A Guide to Free Design Tools

Updated July/2017

This article get’s some traffic, especially from my clients, so I have updated it.


The majority of my clients request a site designed in a content management system (CMS) like WordPress so that they have the ability to update or add their own content, and the ability to have a blog/news section they can update.  Once they start doing their own updates, they usually ask for software suggestions for some basic graphics work, photo editing, and other general tasks.  This article was written for my clients, but others might benefit from it as well.

Photo and General Image Editing

Preview (Mac) – Preview is a built in image editor in the Mac OS.  While it’s a simple looking program, it can actually perform a lot of basic functions and seems to constantly get new functionality with OS updates.  You can do basic cropping and re-sizing, file conversions (even to PDF) and a whole lot more.

Photos (Mac) – Photos was released by Apple as a replacement for iPhoto and Aperature. It basically has all the features that Preview has, but can also be used to manage a photo library, something that the other software options in this list don’t really do.

Paint.net (PC) – Paint.net is very intuitive to use, but still a very powerful image editor. There is a large community support forum available.  I personally use it for most quick image editing tasks rather than Photoshop.  I have mainly been a Mac user over the years, but when I work on PC I love this application.

Pixlr (Online/Chrome Extension/Phone App) – Pixlr offers a suite of web based editing tools. Pixlr Express for basic edits, and the more powerful Pixlr Editor for more advanced tasks like working with layers. They also offer a Chrome extension, and a mobile version. Since I initially wrote this article, there is a phone app as well.  So it’s a tool you can use across multiple platforms.  There are a lot of similar online apps out there now, but I still consider it one of the better ones.

Canva (Online) – A pretty powerful online editor.  It’s strength in my opinion is it’s template system for people that are novices to graphics applications.  It allows users to fairly easily create graphics for use on web sites or Social media.  I like to recommend it to my clients for use on their Blogs and Social Media.

GIMP (Mac/PC/Linux) – While the previous options are suited to beginners, GIMP is more along the lines of a full Photoshop replacement.  It can do what Photoshop does, and more in some cases.   The learning curve is much steeper with GIMP, but their web site has plenty of tutorials and documentation.  There are also a ton of YouTube tutorial videos available.

Vector Editing/Creation

The software listed so far is generally used for bitmap image editing and creation.  The following tools are for vector art creation and editing.  There aren’t a lot of free Vector programs out there, especially ones that work across platforms.

Inkscape (Mac/Windows/Linux) – Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Freehand, or Xara X. What sets Inkscape apart is its use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), an open XML-based W3C standard, as the native format.  Inkscape is a very powerful piece of software for free.

VECTR – I don’t have a ton of experience with this one yet, but I like to offer online tools as well as software because of their obvious convenience for clients.  It seems to have most of the basics you would want in a vector art program.

Other Tools

Batch Resizing/Batch File naming

Preview (Mac) – Preview is a great tool for batch re-sizing images.  If you use Yosemite or above, there is a built-in batch file re-namer.

Resizeimage.net (Online) – Fast Stone is a powerful batch image re-sizer and batch file-namer in one.  This one is not a bulk/batch resizer, but I have it on the list because it can do a whole bunch of other functions while resizing the image,

Bulk Resize (Online) – There are a ton of buld resizeing options online.  They all work in a pretty similar way.  This on has a drag and drop interface, so I added it to the list.

Image Optimization

TinyPNG – An online image optimizer.  Any image on your site should really be run through a tool like this before uploaded.