Open Source Design Software

October 15, 2013 in Computing by bbadmin

Working as a designer these days you need to be able to work as well digitally as you can with more traditional mediums. This means investing in a decent computer, and some pretty expensive software. This software will need to be upgraded every 2-3 years at least, which can take a sizeable chunk out of your profits. However this doesn’t have to be the case. Could open source software be a viable alternative?

What is Open Source Software?

Open source software is usually free. This may be enough to sway many people, alternatively some people may not even consider it; after all how can a free software package compete with one that costs hundreds or possible even thousands of pounds? Open source software relies on its users to develop the programs. Even to write the code. Often the software can be upgraded with scripts or plugins to add specific features, tailoring it to your needs. The main developer may publish a new release every year, but the users continue to develop that release so the software is constantly evolving and defects are fixed fairly quickly. Established open source software packages usually have huge communities willing to help out with any problems you encounter, or listen to any improvements you can think of. There is an open source software package out there to rival any of the main design tools, so with that in mind I’ve put together this list which includes some of my favourites.

It doesn’t matter which field of design you work in there are two basic types of software you need. The first is a vector graphics editor and the second is a bitmap editor. Most designers will not look beyond Adobe Illustrator (Vectors) and Photoshop (Bitmap). Here are my open source alternatives.


Inkscape is a vector graphics program which boasts the same features as it’s paid rivals including Illustrator and CorelDraw. The basics are very easy to learn and for more advanced users you have a huge array of online tutorials to guide you. I cannot see why you would choose Illutrator over Inkscape.


GIMP is one of my favourite design tools. It is incredibly easy to use and infinitely customisable. There are even hacks out there to make it look just like Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop may have more features out of the box, but there are so many plugins and scripts freely available for GIMP, if what you need isn’t included I’m sure you could find it elsewhere. There are other packages out there to consider (I would also recommend checking out Paint.NET). Personally I prefer GIMP, but try them out and see what suits you.


As an architectural designer I absolutely love Sketchup. There is a pro version, but for most people the free package is more than adequate. Sketchup allows you to model in 3D you have some pretty basic tools, which are very easy to learn. With these tools you can create pretty much any shape you can imagine. The styles tool then allows you to create some very nice sketchy renders, but if you are looking to create something more realistic then you can add your favourite render engine (I use Vray).


Sticking with 3D design, Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite to rival Autodesks 3DS Max (which for the standalone 2014 version will set you back £3,795.00). Blender includes all the usual polygonal modelling tools you would expect from a 3D designer and even has tools to allow the simulation of fluids and hair. There is nothing you cannot create with this software. Blender has integrated render engines, but it also supports most external renders so you can change your software while sticking to the rendering engine your used to.


A great alternative to Adobe After Effects Jahshaka lets you edit your movies and add a huge range of effects. The tools are quite intuitive, but if you do have trouble getting to grips with it then there are plenty of free tutorial videos out there.


Adobe Dreamweaver is the web editor of choice for most professionals, but before you upgrade you should at least considerAmaya. The built in browser integrates seamlessly and combined with the remote access features it transforms the web into what it was always meant to be, a place for collaboration.


If you are looking to create a more traditional hand-drawn animation, then most people would advise you to go straight to Toon Boom Studio. But before you do that, take a look at Pencil. Pencil is not going to match the professional animation tools out there, but if you’re just looking to create a simple hand drawn animation then there is nothing better.

The Bear Bottom

This list covers some of my favourite open source design tools, but there are lots more out there for you to experiment with. If you do find anything you can use, try to take an active interest in the community. Remember open source projects only work if the users are willing to contribute.

If you already use open source, have I missed something out that should be included on this list?