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Open Source for Design Students

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Woman using laptop in jewelery design class
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There are all kinds of things to buy when you're heading off to school, but software doesn't need to be one of them. If you're looking for open source software suggestions for more general college assignments (papers, spreadsheets, or PDFs) or organization tasks (to-do lists, due dates, or finances), check out Going Back to School with Open Source ... but if you're a graphic design or art student, you might be interested in some open source software aimed directly at you.

Photo and Illustration Software

If you're working on photos, designing a logo for an industrial design project, or drawing digital concept art for a video game class, you're going to need software to get the job done.

  • Gimp: Gimp is an open source alternative to Adobe Photoshop. It doesn't have all the same bells and whistles as Photoshop, but it can definitely hold its own in the marketplace. The user interface is quite different from Photoshop, though, so if you're moving between the two programs, you should expect some adjustment time. Gimp is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and OS X.

  • Inkscape: If you're creating vector-based images, you'll need to use a program like Inkscape. Inkscape was designed to be an open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator, and it's useful for logos, illustrations and any other images that you'll need to scale. Like Gimp, it doesn't have all the features of the Adobe product, but its user interface is easy to understand and it's a powerful tool to have in your toolbox. Inkscape is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and OS X.

  • MyPaint: If you're taking fine art classes or your talents fall more under the painting umbrella, MyPaint may be perfect for you. Designed to be used with a graphics tablet, MyPaint is meant to give painters the ability to create digital art. The user interface is purposefully minimal, and the software comes with a large collection of brush presets and the ability to create custom brushes. MyPaint is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.

3D and Animation Software

Thinking about making a short animation for a cartooning class or trying to make your first big animated movie? The open source community has you covered.

  • Blender: Blender is the de facto open source choice for 3D graphics. Its user interface has a reputation for being a little tricky, but the program is extremely powerful and is used to create animated files, visual effects, and video games. Plus, since Blender is so popular, there's documentation available to help you through any tough spots. Blender is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and OS X.

  • Synfig: Synfig is an open source 2D animation program that can work with both vector and bitmap images. Unlike Adobe Flash (which is the non-open source alternative), Synfig doesn't use tweening to create animations and users don't create the movies frame-by-frame. The method for making animations is unique, but the program works with a graphics tablet and supports geometric, gradient, filter, distortion, transformation, and fractal layers. Synfig is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and OS X.

Desktop Publishing Software

Whether you're designing a magazine layout or putting together a portfolio book, desktop publishing software can make a big difference in how the end result turns out.

  • Scribus: For page layout and design, Scribus is the open source alternative to Adobe InDesign. If you need to lay out a magazine article or flow some text into a template for class, Scribus can help. It creates PDFs, works with color separations, supports CMYK and spot color, and provides ICC color management. Scribus is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and OS X.

It might seem like your college to-do list never gets shorter, but once you have the right tools in place, your assignments will be much easier to complete and your life will be much less stressful.

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