Many people equate open source with second-rate or complicated programs. However, you don’t have to pay a lot of money to get great tools to increase your graphics workflow.

I’ve gathered together 5 of the top free and open source vector, raster and 3D graphics programs available.

Vector Graphics

Inkscape

Inkscape is a great vector graphics alternative to Illustrator. It has some great features and some things that aren’t found standard in Illustrator.


Inkscape running on Linux.

I use Inkscape for my logo design and vector work and have used it on several client projects. I very rarely open Illustrator these days.

Best yet, Inkscape is available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

Xara Xtreme For Linux

While the Windows version of Xara Xtreme is not open source/free, Xara has released Xtreme as an open source application to Linux users (Xara Xtreme for Linux). I thought this was an interesting move. If you have access to Linux, you should definitely give this program a shot.


Xara Xtreme for Linux

Xara Xtreme is capable of some jaw-dropping vector graphics. And even though I had never used the program before, I found it to be very easy to learn and within 10 minutes, had already created some impressive work.

Note: The Xara Xtreme seems to not be under active development anymore, but is still downloadable from their website.

Raster Graphics and Paint Tools

The GIMP

When you hear open source and graphics software, GIMP is probably the first thing that pops into people’s minds.


The GIMP, running on KDE Linux

The GIMP has been around for years (since 1995) and is a nice alternative to Photoshop. It may not be quite as powerful, but there are people putting out some amazing work with GIMP.

The interface takes a bit of getting used to if you’re coming from Photoshop, but there are add-ons and versions that can resort and relabel GIMP’s tools to match Photoshop’s pretty closely.

GIMP is also available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux users.

Paint.NET

Strictly a Windows app, Paint.NET is a very good alternative to Adobe Photoshop. It has a modern, attractive interface that’s similar enough to Photoshop that people familiar using that can pick up on Paint.NET pretty quickly.


Paint.NET running on Windows XP (and showing how much of a nerd I am)

Paint.NET has an active community and a nice collection of plugins to extend it’s capabilities.

3D Graphics

Blender

Blender is the king of open source 3D graphics programs. It has an impressive and powerful array of tools and is capable of both rendered still images and movie-quality animation (using the YafRay ray tracer).

Several short films and games have been created exclusively with Blender, which showcase its power as a 3D modeling and animation tool.


Video reel of Blender-created still images and video.

Blender is cross-platform and available on Windows, Mac OSX and Linux flavors.

The Sum-Up

While you may not chuck all of your paid graphics programs out the window immediately for these open source offerings, it’s nice to know there are alternatives and some great programs to keep your eye on.

If I had to pick my favorites, I would choose Inkscape and Paint.NET. Having used Lightwave in the past, I’m also itching to spend some time with Blender as well.

What are your feelings about these open source graphics programs? Have you tried them? Do you use them on a regular basis? Drop us a comment.

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