By Mark Rodgers
Computer programs can be extremely expensive. Designers with aspirations of becoming professionals might have to spend more than one thousand dollars to get the complete Adobe software design suite. That’s a pretty hefty investment, even for skilled artists who are sure that they will eventually make a career out of creating designs with the help of computer programs.
For pros just starting out or for students or computer users who simply don’t have the money to buy the expensive computer programs that they think they need, there are free options that do the same jobs as expensive programs. Shareware programs can be downloaded for free and provide the same tools as Adobe, Microsoft Office and other for-pay programs.
Here are free programs, most considered “shareware,” that do the same tasks as expensive, state of the art programs:
1. There are plenty of free image editors out there. While none will give you all the tools that professionals need, some come quite close. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is one of the most muscular. It has tools for retouching and refining images as well as creating images from scratch. The best: it works on all three major platforms, Mac, Linux and Windows.
2. Paint.Net is a free image editor and image creator for Windows users. It has a “layers” feature similar to Adobe software. There is a lot of support for this program, with peer created tutorials and advice easily available in the community forums associated with the program. There are also user-created plug-ins that can help artists customize the program to fit their needs.
3. Inkscape is a graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator. This program is available for both Mac and Windows (as well as Linux). Users might be surprised to find that Inkscape is able to do advanced tasks as well (or even better than) expensive programs can.
4. Blender is a powerful open source 3D modeling software. It is available for all three major operating systems. The program has a slightly high learning curve, but nothing that enthusiasts cannot figure out with a bit of effort. Blender has tools for modeling, , sculpting and shading 3D images. There are also plenty of texture tools so that artists can create life-like pictures.
5. Open Office is one of the best shareware program out there. The office suite includes a powerful word processing program and tools for creating spreadsheets, graphics and presentations. In short, it can do anything that Microsoft Office can do, but for free. This is especially useful for non-windows users who have to pay for this software (and many Windows users who only have access to a free trial when they purchase their computer. With a vibrant community surrounding it, Open Office is considered by many users to actually be superior to its for-purchase competitors.
6. Then, there are some programs that are so popular that most people forget that they are available for free. The headliner of this category is Skype. The communication program allows for internet calls, chatting and video conferencing for free. It is used almost universally. Firefox, one of the world’s most popular web browsers, is also free. Audacity is a free recording program that is available to all major platforms. This program is still being developed, but is a good alternative to expensive recording programs.
7. Advanced software is also part of the open source mix. Sphinx is an advanced voice recognition software created by people from the Carnegie Mellon institute.
In short, there are many, many open source programs available for free on the market. Of course, most are not heavily advertised as they have no advertising budget. However, the best of these free programs are easy to learn about because they have large communities of users and word-of-mouth advertising.