Software compare

Five powerhouse graphics editors that won't break the bank

You don't have to spend a fortune to get the graphics editing features you need. These apps deliver advanced functionality without a killer price tag.

At some point, every business needs art. Whether you're creating your art in-house, purchasing art from stock sites and adding it to in-house art, or editing photos, you need tools that enable you to manipulate those graphics. Not everyone can afford Photoshop or Illustrator -- but what else is there? Most people assume the only graphic editors they can afford are the likes of Microsoft Paint, tools that don't have the power to do what they need to do. Not so. There are plenty of feature-rich editors that any budget can handle. Let's take a look at five such editors.

1: Inkscape

Inkscape is an open source, cross-platform, open XML-based W3C standard, vector graphics editor that offers features and power similar to that of Illustrator. Inkscape supports many of the advanced features found in costly solutions (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.), but it has a price tag of $0.00. What is best about Inkscape is that it doesn't have nearly the steep learning curve that many vector graphics editors have. The interface is simple to use and does not get in the way of your work. Inkscape also has quite a large user community where you can find help in many ways. Check out this gallery showcasing numerous professionally drawn Inkscape examples.

2: Sketch

Sketch is another powerful vector graphics tool. Although Sketch is not cross platform (it's available only for Mac), it's still a great option for anyone who can't afford Illustrator. Sketch costs $40.00 USD for a single user license and offers features such as Infinate workflow, slices, multiple pages, smart symbols, rulers, plenty of vector tools, groups (you can even turn a group into a dynamic vector), boolean operators, join and split, effects. The supported formats for Sketch include the following. Read from: .sketch, .drawit, .svg. Images: .jpg, .png, .tif, and more. Export as: .pdf, .svg, .eps, .jpg, .tif, .png, gif.

3: ZeusDraw

ZeusDraw is another Mac-only vector graphics application. You'll be set back $90.00 USD for this tool, but you'll find plenty of features and power. ZeusDraw is an easy-to-use SVG program with a nice selection of vector brushes and an object brush that allows you to paint with either vector graphics or bitmap images. Users who are new to vector graphics will be pleased with the Bezier tools that simplifies curves. There's even a ZeusDraw Mobile for iPhones and iPads.

4: Synfig Studio

Synfig Studio is a free cross-platform, open source animation studio that helps you create industrial-strength 2D animations and features. It offers spatial and temporal resolution independence, high dynamic-range imaging, pen tablet friendliness, an easy-to-use interface, path-based gradients, and layers. The Synfig interface is similar to that of The Gimp's, so anyone used to the Linux standard graphics editor will have no problem getting accustomed to the Synfig interface.

5: GIMP

GIMP is no slouch when it comes to photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring. It's as powerful as Photoshop, it's cross-platform, and it has a $0.00 price tag. GIMP offers a customizable interface (including an outstanding full-screen mode), photo enhancement, digital retouching, tons of filters, and powerful layer tools. It also provides a transparent virtual file system that allows a user to load images from a remote location, can use all the common file formats, can save in compressed formats, and has a vast number of plug-ins to further extend its capabilities. And although this tool is free, don't think there isn't support. There are thousands of online communities and how-tos that cover just about every aspect of creation with GIMP.

Zeroing in...

There are so many image tools available that finding one with the power you need at the budget you have is often a frustrating task. This list covers a range of possibilities and all will cost you less than 100 bucks. If you can't find the features you need with these tools, keep looking -- you'll find something. But from my experience, the above tools offer the best power-to-price ratio available right now.

Additional reading

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

11 comments
bob
bob

Cropping, resize, etc I use VuePro from Hamrick Software. I bought this in the early 1990s and have not found anything bsimpler or better. One can browse their image library sequentially (space bar) or randomly (enter Key) and set up a slideshow or screensaver. It's cheap, simple and easy.

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

First, thanks for the article. I just downloaded InkScape to give it a try. I use and really like Paint.Net. It's Windows only but is free and a super small install (assuming you have .net already installed) since it runs on the .net framework, and has lots of "advanced" features like 'Layers". It works really well for people like me who don't do a lot of image editing but need some advanced features; it's more than enough.

sh10453
sh10453

Corel's PaintShop Pro (or PSP), now on its version 14 (X4), has always been my graphics editor of choice since its first version, in the DOS days of the early 1990's. PSP is quite powerful. Corel acquired JASC after PSP version 8 (or might be after version 9?). It's frequently offered for much less than the suggested retail price. They have recently offered it for less than $40, bundled with the latest version of WinZip (which Corel had acquired as well). I personally consider it more powerful than Photoshop, and there is a huge amount of filters, tubes, frames, and plug-ins for it (many are free), as well as User Groups web sites and tutorials. Photoshop's $699 price is most ridiculous, and I'm baffled by the people who pay such a silly price for it! I have tried the GIMP many times, but I hate its user interface, and the learning curve is frustrating (due to the interface), so I had uninstalled it after every time I tried it. I finally gave up on it, and never recommended it again. I know that many people swear by it. Another nice editor, that is 100% free, is Paint.NET. It has a simple interface, with layers capability, and many user-contributed filters and plug-ins in the users forum. digiKam is another free, open-source graphics editor that is quite capable, but with every new release I find it buggy (crashes VERY often, and upon Exit it doesn't really exit sometimes, and the process continues to run until I terminate it using the Windows Task Manager). There are plenty of other free, or low-cost, programs, but the purpose is not to list everyone of them out there.

adornoe
adornoe

can be used to create logos, and website banners?

3283
3283

Hi, I just have to add that if anyone is looking for a image manipulation tool, it has to be Irfan View. This little gem is free software and there is nothing out there as fast and as good when it comes to resizing and cutting down image sizes. I challenge anyone and any program!

dirk
dirk

I've bought several products from Serif, and though cheap, they are powerful and easy to use.

risely
risely

Over the years I have tried them all, but I still come back to XnView for speed and overall efficiency. Oh yes it is free too!

shahdan
shahdan

Irfan View is my favourite image viewer(must have) since I know about it(version 3.60 is the first version I use). So many improvement since then. It can do some editing. For a heavy work, I prefer GIMP or Paint.NET.

Rodo1
Rodo1

I've used IrfanView for many moons and it can't be beat, but GIMP is my favorite for real serious work. Another thing I like in IrfanView is that you can view/edit/add IPTC data to your images.

dennis
dennis

I too have used Serif software for years. I would say that, for $90, Photo Plus easily gives PhotoShop a run for it's money