use graphical editors so that modification of site content will be easier rather tahn use HTML5 and JS or CSS3.

  9. Avatar

    This was a really comprehensive and helpful list thanks to all your feedback and explanations. Thanks for the great resource!

  10. Avatar

    Excellent coverage of these tools. I usually use Linux. But, in order to use the Adobe CC tools, I had to start using Windows recently. So, I was looking for some tools. I really miss Linux my Linux environment.

    By the way, I was going to click like on your facebook link, but it’s flickering and was too much trouble, so I didn’t get too. You might want to fix that. I’m sure there are others who appreciate your articles and want to support you with Social Love. It looks like when the link image expands, it runs out of space, then drops to the next line, then bounces back up in an endless loop. I would either open up and keep it open to remove the animated feature, or move it to a different part of your page where it’s not competing for horizontal space with other elements.

    Nice cover, again.

  11. Avatar

    As a new up and coming web designer what is your opinion on the best software to use where I will be able design websites effectively and then pass it onto a client. My preference was to use Adobe Muse to allow for a freedom of design. However lots of people suggest WordPress and Dreamweaver both of which are not favourites of mine as WordPress is not as creatively flexible and Dreamweaver and coding is a struggle for myself. What is your opinion on Muse and is it a software that is suitable for this kind of work as a web designer where I will be giving the client the reigns of the website once I have completed it?

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      For a new and up and coming Website designer, just my opinion, “Never build a site to turn over to someone else”, you build it, they pay for it, you maintain it! and they pay for updates. You now have a ongoing client. Good luck to you with your career.

  12. Avatar

    I used to use Microsoft’s FrontPage to do my web design stuff to make it easier for my family and I to keep in touch when I was stationed overseas. I liked FrontPage because it did it all for me. I’d design the page like I was using Word or Publisher, stick in my pictures, and FrontPage would make sure everything matched. Layout, colors, fonts, graphics, etc. Then I’d just hit a button and FrontPage would ship everything to my web server.

    Now, ISPs no longer provide webpage space, FrontPage is gone, and I need to design a website that will allow me to upload PDF files for others to download. I’d also like to be able to grow the website so that I can start doing all that fun and exciting eCommerce stuff.

    So. After all that build-up, here’s my question: What is the best web design software to use (free is always niftiest) that can do all that FrontPage did and more?

    Thanks very much.

    John C

  13. Avatar

    Thank you, I found this article pretty informative, nicely laid out and an enjoyable/easy read. I do have a question about the programs. I am looking for a program that I can run on my laptop to log into my company’s website and make little data changes on the small end. On the big end just copy a page template and input new information. It looks like some of these software programs are for installing on the web server and not for use on the personal computer. The last program I used for web design was FrontPage about 15 years ago. Any suggestions on the best program for these needs? Joomla was recommended, but you didn’t reference it at all.

  14. Avatar

    I know nothing of HTML or CSS. Remember MS Frontpage? I used that up until no one supported it any longer. Is there a program that will work for me?

  15. Avatar

    I’m getting ready to do my first website for our volunteer organization. My background is mainframe programming (yes, a dinasaur). I’m confused by all the pieces I seem to need to build a website. Is there anything that does everything? Test environment, color design, performance, etc?

  16. Avatar

    Thanks to the author for sharing these vital information. My designer is using the paid version of Adobe Photoshop and sometimes the free version of WordPress. Previously I was totally ignorant of so many free softwares for designing purpose.I would definitely use them!

  17. Avatar

    Karol, you mentioned in your article that: “WordPress is the engine, and the great part here is that you can take this engine and then put basically any type of design on top of it. This means that you can take your website design built in Sketch or Photoshop and turn it into a working WordPress site.”
    I have a website I created in an old version of Dreamweaver 6. I like the website a lot, but I’ve run into a snag with Dreamweaver for making it respondent across devices. Basically, Dreamweaver says it can’t be done except with lots of coding experience, which I do not have.
    My website host offers WordPress, and even some support, but even they claim it would be very difficult to make my site adapt in WordPress
    So my question to you, is do you know the inns and outs for accomplishing my task? Please contact me if you do.

    • Avatar

      Although it might sound like much more work, I actually recommend picking a new theme for WordPress – one that’s the closest to what you want to achieve design-wise – and then adjusting it to fit your needs perfectly.

      In practice, you will be able to go through with this much quicker than when taking an old design built in Dreamweaver and trying to turn it into a WordPress site.

      For instance, you can pick one of the bigger “mega themes”, like X or Divi, and then realign the elements of the design without any need to go into code.