Advanced image editing and creation for free
After a long break I'm back with tips on free advanced image editors. Have you ever wanted to try retouching your photos or create great illustrations? Are you curious whether you can get Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or Corel Draw for free? Read on...
Today’s article is about alternatives to some great pieces of graphics editing and creation software, and I will have a look at all groups – raster (or bitmap) and vector graphics. I’m sure you’ve heard about Adobe’s leading programs in these fields, Photoshop and Illustrator. To buy both of them you would need quite a deep pocket. If you want cheaper but equally great solution, try software suite from competing Corel company (Photo-Paint and CorelDRAW).
But wait, this is still not free…! Ok, ok, so, let’s get started revealing the answer to question: Can you really get free alternatives to graphics editing dinosaurs? And I mean free also for commercial use!
Starting with vector graphics, Inkscape is the best possible solution when you’ve got no money to buy Illustrator or CorelDRAW. With its interface more resembling CorelDRAW (or Xara Xtreme which is also free but just for Linux platform) it is very easy to use and you will learn basic functionality of the program very fast. Support for multiple platforms and languages makes it convenient application for everyone, which can be installed also on portable device like USB drive.
Native file format Inkscape uses is open SVG standard although the program can’t handle SVG animations or fonts. But you can also import Adobe Illustrator, CoreCRAW, AutoCAD, Windows metafiles, PDF, EPS and other file types including bitmap formats of course. Surely saving capabilities are not that wide and export offers PNG file format, which is sufficient enough.
As Inkscape is a vector graphic editor, you can create and manipulate all the basic shapes like rectangles, ellipses, polygons (stars) and text. Converting these objects to paths and subsequent editing possibility is a must for vector editor. Inkscape is also capable of creating more advanced objects with 3D cube, spiral, freehand or path tool. Gradients, patterns, extensive color spectrum (also using color palettes) can be used to fill drawn objects or their borders.
Objects on canvas can be transformed (moved, scaled, rotated), masked, clipped to other object, cloned, made transparent or aligned with each other or entire page. On vector objects you can do boolean operations. Working with layers is a matter of fact and, to make it even better, Inkscape also includes large collection of filters and extensions.
The major drawback for this incredible application is its print capability which is way far from being perfect. I personally deal with it by printing program’s exports.
Inkscape is my favorite graphics application and I’m using it almost for everything, including webdesign. You can download it in fresh new 0.47 version from www.inkscape.org.
Probably the best free raster graphics editor currently is GIMP (The GNU Image Manipulation Program). Unlike with Inkscape, even untrained eye can immediately see that 3-windowed user interface of GIMP is completely different compared to its proprietary counterpart Photoshop, and therefor you will need some time to get used to the application. The same like Inkscape, this program is multi-platform and multi-lingual and exists in portable version too.
GIMP is suitable for every photographer or graphic designer looking for retouching photos, creating photo collages, drawing new pictures or putting together website layouts, for example. Wide variety of selection tools and also very basic (compared to Photoshop) path tools let you apply any filter effect or other changes to areas on multiple or single layer. You can widen possibilities of GIMP with plug-ins and extensions, or installing new brushes, even Photoshop ones. One of the greatest packs of GIMP extensions is GIMP Paint Studio.
The application supports loading and saving to large number of different file formats (including Corel Paint Shop Pro and Adobe Photoshop images, ICO Windows icon images, SVG files), although GIMP’s native format is XCF. You can also create animated GIF pictures. Imported can be Adobe PDF documents and even raw digital camera’s image formats. Just to mention an interesting feature, using specialized plug-in it is possible to export the picture in ASCII Art – image representation in text characters.
Surely also this application has its dark side, which in this case is impossibility of CMYK and color management essential for professional prepress work. Also learning curve of GIMP is not very steep, but because it is the most popular free graphics editor, you will have no problem to buy an instructional book about the program or, thanks to large community around the application, find the solutions on Internet.
All in all I recommend this program for every home photo enthusiast. Grab it from www.gimp.org.
Although Paint.NET is very neat free application suitable for beginners, it lacks functionality standing next to GIMP. Despite of this it is really powerful and easy to use tool capable of working with layers, transparency, filters and plug-ins. As the name suggest you will definitely need Microsoft’s .NET framework to run the program.
I’m sorry, but can’t say much about this software as I haven’t used it for a long long time, but it was OK for me when I was starting. You can find useful instructions on different issues on program’s wiki site so better try and decide yourself whether it’s what your heart aches for. Download Paint.NET.
Just to finalize image creation software I need to mention also one for real artists out there. You will agree with me that Windows’ Painter is as simple as it gets, but when you love drawing, you have to look for something else for your computer. Here is open source application called MyPaint which greatly satisfies your needs. It simulates real painting tools and also different paper backgrounds so you won’t be limited in any way. There are more good replacements for Windows Painter (like for example ArtRage Starter Edition), but you can’t go wrong with MyPaint so try and download it first. :)
Can you really get free alternative to Photoshop or Illustrator?
“GIMP does not aim to replicate Photoshop”, that’s what GIMP maintainers say. And that’s the truth basically. If you really need professional tool, you won’t get it for free. But there is a question whether you REALLY need a professional tool for big money… Too many people say they have to buy (or get other way…) Photoshop or Illustrator but when questioned what for, they describe their needs for functionality that aforementioned applications are easily capable of. And in many cases even far behind. My definite advice is to try free software solutions first and if you find something the application can’t do, go on and crash pour piggy bank!
What is your experience with commercial graphics tools and their free or open source alternatives? Leave comments…