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Top Free Graphic Design Software in 2017

by Derek Rodenbeck
art & design, featured

https://www.creativelive.com/photography-guides/what-is-aperture?via=photography-guide-hub-freeform_2Dinosaurs can teach us a thing or two about graphic design software.

I always thought it was so cool that massive creatures like Dinosaurs once thrived on our planet. I could imagine myself walking the same places they once had. They thrived, that is, until they were annihilated by an extinction level event. Yet, lucky for us, life prevailed and here we are today.

What can Dinosaurs teach us about graphic design software? I promise I won’t be showing up in one of those inflatable T-Rex suits writing this. Even though I kind of wish I could.

Today, almost half the Earth’s population is online. A world within a world. Industry changes fast, especially in Graphic Design. Clients need things faster and software changes in a blink of an eye, it can be hard to keep up. If we are not quick on our feet to adapt we could experience an extinction level event of our own as our skills fossilize.

And we can’t have that happen, so here are some free graphic design software programs that should keep you on the good side of the bell curve and your head above the dirt.

Let’ start with Vector programs.

Vectr
vectr

First on our list is Vectr, yes, it is spelled that way, they did not forget the ‘O. It did make me do a double take. I thought since we are talking about vector programs this would be a good place to start. Their name alone spells commitment to what they do. Their passion is to help you make vector images, easily, and for free.

Simple and effective.

When you first enter their site, you are greeted by a few download boxes, one centered is gently pulling on your shirt’s sleeve saying, “hey, download here, it’s free!” The creators remind you a few times scrolling through the site that it is easy to use and the Vectr developers are there to help you with any questions. There is a low learning curve. So, if you don’t have time to invest in more intense vector programs this is a great place to get started.

Vectr has made finding tutorials using their software extremely easy, posting almost 30 of them on their site. No getting lost in the YouTube black hole. You know, the one where you forget what you were searching for and somehow end up watching a cat dance in space. I know, we have all been there. Vectr even asks to submit a tutorial request for any topic they have not covered.

The software can be used online or through download.  Work is also auto saved and synced. They offer real time sharing, enabling users to send a document for others to collaborate on. They even have a WordPress plugin.

What is most interesting about the software is the passion of the people who made it. Their mission is to provide a software experience that does not cause artists to struggle with price or a steep learning curve. They feel graphic design software should be accessible to everyone. And I can get down with that.

Inkscapeinkscape

Next in the ring is Inkscape. Like Vectr they are not pulling any punches. The software is an open-source editor that compares itself to premium vector programs currently on the market. The primary file format is SVG and Inkscape is also compatible with image editing software like Gimp.

The software uses Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as its native format to work in.  They display a rolodex of tutorials to get you started and this program is fully capable of creating vector graphics for branding, logos, web graphics, and advertising.

When you first enter their site, Inkscape is straight to business showcasing that it’s a professional tool for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. The download button sits under this copy demanding to be clicked, it’s ready for business. You might have to look up on YouTube how to download the software and install it because that can get a little confusing, but they do offer a page that has text instructions on how to get the job done. It’s a little strange but worth the effort.

Sketchapp
sketchapp

Wait! Before you say, Derek, Sketchapp is not free, I promise I can explain why it’s on this list.

Sketch app blew me away when I sat down and started working with it. Seriously, my shoes flew across the room. Ok, that’s not exactly the truth but it is that good. Its ease of use was very innate, especially migrating from other software applications that are more complex. The tools were extremely easy to work with and the icons were relatively self-explanatory. I found myself bouncing back and forth from Adobe to Sketchapp utilizing both to create vectors for clients.

This software made my workflow better. I quickly created this logo in the software after watching a few tutorials and working in it for less than 15 minutes.

The company, Bohemian Coding does offer a 30-day free trial of the software. They give you a lot of time to get to know the tool and there is a one-time low-cost fee of 99 dollars to own it. They also offer special prices for Education. So not bad for a program that is worth every penny.

 The downside is the software is only available for Mac, the Sketchapp team is focused on building a tool on a singular platform to creating a great user experience on it. I invite you to give this a try and if you would like to learn more check out Sketchapp on my last blog post here in the link below.

Like Vectr and Inkscape Sketchapp offers a multitude of tutorials. For a more in-depth breakdown of the software, we also offer a course here on Creative Live.

IMAGE EDITING

Gimp 

Gimp is a well-crafted, decisively thought out, and continuously worked on. It’s hard to believe that something like this is free.

Gimp offers a multifaceted image editing platform that can play in the big leagues. The image editor works on all the major operating systems and is designed for those who need a powerful tool to manipulate pictures, create a painting, or put together a mock up. This tool can deliver.

The interface is reminiscent to Photoshop, along with many of the tool icons, and the layer setup in their layer panel.

The developers keep an ear to user requests and tend to implement ideas that improve features. One of the many being the ability to segregate saving and exporting files. Working files are saved in GIMP’s XCF format, and other formats must be exported. All in all, this software is worth checking out.

Google Nik

Google has been known to go into space and shake things up a bit. They did it again with image editing. Google Nik is a collection of seven plug-ins for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture. The collection was priced at $499.00 but as of March 24th, 2016 its 100% free to download and use to anyone who wants it.

Tell me you are not opening a new browser this instant and checking this out. 

There are no plans now for Google to update or add new features to the collection, but it’s still worth a look. The collection consists of Analog Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Viveza, Dfine, and Sharper Pro. The plug-ins range from giving photos a classic feel, selectively adjusting color and tone without masks, and filters for color correction for the working artist. 

This is a must have.

Google even gave refunds to those who punched the product in 2016 and that’s a slow clap moment in my book. Seriously I’ve always wanted to start one of those. 

Snapseed
Android
Apple

Speaking of Google and Nik, here we are again with Snapseed. Same crew, new way to edit images, and now, mobile. 

Snapped is a great on the go app. Yep, phone app. it’s available on IOS and Android. Once again Google cut down the price from 4.99 to free. At this rate wish they could take over the cell phone service industry. 

Snapped is a flexible app and it’s impressive what you can do on your phone with this powerful tool. The app offers 29 tools and filters, opens JPEGs and DNG files. You can go back into layers and adjust them after being set, so nothing is set in stone. Their new double exposure feature allows an artist to blend two photos together. For an on the go app, this tool was too good to not be mentioned and I highly recommend checking it out. It can save you if you don’t have access to your computer.

Canva 

You have an idea. But if you are like me, a visual explanation drastically helps you interpret them. Canva is one of the programs that can help deliver ideas and messages with the power of an infographic, plus so much more. 

With over 10 million users and launching in 2012 they must be doing something right. Canva’s tools are so versatile you can create anything from an email header, presentation, to an infographic for a blog post. The software comes with millions of vectors and photographs, you can also use your own content. It also boasts free icons, photo filters, and a massive selection numbering in the 100s of fonts. It’s has all the pieces needed to create something that gets your message across the way you want it.

You can sign up with your Facebook, Google, or Email account. As soon as you jump into the program, it asks who you are and what you do.  Given that information it immediately propagates templates to kick start your experience. I was immediately directed to the infographics template in the matter of seconds. And  anything that can make designing faster, please sign me up. 

Google Charts 

If you have not realized by now I am a fan of Google. This is the same chart tool that Google uses. Makes sense, and they provide charts to us for free. 

The charts are nothing fancy but they do the job, and that job is- show data. Each chart is fully customizable, data can be connected in real time by using data connection tools, and there are animations as well. Using HTML5 and SVG the charts work well with browsers without plugins. Each chart can be seamlessly embedded into your website using simple JavaScript. 

Charts is a solid choice because it is simple but does the job. Also, if Google is backing it I have a feeling it might be around for a while.

Easel.ly

With over 4,000,000 infographics already created Easelly zeros in on being the place to make them.  Easelly’s goal is to provide a service that saves graphic designers time and money. The tool provides creators with templets or the ability to start from a blank document. To start creating all you need to do is drag and drop into the canvas workspace. All objects are editable and customizable. The tool is not just for graphic designers, but anyone can use it to create infographics to fulfill their needs.

The tool is so intuitive that the American Association of School Librarians awarded it best website for learning and teaching in 2015. A 6th grade child could use the program without adult assistance. To me that’s some great UI design.

Web Design

WordPress.org

How can we not start here? WordPress.org is a leader in open source software for web design. Like Google, I am a huge fan of the platform. WordPress.org is free to use but requires a bit more work when it comes to learning how to use it. However, that work can pay off with a lot more freedom. WordPress.com is their paid service but it’s plug and play. Of course you are bounded by a few barriers, the difference between the two are a blog post in itself, so we will just stick with that that brief overview. 

Once the basics are mastered a designer can create any website ranging from a blog, portfolio, landing page, or ecommerce site. Really anything is possible. Using wordpress.org is free but there are expenses like hosting, plug-ins, and themes. You could of course build everything from scratch but sometimes paying for things already built is worth saving the time you would invest in learning how to create it. All about that opportunity cost.

If you would like to get started with wordpress.org we have a class here on Creative Live by Brian Wood. It even comes with a free theme. The class breaks down the basics and walks you through creating a site. You can find the class by clicking here. If you are feeling bold there is a 3 class bundle available, too.

To add, I actually took this class too and now I’m building all sorts of websites. Here’s an example of a blog I created on WordPress after taking the class. www.ridingwiththewolves.com  

Adobe Portfolio

 

free graphic design software

New on the block is Adobe Portfolio. A free service if you are already using creative cloud provided by Adobe. And when I say free, we are talking free.

Adobe foots the bill for hosting and unlimited pages on your site, and there are a few templates to choose from. You can even redirect a domain name so no one would know you are working off Adobe’s platform. If you work with Adobe products you can’t go wrong with building a website using their free tools. Everything is integrated and you have access to the Behance community to connect and find work.

Not a bad deal, right? 

There is a short learning curve but it should not take you more than a day to create something. Check out what I built in less than a day here: www.derekrodenbeck.com

Wix

free graphic design software

Last up is Wix. The service has come a long way, and I must say I am really impressed by it. They host a free service but you can upgrade to a wide varity of affordable monthly premium plans. Wix has a drag and drop editor, 500mb of storage, secure hosing, mobile sites, and my favorite, site analytics!

They have plenty of templates to choose from, and new apps to connect to the site, such as Facebook store and Dropbox folder. Plus, new features are being updated for creators to work with like Wix chat so you can chat with visitors who come to your site and member log in for customers to create accounts.   

Wix has come a long way and it’s a great choice if you are looking to start with minimal investment.

FIN

I hope this list has helped you navigate the murky waters of graphic design tools, they are anything but shallow. This guide should set you on your path and shed some light. However, it just scratches the surface so if you find a tool we might like please comment below and let us know.

Thanks for hanging, now go create! Seriously, you have the tools, go build an empire my friends.

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Derek Rodenbeck

Derek Rodenbeck is an Army vet who swapped military life to become a comic book illustrator, adventurer, and entrepreneur. He can teach you many practical survival skills, as well as some retro breakdancing moves. Both might get you hurt, so please don’t try them at home. He is passionate about helping those who are marginalized and creates in the name of the public good. He is currently traveling with his girlfriend and two gigantic dogs, Kuma & Balto. Lover of science, photography, nature, and all things nerdy.