Fantastic free and open source software programs for artists

Fantastic free and open source software programs for artists | Art-Res
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Here is a great list of the best free and open source software alternatives to paid art programs like photoshop, final cut pro, and adobe illustrator that I think all artists should know about.

There are plenty of amazing art programs out there, but many cost money to buy (and sometimes a lot), which can be hard for an artist to justify. There are also a lot of artists that wish to support open source inititatives, which is great. This is a list of my favorite free art programs, many of which are open source. If you can, donate to the developers to keep these projects alive!

free art programs for artists

Paid software often is the industry standard and there are many amazing options there too. I plan to write a post about that later! To tide you over, I have bought and personally recommend both Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, and Publisher!

Digital Painting and Drawing Software

Out of the plethora of free digital art software available, these are my favorite picks for free drawing software, including a few open source digital art software projects.


  • a fine example of free and open source software killing it. Great community, brushes, textures, UI, price! Geared more for painting than image editor alternatives like GIMP.
    • Linux, macOS & Windows


  • has a lovely, endless canvas (raster) & nicely done brush engine. Free & open source.
    • Linux, macOS & Windows. Can require some technical knowledge to install on macOS (use MacPorts) & Windows.


  • free & open source a bit buggy, but now much better, comparable to PS but with a trickier to use UI. Though you can mod it to look like PS.

Adobe Photoshop CS2

  • if you don’t mind retro, here is a link to the old PS!
    • Linux, macOS & Windows

FireAlpaca & MediBang Paint which are both free digital painting and manga creation software that are close to Paint Tool SAI.

Photo Editing Software

These programs are for photo editing primarily, but some are used for digital painting is well. There are many quality alternatives to photoshop and lightroom; here are my favorite free photo editors.

Also check out the lovely subreddit, r/FOSSPhotography


  • Very nice web editor that’s pretty full featured. There are also a lot of nice mobile apps as well.


  • Intelligent webapp that also offers mobile apps. A very nice interface and capable of doing a lot of different things that most free web editors cannot do. I loved it when I tried it out.
  • The pro version is pretty cheap, at only $19.99.
    • Web, Linux, Windows, macOS, ChromeOS


  • It’s almost like Photoshop in complexity, although some tasks require a few more clicks than they would in Photoshop. GIMP has come a long way since its earlier builds and can do a lot of different things. Since GIMP is so popular, you can find plenty of nice tutorials and plugins.
    • Linux, macOS & Windows


  • An image editor that is way lighter and faster than Photoshop, but still offers a good amount of features and flexibility.
    • Lots of available plugins and is still actively developed. Keep in mind, it’s only available for Windows 10 , and not the RT version.


  • A digital darkroom developer/image processor like Lightroom, which means it’s great for processing the RAW file format. It also supports Adobe Lens profiles, so you can do lens based adjustments. Actively developed, now at version 5.3.
    • Cross platform ( Linux, macOS & Windows) & multi language.


  • “Open source photography workflow application and raw developer. A virtual lighttable and darkroom for photographers. It manages your digital negatives in a database, lets you view them through a zoomable lighttable and enables you to develop raw images and enhance them”
    • Linux, macOS & Windows


  • “Professional Photo Management with the Power of Open Source” and also a RAW Image developer. “The application provides a comprehensive set of tools for importing, managing, editing, and sharing photos and raw files.”
    • Linux, macOS & Windows


  • UI and features very comparable to Photoshop
    • Browser based

Though Picassa is retired, Google Photos

  • Offers photo storage and intelligent editing and collages. Good implementation of AI.

Illustration & Graphic Design Software

Free graphic design and illustration software options are becoming more available in recent years. Here are some great alternatives to Adobe Illustrator.


  • A great vector and illustration program. It’s got many plugins, features, and all kinds of resources/ tutorials written for it. You can do a lot with Inkscape
    • Linux, macOS & Windows

Gravit Designer

  • Pretty fleshed out vector editor that does quite a lot inlcuding screen design, icons, presentation, illustration, print, and app design.
    • Online, PC, macOS, Linux, ChromeOS


Adobe Spark

  • Only downside to this one is the free tier has watermarks. But great and fun to use.


  • I find this one to be faster than Adobe Spark, which I also really like. Good templates, free content, and layouts.
    • Browser based, so cross platform.

Design Wizard

  • Has affordable premium tier and a generous free tier.
    • Browser based, so cross platform.

Pixel Art

Video Editing Software

Here are my recommendations and favorite free video editors, since I cannot afford Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro right now!


  • Well reviewed on reddit, have not tried it yet. “The video editor is intended for editing video files and creating videos of any complexity involving various visual and audio effects. The program offers rich functionality and yet has a simple and intuitive interface, allowing you to create videos with a bare minimum of efforts.”
    • Window only


  • Free if you have a Mac. Pretty capable for simple to mildly complex projects.
    • macOS only


  • Professional, nonlinear editor with a lot of great options. Free for some tools and export formats.
    • Linux, macOS & Windows

Hitfilm Express

  • Nice video editor that is free with a social share. I have used it and I enjoyed the plethora of neat effects and ability to do complex things like keyframing/special effects.
    • macOS & Windows


  • Free with registration! BlackMagic’s software. “The world’s most advanced visual effects, 3D, VR and motion graphics solution
    • Linux, macOS, & Windows

Davinci Resolve

  • I’ve used this and it’s awesome. So many professional features. Only need to upgrade for certain options.
    • Linux, macOS, & Windows


  • Free & open source “Major features include support for a wide range of formats; no import required meaning native timeline editing; Blackmagic Design support for input and preview monitoring; and resolution support to 4k.
    • Linux, macOS, & Windows


3D Modelling & Animation Software

Besides the typical uses for 3D modelling and animation software, there are other uses that are great for other mediums. Making 3D models and rotating them is a great way to undestand how stuff works, especially when translating that to 2D sketches/art. This is also useful for composition practice for photography.


  • Offers an amazing set of features: animation, rendering, compositioning, rigging, sculpting; I highly recommend you hop over and take a look at the extensive feature set! “Whether you are an animator, modeler, VFX, game developer, 3D Printing, you name it. Blender’s got you covered.” This comes, however, with a steep learning curve. However, if you have a project that demands complexity and options, Blender might be the program for you. It also is available as a portable app for windows, which is super great.
    • Linux, macOS & Windows


  • Not normally free, but if you register, it is! You can do many things, but its main highlights include animation, CG, 3D design, and storyboarding.


  • Allows you to sculpt 3D models, and is made by the creators of ZBrush. In addition to sculpting, you can paint your 3D models and light them in very realistic ways.

SketchUp: 3D modeling for everyone

  • I’ve used this before and know that it’s quite powerful. There’s tons of online resources and tutorials and it’s great for visualizing things.
    • macOS & Windows


  • Create 3D models and customize others' work online. This is nice because you don’t need to download things.
    • Online

Paid suggestion by a reader, the 2D animation software Moho.

Audio/ Music


  • Open source and free fully featured digital audio workstation. Made by musicians, for musicians
    • macOS, Windows, & Linux


  • Open source and free audio software, multitrack/recording
    • macOS(Catalina NOT supported), Windows, & Linux


  • Professional digital audio editing workstation with a highly regarded features mixer and flexible recording
    • macOS, Windows, & Linux


  • DJ software
    • macOS, Windows, & Linux

If you’re interested in the hardware side of things, my friends at Beginner Guitar HQ has written a nice, detailed guide on best audio mixers with picks for every budget.

PDF Viewers & Editors


  • can export to PDF & LibreOffice Draw can directly edit PDFs
  • macOS, Windows, & Linux

Scribus & GIMP can also export to PDF


  • able to export and edit PDFs
  • macOS, Windows, Linux


  • KDE’s universal document viewer, capable of annotating PDFs
  • macOS, Windows, Linux


  • Free and open source and a fast and capable PDF reader
    • Windows

PDF-XChange Editor/Reader

  • Fast and feature rich PDF viewer, editor, annotator
    • Windows


  • speedy PDF reader/annotator
    • macOS

Preview is pretty capable for viewing and annotating PDFs

  • macOS

Hope this is useful! If it was, please consider sharing the article!


Have you ever used free or open source software in your work? If not, are you planning to now? If you’ve ran into any others, feel free to share links to them by contacting me!