Recognize these logos? These logos are, in part, indicators that the open source software movement is still alive and well. For artists everywhere, this is great news as there are a number of free, open source programs to fit every need...and they have been doing this very well, too.
I enjoy talking about open source software as it still amazes me how robust many of these software packages are, and yet they continue to be completely free for anyone to use. Completely. Free. So, here, I will highlight 4 open source programs that I have become familiar with over the years, and whose related logos pictured above are (from left to right): Blender, Inkscape, Krita, and Gimp.
First off, I have to mention Blender 3D, which was my first introduction into the world of digital art from back when this massively competent program still fit on a floppy disk (remember those?). And it was very powerful back then, too.
Blender had started as an in-house tool for a studio in the Netherlands and headed up by its creator, Ton Roosendaal. Ton, a lovely fellow by the way, decided to make it open source and the user community has grown immensely ever since, contributing to its impressive development over the years. Not only is Blender a fantastic, free 3D program, it is also unique in what it is capable of. You see, Blender is actually a full 3D creation suite for modeling, rigging, animation, video editing, rendering, motion tracking, and it even has a game engine - no kidding!
Blender is available for Windows XP through 8, Mac OSX 10.6 and above, and Linux. Blender is available for download here. There is also plenty of info and training available on the support page here, and there is also a free Blender magazine available from the fine folks at Blender Art, that provides fantastic artwork, tips, and tutorials from the Blender community around the world. Check out the Blender mag here.
Next up, we have what began as a school project for two university students in 1995 and eventually became Gimp (GNU image Manipulation Program). Shortly after I discovered Blender back in 2001, I heard about Gimp, which is a free, open source image editing application comparable to Photoshop. Though not as robust as Photoshop, Gimp is still very good and has also grown amazingly over the years.
Gimp is available for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, Sun OpenSolaris, and FreeBSD.
Gimp, like Blender, also has a dedicated free magazine available in support of the software, showcasing works, tips, and tutorials from Gimp users all over the world. Check it out here.
If you are you looking for a vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Freehand, or Xara X, then Inkscape would be your free, open source alternative. Inkscape came about in 2003 and what sets it apart is its use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), an open XML-based W3C standard, as its native format. Supported platforms are: Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.
There are plenty of resources to learn how to use Inkscape from this page here. Be sure to also check out the Inkscape Community Gallery here.
Finally, there is Krita, a free digital painting application which is perfectly suited for illustrators, concept artists, matte painters, comic book artists, and even artists working in games. It could also be considered as a free alternative to Corel's Painter application.
Krita comes packed with a huge assortment of brushes, patterns, palettes, and gradients. Krita also offers features such as multi-hand, mirrored and wrap-around painting, as well as HDR painting. Check out the features page here. The newest version was recently released with an excellent new feature, the Tangent Normal brush engine, which allows for drawing of normal maps. You can see an introductory video on it here.
Krita is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, though Mac OSX is apparently experimental right now. Want to see what folks are creating with Krita? Check out the gallery.
There are other great open source applications available out there, but these I mentioned are at the top of my list. A final point to remember is that while there are many great free, open source programs out there, they are really dependent upon the support of their users. If you enjoy using any open source application, and if at all possible, please do look to contribute in some way to further developments. If financial support is not an option, there are other ways to help and volunteers are always welcome.