Top open source solutions for designers and artists from 2017

We collected popular 2017 articles about exciting developments in open source solutions for designers and artists.
853 readers like this.
Artistic spraypaint bottles

Sometimes it seems no one will take you seriously in the art world should you dare deviate from the prescribed toolset of a "real artist," but they used to say the same thing about Linux in the server room, on phones, and on laptops, and here we are today running the internet, Android, and Chromebooks on Linux.

More and more, Linux and open source are popping up as legitimate options in art and design. That said, the art world, ironically seen as a disruptively progressive community, still has a long way to go before open source is its default, but headway is being made. published a variety of articles in 2017 that highlight how truly capable, flexible, and exciting the open source software user's design toolset really is.

Web design

In 2016, Jason Baker looked at four alternatives to Adobe's Dreamweaver, and this year he expanded that review to 7 open source alternatives to Dreamweaver. The title is humble, because he mentions far more than seven alternatives, but the real star of the article is BlueGriffon. BlueGriffon delivers exactly what the article promises: a true WYSIWYG, HTML5-compliant alternative to Dreamweaver. When people think "open source Dreamweaver," BlueGriffon is exactly what they have in mind.

Technical design

One of the more technical areas within art and design is CAD, the backbone of architecture, civil engineering, and industrial design. Jason Baker's article 3 open source alternatives to AutoCAD takes a look at (more than) three CAD applications. This was conveniently followed by an in-depth tutorial on drawing primitive shapes with BRL-CAD by Isaac Kamga, in which the geometry and code behind a heart-shaped primitive are explained in great detail.

Walk into 10 modern art galleries, and you're likely to see LEDs or a micro-controller in at least four. The Arduino and Raspberry Pi have opened new and exciting avenues for interactive or generative art installations regardless of budget. One such example is outlined by Zack Akil in his article on using an Arduino and Raspberry Pi to turn a fiber optic neural network into wall art. The article's title follows the tradition of humility, as Zack leverages 3D printing, a micro-controller, a tiny server, and machine learning to create a glowing, plasma-like, generative art display.


Jason van Gumster continued his series on Python tricks for artists with a lesson on How to add interactivity to any Python script. Traditionally, an artist might have abused their medium as a way to show how progressive their art is, and the more that modern artists embrace technology, the more we realize that a significant portion of modern art is bending the tools themselves. That's what Jason's series has demonstrated, and hopefully tech-savvy artists have taken note of how easy, and yet powerful, Python is as an artistic tool.

To that point, Jeff Macharyas's article on 2 open source Adobe InDesign scripts (which actually covers three great open source tools), demonstrates how he benefits from open source even when working within a proprietary toolchain. Macharyas shows how he "fixed" major flaws in the proprietary software's workflow with open source scripts. It's almost as if open source is the default of human nature, and proprietary software is out of step.

Print and graphic design

When most people think of design, they first imagine graphic design and page layout. That's the side of design that we see on an everyday basis; we see it at the supermarket, at bus stops, on billboards, and on the magazine rack. Since the products of this labor are often, by degrees, disposable, this is an active area of the arts.

GIMP is a mainstay of open source graphics work. Seth Kenlon shares 7 must-have GIMP brushes, and Carl Hermansen describes how GIMP has literally changed his life. Well, suffice it to say that he's not the only one.

Greg Pittman's articles on ImageMagick provide some great image viewing tricks, plus a getting started tutorial. ImageMagick, for its scriptability, is one of the most powerful graphics tools available, so getting familiar with it is worth an investment in time and effort.

Seth Kenlon's article on 8 ways to turn cheating into an art form takes a broad approach to improving your open source animations with common tricks of the trade that are visible in all the old Saturday morning classics. Even if you don't animate, the article's worth a read for nostalgia alone. In another article, he broadens the scope of graphic design by exploring tabletop game design using open source tools like Synfig, Inkscape, Scribus, and much more.

In a more technical article, author RGB-es explains everything you ever wanted to know about the OpenType font system. Even if this has never been on your list of things to learn, give it a read because it's great background knowledge.

Project management

Artists don't just deal with technology, they also have to deal with practical concerns like time and space. Few artists love being project managers, and that's why a good set of open source tools is so useful. Jason van Gumster's article on mind mapping looks at all the different aspects of getting your artistic ideas organized. It covers several tools and several ideas about the subject, and it's useful whether you're an artist or not.

Seth Kenlon covers Planter, a system used to organize the assets of an art project. It may be something you don't think much about if you do one or two projects a year, but it's a serious concern if you're working on artistic projects every week. A tool like Planter lets you use and reuse assets across several projects without constant duplication. If nothing else, the article might make you reconsider the way you organize your data, and what better to do over the holidays than reorganize your digital closet?

Musing and analysis

Art and technology can sometimes have a strained relationship. Artists may or may not care about the tech they use, and if they care too much about it, they risk losing their "artist" label for something more tech-centric, like "geek." Likewise, technologists who care about art may risk it being seen as computer exercises or excuses for idle programming. It's a constant struggle.

Julia Velkova analyzes this, and much, much more, in her article on rewriting the history of free software and computer graphics. She takes a look at how and why professional computer graphics evolved over the years, and where the popularity of CGI has left independent producers.

In an attempt to make open source software less intimidating, the design firm Ura Design has donated work to several open source projects. Justin W. Flory uses Ura's story as a great example of how artists interested in open source can connect the technical teams behind the code to a non-technical audience.

Adam Hyde explores this theme in his article about the so-called itch-to-scratch development model. The idea is that users who have a problem are most likely to get involved in fixing that problem, so those users must be invited into the development process. It's a great read that exposes several potential blind spots in the typical open source development process.

Last, but not least, is the success story of how a popular web comic was adapted into an animation, thanks to an open license. It's all well and good to praise open source and open culture, but it's particularly nice to highlight a project that actually takes advantage of it. There are also several tips about open source tools like the COA-Tools Blender add-on in the interview.

Clearly, open source art and design has been an exciting and fruitful topic in 2017, and I'll venture to say that 2018 will be even better!

I like my privacy.

Comments are closed.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.