So you want to get creative, huh? Whether you’re a student, freelancer, or company looking to add a creative department, one thing is for sure – you are going to need software to get that creative genius out of your brain and onto the page or screen. Here’s the problem. The most popular/obvious programs can be expensive, and often require one heck of a computer system to run them. So, the more you search and research – the more you might feel like your creative dreams have reached an impasse due to massive dollar signs.
Don’t dispair. It’s Open Source to the rescue!
Open Source means the software is 100% free for personal and commercial use! That’s right. You can use these programs to create items just for you, to be sold, or given to your clients for their marketing purposes without any worry of legal issues over the software. Also, with open source you can rest assured that your every move and use of the software is NOT being tracked and recorded as it is with paid-for programs. Bonus!
In this blog, we will give you a list of FREE, open-source software alternatives to get your creative dreams rolling again.
NOTE: The following information was gathered from the product’s website in order to give you the most up-to-date info about each product. Links have been provided for your convenience. OST is not recommending one product over another, but merely passing along information, so that you can make an informed decision when it comes to what product is going to be the best fit for you and your purpose.
For Creatives who want to draw, paint, edit, or modify still images:
Gimp is a cross-platform image editor available for GNU/Linux, OS X, Windows and more operating systems that allows you to manipulate high quality photos, create original artwork and graphic deisng elements. The 2.10 release this year introduced many improvements making Gimp a very strong alternative to Adobe Photoshop, so be sure and investigate those improvements. This software is suitable for professionals! Check out a GIMP artist gallery.
Krita is a professional, open source, painting program. It is made by artists who want to see affordable art tools available for everyone. This program works fantastically with digital and surface pens. Great for everything from realism to cartoon painting. It can even open PSD files that Photoshop cannot open. (You can load and save to PSD when you need to take your artwork across different programs.) Check out their Art Gallery! Get ready to be impressed.
Inkscape will rival any vector graphics you can create in Adobe Illustrator. This software is perfect for image creation for logos, illustrations and art which require high scalability. A wide variety of industries (marketing/branding, engineering/CAD, web graphics, cartooning) and individuals prefer and/or require vector graphics, making Inkscape the perfect choice for graphic designers. Check out Screenshots of Inkscape art. (The Ferrari is amazing!)
Dark Table is for photographers and is a great alternative to Adobe Light Room. You will get a virtual lighttable and darkroom where you can manage your digital negatives in a database, view them through a zoomable lighttable, and develop raw images and enhance them. Check out some screenshots of the software to get a better understanding of your options with this software.
Rawtherapee is a cross-platform raw photo processing system suite. It is designed for “developing” raw files from a broad range of digital cameras. Perfect for enthusiast newcomers who wish to increase their understanding of how digital imaging works, as well as, professional photographers getting paid for their work. They offer a non-destructive, 32-bit (floating point) processing engine, modern demosaicing algorithms, and advanced color+detail editing.
For Creatives who want to build and animate in 2D and 3D:
Blender is a 3D creation suite that supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline! Everything from modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, to video editing and 2D animation. Full length feature films have been made using this software, so it is perfectly suitable for professional production. Check out their Studio work. Take a look at all of the 1000+ fixes and features added to the 2.8 version of this software. Amazing!
OpenToonz is software for the production of 2D animation created by Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation film studio. This software features: ink and paint, color design and digital composition, scanning of hand drawn pictures, and production of final footages. It is compatible with 4 types of scanning (black & white, colored, with or without binarization). It also offers interconversion between the sequence image of the colored binarized TGA and the OpenToonz format, to ensure compatibility with your existing workflow. See Feature Animated Films that have used this software.
Synfig is also a 2d animation software that gives you powerful tools for full control of your vector artwork. You simply set the key positions and the inbetween frames will be calculated automatically. Synfig provides 50+ layer capability taht allows you to create artwork and animation of varying complexity. You can choose from various layer types: geometric, gradients, filters, distortions, transformations, fractals and others. They offer a full-featured bone system that allows you to create cutout animation using bitmap images or to control your vector artwork. You can also use the additional feature, Skeleton Distortion layer, to apply complex deformations to bitmap artwork. Watch Introduction to Synfig video.
For Creatives who want to edit/produce movies, marketing videos, live streams, or vlogs:
Shotcut is a full-featured, cross-platform, video and effects editor. This software supports all kinds of audio and video file types. You can even use your webcam to capture video and audio. They have additional features that include: quick filters, advanced white balancing, transitions, colour grading, click and drag import, trimming of clips, and much more. It also supports all popular image formats: BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, SVG, TGA, TIFF. You can also handle image sequences and 4K resolutions. With unlimited undos and redos, easy-to-use cut, copy, and paste operations, and it’s support of Blackmagic Design SDI and HDMI for input and preview monitoring, this program might be the right choice for you! Give it a look!
Open Shot designed this video editor to be easy to use, quick to learn, and surprisingly powerful software. Take a quick look at some of our most popular features and capabilities.It has one of the simplest user interfaces with drag & drop and video effects. Features include: Slow motion and time effects, unlimited tracks, cross-platform, audio waveforms, and 3D animation. If you are new to video editing, this could be your starting point. Gallery of screenshots showing off the interface and options.
HitFilm Express is brought to you by FXhome and is a video editing tool that includes and offers for sale professional-grade VFX tools, and everything you need to make awesome content, films or gaming videos. (FXhome also has a Pro version of this software available for purchase.) They claim it’s perfect for beginners, film students, gamers, YouTubers, or any creative who has little to no budget. It offers full 2D and 3D compositing, unlimited tracks and transitions, and over 410 effects and presets. HitFilm comes packed with powerful color correction and grading tools providing you with everything you need to get the polished look you’re after. They include a lot of free stuff in this software like lightning & electricity as well as warp effects, but they also sell add-ons to enhance their software.
DaVinci Resolve 16 gives you a whole slew of innovative tools for editing including the revolutionary new “cut page”! If you are part of an editing team, DaVinci allows live, multi user collaboration on the same project at the same time! This software combines professional 8K editing, color correction, visual effects and audio post production all in one software! You can instantly move between editing, color, effects, and audio with a single click, so your workflow can move very quickly. From drag-and-drop to the timeline, to three and four point edits, preview phantom markers, markers as sub-clips and customizable keyboard shortcuts, DaVinci supports every style of editing. “This software is the standard for high-end, post production and finishing on more Hollywood feature films, television shows and commercials than any other software.” This is an awesome program, so be sure to check it out!
Natron is a digital compositor for VFX and motion graphics that handles your 2D & 2.5D needs across MacOS, Linux, and Windows platforms. This software has keying, roto/rotopaint, and 2D tracking tools that are a staple for all current film production projects requiring visual effects. It also includes a planar tracker to help reduce hours of rotoscoping. It has some strong keying or matte generation tools and a whole host of other tools. Natron would be considered an alternative to Adobe After Effects, but it works differently.
Streamlabs OBS is an all-in-one live streaming app that has everything you need to get your stream live on the web in seconds. It has all essential features like Twitch/YT Chat, video preview, video editor, recent events, stream labels and Streamlabs dashboard. Because it’s all in one app, you can save on your monitor real estate and CPU usage. They have a library where you can browse all kinds of different themes by category, most popular, and recently added. Be aware that a lot of the themes are free, but you can get access to customizing options, etc by becoming a Prime account member for a monthly fee. Check out their blog post breaking down important features with video demos.
For Creatives who want to make music:
Audacity is an easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for all operating systems. This is a great, easy-to-learn program with features that include recording live audio or computer playback, converting tapes and records, editing and mixing sound files, and adding various effects. For anything the program is lacking, they offer many extensions. You can import, edit, and combine sound files, as well as, export your recordings in many different file formats, including multiple files at the same time. This software also gives you unlimited sequential Undo (and Redo) in the session. Audacity also has real-time preview of LADSPA, LV2, VST, and Audio Unit (macOS) effects. It supports 16-bit, 24-bit and 32-bit. Audacity can record live audio through a microphone or mixer, or digitize recordings from other media.
Ardour lets you record, edit, and mix on Linux, macOS and Windows platforms. This software comes with a handful of built-in plugins for your everyday audio needs. It features the following functions: stretch, cut, move, copy and paste, delete, align, trim, crossfade, snapshot, rename, mute, solo, fader, automate, EQ, dynamics, insert, sync, send, pre-fader, post-fader, monitor, isolate, zoom, transpose, quantize, swing, and drag and drop – all with unlimited undos and redos. They offer thousands of other plugins, both free, proprietary and for-cost. Great for audio engineers, musicians, soundtrack editors, and composers.
LMMS is a sound generation system, beat & bassline editor, synthesizer, and MIDI control system which can power an entire home studio made by musicians for musicians. You can produce music with your computer by creating melodies and beats, synthesizing and mixing sounds, arranging samples and much more. This software comes bundled with ready-to-use content from an assortment of instrument and effect plugins, presets and samples to VST and SoundFont support. They also have the tools to create sounds, arrange sounds and rhythms to create tracks, layer the tracks to create songs, and then save the songs to an output format. It can also connect to your MIDI keyboard, allowing you to play music live. Check out their Music Showcase.
MIXXX includes a number of recording and broadcasting features to help you share your mixes and spread your name and is designed by DJs for DJs. You can have a live broadcast by streaming your mixes live over the Internet. This software has a music library that helps you organize your music, so you can find the perfect next track to play. It features; Pitch and Key Control, Beat Looping, Master Sync, Quantization, Hotcues, Beat Rolls and Censor, Broad Format Support, EQ and Crossfader Control, Effect Chains, Sampler Decks, and much more. Check out the MIXXX Manual.
For Creatives who want to become desktop publishers:
Scribus is a page layout, alternative to Adobe Indesign program that was the first DTP program in the world to support the PDF/X-3 specification. It has many other PDF export options as well. This program comes with about 200 commercial, national and government color standard palettes. They are promising to add almost 400 more in the next version. This program has many unexpected touches, such as support for a huge number of file types via import & export filters, support for RGB, CMYK and spot colors, powerful vector drawing tools, emulation of color blindness, and the rendering of markup languages like LaTeX or Lilypond. Check out the Scribus Gallery.
LibreOffice is a powerful office suite with a clean interface and feature-rich tools to help you unleash your creativity and enhance your productivity. This suite includes several applications: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing). It is also compatible with lots of document formats such as Microsoft® Word (.doc, .docx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx) and Publisher, as well as, the Open Document Format (ODF). With this software, you get max control over data & content. You get lots of export options including PDF. View Video to learn about the new features.
For Creatives who want to build a website:
WordPress – Most likely you’ve already heard of this website builder, 35% of the web uses WordPress! WordPress is known for being easy to learn and has a very user-friendly interface. There are over 50,000 plugins available for WordPress, so most likely there is a plugin (or a few) to achieve whatever you need to in your site. OST has online training as well as the WordPress Explained book available on Amazon (or free to download for OST members) to help you along the way.
Sites built using WordPress: Vogue, Rolling Stone, Flickr, Georgia State, Boston U, Clorox, The Walt Disney Company, Website Showcase
Drupal – Drupal might not be as widely known as WordPress, but it has a farily large community and is known for handling very large and complex websites easily. It’s is considered an enterprise solution. There are more than 44,000 contributed modules for customizing and extending your Drupal site. We have OST online training courses, as well as, Drupal 8 Explained book on Amazon.
Sites built using Drupal: Lush, Krispy Kreme, US Department of Energy, Other Case Studies
Joomla – Joomla has been the middle ground between WordPress and Drupal for a while. At the core level it features user access levels, multilingual support, SEO, and cache management. And, if you need to extend Joomla, there are over 8000 extensions available. We have online training courses available, as well as, Joomla Explained for purchase and download on Amazon.
Sites built using Joomla: Australia’s National Disabilities Services, Blue Bird Buses, IT Wire, Sites Showcase