5 open source graphic design tools and platforms reviewed

Graphic Design - Shaw Academy

5 open source graphic design tools and platforms reviewed

Graphic designers at all levels can benefit from open source software (OSS) tools to enhance and improve their skills.

While graphic designer roles will demand experience and expertise in proprietary software such as Photoshop and InDesign, there is much to be said for using OSS software too.

Particularly useful if you’re just starting out as a graphic designer and you’re learning the basics, there are loads of worthwhile OSS software programmes available. Here’s our pick of the best.

Shaw Academy reviews 5 of the best open source graphic design tools

Open source means code designed to be publicly accessible to everyone. Which means it’s free to use and can be modified and distributed in any way you like. The great thing about open source graphic design tools is that you also gain access to supportive global communities that can help you learn, develop and grow.

1. Krita

Powerful and comprehensive, Krita gives graphic designers, artists and illustrators a free set of professional quality tools. It has a heavy focus on illustration and digital painting but there are also animation features.

Built by graphic artists and designers, Krita has an accessible UI. Here are just some of the tools it gives you fully preloaded:

    • More than 100 professionally designed brushes that can give loads of effects.
    • Stabilisers to smooth out your rush strokes.
    • Built in vector tools that allow you to create graphic novel panels.
    • Nine unique brush engines.
    • Wrap-around mode that can create seamless patterns and textures.
    • Powerful 2D animation.

If you plan to move into graphic illustration, Krita is a brilliant resource to help you learn and develop your skills.

2. GNU image manipulation programme (GIMP)

GIMP is one of the most popular and accessible open source photo editing and graphic design platforms. It’s available for operating systems including OSX, Windows and GNU/Linux among others, and as it’s OSS, it’s completely free of charge.

Ideal for graphic designers, illustrators, photographers and any other creative and technical career paths, GIMP comes pre-loaded with lots of features. You can also use lots of third-party plugins.

We think this is an excellent tool for graphic designers of all specialisms, whether they’re at an advanced or beginner level. While it is a great alternative to Photoshop, it doesn’t include all of the features of the latter. But as a learning tool it can’t be beaten. Features include the following, among many others:

    • Loads of brushes, layers, masks and filters.
    • Plenty of extensions and plug-in options.
    • Advanced image editing features.
    • Graphic design elements of all descriptions, logos and interfaces.
    • High fidelity colour management features.


3. Inkscape

Inkscape is best likened to Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. A completely free of charge open source vector graphics editor, Inkscape is packed with features used for technical graphic illustrations. You can create all kinds of images from cartoons to logos, diagrams and flowcharts.

As it uses vector graphics, designers can create sharp renderings at unlimited levels of resolution. This means it’s not restricted to a fixed number of pixels. Using the standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format means it’s supported by lots of other applications and web browsers.

Use it to import and export all kinds of files including Portable Network Graphics (PNG), Encapsulated Post Script (EPS) and SVG, Inkscape has a simple and easy to use interface and lots of add-ons for people to expand its features. It’s available for Mac, Windows and Linux. Feature highlights include:

    • Object creation tools for drawing including pencil, pen, calligraphy.
    • Shape tools including rectangles, ellipses, stars/polygons, spirals.
    • Text tool for multi-line text.
    • Object manipulation tools for transformation, raising and lowering, grouping, layers and alignment.
    • Easy rendering using fully anti-aliased display.
    • Flexible and accessible UI.


4. Blender

This free software is for 3D drawing and creation. The platform supports every part of the 3D creation pipeline, including modelling, animation, rendering, motion tracking, video editing and the whole 2D animation feature pipeline. Blender is used by animators and graphic designers to create films, TV shows, animation and games.

Although the UI can look complex at first glance, when you start to use it, Blender becomes intuitive and accessible. Features include:

    • A high-end production path tracer called Cycles for professional rendering.
    • Extensive toolset for modelling, curves and sculpting
    • Digital sculpting tools for power and flexibility.
    • Powerful simulation tools, including MantaFlow and Bullet.
    • Video Editor suite of powerful tools.
    • Customisable UI.


5. Pencil 2D

Pencil2D is a simple, easy to use intuitive platform for graphic designers to create 2D hand-drawn animations. Using it map and vector graphics, Pencil2D is cleanly and minimally designed, making it super simple to use allowing the designer to concentrate on the animation rather than its usability.

Ideal for graphic designers just starting out on their animation journey, key features include:

    • Easy sketching, inking and painting on the go.
    • Cross platform and runs on Windows, MAC, Linux and FreeBSD.
    • Currently on the v0.6.5 release that offers more than 600 individual tasks.
    • Can be used commercially.


These are just some of the OSS available and we’ve included them here because we think they’re among the best available. Bear in mind that it’s obviously not possible to work as a graphic designer using only open source software.

When you land a position as a designer in an agency or for a company, you will need to use standard proprietary platforms like InDesign and Photoshop. We also offer training courses specifically in Photoshop for budding graphic designers. But these open source tools are available for free at any time, and we highly recommend using them to enhance your studies or your current role within design.