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Five Open Source Programs Every Artist Should Know About

First off, let’s get this straight: Microsoft Word is great, but it isn’t cheap. The same thing goes for Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe Acrobat. This software can put you back hundreds of dollars, yet everyone seems to get their hands on some of these programs one way or another. If you’re looking to save money, most of your options are illegal. I am not judging, but I would like to offer you a guilt free alternative – Open Source and Freeware.

For those of you that don’t know, freeware is software that can be shared, downloaded and used free of charge. Open Source is freeware with the added bonus of having access to the software’s source code. This allows the program to be altered by the users. That way, the program can grow with the needs of the community that is using it (for more information on the differences of software licenses please visit: OpenSourceStrategies.)

As for my five Open Source alternatives, they are the following:

1- Gimp

Photoshop is the artist’s bread and butter. It’s one program with which you can do everything you would ever need to with a photo. I am not going to say that Gimp is equal to Photoshop, but Gimp can do everything YOU know how to do with Photoshop. Let’s face it, you don’t use Photoshop to animate anyway, but even if you did, you can animate with Gimp. This is no lightweight Microsoft Paint program; Gimp is powerful photo editing/retouching software. It’s easy to pick up, and offers anyone working in the creative field a free alternative to the Goliath Photoshop. If you’re in need of a photo editor, you might want to check out the Gimp.

2- OpenOffice

How do you expect to get those grants without a little writing? This is a sweet-suite of everything you will need to open, manipulate, and alter Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets. Open Office Writer has everything you need for both word processing and desktop publishing. Calc, is the Open Office spreadsheet program that has both the power to handle your yearly expenses for the most diligent of number crunchers, but intuitive enough for the newbie to use and get up to speed. Impress is the multimedia presentation software that comes with the suite. Draw, also included, is the relatively lightweight drawing program for making graphs, charts and diagrams. Finally, Base, which is the cat’s pajamas, is a database software that will help you to keep everything in order.

3- Blender

Not that many of you will ever need it, but I have found it useful. This is a 3D graphics animator and video producer. If you are interested in doing 3D animations, this is the way in. Unfortunately, this is no CAD program, so I wouldn’t plan your next home with it. However, it will handle any 3D content creation easily enough.

4- N-vu

Let’s face it, we all need a website. If you want to blog, it’s pretty self explanatory, but building a website is a lot more work. If you want to build a site, you’ll need to learn some HTML. If you don’t know it right now, don’t worry. The good people at have taken the time to make some of the best tutorials on the web. Beyond that, you might want to get N-vu (pronounced “Nview”), to build your site. This is similar to a FrontPage or Dreamweaver software, so if you’ve seen those, then this will be a great resource to add to your digital arsenal.

5-Primo PDF

If the gallery, residency or foundation that you want to apply for has actually invested in some training, then you will undoubtedly come across quite a few Portable Document Format files (PDFs) that can be read on any platform. You have all seen them, and probably have the latest version of Adobe Reader. Since Adobe gives away Reader, everyone thinks they are the only game in town for creating and manipulating PDFs; NOT true. By now I am sure you can guess where I’m going: there is a free PDF creator out there that is as good as Acrobat, but $450 cheaper. PrimoPDF is it.

This list is by no means meant to state that every, any, or all of these products will serve all of your needs. If you feel you need to purchase Photoshop, Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office, or any other program covered here (or not) I only remind you that Open Source software is out there, and it is free. Explore these products and your needs. You can easily save thousands of dollars, and produce excellent outcomes. These programs are tools to help you while documenting, marketing or just making artwork. Not having a specific program should never be the reason for poor execution of anything you do.

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Comment by Slone Fries on May 5, 2009 at 5:31pm
This is just thie type of info our group needs, since there are a lot of newbies, share your posts like this this on our group page also, even if your just reposting. It cant hurt but can help!
Comment by Jay Zerbe on April 6, 2009 at 7:28pm
through work and through personal purchase, i have had access to the software that is "mirrored" in a couple of these open source applications. i have also used a couple of the open source applications listed here and have been very happy with: OpenOffice and Blender. Blender is of course difficult - perhaps a bit more difficult than what it mirrors (Maya) but nevertheless, for the price, well worth the learning curve.

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