A Guide to Free Design Tools

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 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.

Pixlr (Online/Chrome Extension) – 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.

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.

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.

Other Tools

Batch Resizing/Batch File naming

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

Fast Stone Photo Resizer (PC) – Fast Stone is a powerful batch image re-sizer and batch file-namer in one.