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.
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.
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.
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 features include:
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’s features include:
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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.