6 Even Better Open Source Graphics Programs

My friend and colleague Joe Brockmeier wrote The 5 Best Open Source Graphics Programs. But being friends doesn’t mean there can’t be a bit of competition, and I think I can go one better. So here in no particular order, rhyme or reason are my six top open source graphics software picks, plus a list of honorable mentions.

The open source graphics category encompasses a wide range of applications: movies and animations, photo editing, drawings, Web albums, format converters, CAD (computer-aided design), diagramming, game engines, desktop publishing, mind-mapping, and 3D modeling.

If you’re looking for free-of-cost Adobe software replacements, forget it. Everyone wants Adobe for free. I want beer and ponies for free, but I’m not going to get them, just like nobody is getting Adobe for free. Not legally, anyway. If you want Adobe then buy Adobe. If you want to expand your horizons and check out the wealth of great free/open source (FOSS) graphics software then walk this way.

1. MyPaint — Paint and Draw

MyPaint is an exceptionally user-friendly drawing and painting program, with the great bonus of supporting pressure-sensitive drawing tablets, such as Wacom. (The Wacom Bamboo costs less than $100 and is a great introduction to drawing tablets.) MyPaint comes with a fabulous number of brushes.

Of course they’re not real brushes, but rather the colors, patterns, shapes, textures, and widths of strokes that appear on the screen when you draw with your mouse or drawing tablet stylus. You get splats, smudges, snow, airbrush, glow, hair, tree, sparks, stings, different types of pens and pencils and hundreds more. You can even create your own custom brushes.

MyPaint supports layers, many keyboard shortcuts, and has a nifty Scrap feature. Scrap lets you make changes and save different versions quickly by pressing F2. Each saved scrap is automatically given a new name like scrap001_a.ora, scrap001_b.ora, and so on.

MyPaint; open source graphics software
MyPaint is an exceptionally user-friendly drawing and painting program.

MyPaint supports a limited number of file formats: .ora, .png, and .jpg. .ora is OpenRaster, an open layered graphics file format with the goal of enabling interoperability between graphics programs.

It is still immature so don’t count on it for seamless interop; use it as MyPaint’s native format that saves layers. .png and .jpg are universal and can be read and edited by any graphics program, but they do not support layers.

Free of cost, GPL license, runs on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows.

2. FreeMind — Mind-Mapper

FreeMind is mind-mapping software, a tool for capturing your brainstorms, and visually organizing your thoughts and ideas. FreeMind is easier to see than to describe, so visit Getting a taste of FreeMind for a live demo in your Web browser (requires Java).

FreeMind is a flexible, fast tool with many possible uses. I use it to record and sort my research for articles and books. A single article might have hundreds of notes and links, which I can arrange in hierarchies like “important stuff” and “maybe might want,” and easily re-arrange any way I want. It’s a nice tool for tracking large quantities of little bits of information.

Free of cost, GPL license, runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.

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