Creative Linux

The 5 Best Linux Distros for Artists, Musicians, and Editors

Christian Cawley Updated 18-03-2020

Installing a single video editor or drawing package is easy enough, but what if you need an entire operating system geared towards creativity?

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You might be happy with proprietary systems from Apple or Microsoft. But if you’re on a budget, are passionate about open source software, or just want the widest choice, consider Linux. Countless image editors, manipulation tools, digital audio workstations (DAWs) and more are available for Linux, making it a creative paradise.

Let’s look at the best Linux distros for video editing, music production, graphic design and more.

Reasons to Use a Creative Linux Operating System

Don’t be mistaken: these distributions are not merely collections of apps slapped together. Mostly optimized for multimedia-related tasks from the ground up, they can:

So using a Linux creative distro for musicians, video editors, artists, etc., has disadvantages and advantages.

Disadvantages:

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  • Usually maintained by a small team or single person
  • Risk of being discontinued
  • Poor documentation
  • Lower level of support

Advantages:

  • Based on stable distros like Debian and Ubuntu LTS
  • Can find help for most problems on the parent OS forum
  • Can still work even if they haven’t been updated

Now you know what to expect, let’s glimpse into the colorful world of Linux distributions for multimedia production.

1. Best DTP and Image Editing Distro: Fedora Design Suite

Fedora Design Suite is brought to you by the official design team that creates all Fedora-related artwork. It’s a collection of tried-and-true apps that you can download and install as an independent version of Fedora.

The Design Suite inherits features from the main Fedora release, including the Gnome desktop environment.

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The default selection of apps is modest and leans in favor of image editing and desktop publishing software. Fedora Design Suite doesn’t overwhelm with a huge selection of apps and tools—perfect for artists just starting with Linux.

Highlights: Fedora Design Suite does a great job of introducing you to Linux graphic design via its extensive list of tutorials. You’ll find this in the main Applications menu, along with bundled software.

Look out for Entangle, a fantastic app that lets you control a digital camera from your computer.

2. Best All-Round Linux Creativity Suite: Ubuntu Studio

Probably the most popular multimedia Linux distro, Ubuntu Studio has been a part of Ubuntu family since 2007. There’s a lot to love about this distribution. It offers a rich catalogue of software and a bunch of stylish fonts installed by default.

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For Linux music production it features a low-latency kernel and helpful JACK tweaks. For example, Ubuntu Studio makes it possible to use Pulse Audio and JACK simultaneously.

The default desktop environment is Xfce and like its Ubuntu cousins, Studio is simple to use. Should you require more apps, they’re only a few clicks away in the repositories and PPAs.

Highlights: Among the most interesting apps is Synfig Studio in which you can make your own high-quality 2D animations.

Ubuntu Studio offers more than just one app for every category. You’ll find both Darktable and Rawtherapee for RAW photo editing RAW vs. JPEG: Which Is Best for Your Photographs? Should you shoot your photographs in RAW or JPEG? Here are the pros and cons of both formats, essential for photographers. Read More , and Kdenlive, Pitivi, and one of the best Linux video editing tools, Openshot. Among the long list of audio tools you’ll find DAWs like Ardour and Rosegarden.

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3. Best Linux OS for Music Production: AVLinux

If you’re serious about making music with Linux, AVLinux is for you. Like other multimedia distros, it offers a bit of everything, but the focus is on sound editing and production. AVLinux is based on Debian and is described as “a turnkey AV content creation system pre-configured and ready to ‘Install and Create’.”

Highlights: With a low-latency kernel, JACK audio/MIDI environment with PulseAudio integration, and KXStudio repositories, AVLinux is the top Linux music and audio distro. There’s also support for a sister project, AVL Drumkits.

4. Every Video, Image, and Audio Tool: Apodio

Apodio Linux distro for music production

Apodio’s website looks like it’s seen better days and the documentation is sparse. Yet Apodio is a still-maintained project, currently in its 12th iteration. Previously based on Mandriva, now it runs Ubuntu under the hood, and sports a simple and welcoming Xfce desktop.

What it lacks in documentation, Apodio absolutely makes up for in software quantity, and then some. With an ISO image of almost 4GB, Apodio probably has every multimedia app you’ll ever need, and they’re all neatly categorized in the main menu.

Highlights: As expected, most apps are sound-related, but you won’t be disappointed if you’re a photographer, filmmaker, or animator. Apodio has three different desktop recorders, so you can also use it for screencasting.

One of the coolest apps is Stopmotion, which can capture input directly from cameras (including your webcam) and help you create wonderful time-lapse photography.

5. Best Linux Distro for Video Editing: io GNU/Linux

io GNU/Linux is a refreshing collage of apps and developer choices. It’s based on Debian and uses the Enlightenment desktop environment, with a few KDE apps thrown into the mix. The software collection is massive, and you can choose between a regular and a real-time kernel.

Unusually, io GNU/Linux is to be one of those distros you can run from a USB drive The 5 Best Linux Distros to Install on a USB Stick USB are great for running portable versions of Linux. Here are the most useful Linux distributions to run from a live USB drive. Read More . Instead of regular installation, the idea is to use io GNU/Linux in “persistence mode”, which means copying the distribution to a portable drive so that you can work in it on any computer.

Highlights: io GNU/Linux strikes a fair balance by offering the classics (Openshot, LiVES, Guitarix, Rakkarack, LMMS, MyPaint) alongside useful undiscovered apps.

You’ll find things like sound visualizers, fractal generators, and Flowblade. This is a multi-track video editing tool with a timeline, options for trimming and compositing, and plenty of audio and video filters.

Creative Linux Distros for Editing Music, Video, Images, and More

Alongside already supported free software, more proprietary apps for digital art professionals are becoming available on Linux. It’s no secret that Pixar and DreamWorks have used Linux in their projects—there’s no reason you shouldn’t follow suit.

We’ve looked at:

  • Fedora Desktop Suite
  • Ubuntu Studio
  • AVLinux
  • Apodio
  • io GNU/Linux

You don’t have to use a dedicated creative distro, however. Most of the tools can be installed on a standard Linux operating system. But which one? Check our list of the best Linux operating systems The Best Linux Operating Distros The best Linux distros are hard to find. Unless you read our list of the best Linux operating systems for gaming, Raspberry Pi, and more. Read More to find one you like.

Explore more about: Audacity, Audio Editor, Debian, Digital Art, Graphic Design, Linux Tips, Music Production, Open Source, Ubuntu, Video Editor.

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  1. Laurence Goldman
    November 7, 2019 at 11:42 pm

    OK-I’m a traditional media fine artist/photog making switch to digital art-especially painting. Your article is WAY too complicated. The problem with Linux is becoming overwhelmed with choices. When you write about Linux you mirror the problem. I need easy/peasant path to replace photoshop, Lightroom, Photo mechanic, Premier Pro, AND Corel Painter and keep my sanity. Can you suggest easiest, most out-of =the box distro and 5 solid replacement programs and suggestions for weaning off Windows and MacOS. I would love to dump them but “industry standards” live there.

  2. barz
    May 21, 2019 at 6:02 am

    This post needs an Upgrade

  3. Ron
    January 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

    Musix is a scam!

    Every link takes you to a webiste that tries to get you to download some 3rd party host or app that has nothing to do with the so-called "Musix" distro!

  4. Robert of Prague
    July 25, 2017 at 12:19 am

    This portal is weird, it posted my comment under the next art. below. Reposting here again for linux distros for ...musicians...

    Zdravo Ivana,

    hvala lepo for the great list; I thought only Ubuntu Studio was for creative people.
    Where do I find your recent articles/updates (July 2017)?
    Have a Q for you, should you know, or point me in the right direction, if you would. Thanks.
    I've spent not hundreds but thousands of $$$ in the last 25 years for music recording HW & SW & recently for digi-pix. Early Linux was not user friendly for non-programmers. However, my PC crashed recently & had to do a clean install & am tired of MS crap!
    Had in 1989 the Macintosh w/ the 1st icons! Switched to PC in 1990 due to available apps & clients demands & been regretting it ever since. Not in the mood to spend 3-5 grand $$$ on a Mac Pro...
    Have M-Audio Omni Delta pre-amp & sound card, powered 2-way studio monitors, pro-h-phones, pro-mics, XLR shielded cables & a very expensive gt & a decent voice; Sound Forge & Cool Edit Pro. My daughter plays keys & sings. All gear & SW work fine on Win7- Pro 64 bit. Same w/ photo: Sony Alpha camera; Lr, PhaseOne, Topaz Labs & Nik (didn't pay for the latter). I'd recommend to all, stay away from any Corel PSP, lots of tools but frequent crashes & lousy CS! Do basic photo editing on 33" HD TV & 24" HD monitor & post production on a 50" 4K-TV via HDMI 2.0 cable. The color rendition & detail are accurate & easy on the eyes!
    Planning to install a dual-boot Win7 & Linux. My Q is, what is the compatibility of my Win specific HW/SW (32 & 64 bit both) w/ Linux Distros? Never done this before & need help.

    If you don't know, please, point me in the right direction.

    Thanks a 10 in <6th power. ;-)

    Robert of Prague, Vox Humana
    "Rather Free in Want than Rich in Servitude"
    http://www.robertof-prague.com

  5. DonaldJ
    January 12, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Dear Ivana..

    In this topic of always having the Linux OS upgraded, I'm finding it creates strife, sorrow, and grief, from the perpetual barrage of unresolved glitches.. Seem it's better to run the stable slightly older distros, and boycott the newest unstable unfinished ones, unless you have it in you to help the software writers solve those problems.. Give them at least a year to resolve the problems, then upgrade..

    In the topic of security if you are a creative writer, It's best to maintain at least three external hard drives, each with all your stuff on them, and hide one where even an evil god couldn't find it..
    I do all my editing and writing work on a '1-tera Toshiba external hard drive' always with the Internet disconnected.. and at the end of the session I move anything and everything new to the external hard drive, then delete everything from the computer., save for the easily replaceable tunes, videos and background pix. This way no one, not even the best hell-core devil hackers can see nor touch my data.. And if they somehow manage to get into one of the computers, and corrupt anything, I simply drop-in the DBAN CD to erase the computer's hard drive, and re-install a fresh clean OS.. I never lose so much as a pixel of my private data...

    I am in process of testing all the Linux OS's, in hopes to find one that actually works for creative writing, totally void of distraction.. I find most OS's are infantile and full of irritating offensive distractions.. Some OS's will even destroy a writer's roll, namely those insane 'bouncing cursors'..

    Which Linux OS is the best of the best for a super creative writer..?
    I plan on testing four new ones today...

    About 90% of the world's movies, cartoons, video games, and activism, are based upon my deep-mind themes.. Did you like what the entertainment world did with my 'fly your own dragons' theme..? Did you like the 'talking animals' theme in Dr. Doolittle..? I had offered to all the owners of actor animals to teach their pets how to speak English, just for the round trip air ticket.. None responded.. It's only a half hour lesson.. I have taught large wild carnivore animals to speak English.. Soon I plan to sit just onside the big cat cages at a zoo, and teach the big cats to speak English.. It's just too easy.. This should be fun.. My biggest hobby is making friends with monsters.. I kiss them on the mouth.. Some of the monsters I've met and touched and kissed, just the sight of would make the average big powerful super hero tough guy suddenly release his urine and bowels...
    Writers created fantasy movies on the talking animals theme...

    Have you tried 'FocusWwriter..?

    Have you noticed the many dots added to statements..?
    I add two dots to a statement that needs the reader's visual input.. and three dots to close a statement as a courtesy to the reader, being a pause for the reader to add his or her thoughts and memories to the statement, which makes reading my work a more emotional pleasurable experience.. I write emotion.. I now have 57 new forms of punctuation.. Defining them in today's words is the hard part...

  6. Daniel Gutierrez
    November 22, 2016 at 4:56 am

    If you are serious about audio or video production, my advice is do not waste time with Linux.

    Linux as an OS is great -- I've been using it regularly since 12 years ago and I've seen it work in high-end servers. Technically it beats Windoze to pieces, and in my experience also OSX in many areas. I use it all that I can; I'm allergic to Windoze.

    But the fact is there are no good, freely-available tools for serious multimedia work on Linux.

    If you want to edit your video of Grandma's birthday, fine, you can make do with Kdlenlive or Blade or some of the other free editors. If you want to edit video with a professional workflow and quality -- forget it. Even Cinelerra is utter crap for that.

    I feel it's really irresponsible for the author of this article to write "Pixar and DreamWorks have used Linux in their projects, so you should definitely give a chance to the distributions presented here". Pixar and Dreamworks have teams of developers dedicated to customizing their Linux distributions. Normal users do not. Free audio or video editors are great but usually not suited for professional work. This is not the fault of the developers, it simply takes too many programming hours to create a full-featured professional and stable video or audio editor.

    It would be nice if companies like Dreamworks gave something back to the community and released some of the software that they use for editing or animation. AFAIK, that is not happening. The only publicly available professional video editor for Linux is Lightworks. You can try the free version (you won't be able to render to res. above 720 IIRC) and see if it's worth the price of the pro version (about USD 250 last I checked).

    For the rest -- if you are serious about your work -- then forget it. If you want to spend time fiddling with audio settings and grabbing your hair in frustration at the bugs/lack of features in video editors, then by all means try Linux. If you're working on a deadline and/or are serious about creative work, then do not go into Linux for this.

    And I say this as someone who loves Linux and is very familiar with it. I usually don't touch Windoze with a ten-foot pole. Yet when I have to work on video I boot into Windoze and fire up Premiere. It's not perfect but gets the job done.

    I know quite a few people in the video and audio industries, and NONE of them use Linux. A few I know have tried and given up. And this is in a Third World country where software is VERY expensive -- if these people had a free working alternative to Windows or Mac you can bet they would use it.

    • matt
      April 15, 2017 at 10:11 am

      I agree there are limitations, in 2017 I'm actually using Linux as my daily driver on a Macbook Pro, something I thought would never happen. Still have to go back to windows/mac for my day job (architecture), one day I maynot have to. Video wise there's also DaVinci Resolve for Linux (no idea as don't use editing software). Resolve has great reviews on the Mac side. Additionally if you're into animation and no-free apps, Maya is on Linux also. One can grab an educational lic for free over 3 years which is great.

  7. Anon
    August 23, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    To be honest, linux is not good for audio producing, no matter what. The DAW GUI that you mention above give me headache.

    I've tried it before and also deeply dissapointed.

    The reason why linux left behind the 2 market dominator eventhough its free is the OS isn't easy and fun to use. In the other words, the developer dont have good UX team.
    I'll be pissed if I accidentally wipe all my data in certain partition due to freaky asdfghjkl installation process (I actually did, thats why I can say it).

    But when it comes to programming, those other two cant stand its performance

  8. MK
    July 20, 2016 at 7:03 pm
  9. Sweaper
    July 7, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    As of now, XFCE/KDE/LXDE don't have a GUI to cstomize your Wacom Tablet. I don't know about Mate and Cinammon. Right now I'm stuck with Gnome because I'm too lazy to configure my wacom using commands. I'm going to test the Iro, hopefully it's good for work, I'll comment on my experience with it soon here :)

  10. DJ KRD
    June 24, 2016 at 9:57 am

    I have to say it, I love Linux but its a terrible option to make music. You have to learn almost all again (DAWS, plugins, FXs, JACK), and the worst thing is that linux is not changing those aspects of itself. Configure JACK with pulse, then bridge this thing with that other thing, WHAT THE HECK !!! i just wanna make some music !!! When linux have at least a decent audio system that needs no extra configuration, then it's going to be a real contender in music production, be it amateur or professional. In fact, i think this is the only weak point of linux - the audio system.

  11. Anonymous
    May 30, 2016 at 5:37 am

    Hello,
    When considering using Linux for music creation there is one thing to keep in mind. If you are already into music creation on either a Mac or a Windows workstation and have an existing investment in VST, VSTi plugins for Windows as well as the plugins for the Mac (I do not own a Mac so I cannot remember what the Mac plugins are called) they will not work on Linux. There are some decent Linux plugins but the selection is rather sparse in comparison to Windows and the Mac. Also you will find a lot of the DAW's (digital audio workstations) on Linux to be rather limiting in comparison to the other two platforms and the free ones are not very well documented so it will be a lot more difficult learning how to use the software. However there are advantages to using Linux and the main ones are that most if not all of the dedicated distros for audio use Jack as well as giving you the option to use a low latency kernel or even a real time kernel something that just is not possible on Windows (I can't speak for Mac's). Also if you are on Linux already and want or need a DAW that is more powerful than what people usually use on Linux there is a fairly new and very powerful commercial DAW that is developed to run on Windows, Mac, as well as Linux. This Daw is BitWig Studio and is developed in Germany. I currently own Bitwig Studio as well as Cakewalk Sonar Platinum on Windows. I have used Bitwig on Linux a few times but I wind up using it on Windows because on Linux I am not able to use the collection of VSTs that I am used to using on Windows.

  12. lott11
    May 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I would like to know what scam are you talking off.
    Granted Ubuntu studio would never be my first pick, to do most of any audio work.
    The rest are fine to work with, musix, kxstudio, Avlinux, 64 Linux, have been my top for audio work.
    Granted I install ardour & reaper for audio comparable with windows or OSX.
    So lets say the choices would lets say just in Audio, what sound forge, fl studio, or any of avid software.
    Any of this would cost at minimum $179.00 the average being $390.00 and then add plugins.
    The minimum would them be $80.00 to $190.00 add that you may need at least 5 of this, that would for a large sum money.
    The PC has to be at least 4 core at 2.1Mghz, 16 GB ram, a minimum of 1 Tb of hard drive that would be $900 plus in cost.
    So we would be talking in a bold park of $ 2000.00 in software that would include the OS anti-malware.
    And all the other garbage that windows requires, ho yea! this is not a scam.
    And I have not mention any of the other software like Cubase or and of the software from steinburg that start at $600.00 plus add the other plug-ings that if get the basic would only cost and additional $700.00.
    now lets go to video let start with adobe or Sony the most popular the would be $900.00
    lets not get in too Maya, Rhino, and some of the other basic software that start $1200.00 ones you and the plug ins and up keep for a years time.
    And the fact the PC is no longer $800.00 but $2700.00 to $5000.00 because this no longer a PC but a work station.
    So how do I know this 3 kids and audio engineer, graphic designer, and other one just getting out high school this year.
    All of this is on windows lets not even talk of Apple, that is 50% more of the cost for less hardware.
    So how those this make it a SCAM you IDIOT.
    The most I spent on a Linux OS is $0 additional software my ardour for a years update $45.00 and for the reaper is $40.00 plus my PC the cost the same $889.00 Ho my specs 3 Boot drives and 4 storage drives total 8.5 TB 990 mobo, AMD8320, 7850 4Gb gddr3, 16 Gb ddr3 ram, 750 PSU.
    The OS are in this order win7 ult, OSX 10.4, EU, kxstudio, musix, Suse, fedora, arch, BSD, Remix.
    and a few others OS.
    Ho by the way the first two OS are now going to run underneath VR inside Linux.
    That will give me no more headaches at boot time, so what do you have to say now.
    All software has it's place.
    Just because you do not know how to use it, dose not make it bad or a scam.
    And just because you can not wright code in Unix dose not make you a m****n but locking time to learn.

  13. Anonymous
    May 26, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    LOL! You really like to scam people don't you?