How to work as a Graphic Designer without sleeping with Adobe

I am just now completing a certificate in graphic design at the online school, and although I have come to like the Adobe Creative suite tool (and mainly inDesign), I would rather be relying only on open source tools. Why? Well, there are many factors that steer my decision toward that.

If you want to read more about open source and creativity, I invite you to read FLOSS+Art which is a solid explanation of the relationship between open source and creativity/art. From the description:

“FLOSS+Art critically reflects on the growing relationship between Free Software ideology, open content and digital art. It provides a view onto the social, political and economic myths and realities linked to this phenomenon.”

This book has been a strong inspiration for me to embrace open source in all my creative projects.

Using open source instead of a licensed software is quite empowering and freeing. Even though I paid for Adobe Creative suite, I still don’t feel that I own the software, which influences the way I create and express myself. Even worse, when I used to download pirated software, my creativity would be hindered by a feeling of guilt. All that lead me towards using only open source tools and their advantages:

+ Free software – meaning you don’t pay for it (you still can donate what you want!)
+ The code is open, if you want your tools to do something different you are welcome to change it.
+ Solid community of users and developers to contact when in need
+ You can upgrade your software as many times you want (without paying more!)
+ Peace of mind for any copyright infringement or licenses / legal trouble with the tools you are using

There is a quality and peace of mind when using open source software that is hard to explain. It is often depicted as ‘If you can’t open it, you don’t own it’ – which is not to be taken literally but which gives an understanding of the technology we use. This freedom is priceless; hence for me creativity and open source is a perfect match.

If you are to become a professional Graphic Designer, you still need to be familiar with the industry default tools, the Adobe suite. But once you’re working on your own projects, personal ones or for clients, you can use the tools that fit your needs. Of course it’s not the tools that makes the designer, only your skill and creativity.

I’ll list here all the tools that I’ve been working with in the last few months, for school projects and professional contracts. I’ll restrain the list to simply graphic design at the moment and might expand it further into web design in a future post.

Photoshop replacement with GIMP

One thing I like about this open source program is that they don’t try to do everything. For example nowadays with Photoshop you can actually do pretty much all your design and illustration in there. But why is that? I personally prefer tools that do one thing, and one thing well. I guess that was the idea behind all the tools of the Adobe creative suite but the goal got lost in translation and now every tool tries to do everything.

GIMP is a great example of a tool that does what it does, and well! It’s a really solid image retouching and photo editing software. It’s a mature open source project with a huge community of users and developers. It’s intelligently built and can be extended with Scheme or Python script!

Illustrator replacement with Inkscape and MyPaint

I’ve been using Inkscape more and more lately and I have to say that I’m in love again! With the focus on keyboard shortcuts and simple tool navigation, Inkscape became second nature quite easily. It’s powerful and fast as well as quite flexible. It has a lot of the basic function of illustrator, but isn’t overloaded with bells and whistles.

One thing that Illustrator tries to do but fails at, is to be a painting software. With its brushes and the pressure sensitive drawing, it almost works, but I really can’t paint with illustrator. On the open source side of the world, the gap is well covered by MyPaint.

MyPaint is simple, elegant and to the point. It’s optimized for tablets, and uses a minimum of control to change color (with a palette), change brushes and move your canvas around. It’s the only tool that gives me the real feeling of drawing, and with the different paint brushes. You can easily create your own palette and your own brushes, or hack any brushes that came pre-installed.

InDesign replacement with Scribus

InDesign is a hard one to replace, maybe because I really enjoy working with it, or maybe because I haven’t played enough in the open source world to have completely let go. The main, mature page layout tool available now is Scribus, you will find a similar interface as InDesign and it doesn’t take long to get the basic commands. It’s a solid page layout software, to design a poster or a whole book. Since I haven’t designed any books with Scribus yet I can’t tell how good or bad it is, but having used it few time I can see that it’s a viable software.

I am also really interested in the development of CSS for designing books and print. Coming from a web design background it seems to make a lot more sense to code your style in CSS. You can read a really interesting experiment here on A List Apart.

Other useful tools

Gpick, a quite powerful color picker which will also help you create color scheme and even try out the palette. You can download Gpick here.

Another color management tool with Agave.

For font management in Linux: font-manager and fontforge.

Image batch processor Phatch.

I enjoy being able to measure what is on my screen and I can do that easily with ScreenRuler. It takes a few steps to install, but it’s worth the time investment.

Sometimes you need to write without Facebook, email and Skype disturbing you every second. In order to do that, I love to use PyRoom, a really simple distraction free writing tool.

One thing with open source is it’s maturing all the time, the community is growing and it’s the counter current of the huge software companies that are mainly preoccupied with profit. The difference between using open source software and paid software has quite an effect my creativity and I invite you to try it out, and observe how it feels!