Expensive tools aren't the only option for graphic design (and never were)

10 readers like this.
Hearts, stars, and dollar signs


Many graphic designers work with expensive proprietary software because they believe they have to, and it has to be Adobe. But this is not so: There are many fine professional-quality open source graphics applications out there. (Skip down to the end to see 10 of my favorites.)

Conventional wisdom says that in order to work in graphics one has to use Adobe software on a Mac. "Macs are for graphics, PCs are for accountants!" Macs and Adobe are not the only way to produce graphic design, and never were. Those starting out in graphics with open source tools would feel comfortable with them, not having anything to compare them to. It may be a bit more difficult for long-time Adobe or QuarkXPress users to accept alternatives, or even chuck the Mac for Linux. Many graphic designers refuse to believe that yes, they can. If it doesn't cost hundreds of dollars, how could it be any good?

In the beginning

It was a given that graphic designers in the 90s worked on a Mac or Windows PC using Quark or PageMaker. Adobe launched InDesign in 1999 to replace PageMaker and compete with Quark. In 2002, Quark released version 5, but it was not compatible with Mac OS X, which led Quark CEO Fred Ebrahimi to declare: "...the Macintosh market is shrinking and dissatisfied users should switch to something else." Quark users still had to use Adobe Photoshop for photo editing, and Illustrator for vector imaging. This was true for InDesign users as well.

It is expensive to be a graphic designer

I started with PageMaker on a PC, then Quark on a PC, then Quark on a Mac, because that's what I was supposed to do. In 2006, I switched to InDesign because a client required it. I panicked! I was so used to Quark, I thought I'd never be able to produce anything in InDesign—I didn't even own it! I forked over $600 for a copy. I knew how to prepare pages and export printable files, so I just had to get used to a new interface.

I now had my $600 InDesign, $700 Quark (the current version sells for only $849.95), and Photoshop and Illustrator (all in boxes). And $100-a-pop updates every few months. Adobe launched its Creative Cloud in 2012. As a graduate student, my subscription was $19.99/month the first year, then $29.99/month. That plan expires soon and I'll be up to $49.99/month. That 600 bucks a year could be better spent. A single app, such as InDesign, costs $19.99/month, or $240 every year. Being a graphic designer is expensive.

Saving with open source

There are alternatives to InDesign and Quark that cost less. To save cash, graphic designers can spend about $30 for apps such as Swift Publisher, iStudio Publisher, or the more expensive iCalamus. There are alternatives for photo and vector editing as well. However, page layout is the backbone of graphic design.

I was introduced to open source graphics as the production manager for Florida Sportsman magazine in 2014. All ads we received were PDFs, either InDesign or Quark, except one. An ad came from Panamá and I was curious how it was produced. The metadata indicated the PDF was created from Scribus. Uh-oh, it must be corrupt! I researched "Scribus" and found it was some open source app for page layout. I rolled my eyes and told the salesman to get a "real" file. I found nothing objectionable in the PDF and kept my fingers crossed. It printed just as well as the InDesign PDFs.

Creating graphic design with open source tools works, and the tools look similar to the expensive tools we know. The biggest impediment to switching is lack of awareness and assumed file incompatibility. If a Scribus file is sent to a printer, it will almost always be sent back as "corrupt." If Scribus user was sent an InDesign file, he'd be stuck, right? Not necessarily. It is possible to work with InDesign files in Scribus, sort of. Ignorance is not bliss.

InDesign .idml file opened with Scribus.

Design the open source way

A Google search shows that education focuses heavily on paid graphic design apps, namely Adobe. Adobe even offers tutorials and certifications. A designer can be certified in single Adobe apps or become a "Master." Searching for "certification in graphic design" yields many results, such as this from sessions.edu: "You'll learn the design software programs that every pro needs to know: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Affordable tuition of just $2,999 and easy payment plans make the Professional Certificate program your best value in design education." Or, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design: "Students entering the program must be able to demonstrate basic skills in visual language and should have working knowledge of Adobe InDesign (or Quark XPress), Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator." Appending the search with "open source" still yields an emphasis on Adobe.

Open source is not a concept many educators or students contemplate because they aren't the de facto tools graphic designers (or writers, web developers, etc.) are taught to use. Charlie Reisinger, in Back to school with open source: Five tools for less stress and better learning, noted: "To help take the sting [cost] out of this ritual, students and parents might consider turning to free, open source software and tools in preparation for a new year of study."

However, there just isn't much of an effort to educate schools or students about open source alternatives. The Open Source Educational Foundation looked like it was on the right track, but their website seems stuck in 2003, and I did not find anything else related to promoting open source graphics software as professional tools.

The open source graphic designer

How do graphic designers go from Adobe to open source and learn what tools are available and how to use them? Further, how are designers, printers, etc., convinced to embrace open source graphic design? First, they need to be aware of what is available. Second, they need to be instructed on how to use those tools via online tutorials or in-house sessions, providing all the tools necessary. Third, compare and contrast the open source tools with the paid options and prove that graphic design can be produced with open source tools and dispel the concept that open source-produced files are "corrupt."

Load up your toolbox

The best way to learn a new application is to use it. Many graphic designers aren't familiar with Linux or think it's just for "geeks and hipsters." Fortunately, many open source tools work on OS X and Windows. For designers who don't want to switch to Linux and keep plugging away on their MacBooks, but want to transition, here are some recommendations listed by purpose and followed by the tool with a link and their proprietary counterparts.

Layout—Scribus (InDesign, QuarkXPress)

Photo—GIMP (Photoshop)

Vector—Inkscape (Illustrator, Acrobat [PDF])

Animation/Video—Blender (After Effects, Premiere)

Text/Charts—LibreOffice (Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint)

Web—WordPress (Dreamweaver)

File transfer—Filezilla (Fetch, WS-FTP)

e-Books—Calibre (InDesign)

Web conferencing—Big Blue Button (Adobe Connect, WebEx, ReadyTalk)

Project management—OrangeScrum (FunctionPoint)

You can read more on open source creative software from Jason van Gumster's Open Art column.

User profile image.
Jeff Macharyas is the Director of Marketing at Corning Community College in New York. He is a writer, graphic designer and communications director who has worked in publishing, higher education and project management for many years.


Actually, there is a bachelor of art in communication in my area, teaching everything with open source only. You can have more information here: http://colibre.org/colibre/presentation/ (FR)

I am teaching to the student of this bachelor how to produce audio and video using free software only, using Ubuntu Studio and a set of carefully chosen software. (e.g: Ardour, Kdenlive or Shotcut, Inkscape). And the result is very interesting.

What I really like about the work of the students, is that using different tools than adobe, they are creative in a different way. Also, their focus is more on the process, the workflow, than mastering the tool. And the result is good: their work is more original and interesting than the students in classic "adobe" bachelor.

Thank you for your comment and sharing the link. What you are doing sounds great. In my experience, there just wasn't any information on using open source tools, it was all Adobe all the time. However, you are doing exactly what I was saying should be done. I appreciate your efforts.—jm

In reply to by ttoine

It's not just for graphic designers. Photographer too can find a plethora of amazing software for photo manipulation: Darktable, Gimp and more - all free.

These articles come off as propaganda marketing to entice viewers to learn these tools to perpetuate their development and it's annoying that it works.

I find the idea behind this artical annoying.

The article sets up that Adobe is the standard and then establishes open source applications as alternatives.

The reality is that anyone looking at GIMP as a alternative is going to have a bad time. Or anyone looking at Inkscape to replace Illustrator too.

Gimp does not to my knowledge claim to be a Photoshop replacement.

Photoshop is a swiss army knife and gimp is too but the tools and workflow are radically different at the professional level.

We still don't have non destructive editing, layer boundaries are limited to the creation size on event canvas resize and the tools function fundamentally differently like the text tool and resize tool.

To someone with zero experience maybe gimp and Inkscape are alternatives, but to professionals we know and feel the glass ceilings.

I actively support gimp development but I don't support misinformation, anyone expecting a 1:1 experience will quickly realize that's not the case and be mad because of false expectation.

Instead the articles should ignore Adobe and focus on how to use the tools to perform necessary tasks like airbrushing, clone stamping, color correction, color profiling, transforming etc...

The day FOSS forgets proprietary and focuses on itself is the day the app and community have grown up and are ready for real time use.

Btw Gimp Gtk 3 is amazing, we should all push development so Gimp 3.0 can come.

You certainly make valid points. I'm sorry you felt the article was annoying, that was not my intent. I do not agree that this comes off as propaganda marketing, though. There are many ways to achieve the same (or similar) results, and there are many tools one can use. I love Adobe, I've been using them for years. I used to love QuarkXPress, too, until I started working with InDesign. I'm starting to love Scribus, now, too. There are options, and if you are a designer, especially on a tight budget, then consider some options and maybe go back and forth between the two. Thank you.—jm

In reply to by ElectricPrism187 (not verified)

I have no complaints about promoting the use of free software, but the kind of complaining you do here about how "expensive" the alternatives can be is ridiculous. They're your tools and the investment required (if you choose that route, of course) is just not as outrageous is you imply related to the investment required in many fields, especially arts related fields. Grow up!

It is expensive. But, I do agree that you have to make an investment in the tools you use for your work. When I was earning a lot of money freelancing, I had no problem paying whatever Adobe wanted, because I used it to make money and it made for a business expense. However, I am now not freelancing and not earning anything, but still paying the monthly fee for several months, nevertheless. I have been using Scribus as an alternative to InDesign to do a few simple things for friends and family and have found that I can produce the same type of work I do with InDesign. My point here is to illustrate that there are alternatives. Perhaps, in some cases, it just is not viable, but I would say it is, at least, worth exploring and comparing. Thank you.—jm

In reply to by warro (not verified)

Here are some more free software tho they are oriented to the artist rather than the designer.

• Krita:
• MyPaint:
• Pinta:

Great Article Jeff, and a great view point on how your graphic design career was changed by open-source tools. Persons are slowly rising out of the frame-work to accept open source tools as their main weapons of war and its good to know each other as we progress in our individual specialities:
My name is Phillip Taylor, I specialize in Info-graphic design and Type: http://www.gruts.com Here is another designer who specializes in logo design and web-site development. http://logosbynick.com/
both of us do tutorials on Inkscape, and are pushing the line in our respective fields. Nice to meet you :)

I see you don't approve comments that don't sing your praises and debate, shame.

Not sure if this is directed to me or not, but I, personally, approve of all comments, whether they are positive or negative. I was simply providing my experience and perspective on the subject. I'm sure there are many reasons to disagree and I would agree with a lot of them. But, this is an open forum where we can express our opinions, whether they are right, wrong, valid or not. Thank you.—jm

In reply to by ElectricPrism187 (not verified)

I was also going to comment on your suggesting Wordpress as an alternative to Dreamweaver. That is a non-comparison. Wordpress is a blog that has morphed into a Content Management System.

Dreamweaver is an IDE that can be used for coding, CSS, database connectivity, WYSIWYG editing and an FTP client. Have been using it since 1997. Originally was a Macromedia product. After Adobe bought it, it started to suck. I hate it but have yet to find a suitable open source free alternative. There are paid open source alternatives out there that claim to be Dreamweaver replacements but they fall far short of the mark IMHO. I work about 90% in code and 10% in WYSIWYG and Dreamweaver works well for that. If I want to work entirely in code I use Text Wrangler but it lacks the file management capabilities of Dreamweaver, as do most of the alternatives.

And while we are on the subject of Content Management Systems, I have built them from scratch entirely with Dreamweaver and I have used Dreamweaver to customize Wordpress sites into CMS’s, but these days I use Drupal. There is a saying in the Drupal community, “You can build a blog with Wordpress, but you can build Wordpress with Drupal”.

In reply to by ElectricPrism187 (not verified)

"Web—WordPress (Dreamweaver)" ?
while Wordpress is a CMS and Dreamweaver is a IDE it's not good to compare two different things.
instead that you could add eclipse, NetBeans or similar one for Dreamweaver .

The trouble with FOSS alternatives is they don't have 100% features parity and usually when (is a 'when', not an 'if') the average designer will meet one of those lacking features he will blame it on the FOSS app. Possibly he will judge is worth paying for the proprietary solution for that feature only.
A big trouble, minimised by the author, is the poor interoperability. Yes, FOSS graphic design apps will "sort of" open files from their proprietary counterparts. In a lot of cases this means open them in an unusable form.
A big issue, for which I don't have a solution, is the FOSS apps sometimes do operations in their own way. While this is normal, as they are not clones and sometime they do it better, for the average designer this means a learning curve, frustration and anger. A result of this is the well known meme "GIMP has a bad UI", which is arguably not true.
With all the above said, I should witness in my career as a part-time freelance graphic designer, I can count on my fingers the cases when FOSS apps were not enough to get my job done. And this is a good thing.

Thanks for your reply. I would just like to comment further on the poor interoperability aspect. I totally agree with what you are saying but this is true whether it's open source or not. One of my biggest problems when I started using InDesign is that I still had to deal with Quark files, whether my own or from others. Fortunately, I used Markzware's QX2ID plug-in, which converted Quark to InDesign quite well. I also had trouble with different versions of InDesign and have had to send .IDML files for people who have older versions, so they can open. So, no, it is not a perfect solution, and I'm not saying that open source apps are a magic can opener, but it is somewhat possible, as I described. Sometimes, just getting "something" out of a file is good enough, even if it means doing a lot of re-work. Thank you.—jm

In reply to by Nicu Buculei

The fear (justified or not) of interoperability issues is a huge drive for people to stay with "what everybody else is using". Here's an anecdote from a slightly different field: some years ago I suggested a move to LibreOffice/OpenOffice in the company I worked for, the boss asked "will it open Microsoft Office files?" to what I was honest: in most cases well, in a few with slight differences. His decision was he can't afford the risk of losing any business because a potential imperfect file import, and bought MSO licenses for all computers which had any need for any office work. And compared with office files, graphic design files are way more incompatible.
Another anecdote from my current life as a photographer: I see some photographers shaming other professional photographers, as they supposedly do a disservice to their clients by not using the best tools available, which supposedly are Adobe products. And for being cheap bastards and not affording the low monthly fees for Adobe subscription.

In reply to by JeffMacharyas

I see some comments against Inkcapse or Gimp... I often use Inkscape and Scribus, and send PDF to printing companies (from A4 to 2 meter high roll'ups). I never had any complain with the quality of my PDF, and the prints were always very good.

One part of this, is that Scribus respect perfectly the PDF specs. The second part is that I understand what a printing company is expecting (CMYK, the good color profile, respect of their templates, ...). And I do my work based on that. I see many colleagues working with InDesign or Photoshop having issues, because they expect their software will do that for them, telling me that printing a company rejected their pdf... indeed...

On the web graphic part, I am often asked by the webdev to redo some picture (e.g: backgrounds, sliders) exports with Gimp: it is far better than Photoshop or Illustrator to optimise pictures for the web. They could do that themselves, but they know that I am fast with Gimp and they don't know it well, so why learning it?

On the audio part, using Ardour, yes, you might have limitations with edition and midi compared to Logic. But anyway, you can build wonderful templates, with a workflow and an sound close to an analogue console.

And sometimes, you have to do some compromises, like in the video area: most of codecs are not free, and you need to rely on non free GNU/Linux distributions, or non/free apps like VLC or Shotcut.

But working on a video or recording music project is not only an issue of software. You have to know how to use devices, hardware, manage the artists and the studio/set, create the story board, compose the music... The software comes actually at the end. And this is just a tool. The tool should not tell you how to work, but instead, you should be able to work the way you want.

That is the issue I have with Adobe or Avid in general: you have to adapt your workflow to the tools/softwares. So I like open source softwares for I can select the one I need, and use it the way I want. And if I miss something and I am working on an important project, I know that I can improve it the way I need. A bug can be fixed. And that makes open source software more powerful than any proprietary software.

Some important vendors like Harrison or Waves understand that and are building softwares based on Ardour (I own a Harrison Mixbus license). Blackmagic or Lightworks softwares and devices are available for GNU/Linux. There is a move from vendors to open source and GNU/Linux because their users/customers now understand the real interest: stability, IP management, sharing the development costs, ...

So it really depend on you, and if you are willing to learn new tools, new ways to work, and be independent. We actually don't care if Adobe or other are better.

I like how you say it: "So it really depend on you, and if you are willing to learn new tools, new ways to work, and be independent." Thanks.

In reply to by ttoine

Great article, I agree 100%. There's not a problem with paying for software, but I have problems when 1) software forces you to use an OS just in order to use the application (ie, it's not cross-platform), 2) software threatens to rob a user of the ability to always have access to their data (ie, non-open file formats that become useless without a license for the application that opens them), and 3) people and companies implying that an artist isn't "serious" because the artist chooses to not use the de facto closed source apps. Those reasons alone are enough to use open source software for all my creative work; the fact that open source apps tend to be (in my opinion) "smarter" and more efficient is just a bonus for me.

Your point about using open source apps not being serious is a great point. I have to admit, that when I first saw that ad was produced in Scribus, I felt that it had to be inferior. As I replied to another commenter, there are many alternatives when producing graphic design work. Maybe Scribus just won't work for you, but you don't know unless you give it a try, test it, compare and then decide if it does. You have to keep an open mind and not listen to everyone who tells you why it can or can't work. It's kinda like presidential politics. We are told there are only two choices, maybe both are bad, and many people won't vote because they don't want either. However, there are other choices. It's the same with graphic design. I would never have considered using anything but QuarkXPress on a Mac. Until, that is, I tried InDesign. Until, that is, I used it on a PC. Until, that is, I tried Scribus. Test, explore, compare, experiment. You may save money and it's a lot of fun, too.

In reply to by sethkenlon

In an odd way, the Quark vs InDesign conundrum is a great argument for open source alternatives. I remember when designers scoffed at the idea of Adobe moving into Quark's domain, that there was no way anything but Quark could do layout, blah blah blah; then Adobe practically stole the market. Same goes for open source; one might scoff at the idea of using anything but {Quark|Adobe} for layout...and then you try an alternative and "ohmygosh I'm an artist and can make amazing things on anything!"

In reply to by JeffMacharyas

Well said, Seth. Here's a quote from Bill Gates that I think can apply to this situation: "I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user."

By the way, before I started using Quark, I used a program called Bestinfo SuperPage. At THAT time it was the "Cadillac" of page-layout programs. I ran it on an IBM 386 and used XyWrite III as the text-editor. It was so slow, I would start an article import, go to lunch, and maybe it would be ready when I got back.

In reply to by sethkenlon

To your first point, I can reply with a totally different experience, when people ask me what I use for digital photography and I answer: "darktable, is awesome but you can't use it because isn't available for Windows". See, it cuts both ways :)

In reply to by sethkenlon

Only problem I have is Inkscape doesn't support spot colors

Just an addition. For diagramming, I use DIA. Works well.

I agree with you on the financial aspect of cutting the cord on Adobe and Microsoft products. I attended school from 2009 to 2015 and paid for Adobe products, but back then it was financial aid so that seemed okay. But once I graduated in December of 2015 I kept on paying $9.99 for Microsoft 365 and $29.99 for Adobe Creative cloud, every month. By my calculations that is close to 500 dollars a year. For that very reason I started trying to figure out what to do to not spend so much money. I read a book called Linux from the command line and the author recommended that I make an assessment of what I use a computer for and I was shocked and surprised that I could actually save money by not doing the same old thing I had been doing. Granted the LInux apps seem only partially functional, but I am new to Linux and there was a huge learning curve for me. Usually I like learning new stuff, but this has been challenging to say the least. I did learn most of the features of scribus and found it hard to learn and use. Specifically Scribus doesn't really allow you to edit different parts of text and lumps it all together in the editor. I did try to work with the program, but wish the editing of my newsletter allowed me to insert the articles in the order that they were submitted to me without reconfiguring the entire document. I have given up on using scribus for my newsletter and will use Libre Office in the future for my newsletter. It is more like MS Word in that aspect and allows me to insert and move things around and edit the different parts as unique parts and not part of one long edit. I know one thing I won't do is give up and go back to Windows and Adobe products. Ever.

First, learning GNU/Linux from the command line is stupid if you are not a sysadmin. Today's distributions like Ubuntu are really user friendly, and you really don't command line at all. My grand mother, 85 years old, is using Ubuntu every day.

Second, a lot of interesting applications are available for Mac and Windows too. So instead of changing your operating system, just keep windows or mac. And start to replace your applications by open source one. Firefox, Libre Office, Scribus, Inkscape, Gimp, Shotcut, ... are cross-platform.

When you notice that you actually made the change, and you are using only open source software, then, why would you keep the operating system? It will mean that you are ready for GNU/Linux. And please, do not start with a difficult distribution, but with a user friendly one.

In reply to by South City native

I haven't seen your newsletter so maybe I'm misunderstanding. In Scribus, and in InDesign, you can place stories, or parts of stories, into independent "boxes." From there, you can edit and format without affecting any of the other boxes. I have never used the internal editors because I don't see the point in them. I would recommend that you placed your articles, in order that you receive them, into individual boxes and edit them right on the page. Maybe there is a reason this won't work for you, but I have created hundreds of magazines, newsletters and the like this way. I just plop the Word or LibreOffice text onto the page and assemble, move and format in the page.

In reply to by South City native

Very interesting article, and also very good comments by everyone else One think I would like to point out is that Blender is more of a substitute for a program like 3DStudio Max than Premiere or After Effects. Sure, you can edit video on it, but I still consider it a 3D modler/renderer/game engine first.
For someone who is ionly ntersted in video editing, Open Shot or LiVES or would be a better choice.

I am learning GIMP and move away from Photoshop but the thing is most printers, production houses etc demand psd files as s source files. :(

This sort of worked. I just tested it to make sure. I created a simple GIMP image with some shapes and text layers. I then File >> Export As, Select File Type .psd. This saved the file as gimptest.psd. I then opened that file with Photoshop CC. The file opened and I was able to move layers around, but the text I entered in GIMP was not editable. I opened the .psd I exported with a hex editor to see if it was truly a .psd, and it was (38 42 50 53) and checked a Photoshop .psd to compare and the signatures matched. I read on some forums that editable text export is in development. So, to answer your question: you are correct, if a printer demands .psd files you're stuck for the moment. However, in my experience as a graphic designer, I have never sent a printer a .psd, it's either PDF or collected InDesign files. Of course, different designers, clients and vendors have requirements I may have not encountered. I'll keep investigating and if anyone has any solutions please reply back. Thanks, this was a great question.—jm

In reply to by @Colorgraphicz (not verified)

That's a very interesting thread, just wide open my eyes, every one would have his own handy tools,doesn't matter which one is the best, right choice is good as long as problem solved. ^_^

Hi to all. First of all, I apologize if my English is not understandable (I'm Italian).

I'd like to thank you Jeff for the well written, very interesting article. I'm a freelancer (perhaps fledgling yet) graphic designer and for the past three/four years or so, I've been making (ever more frequently) use of the very open source programs you and other listed, in particular, Inkscape, Gimp and Scribus. Differently from you and the majority of the designers, as for my graphic work, I grew up with open source software and, as it has been well commented, in time making use of them has become easier. It is also true that the results are great indeed and nobody notices any difference as for the Graphic made with commercial SW!

Nevertheless, I think that it is also true, as commented by ElectricPrism187, that these software, when it comes to professional work, may at least sometimes turn out into being a liability rather then an asset be it due to the monopoly of the Commercial SW over the Open one or not. So, recently I start feeling compelled to turn to the first rather then the latter though I'm still using the OS instead.

A client asked me .psd files. I tried in all possible ways to convert .svg files into .psd and, though it seems that Illustrator well reads .svg files, the client kept complaining about the impossibility of making changes on the .svg files and the being blank of the .ai files. Another issue was related to Color Profiles. A previous client asked me to work (no matter how, namely no matter the program used for) with layers and a specific color profile. I used Gimp and layers but the limit about CMYK forced me to spend a lot of time, make so many researches and try different times to install the only available plug-in (Separate) available for Gimp that should allow an implementation of the CMYK conversion. Still, I'm not sure that it will really well satisfy the requests of the client. I know, I lack all the expertise and smartness required in those situations and this is also the reason why I'm writing (any idea please?). I'm sure that there are tricks i never thought about. However, it is tiring to work in this way (besides, I use Ubuntu).

I love Open Source and I still believe that it can be the best option, especially when economical resources are few, but must it necessarily be so hard to work when work itself is already not a game to play?

Perhaps, starting with Open Source and shifting later to Commercial one—once the income starts growing up—is a balanced way to approach Graphic Design as well as other works. Also, continuing to have OS SW as an alternative tool available while also using the Commercial one can be of great help. what do you guys think?

Thank you!

I've never had anyone ask for vector art in a .psd format before. SVG's closed equivalent is more like .ai, not .psd. A .psd file is meant for raster (bitmap) images (from Photoshop, specifically). It's odd that a client would expect a .psd with editable vectors. Possibly going out to .eps or .ai would have been a better choice.

RGB -> CMYK conversion can be done with a variety of tools, including Image Magick. I would only use Separate+ if I was doing the printing myself (which I never do).

All that aside, the client ultimately does, to a degree, dictate the end product. Personally it's never been an issue for me (although I do work a lot with clients who are using open source and Linux), but it's ALWAYS vital to communicate early and often. Ask the client about their pipeline; find out what formats they need and WHY. Unfortunately, a lot of clients are actually very stupid (I mean that in the nicest possible way), so they may insist that they need a PSD even though their graphics "expert" is actually just going to open the thing in Photoshop and do an immediate export to an uncompressed TIFF or TARGA. If you offer to save them a step, they may end up happier; they just didn't think to ask for it.

The important thing is to help the client. If you find out what they need, usually open source products can be used to produce it. Worse case, in my experience, is some stupid 5 minute trip into some closed source app just to make sure the deliverable still looks and acts like I think it should. Save, send, done.

In reply to by Claudio

Thank you Mr. Seth! I didn't noticed your reply to my first message before!

First of all, I apologize, I realized that I got confused with file extensions! Instead of .psd (Photoshop) I meant .ai (Illustrator) file. All that the client was looking for was the source (.ai) file for him to be able to edit it in the future. I had used Inkscape, so the output file is .svg and even if I read that Illustrator well interprets .svg files, the client kept telling me that it was unreadable, so that I tried to convert it into an .ai file online (not being in posses of the Adobe suite). To his mind though, the converted file was blank.

Having said that, I think that your advice is really useful! Thank you very much for the encouragement! I have Image Magick but I've barely used it before. Separate+ seems that is finally working on Gimp after much research but I've read somewhere that Scribus comes more in handy when the file has to be handed over to a printery so that the color profile is included in the .pdf file being exported.

Am I right? Does Separate+ works better instead for these reasons?

Thank you!

In reply to by sethkenlon

This probably isn't the right place for an in-depth discussion, but aside from IRC, I'm not sure what is. Instead of SVG or AI, try providing your clients EPS. I have found those to be very good intermediate files. That said, most recent versions of even Illustrator can open SVG files.

Separate+ is for "physical" (in the digital sense) separation of colours. If all you want is for an image file to be flagged as CMYK, then all you need is a quick conversion with Image Magick.

In reply to by Claudio

Oh thank you very much for the interesting advice! I didn't know about the EPSs usefulness. I'll get more infos thereupon as well as for the other things you said.

In reply to by sethkenlon

Hello again! I forgot to ask a question yesterday:

What about mock-ups? It seems that the only way to produce beautiful mock-ups is to use Adobe SWs or alike. I've been thoroughly (at least I think so!) searching here and there but I couldn't find any solution by making use of open source SWs. Is Blender the only way to get it apart Adobe? If so, how?

Thank you very much!


I don't see any reason not to use GIMP or Inkscape for such renderings (or both). It just depends on what kind of graphic app you feel you have the most strength in. I can imagine finishing in GIMP, just because you'll probably need various compositing modes to make the branding that you're applying look reaslitic, but some elements in some of those examples are certainly either airbrushed or just created by hand. Not really that complex, certainly not specialised. Give it a go!

In reply to by Claudio

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