By Jennifer Farley

Make Your Own Creative Suite With Free Open Source Software

By Jennifer Farley

When you’re getting started with web design, industry standard software such as Adobe’s Creative Suite is often far out of your budget. Fortunately there are many Open Source alternatives that go a long way towards putting together a solid suite of design tools.

Alternative To Photoshop: GIMP

GIMP or GNU Image Manipulation Program started in 1995 and is probably the best known Open Source image editor. It has powerful painting tools, layers and channels support, multiple undo/redo, editable text layers. There is a huge supportive community around GIMP with many plug-ins to allow easy extension of it’s functionality. Gimp can import native Photoshop files and can read scalable vector graphics (SVG) files.


See also Aviary’s Phoenix image editor for online image editing.

Alternative To Dreamweaver: Kompozer

Kompozer is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. It has both a HTML editor and a CSS editor and allows you full control of layout as you work with your web design.


You should also consider Notepad ++ which is popular with coders. It’s not just for HTML and CSS, but supports over forty languages.


For FTP FileZilla Client is a fast and reliable cross-platform FTP, FTPS and SFTP client with lots of useful features and an intuitive graphical user interface.


Alternative To Illustrator: Inkscape

Inkscape is a 2D vector graphics editor. It supports Bezier curves, lines, freehand drawing, gradient fills, bitmap tracing. All file handling is performed natively in SVG file format.


See also Aviary’s Raven vector graphics editor for online image editing.

Alternative To Flash:

Ok, this is a bit of a tricky one. There are several open source applications available that don’t really stack up against Flash in terms of functionality and user interface, but they can still be a very good starting point for creating rich media animation and 2D vector drawing.

Open Laszlo is a package that lets you write once and compile to both flash and DHTML. It supports a rich graphics model with bitmaps, vectors, animation, movies, fonts and audio, as well interface widgets and graphical editing tools. There are several good examples of applications created Laszlo and with the source code available to download here.


Synfig is a powerful, industrial-strength vector-based 2D animation software package, designed from the ground-up for producing feature-film quality animation. It has a good community and quite a few tutorials available on the wiki.


Alternative To InDesign: Scribus

Scribus is a desktop publishing toolkit available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It supports many professional page layout publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation. It has vector drawing tools and supports Open Type Fonts.


What other Open Source must haves would you recommend?

  • kevinvs

    … they’re wrong. It’s Alternative to Dreamweaver: ECLIPSE 3.0 Ganemedye!!

    • XyploatKyrt

      I was going to say the same thing, except I would highly recommend Netbeans PHP for XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, and of course PHP development and if you code in Python, Ruby or Java it’s great too. Since I switched from Dreamweaver -> Eclipse -> Netbeans I haven’t found anything better.

  • Steve

    Wow good post Aviary is amazing!

  • MoneylessDesigner

    I wish we had a good freeware/open-source alternative to InDesign.
    I tried Scribus and it felt very unusable. Weird app. Some good video tutorials are needed so you can minimize the learning curve there.

    Inkscape on the other hand has some cool features and is quite straight forward and easy to use (not including the awkward text editing panel – that SUCKS, you can’t control kerning! and oh, one page only? That sucks too.).

    Adobe’s prices are ridiculously high for anyone living outside a major and rich country.

    And since no audio editor was mentioned, I would like to recommend REAPER. It is amazing and easy to use. And if you decide you like it, it’s not that expensive.

    Nice article, it shows how monopolized the design industry is.

    • 39alex34
      This shows the keyboard shortcuts for kerning text in inkscape, but I will agree that it is rather awkward and also that it took me a while to find out that you could.

    • Neil Mac

      Audacity for audio editing – search for it on

      Have fun.


  • martinluff

    It might not have the WYSIWYG editor (although there’s a great CSS preview and quick preview in browser) but NetBeans IDE is a cool tool that for me outshines Dreamweaver in many areas

  • Thanks everyone for the comments.

    @Martin thanks for the links to netbeans.

    @Kevin, I haven’t seen Eclipse before. I take it you’re a fan ?

    @Moneyless Designer, another free audio package is Audacity I agree that Scribus isn’t quite there yet but I think it’s important to encourage the people who work for free to put this kind of software together. They all get better with each new version.

    @Steve, I love Aviary too – it’s a great suite of tools if you don’t mind working online.

  • XLCowBoy

    Aptana is also a good alternative (I use it more than any other dev software) – you can customize the way your code looks (e.g. make comments gray/green/blue… your choice), and it supports Zen Coding.

  • Why do people always say GIMP? is there not anything else? I’ve used GIMP and it does not come close to Photoshop at all. You can always go on ebay to buy new, sealed copies of Photoshop if the in store price is too much. Sometimes the same computer stores sell them on there cheaper.

  • Chris

    I have always used Paint.Net as an alternative to Photoshop. GIMP doesn’t appeal to me.

  • I can recommend Artweaver ( It’s a PhotoShop-Lite-like application and replicates many of the main features and keyboard shortcuts. It’s not free for commercial use, but is only 25€.

    XnView is also a great alternative to Bridge … I prefer it.

  • Matt

    Synfig, while still in an early development stage, is already surprisingly powerful for making animations if you can wrap your head around its idiosyncrasies. However, since it’s a dedicated animation program and lacks any kind of scripting language, it’s not really a good substitute for the more interactive, actionscript-based aspects of Flash.

  • Unfortunately, Kompozer is nowhere near DW.

    For coding I would like to recommend PSPad.

  • Fatty

    I have switched DW for Aptana about 3 years ago. Its very powerfull IDE.
    But if u are a beginner, practice your code in Notepad++.

    From designer point of view… cant live without Photoshop :)

  • Blud

    I wish there were more tutorials like “from GIMP to HTML” around, or better Inkscape to HTML. Everything I’ve found yet was a bit out of date.

  • Helpful kit, indeed!

  • fouk

    I’d prefer to save a buck on hardware and have my real creative suite on linux machines. I tried to switch to open source alternatives, but after more than 10 years in the business … a waste of time.
    Anyways nice article!

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.