Tip of the Week: Open source software for photographers and illustrators

Are you a photographer? Then you probably use Photoshop or Lightroom. Doing vector illustrations? Your software of choice is probably Adobe Illustrator. For creative professionals, Adobe Creative Suite (CS) is a natural choice. The Creative Suite comes with a hefty price tag, and not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars per year on software.

Painted hand shows concept hologram Open source on his hand

It's great then that there are free photo and image editors out there. Some of these are better than others, and while any editor can be better than no editor, there are also applications that are just as powerful as their CS counterparts while being completely free and open-source.

In the most basic sense, open-source means that the source code of the application is freely available for anyone to read and edit. The development is done collectively, and anyone can suggest new features or bug fixes. Most open-source software is available for all operating systems. On the downside technical support is usually limited to different user forums, and the user experience may not be on par with commercial software.

Digital working creative idea happy with idea digital artist concept.

So here are four open-source applications: One for editing photos and illustrations like Photoshop, one for editing raw files and non-destructive editing like Lightroom, one for making and editing vector illustrations like Illustrator and one for making 3D illustrations.

GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is probably the most popular open source image editor, with potential to be just as powerful as Adobe Photoshop. The user interface is very similar to Photoshop but some hotkeys are different and some options work a bit differently, so for an experienced PS user it will take a while to get used to. It has a lot of guides and tutorials available, and a lot of extensions too. The latest version when writing this blog post is 2.10.10 and is available at https://www.gimp.org/

Freelancer retoucher woman works on convertible laptop computer with photo editing software using stylus. Photographer

RawTherapee is an open-source alternative for Lightroom. It supports most camera raw files and can be used to manage your image library and send files to GIMP for more serious editing. Batch processing is also supported. Latest version is 5.6 and available at https://rawtherapee.com/

Closeup hands of female illustrator designer, holding pen and painting on computer graphic tablet. Freelance concept.

Inkscape is to Illustrator what GIMP is to Photoshop. It’s a powerful application that can be used to create vector illustrations. The user interface is familiar to anyone who’s used Illustrator in the past, and it has a wide variety of plugins and helpful guides available. Latest stable release is 0.92.4 https://inkscape.org/

Last but not least, Blender is a powerful open-source 3D creation suite. 3D modeling, sculpting, rigging, animation, physics simulations and much more is possible within the same program. Latest release is 2.79 but 2.80 with modernized user interface and new render engine is coming out very soon https://www.blender.org/

Open-source software exists so everyone has an equal opportunity to express their creativity. Give it a try.

Photo credits: Artem Medvediev, Korn Vitthayanukarun, Ievgeniia Ocheretna, Stavklem.

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May 10, 2019


Thank you for this interesting article.

May 09, 2019


Great article. Thanks for the tip about RawTherapee; never heard of it but will now give it a try.

May 08, 2019


Useful info Klodvig, I'm going to check some of these out thanks!

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