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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 jackwallen.com.