Five Indispensable Free Programs for Image Editing & Drawing

Thu, May 15, 2008, by Al Stillwaugh

Web Talk

Rather than create another list of “200 free applications,” this list includes the five best, and only the best, free software for working with photos and original art. Tutorials are included, so that you can actually use the software once you download it.

You don’t take a photograph, you make it.
-Ansel Adams

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(Windows, Linux, Apple)

  • Best for: Advanced Photo editing, internet graphics
  • What’s Missing: Native CMYK support (get the plug-in)

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The GIMP is king of the free artwork software world. Primarily designed for editing photos and graphics, the GIMP’s standard setup is powerful but confusing for the newbie-it features three separate windows with a number of optional configuration tweaks. Happily, the GIMP it can be downloaded in a format that looks and feels just like Photoshop, called, amusingly,
GIMPShop. GIMPShop even features a ‘Deweirdifier’ function to make GIMPShop, a little…less weird.

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The Tutorials: As one of the world’s most successful open-source projects, the Gimp boasts a large and active user base. There are thousands of free tutorials for the GIMP: go onto
and search for “The Gimp” for hundreds of free tutorials on subjects like drawing a realistic looking lightsaber, drawing anime art, or changing eye color in a subject of a photograph. Or, if you like, go to
Gimp Tutorials
for written, step-by-step instructions on how to do dozens of fun projects, like creating a blood splatter or animated fire text. Your local bookstore may also carry some of the many excellent books written on The Gimp, as does Amazon. Highly recommended.

For Gimpshop, simply use
Photoshop tutorials.

(Windows only)

  • Best for: Easy-to-learn photo editing
  • What’s Missing: High quality drawing tools.

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Paint.NET is simpler, easier, and less sophisticated than the GIMP. It offers users the ability to do almost anything with photos that an intermediate user might be interested in doing, including special effects, fixing damaged or faded pictures, and even conducting a “makeover” for the subject of a photograph. Paint.NET users can create simple graphics, and can even create a comic.

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The Tutorials: Paint.NET users are part of a growing community that offers hundreds of YouTube video tutorials and tutorials elsewhere. There is a particularly large, categorized set of tutorials
here, at Wikibooks, and a good set of beginner tutorials at the Washington State University Computer Science department

(Windows, Linux, Apple)

  • Best For: Creating Graphics and drawings from scratch, replacing Adobe’s Illustrator.
  • What’s Missing: Photo Editing

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InkScape is the best, and just about the only, free vector graphics editor. (Vector graphics can grow and shrink without loss of quality.) Users can create sophisticated graphics that match the quality of those created using InkScape’s commercial rival, Adobe Illustrator. The program offers a feature that will automatically convert simple images to vector format, so that you can edit them within the program. It also works with the GIMP, even offering users the ability to drag-and-drop paths into InkScape from GIMP, and even images, from the GIMP history area. There’s a great gallery of InkScape art over at

InkScape is surprisingly business-friendly. Users can convert files to PDF format, so that they can be seen, but not altered, by viewers. They can also create charts and diagrams using InkScape that work perfectly for business use, and which are currently used within the Wikipedia project to draw flow-charts and diagrams.

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The Tutorials: A few hundred tutorials are available at YouTube. Other tutorials, like the official “getting started” tutorial is
here. More advanced tutorials can be found
here, and
here. Draw a Lamborghini Gallardo, or a samurai manga character, or make a great Web 2.0 Logo from scratch.

Tux Paint
(Windows, Linux, Apple)

  • Best For: Creating graphics and drawings from scratch
  • What’s Missing: Photo editing

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Need a quick graphic for that webpage you’re designing? Want to create a quick sketch? Look no further than Tux Paint. It takes absolutely no time whatsoever to learn the program and begin creating high-quality graphics and drawings. Originally intended for use by children as young as 18 months old, Tux paint has evolved into the easiest way for adults to create graphics from scratch. Users can create very sophisticated drawings using filters, special effects, and a feature that allows a painting to looks although it was drawn in chalk, on the pavement. The program also allows users to save a sequence of drawings and play them back as an animation. There is limited vector graphic support.

Like nothing else, this program transports you to your childhood finger-painting days summer days spent out on the front lawn using finger-paint! But it’s also a serious graphics editor. But lest you think Tux Paint is only for children, check out this amazing
gallery of original artwork
created using the program.

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The Tutorials: There are a few dozen tutorials available on YouTube. The software is so simple that users haven’t bothered to create many tutorials.

(Linux only, as a practical matter.)

  • Best For: Advance drawing and painting, basic photo editing
  • What’s Missing: Tutorials & books, advanced photo-editing capabilities

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Arguably the best overall application is Krita, though it is not quite ready for use on Windows or Apple computers. Where the Gimp is first and foremost a photo-editor, Krita is first and foremost a painting application. Krita is easier to use than The GIMP or even Photoshop, and it offers an excellent assortment of paintbrushes, gradients, a watercolor paint simulation, and even offers full, native CMYK color support-making it the best choice in our list for creating products that will be printed. And, it offers a solid selection of photo-editing tools, though not as extensive as those offered by the GIMP.

As an added bonus, Works with KOffice, a free software suite. This means that Krita drawings can be placed directly inside of, say, a letter you’re writing in KOffice’s word processor, called KWord. Future releases of Krita will feature even more helpful drawing features that will allow it to rival any software available-paid or free.

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The Tutorials: There are relatively few tutorials available for Krita, but Krita’s developers plan to make more tutorials available over time.

Know of any good tutorials we missed? Let the world know about them in your comments.

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6 Comments For This Post
  1. IcyCucky Says:

    This is a great list and wonderful article!

  2. Zackatoustra Says:

    I’m gonna try TuxPaint, which I haven’t heard about before. Probably because I’m kind of a newbie in the area of creating drawing from scratch. That’s probably for that same reason I think it will fit my needs and skills!
    Thanks for sharing this list!

  3. Author Says:

    Thanks, guys, for the comments.

  4. Q Says:

    Great article! This is just what I was looking for in terms of a simple breakdown of what is available out there. Thanks!

  5. Canllaith Says:

    Nice article – but were you at any point going to ask the copyright holders of those images you took for their permission to use them ?

  6. Anne Says:

    Thankyou so much! I found this article from a google search and it was exactly what I needed.

    To Canllaith: At least the flickr photos (I don’t know about the others) were all available under a Creative Commons License (I checked each one) and were linked to the source. This satisfies the bare minimum requirements I think you’ll find. Admittedly, the author would be in breach of copyright if the other images were protected, but I found this more difficult to check.

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