Making a cartoon comic strip, manga comic series, or cartoon animation is not easy. Not only do you have to worry about getting the right team of writers, pencil artists, and inkers but you also have to get the best software for cartoon drawing. Some of the best tools are PaintTool SAI, Adobe Illustrator, and Manga Studio.
The software is designed to help correct you with the pencil work, layout, coloring, and more. You still need to be able to draw and work as a team but the software does a lot of the tedious work for you and also gives you the ability to create intricate pieces of work. Unfortunately, all of those are pretty expensive.
If you're just starting out with you and a few friends, hoping to practice and dip your feet in the water then you will want to start out with freeware software instead. You will not be spending money and still be able to experience the process of professional cartoon drawing. Take a look at some of the best freeware software for cartoon drawing below:
SmoothDraw – out of all the different freeware, SmoothDraw is the most basic but it does offer a lot. This is basically a trimmed version of Adobe Photoshop. You could consider it more like Photoshop CS2 or CS3 when it is compared to the new Adobe Photoshop CS6. It does not work with Vector images so you'll have to work a little bit more carefully with SmoothDraw. It does offer a wide variety of brush strokes and it is compatible with light pens and other drawing peripherals. The only problem with SmoothDraw is that while it is quite capable, it is mostly designed to do single images and the majority of the tools are for portrait brush strokes and not cartoon designs.
Inkscape – if you had to pick one freeware that could be a perfect replacement to Adobe Illustrator then you can not go wrong with Inkscape. As a matter of fact, many artists in Deviant Art that do comic book art and animation use Inkscape. This is a very in-depth tool that not only allows to do work from scratch but it also allows you to convert bitmap images to Vector formats. This is perfect if you are transferring sketches from real paper to the computer for editing and coloring.
Inkscape looks and feels like a merger of Manga Studio and Adobe Illustrator. This is because it has all the usual Vector editing tools of Illustrator but the interface and additional tools are specifically for drawing. If you are going for comic strip art or even frame-by-frame then this is the freeware tool you are looking for.
Synfig Studio – so freeware software can top Inkscape? If you have the time and patience to go over a very steep learning curve then Synfig Studio is the best choice. It has a lot more options for artists and is even capable of frame by frame animations. Many cartoonists use Synfig Studios to do cartoon animations especially for advertisements or when they want to present a sample (2-3 minutes) to a large animation studio. Some Japanese anime studios use Synfig when they are making episodes for their anime show.
Never limit yourself. Yes, the paid products might offer more tools and plug-ins but the free software can still get the job done. Inkscape pretty much handles the job pretty well but if you are hiring for more advanced options and animation capabilities for your drawings then Synfig Studios is your free option. You just have to take the time to study it well. In the end, it still depends on you and your team. After all, the majority of the work is still dependent on your ability to write and draw, whether on paper or on a computer peripheral.