5 Best Open Source Graphics Programs

By Joe Brockmeier | Posted June 10, 2015
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    5 Best Open Source Graphics Programs

    Do you want to create your own promotional materials for your small business? Before you shell out big bucks for Adobe Creative Suite or another set of proprietary graphics software tools, you should think about what open source software has to offer. If you'd like to create professional work without breaking the bank, I've got five open source graphics apps that will get the job done.

    If your business focuses entirely on graphics work of some kind (Web design, desktop publication, etc.) then you may want to invest in tools like Adobe Creative Suite. Even though I'm a big fan of open source software, there are some jobs that require or at least benefit greatly from proprietary tools -- though in skilled hands I've seen free and open source tools produce results that rival proprietary tools.

    But if you're not in the graphics business, you can save some cash and provide your staff with all the graphics tools they can eat by choosing open source software instead. Let's look at the best of the lot.

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    Gimp: open source graphics software
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    Gimp: open source graphics software

    The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is one of the oldest and most successful open source applications. It's widely used by photography enthusiasts and open source enthusiasts who are looking for an alternative to Photoshop. While it's not quite as full-featured as Photoshop (and enthusiasts can explain in great detail where GIMP has shortcomings for high-end photo editing), GIMP offers just about everything that a small business owner would need for image retouching, editing and so on.

    GIMP has a rich set of filters and tools to manipulate photos for print or Web publishing. Whether you need to do some simple re-sizing, heavy retouching or creating images from scratch, GIMP is the tool of choice for working with bitmap images.

    Here's another reason to love GIMP. It has a comprehensive user manual and a fair amount of help online. GIMP is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, and it now runs natively on OS X, without the need to install special X11 libraries.

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    Inkscape: open source graphics software
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    Inkscape: open source graphics software

    As GIMP is to bitmap editing, Inkscape is to editing vector graphics. If you're not familiar with the two, see this About.com piece for a good breakdown of vector versus bitmap.

    Inkscape is similar to tools like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. It lets you edit and create complex (or simple) artwork -- anything from icons and simple clip art to complex illustrations for children's books. Check out the gallery on the Inkscape Wiki for some examples of what can be done with Inkscape.

    If you're familiar with Illustrator or another vector graphics tool, it shouldn't be difficult to get up to speed with Inkscape. If not, the documentation provided by the Inkscape community should prove very helpful. Inkscape is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.

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    Scribus: open source graphics software
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    Scribus: open source graphics software

    Need to whip up a brochure for your business, or maybe a PDF that you can send to clients and want something with a bit more oomph than Microsoft Word orLibreOffice Writer can provide? Scribus is an open source desktop publishing tool that can help you create press-ready output.

    Scribus is similar to tools like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. It may not have as many features as those tools, but it is up to the task of creating just about any publication that your small business may need. Like GIMP and Inkscape, Scribus has great documentation.

    The Scribus Project provides packages and installers for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.

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    LibreOffice Draw: open source graphics software
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    LibreOffice Draw: open source graphics software

    For simple graphics, diagrams and charts, you might want to turn to LibreOffice Draw. As the name suggests, Draw is part of the open source LibreOffice productivity suite.

    You can use Draw for very complex artwork, but it's also well-suited for creating charts and diagrams or other simple artwork for presentations and so on.

    You might not be familiar with LibreOffice, but have probably heard of OpenOffice.org. LibreOffice is a project that spun off from OpenOffice.org to foster better community collaboration. If you're already using OpenOffice.org, you can use its version of Draw, or check out LibreOffice. LibreOffice is available for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X and other operating systems.

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    Blender: open source graphics software
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    Blender: open source graphics software

    Last, but very certainly not least, is Blender—an open source, cross-platform suite for 3D creation.

    Blender is capable of stunning 3D work—and not just still images. Blender has been used to create animated masterpieces like Big Buck Bunny and Elephants Dream. (See a list of movies from the Blender Foundation on the Blender site.)

    Few small businesses will need this kind of power, but Blender is on par with proprietary tools if you have need for 3D modeling and such. If you're running a small art shop, Blender should be part of your toolkit.

    Blender is available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and more. On the download page you'll also find "regression files" that are meant to test releases of Blender to ensure that updates don't break features artists have come to expect. But you can also use the files to get up to see how things are done with Blender. The application also has lots of docs to get you up to speed.

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    Clip Art Bonus

    What's a set of graphics tools without clip art? If you're looking for some clip art, you could start with the Open Clip Art Library. The OCAL has a collection of clip art licensed under the Creative Commons Public Domain license. Essentially, anything in the OCAL should be entirely free to use, royalty free, in any project that you're working on.

    Most of my graphics work consists of cropping photos in GIMP or using Inkscape to create simple graphics for presentations -- but the tools are capable of much more. Creating your own art to promote your business doesn't have to be expensive or difficult -- the tools are ready and waiting.

You don't have to spend a fortune on expensive, over-powered graphics software to create promotional materials for your small business. We've got five open source programs to get the job done.

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