How To Do Graphic Design on a Tight Budget

Open Source Software Alternatives to Expensive Graphics Applications

The typical graphic designer requires many things, including a quality, dependable suite of software tools for getting the job done right. One example is an Adobe Creative Suite, which is available in a few different flavors, tailored to your specific requirements. Unfortunately, though, not everyone can afford these tools. There are freely available, open source alternatives that, in some cases, function very much like their more expensive counterparts.

Image Manipulation. Instead of Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro, there are a few tools available.

  1. The GIMP, or The GNU Image Manipolation Program: This application has been around for many years in the Linux user community. The GIMP was ported to the Windows operating system in 1997, ans is now available for Mac OSX and, of course, the different variations of Linux. The GIMP features much of the same functionality of Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, and supports the same file types, including the ability to produce vector graphics. The GIMP can be downloaded from
  2. Paint.NET: This program was developed at Washington State University . It features many of the same functions of Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, and has a user interface very reminiscent of MS Paint. Paint.NET is available for Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Server 2003, and is available for download at

Vector Drawing. The most prominent programs used for vector drawing are Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia Freehand, and CorelDRAW. While the features of Illustrator are hard to match, there are a couple open source tools available for download.

  1. Inkscape is an open source vector drawing tool. All of the standard drawing features are supported. Curves (bezier), lines, freehand drawing including calligraphy stroke together with geometric figures can be used to build your drawing. Advanced gradient fill tool gives the drawings substance and brings them to life. Inkscape includes bitmap tracing - and will let you export your drawing as both png and postscript. All normal file handling is performed natively in scalable vector graphics (svg) file format. To be most compatible, the ability to print to portable document format (pdf) would be desirable, but a seperate program is required, which I will detail in the next section. Inkscape is available at
  2. OpenOffice Draw, a part of the office suite, is a very capable drawing tool. This program is excellent for drawings that will be placed into documents. It is also able to export drawings to the Flash file format, swf. The entire office suite is available at

Portable Document Format (pdf) Creation. In the graphic design and printing field, the standard format is Adobe Portable Document Format. One of the benefits of pdf is that the image displayed on your monitor is identical to the output from your printer, so it is very well suited for proofing. Many free alternatives are available.

  1. PrimoPDF is one program I highly recommend. One feature I find extremely useful is that it adds a pdf printer, which can be used by virtually any other Windows program to print directly to pdf format. It also has the ability to optimize your pdf files for online viewing or high-quality printing. PrimoPDF can be downloaded at
  2. CutePDF is another program that enables you to print directly from another Windows program to a pdf file. It is a free program, but a more functional version, CutePDF Pro, is available for about $50. CutePDF is available at

Although most of these programs don't have the reputation of their more expensive counterparts, they do have much of the same functionality. One important thing to remember, though, is to choose the right tool for the job. Do your research - whether through friends, online, or by taking online design courses - and find the software that works best for you.


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