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Your Online Creative Toolkit: 13 Open-Source Apps and Programs to Get You Started

Want to kick off your freelance career without breaking the bank? Here are the top open-source programs every aspiring creative needs in their toolkit.

Posted 5 Aug 2022
The Online Creative's Open-Source Toolkit: All the Apps and Software You Need to Get Started

Whether you’re looking to freelance or lock down a full-time remote job, being a digital creative in this day in age requires a few things to get started. First, you’re going to need a few pieces of hardware. 

A desktop computer or laptop is a must. Still, depending on the type of work you decide to do, you may also need a camera, an iPad and stylus, a microphone, external storage, headphones, or whatever your chosen discipline physically requires. But what about software? 

While often overlooked – because fancy tech toys are more fun to spend money on – online applications and creative software are where most of your work will get done. These services and programs can get pricey, and it’s challenging to know which ones you need and which are a colossal waste of cash. 

Software can get expensive quickly (looking at you, Adobe), so it’s best to start with publicly available open-source programs as a beginner. Completely free, ethical, and often just as good as paid services, open-source apps are a creative newbie’s best friend. 

So if you’re just starting out, here’s our list of budget-friendly software and web services every aspiring creative needs in their toolkit.

What is Open-Source Software?

Open-source software is any software, application, or web service with public source code allowing anyone to inspect, modify, and enhance the code independently.

More broadly, open-source projects or initiatives adhere to open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.

Unlike traditional software, where code is kept private, open-source software publishes the source code on sites like GitHub. It allows programmers and developers to examine, borrow, and improve code. This openness makes open-source projects extremely trustworthy as users and consumers can be 100% sure how the software functions, what data the service tracks, what kind of security it employs, and so on.

Non-profits or NGOs run many open-source products and services at no upfront cost to users, typically relying on donations or grants to maintain operations. Many open-source services are outright free or, at the very least, extremely affordable.

In short, open-source software is safe, affordable, and ethical, making it perfect for beginners, creatives on a budget, and anyone with a strong moral compass. 

Inkscape: Vector Image Creation

Inkscape: Vector Image Creation

If you’re a graphic designer but can’t (or don’t want to) pay the insanely high subscription fees for Adobe Creative Cloud, Inkscape is your new best friend. An open-source and free alternative to Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape can effectively render primitive vector shapes and text. 

These objects – such as rectangles, ellipses, polygons, arcs, spirals, stars, and 3D boxes – may be filled with solid colors, patterns, radial or linear color gradients, and borders can be stroked with adjustable transparency. Created shapes can be further tailored with moving, rotating, scaling, and skewing transformations. Inkscape also supports the embedding and optional tracing of raster graphics, enabling editors to create vector graphics from photos or other raster sources. 

Krita: Digital Painting, 2D Animation

Krita: Digital Painting, 2D Animation

Old-school Microsoft Paint on steroids, Krita is a free and open-source raster graphics editor for artists focused on digital painting and 2D animation

Krita features include:

  • An OpenGL-accelerated canvas.
  • Color management support.
  • An advanced brush engine.
  • Non-destructive layers and masks.
  • Group-based layer management.
  • Vector artwork support.
  • Switchable customization profiles. 

Kdenlive: Video editing

Kdenlive: Video editing

Kdenlive is an acronym for KDE Non-Linear Video Editor. Clever, right? It is an open-source and 100% free video editing software based on the MLT Framework, KDE, and Qt. Though it sounds confusing, Kdenlive meets almost all basic (and professional) video editing needs

The software allows for multi-track video editing, it’s compatible with nearly all audio and video formats, and has a configurable interface and convenient shortcuts. Kdenlive has a built-in 2D titler, comes pre-loaded with tons of effects and transitions, possesses various audio and video scopes, and has proxy editing, automatic backup, and timeline preview. Kdenlive is widely used, and many online resources are available to support the product. It’s a one-stop shop for aspiring and veteran video creators alike.

Blender: 3D, animation & compositing

Blender: 3D, animation & compositing

Gamers, rise up! Blender is a free, open-source 3D computer graphics software for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D-printed models, motion graphics, interactive 3D applications, virtual reality, and video games. Blender is a bit technical but extremely powerful in the right hands. 

Blender’s features include:

  • 3D modeling
  • UV mapping
  • texturing
  • digital drawing
  • raster graphics editing
  • rigging and skinning
  • fluid and smoke simulation
  • particle simulation
  • soft body simulation
  • Sculpting
  • animation
  • match moving
  • rendering
  • motion graphics
  • video editing
  • and compositing. 

Gimp: Raster image manipulation

Gimp: Raster image manipulation

Think of GIMP as a more versatile (and much more affordable) PhotoShop. GIMP is a free and open-source raster graphics editor for image manipulation and editing, free-form drawing, transcoding different image file formats, and more specialized tasks.

With a customizable interface, photo enhancement features, digital retouching, insane hardware support, and compatibility with almost all file formats and operating systems – GIMP is a godsend for photographers on a budget.

Darktable: Raw photo developer

Darktable: Raw photo developer

Hardcore photographers need a digital darkroom, and that’s where Darktable comes in. Darktable is a free and open-source photography app and raw developer. Rather than being a raster graphics editor, unlike Adobe Photoshop or GIMP, it is not a raster graphics editor. Instead, it comprises a subset of image editing operations specifically aimed at non-destructive raw image post-production.

Darktable is perfect for improving a photographer’s workflow by facilitating the handling and organizing of large bunches of images.

LibreOffice: Office tools suite

LibreOffice: Office tools suite

LibreOffice is a full all-encompassing suite of online office software – like Microsoft Office or Google Workspace without all the proprietary privacy problems. Edgy writers concerned about copyright and sticking it to the man will find nothing wanting in LibreOffice. But in all seriousness, LibreOffice has something for absolutely everyone!

The LibreOffice suite consists of programs for word processing, creating and editing spreadsheets, slideshows, diagrams, and drawings, working with databases, and composing mathematical formulae. The service is available in 15 languages and consists of 6 individual stand-alone applications: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math, and Base. 

Scribus: Desktop publishing

Scribus: Desktop publishing

Writing a book, trying to publish a radical online ‘zine,’ or maybe you want to create a lovely poster? Scribus is a robust open-source desktop publishing (DTP) software.

Scribus is designed for layout, typesetting, and preparation of files for professional-quality image-setting equipment. The software can also create animated and interactive PDF presentations and forms. Scribus is invaluable for writing newspapers, brochures, newsletters, posters, and books. Scribus is the go-to app for any other electronic or physical publication type. 

FontForge: Font creator and editor

FontForge: Font creator and editor

While a bit niche, if you would call yourself a man or woman of letters, then you’re going to fall in love with FontForge. As its name implies, FontForge is a FOSS (free and open software) font editor and creator that supports many standard font formats.

FontForge expedites the font creation process, allowing creators to repeat glyph characteristics, standardize spacing, and wrap up their unique font into a file package that can be widely used and distributed.

Audacity: Audio editing

Audacity: Audio editing

I can’t believe you have the audacity not to be already using Audacity! In all seriousness, Audacity is a free and open-source digital audio editor and recording application software. It is a popular and heavy-hitting piece of sound software. 

Audacity allows users to record audio via a microphone or mixer and digitize, import, export and combine audio files. The software supports 16-bit, 24-bit, and 32-bit for high sound quality and is compatible with various sound industry plugins. Audacity lets artists edit and add effects to audio tracks and includes a spectrogram view mode for visualizing and selecting frequencies. It’s everything you need in an audio-creating app!

Ardour: Sound mixing and recording

Ardour: Sound mixing and recording

Ardour is the open-source suped-up successor of Apple’s GarageBand for all the budding musicians, composers, and producers. Ardour is a hard disk recorder and digital audio workstation application intended as a digital audio workstation suitable for professional use.

With all the tools you need (minus the instruments and hardware) to record, edit, and mix soundtracks, Ardour is the real deal. With audio and MIDI multi-track recording and editing capabilities, plugins with full sample-accurate automation, transport sync and external control surfaces, anywhere-to-anywhere signal routing, and a running video timeline, there isn’t much this open-source music software can’t do. 

Musicians will be limited only by their talent – not their software.  

VLC: Media playback

LC: Media playback

Everyone’s heard of VLC, and the little orange traffic cone is like the golden arches of desktop icons. VLC is a free, open-source, cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files and streaming protocols. 

The use cases for VLC are endless, but it’s safe to say that every computer should have this software installed. In a nutshell, VLC plays everything, no matter the file type or format. Think of it as the universal skeleton key for digital media and content.  

Internxt: Encrypted cloud storage

Internxt: Encrypted cloud storage

So where are you going to put all of your beautiful digital creations? How will you keep them safe, secure, and super accessible? Internxt is an open-source online cloud storage service that end-to-end encrypts everything. 

The service is built on blockchain and hosts decentralized storage, plus all data stored with Internxt is fragmented and scattered across its vast peer-to-peer network. Internxt functions like any other modern cloud service but has a colossal privacy upside: no first or third-party access to your data—ever! If you’re worried about privacy rights, keeping your file safe and secure, or want to get as far away from Big Tech as possible, Internxt is the cloud for you.  

What Creative Software and Apps Are Right for You?

Not all free software is good, but not all paid apps are worth the money. First, figure out what you specialize in: drawing, writing, design, music, whatever. Then figure out your workflow

What do you need to do to build and create your work and make it a reality? Find the tools that help you pick the free, open-source ones! There may be a time where you can splurge on the big Adobe package, but while you’re learning and getting comfortable, it’s wise to learn on free apps first. Save your cash for hardware or a capable computer.   

Open-source software doesn’t exploit users and puts creatives in the driver’s seat. Nowadays, plenty of professional-level apps are available for little to no cost. Remember, fancy tools and shiny applications mean nothing without the work – time to get creating.

Guest Author: Fran Villalba Segarra

Fran Villalba Segarra is the CEO of Internxt – the world’s most secure cloud storage. Since 2020 he has been working hard to create powerful tools for a safer and more private internet that respects its users. Feel free to connect with Fran on Linkedin.

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