Free Graphic Design Software

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A few weeks ago, a designer emailed me inquiring about free graphic design software options. I felt lost with how to respond. I know so little about these programs, not even enough to recommend them as a viable option. Then wouldn’t you know it, I was scrolling through Instagram a few days later and saw a post about Annelie Hervi’s new Skillshare course on using free graphic design software to create surface pattern designs.

They happen to be having a fabulous sale right now, 40% off an annual membership with coupon: aff40dtp, so it’s a great time to join.

About Annelie

Annelie Hervi is a mother, drafter, and artist. She was born and raised in Sweden but came to the US as a senior in High school. She lives in the beautiful pacific northwest with her large family, where art is a huge part of their lives.

I had a chance to talk with Annelie and was inspired by what she shared. “When I got a chance, I would use my illustrations to create digital art. After stumbling across Spoonflower 13 years ago, surface pattern design became my huge passion. The industry of surface pattern design is mostly ruled by Adobe’s products. While their programs are wonderful, they are also expensive, which is a scary step to take for the artist first stepping into this world. Using GIMP and Inkscape allowed me to grow as a surface pattern designer without original expenses I wasn’t sure I could recover. Now, in hindsight, I am happy I have developed processes I can share with people standing at the beginning of the road where I once was. There are benefits to using free graphic design software. The tools I can provide through my classes will take you leaps ahead in a short time!”

Welcome Annelie! Can you please tell us about GIMP and Inkscape?

Hello Michelle, and thank you so much for taking the time to interview me! I started using GIMP and Inkscape almost 14 years ago, when I started making patterns out of my own art. The programs are both free, but GIMP is raster-based and Inkscape is a vector-based program, so they work in different ways.”

How do these free graphic design software options compare to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop?

Inkscape is remarkably similar to Illustrator, and GIMP is remarkably similar to Photoshop. I believe you can use the free programs for all the things you would use Adobe’s programs for, though the commands and menus are not always the same. Adobe’s products are so popular (and expensive), there are endless tutorials and classes online where you can learn how to use them. Not so for the free graphic design software programs, which led me to start creating this class!

What can designers expect to learn in your course?

In my Skillshare class, the student will learn how to make a seamless pattern file out of their own art. The tile can be used as a fill pattern for your own use, uploaded to print on demand sites etc. There is no need to have previous experience in GIMP or Inkscape before taking it. My intent with my first class is to approach the learning curve as if you’re just opening the programs for the first time. However, instead of covering every button and menu of each program, I simply go through how I use them to create the seamless pattern!

What design programs do you use in your work?

Yes! Isn’t it amazing? I have used the FREE programs, Inkscape and GIMP, for all my designs for over 13 years! I have created thousands of patterns, ran an Etsy store where I sold children’s clothes made out of fabric with my own designs, sold patterns to private and public companies and licensed many more. Since a few years ago, I also used Procreate on my iPad Pro. That is a vastly different way of designing that I also love.”

Misconceptions of free graphic design software

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions out there on free graphic design software. I wanted to get Annelie’s perspective on this. She said, “Finding the right steps to take to grow a career is not easy. The industry monopoly of Adobe’s programs is changing, and free or cheaper alternative apps and programs are becoming more and more common. There is a misconception that every company uses only Adobe’s files for printing, and that’s why you need to use their programs. In all my years of selling patterns, I have not once had a client request only Adobe files, but I have been able to create designs suitable for them. Inkscape can save a file in almost all common formats, and GIMP covers the rest. This is crucial knowledge right here!

Getting Started with free graphic design software

Annelie Hervi’s new Skillshare course on using free graphic design software is a fabulous place to get started, but both Inkscape and GIMP have a number of tutorials on their websites. This is also where you can download the programs and get started.

How about you? What are your experiences with free graphic design software? Let me know in the comments below.

  1. I have the Procreate App for my iPad Pro. How do you recommend using it to create repeat patterns?

    1. Hello, I love procreate! When I make repeating patterns in that app, I duplicate the layers and use the snap functions to offset them up, down and sideways! Abbie uproot and Nic Squirrel have wonderful classes on Skillshare for procreate. Good luck!

  2. Both Inkscape and Gimp have a good reputation despite being free software. I haven’t learned these two apps yet, but have been using the Affinity apps on my computer and iPad. It is so good that designers like Annelie speak up about the superb, and even free, apps that are around for any designer! Spending loads of money on expensive software is not needed to make great designs. Going to Skillshare to check Annelie’s class…

    1. Good article, and THANKS!
      Inkscape was the first vector program I used when I began venturing into surface pattern design. It is a program I still use at times for some of my print work.

  3. Glad to hear of these aps. I have been using AI but want to dump it- for the cost. I bought Affinity Designer and haven’t done anything with it yet. Do these aps have the ability to image trace a scanned drawing? I like to draw on paper and import my images.

    1. Hello Veronica,

      Yes, Inkscape does have the trace function! It’s not perfect, but around same usability as other programs’ trace functions. I will have to cover this in a future class!

  4. Hi. I’ve used Gimp quite a lot, Inkscape a bit less so. I am happy with both (although I’m not an expert in Adobe CC, Gimp or Inkscape). In my experience, Adobe has more tricks, conveniences and support, some of which are very useful, but I can do what I need and even prefer some features of the freeware. For my purposes (mostly pattern design) not having Adobe would not be a problem. It did take a while to work out how to do the equivalent of many of useful fabric design tips shown (in Illustrator/Photoshop) in the Textile Design Lab tutorials, and there are some limitations and work-arounds needed. There is a time investment to get going, but the same is true for most programs. I’m glad to hear that Annelie has put together a course for these programs showing how she makes repeat patterns – this has been a gap in the tuition for a while, as there are more efficient methods than often show up in tutorials on the web. I will definitely have a look. If the cost (or the principle of the ongoing cost)of Creative Cloud is an issue for you, definitely check out the alternatives listed in this article. It’d be great to hear from someone who has used Affinity Designer too – is it as good as it looks? As Jacqueline said, it’s refreshing to hear designers speak up for the very good, free and low cost options available.

  5. Yes, I use both. Gimp not as much but it’s great after scanning stuff to use options to darken or clean up black and white off the background. I just started tinkering with color painted scans on there. Lot you can do. I prefer using inkscape. I been using it for almost 3 years. Still a lot to learn. It does crash from time to time which is the trade off for being free. Save your work a lot! Yes , you can put your scans in inkscape. Just make sure when you trace bitmap it’s not huge or it may stall. You can also trace images. It has pencil and bezier tools. Play with the nodes if you want to trace the image. You can create patterns using transform. Play with horizontal and vertical placements. I just learned past year. I was so happy it had this option.

  6. Veronica, yes, Inkscape can trace an image (the function is Trace Bitmap). It doesn’t have as many options to play with as Illustrator’s Image Trace, but results are not dissimilar to outputs from Illustrator.

    I read a (2019) review of Affinity which says it doesn’t have an image tracing function at the moment, but might in the future.

  7. Thank you for this article. I have photoshop for IMAC for digital art, and have always wondered how to make my husband’s art into a presentation ready for repeats. I don’t want to become expert at this, but just to have art ready for that purpose for a textile or wallpaper studio to take the next step, after I hand it off to them. Can you please recommend any you tube videos on this limited function? Thank you in advance. And thank you for your lovely newsletter! Be safe and be well. Warmly, Lenore

  8. Hi Michelle, thank you for sharing this information. Thanks also to the other comments for your suggestions. It is helpful to know.

  9. Thanks for the post. I have learned a lot from it. And I want to share with you about a tool that I frequently use to remove the background of photos is It helps me get things done faster and it’s free. So I think you should give it a try.

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