The 5 Best Open Source Graphics Programs

Working at Home

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.

GIMP; open source software
GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP, provides an open source software alternative to Photoshop.

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.


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.

If you already know Photoshop, you might want to check out GIMPshop. GIMPshop is a modified version of GIMP that replicates the feel of Adobe Photoshop. It still works like GIMP, but it might be more comfortable for people who have experience with Photoshop, but don’t want to pay the stiff license fees for it.

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 — though you’ll need to be sure you have X11 installed as well. I believe is installed by default on Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard).


As GIMP is to bitmap editing, Inkscape is to editing vector graphics. If you’re not familiar with the two, see this 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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