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So you’re an aspiring graphic designer but you don’t have the resources, or willingness, to spend hundreds of dollars on your needed software. Well, below is a list of five great alternatives to commercial software for graphic design.

(1) Image Manipulation

GIMP – Alternative for Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro

Gimp - Alternative for Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro

GIMP, short for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”, has been written about several times before on this site. However, I felt it was worth another mention because of its versatility as a Photoshop alternative.

There is a bit of a learning curve when switching from Photoshop to GIMP, because of a different menu layout but GIMP remains powerful enough so that you can pretty accomplish the same tasks as you would in Photoshop. It can also open a variety of file types, so you can continue editing images in GIMP that were previously saved in other programs.

The GIMP is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X. Additionally, check out Gimpshop if you want. Gimpshop is a port of the GIMP with interface tweaks that mimics that of Photoshop’s, attempting to minimize the learning curve.

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(2) 3D Modeling and Animation

Blender – Alternative for 3ds Max and LightWave

Blender - Alternative for 3ds Max and LightWave

When it comes to 3D modeling and animation, there aren’t very many open source/free alternatives that are as powerful as their commercial counterparts. That’s where Blender is the exception.

Blender is a very feature-full 3D animation program that can be used for a variety of uses, such as modeling, simulation, animation, and pretty much anything else that can be done on commercial software. What’s also great about this software is its small installation size and ability to run on Windows, Linux, and OS X.

However, the user interface needs a bit of work, as it does seem a bit unintuitive and cluttered at the moment. You really need to sit down with this program for a while and learn how to use the application before you can harness its robust power.

(3) Vector Graphics

Inkscape – Alternative for Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw

Inkscape - Alternatve for Adobe illustrator and CorelDraw

Graphic designers will be amazed with Inkscape’s ability to create, open, and edit vector graphics. This program has the ability to open and edit with Adobe Illustrator AI, PDF, and other commercial proprietary vector formats.

However, you won’t be able to save your work in these formats, but you can still save them in the cross-software standard compliant file types such as SVG, EPS, and PostScript. The menu layouts of Inkscape are quite different to that of Illustrator’s or CorelDraw’s, but its tools and features remain easy to find.

Users will have little trouble switching back and forth from Inkscape and commercial programs, as long as they’ve spent enough time with both to know where everything is. Inkscape is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X.

(4) Desktop Publishing

Scribus – Alternative for Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress

Scribus - Alternative for Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress

Do you need to make that company newsletter, create an eye-catching brochure, or make a family calendar? Then check out Scribus, which is useful for a variety of projects such as newspapers, flyers, books, and the sort. It runs natively on Windows, Linux, and OS X.

The program is quite simple to use and you’ll be able to create stellar publications as long as you have the creative genius to do so. However, even though you can export in formats such as PDF and SVG, you won’t be able to open or edit commercial file types such as those from InDesign or QuarkXpress.

Nevertheless, if you don’t plan on working with others who use only these formats, you’ll have no problem using Scribus.

  1. A Designer
    March 7, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Good article. Better than Scribus, which will make you sweat blood (unstable and clunky) get yourself version 9 of Serif's PagePus. Rock solid, plenty of features, 10 bucks! You can even try a watered-down version for free here.

  2. Devicepedia
    October 30, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    I really want to learn 3d animantion, is blender easy to use? thanks a lot!

  3. m reza
    May 31, 2008 at 12:40 am

    nice.thank you

  4. The one-man publisher
    May 2, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I like the GIMP as a piece of free software but the last time I used it (six months ago, probably), it didn't have a CMYK option. I don't know if this has been fixed in the latest version or if there are any ways around this. If not, I'd be wary of using it for a print job.

    Also it doesn't support Pantone colours.

  5. Morgaine
    April 12, 2008 at 2:41 am

    You might want to specify that they're for the designer who knows what they're doing. Installation on these things looks complicated.

  6. Sound Of Vision
    April 11, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Nice list! I didn't know GIMP had an update! Looks better!
    There's another good software, Paint.NET
    http://www.getpaint.net/index.html

    • David Johannes
      April 11, 2008 at 9:37 pm

      Yea Paint.NET is good, I've used it before .... only that it's Windows only right now

  7. Sarah
    April 11, 2008 at 7:07 am

    This is a great list. I like blender alot for 3d animation.

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