Programmers, occasional graphic designers or beginners may want to use free (or open source) graphics software which can do some basic operations. So you could need an application to retouch a photo, to create a vector icon or to design a graphic. There are many free tools out there which have those features and much more. I’ve crawled the web for some nice applications and I found many fresh graphics tools which are quite awesome. The developers of today are very creative and so their software is getting better and more complex. Most of the tools I’ve tested have some innovative features that let you create stunning graphics.
The GIMP is probably the most popular open source image editing application out there. It comes with lots of features like layers, blending modes, filters, layer masks, gradient tools, a history, photo manipulation tools, softened paint/eraser tools, a text tool, selection transformations, advanced color manipulation abilities (like hue/saturation, color balance, curves and so on), animation support, a customizable interface, vector shapes and much more. The program has everything you need to create/modify/edit images of any kind. Common operations like zooming/panning, image resizing/cropping and a large list of filters are also featured. GIMP runs on five different operating systems and supports popular file formats like PSD, JPG, TIF, GIF and PNG. At first sight, the application may be a bit confusing because it has lots of floating windows and specific menus. You have to play around with the user interface in order to understand its functions. But you could try out GIMPshop to bring the Photoshop-feeling to GIMP.
So GIMP is an advanced graphics application that has many professional features for graphic and web designers. The program can be used very well for image creation and photo manipulation because it has impressive brushes/filters/effects, awesome color manipulation tools and some nondestructive features (like layer masks). If you don’t care about the (sometimes difficult) GUI you should give GIMP a try.
ArtWeaver may be the ne plus ultra graphic application for you. This application looks like, feels like and behaves like Adobe Photoshop. It doesn’t have all the features of Photoshop but it has lots of nice tools so if you want to start up your career as a graphic/web designer, you should definitely use ArtWeaver to get into the material. The program has a very nice interface that is easy to use. There are lots of impressive features like layers, layersets, blending modes, a history (up to 100 steps), softened brushes/eraser tools, advanced color editing tools (hue/saturation, color balance, levels, curves and many more), a text tool and many filters. In addition to that, ArtWeaver comes with tons of artistic brush presets which are well done. So ArtWeaver has some great painting abilities that let you enhance your graphics with ease. The filters work very well so that you can achieve nice effects. There are many supported file formats like BMP, GIF, JPG, PCX, TGA, TIF, PNG and PSD (no layer support). ArtWeaver also features Pen Tablet support for realistic painting.
The application doesn’t have as many featurs/filters as GIMP but I think it’s perfect for learning Photoshop because it works very similar. Small disadvantages are the missing layer effects and vector tools that are strong features of Photoshop. But all in all, ArtWeaver has everything you need in order to create/modifiy graphics and photos. So take a look at this impressive application.
Originally intended as a free replacement for ‘Microsoft Paint’ that comes with Windows, Paint.NET has grown into a powerful image and photo editing tool. The application has an innovative interface that can handle multiple images easily by using a tabbed document interface. Paint.NET includes features such as layers, blending modes, an unlimited history, color manipulation tools, a gradient tool, a curve tool, basis shapes, a text tool and lots of impressive special effects (filters). The application is completely pixel-based so there aren’t any vector tools. It has also to be mentioned that Paint.NET doesn’t support softened brushes so the painting abilities aren’t as good as in other image editing tools. The strengths of this application are the stunning filters that can be used to enhance and perfect your images. Beside standard-filters like blur and sharpen, Paint.NET features special effects like 3D rotate/zoom, distortion, noise, fractals and many more. There’s also a nice live gradient tool that allows you to view the final gradient while creating it. The application supports common file formats like JPG, TIF, PCX, TGA, GIF and PNG.
In conclusion, Paint.NET is predestined to edit and manipulate photos but also modifying images for the web.
Inkscape probably has an absolutely monopoly in open source vector applications. Formerly developed under the name ‘Sodipodi’, Inkscape became an impressive and professional vector-based graphics editor. The application uses the W3C standard SVG file format and supports the import/export of other file formats like AI, PDF, WMF, PNG, BMP, JPG, TIF and many more. There are many supported features as layers, alpha blending, gradients, complex path operations, a text tool, bitmap tracing, an XML-editor and tons of path effects and filters. You can draw vectors by using the freehand tool but you can also create predefined shapes like stars, spirals or circles. There’s also tool to create 3D boxes — you can edit the vanishing points afterwards. Inkscape has an advanced interface that is very well designed. You can show/minimize panels that show common path opterations (anchorpoints alignment), gradient settings or the layers window. A very impressive feature is the bitmap tracing that can convert an imported bitmap to vectors using different settings. The application can also be extended by using Python scripts.
With all its wonderful features, Inkscape is the choice no. 1 if you want to create stunning vector graphics or technical drawings.
Here's a list of other great graphics editors I've tested.
Project Dogwaffle— http://thebest3d.com/dogwaffle/free
There are also some nice low budget graphics editors that come with some impressive features. Check them out.
Corel PaintShop Pro Photo X2— http://www.corel.com
Serif DrawPlus X2— http://www.serif.com
Ulead PhotoImpact— http://www.ulead.com/pi
Xara Xtreme— http://www.xara.com