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The Adobe Creative Cloud is probably one of the most well-known suites of tools in the industry when it comes to graphic design software. Make no mistake—it’s fantastic at what it does and it sets the industry standard with most of its products. But there are a lot of open source options to replace many of the Adobe programs without sacrificing much capability. Most are a great starting point, and some are truly amazing by rivaling licensed software.

GIMP vs. Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop, used for both photo editing and raster graphic design, has a few alternatives. The one we’ll talk about here and the most well-known is GIMP, a program that boasts some truly impressive functions similar to Photoshop. Like Photoshop, it uses layers, automatic image enhancers, brushes and filters, and is compatible with a large number of plugins. For a free graphic design software, GIMP is almost too good to be true.

Similarly, GIMP also has the same downside as Photoshop—there are so many tools and features available, that the UI can be overwhelming at first. But since the interface is also highly customizable, it’s easy to work around the confusion. And for the low price of free, GIMP is a great deal to get started with photo editing, whether or not you just want to touch up some family photos or do it for a living. Download GIMP here and give it a try for yourself!

Inkscape vs. Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is used primarily for creating vector graphics, or images that are completely scalable to avoid pixelation (unlike raster graphics). Inkscape is the most popular open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator available to the public, and can do nearly the same volume of work that Illustrator can do. Inkscape is compatible with SVG format, EPS, PostScript, JPG, PNG, BMP, and TIPP, and offers many of the same tools that Illustrator does to create shapes, paths, transparency, patterns, etc.

The most obvious pain point when using Inkscape is that it can lag a bit, but that’s a small price to pay for a free software that’s so powerful. Like GIMP, Inkscape might not be the first choice for a corporation or high-ranking professional, but it’s an excellent resource for learning the basics of image construction and is a worthy Illustrator competitor. Give it a try here.

Scribus vs. Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign fits into the niche of graphic design software sort of how a round peg fits into a hexagonal hole. It’s not quite perfect, but there’s definitely room for it. InDesign is used primarily to design and format page layout for print materials, like newspapers, ebooks, and magazines.

The only genuine rival in the open source community for InDesign is Scribus, which works almost exactly the same way that InDesign does. There are a couple other free desktop publishers, of course, but Adobe really cornered the market with InDesign when it comes to the features it offers. A team of developers also actively maintains Scribus, unlike some other open source software options, so they provide routine updates and bug fixes.

Unfortunately, Scribus can’t open or save files from other publishing apps, so if you started a project in another one and want to move it over, you might be out of luck. But starting and finishing within the application is so similar to InDesign that you almost might as well be using the same program.

Download Scribus here.

Don’t be afraid to dive right in!

Excluding video and animation, these three Adobe programs are the ones designers most commonly use. If you’re a professional organization or have the budget to invest in Adobe, it’s definitely going to pay off to spend the money and get the licensed programs. But for a lot of us who want to break into the market and don’t know where to start, take advantage of the free tools out there to learn the basics. After that, the Adobe products are a snap to learn.

Are you more interested in animation and video design than photos, images, and text? Stay tuned for the next post on open source tools for motion designers!

This post was written by Infolob’s writer, Carson Collins. You can reach him at [email protected]