PE: Free + Open Source Art Programs
|16 min read
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There are plently of art programs out there, but many cost money to buy. This article aims to help you find a free or open source altneratives to paid art programs.


Digital Painting

The following programs are alternatives to digital painting programs like Paint Tool SAI and Corel Paintshop Pro.

Krita is a great program that is actively developed and has a plethora of features. The brush engine in particular is really nice. Similar to GIMP & Photoshop, Krita does more than just digital painting. You can do things like photomanipulation, and it offers a variety of file formats and templates to experiment with. Because there are so many features, the learning curve is going to be higher than with something like SAI, but since it's well laid out and gorgeous, you should be able to paint gorgeous stuff in no time. 
Keep in mind, Krita uses a lot of RAM & CPU, and you might need a graphics card to keep the program running in a fast manner. 

MyPaint is one of my personal favorites for a variety of reasons. 1) MyPaint presents itself in a clean, uncluttered workspace while allowing you to customize panels the way you like them. With a click of the tab key, all menus can be hidden, which is really nice. 2) I love the variety of settings in MyPaint's brush engine. If you hunt around, you can find a lot of really cool brushes that behave pretty uniquely. 3) Infinite, raster canvas. This feature is really great. You don't need to worry about creating a bigger canvas because it goes on forever and gives you unparalleled freedom. Although primarily developed for Linux, Windows builds are currently in the process of being updated. (Mac builds are there too!) MyPaint is lightweight and runs fast, even on low powered machines like my Atom based tablet. 

Fire Alpaca is similar to Paint Tool SAI but offers a slightly different feature set. Since it's available for both Mac & Windows, it's a nice SAI alternative to more people. There's not a lot of brush customization in Fire Alpaca, but you do get line smoothing and a water brush tool that's really nice. I am also a fan of the way you can quickly set up perspective grids. Fire Alpaca is nice and is actively developed, meaning new features are implemented all the time. 

Alchemy is less of a program for painting and more of a program for sketching and design creation. There's a lot of neat things you can do with symmetry and randomness, which is great if you need to paint randomly in order to generate ideas. 

Autodesk Sketchbook is free in the Copic edition and in the Starter/Essentials edition. You get less features, but there's no free trial counters which is really nice. Sketchbook Copic stimulates the look of markers while Starter/ Essentials gives you a few, nicely designed tools to paint with. 

Photo Editors

These programs are for photo editing primarily, but some are used for digital painting is well. 

GIMP is a lot of things. It's almost like Photoshop in complexity, although some tasks require a few more clicks than they would in Photoshop. GIMP has come a long way since its earlier builds and can do a lot of different things. Since GIMP is so popular, you can find plenty of nice tutorials and plugins. 

Paint.NET is an image editor that is way lighter and faster than Photoshop, but still offers a good amount of features and flexibility. 
Lots of available plugins and is still actively developed. Keep in mind, it's only available for Windows, and not the RT version. 

RawTherapee is a digital darkroom developer/image processor like Lightroom, which means it's great for processing the RAW file format. It also supports Adobe Lens profiles, so you can do lens based adjustments.

darktable is similar to RawTherapee, but offers masks. RAW processors are nice because they are nondestructive. The two programs are similar but try both and see what your personal preference is. 

Picasa is a great piece of software designed to organize your photos and edit them as well. It offers ways to easily share your photos on Google+ and other social networks. In addition, Google is constantly adding new features and photo effects. Photo editing is also nondestructive.

Illustration & Graphic Design

Inkscape is a great vector and illustration program. It's got many plugins, features, and all kinds of resources/ tutorials written for it. You can do a lot with Inkscape and it's available for all platforms. 

Draw Plus by Serif, the creator of Afinity Designer, offers a lightweight graphic design program for Windows. I haven't tested it, but it seems pretty competent. 

3D Modelling & Animation

Blender offers an amazing set of features: animation, rendering, compositioning, rigging, sculpting; I highly recommend you hop over and take a look at the extensive feature set! This comes, however, with a steep learning curve. However, if you have a project that demands complexity and options, Blender might be the program for you. It also is available as a portable app, which is super great. 


Daz3D is not normally free, but if you register, it is! You can do many things, but its main highlights include animation, CG, 3D design, and storyboarding. 

Sculptris allows you to sculpt 3D models, and is made by the creators of ZBrush. In addition to sculpting, you can paint your 3D models and light them in very realistic ways. 


Hopefully this article has helped you in some way!


Have you ever used free or open source software in your work? If not, are you planning to now? If you've ran into any others, feel free to share links to them! 


Feel free to answer in the comments below!



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anonymous's avatar
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RebelliousRobot's avatar
Even though I don’t have art on my profile yet, (And as hard as it may be to believe I have been on this platform for years, I deleted an old account and made a new one.) Some of the programs I have heard of and have on my laptop. In fact I have viewed a few tutorials in terms of 3D modeling. And by a few, I mean one and a half tutorials for Blender.
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Blender is amazing!!
MaxTheCreedAirPilot's avatar
MaxTheCreedAirPilotProfessional Traditional Artist
Shared it on my Tumblr for my followers if they can't afford on expensive software.
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Thanks! I love that!
Matsuemon's avatar
Hey, not sure if anyone else mentioned these in the comments, but there are two other free programs that come to mind. One is MeshMixer, which is very similar to Sculptris, but has even a few extra goodies. And another one I just heard about the other day (for Windows) is called Design Doll. It's kind of like Daz 3d, where you can quickly create a 3d character and pose them, but the characters are MUCH more customizable and morphable. You can create more cartoony looking characters or real looking ones. There is a free version, and a paid version where you can export the model as an .obj file. =)
creationtakesun's avatar
creationtakesunHobbyist General Artist
A new free programm : 
Medibang Paint could be use by PC, Mac, Android, Ipad, Iphone
medibangpaint.com/en 


You could add a new section for android and ipad-iphone because they are so many that you have not explain about. 

thanks :) 
spligity's avatar
spligityStudent General Artist
YASSSSSSSSSSSS

great article!

ive been using ubuntu for a couple years now and i use a bunch of these programs!
and i love them all! :D

mypaint is totally my go to for sketching and stuff
its so lightweight, its perfect for sleepy bed time draws :>

krita really is a powerhouse for digital painting
i only wish it handled cymk a little better.

i use gimp a lot for pixel art actually
it has surprisingly good tools for sprites and animations and stuff :0
i love how intuitive the interface is; it causes me to rage every time im forced to use photoshop again lol

and im a little less familiar with inkscape, just cuz vectors arent my main thing, but using it gave me a nice springboard to jump from when i had to learn illustrator for work :>

i want to learn how to properly use blender someday as well
it would be useful for planning backgrounds and i wanna practice low poly stuff too


one program that ive used a lot in the past, but isnt listed is open canvas 1.1
its only free cuz its an older version tho, so i dont think it really deserves to be included
i really like it tho, mostly cuz i seem to gravitate towards really simple programs/tools
theres just something oddly fulfilling about making nice shit w/ old software... anyway i like it cuz it automatically records brush strokes and autosaves so i dont lose my work if theres a crash
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Thanks for the comment! :heart:
Hey, how's Ubuntu? I might switch after Windows giving me hell on my main computer.. 

Yes, I love MyPaint! Works on my lightweight tablet that's running Atom, so I love how it runs so smoothly!

True! Krita's brushes are also really amazing. However, it is currently laggy on said tablet. (I love the way I can just draw on the screen, so that's why I like to draw with it more than the laptop/wacom tablet combo.)

Gimp is super great. Haven't used in a while though, not since I got Lightroom 5 for my bday. Probably will go back to it though!

Same, I need to learn how to use Inkscape lol. I'm definitely checking out your gallery soon, since you sound like you do a lot of diverse art! :eager:

Blender seems so cool but so complicated! the only thing I've ever sculpted on it was a demented penguin, so there's that. :giggle:

Ah, never tried Open Canvas, mainly since the current version is not free. I'll have to try that out!
Oh wow! That's really helpful. Thank you for sharing! :love:
spligity's avatar
spligityStudent General Artist
ye i do a lot of different stuff... working in different styles and on different types of projects is more fun, but it makes me feel kinda lost at school since there's so much pressure for me to find my voice in the contemporary art crowd... idk its not really a big deal tho.

i really like ubuntu. the interface is pretty and nice. its simple like the apple os but also u can do all kinds of shit on it (unlike apple lol)
also it starts up hella fast
windows 8 is fucking terrible. i hav to use it sometimes on the tower we use mostly as a server XD

i use a tablet pc (transformer) so i draw on the screen too :>
(at work i use a normal tablet tho)((but that's where i started, so im comfortable working either way))

and ya, krita is p heavy for a tablet
u would prolly like inkscape tho. it feels about as light as mypaint
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
That's good to be diverse, I try to be that way too. Experimenting is fun!

Awesome! I think I will switch for a while, then try dual booting with windows 10 and see how it works out. Windows 8.1 screwed me over big time. Now I think I lost 8 months worth of photos, so that's even better! (Something went wrong when I was trying to reinstall it since updates were failing and I couldn't install anything :c)

Tablet PCs are really fun and useful! I love being able to draw straight on there. A normal tablet is less irritating with more programs though lol.

Awesome! I have it, but I really need to work on learning how to use it properly lol
creationtakesun's avatar
creationtakesunHobbyist General Artist
I do a link about your article to this home page group :
:icondrawing-tutorial:
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Thank you! Much appreciated! :hug:
MewStudios's avatar
MewStudiosHobbyist General Artist
there's also these two drawing programs I know lots of people use.
pixlr.com and sumopaint.com
they are both browser ones so you don't have to download. I personally use pixlr. 
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Ahh, awesome! Thank you! I will update the journal soon!
MewStudios's avatar
MewStudiosHobbyist General Artist
you're welcome c:
Yo-FeatherStar's avatar
Yo-FeatherStarHobbyist Traditional Artist
YAY
HawkStarAviator's avatar
HawkStarAviatorStudent Digital Artist
Hmm. Interesting programs and many opportunities await me. I should try some of these out one day. 😮😮😀😀😀😀
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Tell me your favorites if you do! :eager:
creationtakesun's avatar
creationtakesunHobbyist General Artist
you fergot open office : Draw
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Ah, interesting! I'll look into that one!
Zoltan86's avatar
Yayy Krita!!! :D I love it!
Astrikos's avatar
AstrikosHobbyist Artist
Same!
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