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Pros and Cons of Free Graphic Design Software: Can Open Source Software Match the Best Proprietary Design Apps

There is a huge range of free and open source software available nowadays which cover just about every need that someone could ever think of. Applications for Graphic Designers fall within this range and there are a number of options available for use in a design studio.

The best known and most popular open source design applications are Gimp, Inkscape and Scribus. The industry standard applications that they have to compete with are, respectively, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Indesign/Quark Xpress.

The big question, however, is what are the pros and cons of using free software in a professional design environment? Just because these applications are available, can a Graphic Designer really build a commercial studio around open source software?

The quick and simple answer is ‘yes’, but there are some caveats that a Graphic Designer should consider before committing to using open source design software.


The commercial applications have large well funded development teams working full time to regularly improve the features offered. Open source applications have to rely on volunteers working on their own time and this often means that the core applications cannot match the range of features and tools offered by proprietary software.


Open source software may have an advantage though in that developers with a certain interest are free to go their own way and produce plug-ins that can be used to extend the functionality of the core applications.

One example of this is Gimp not having ‘out of the box’ support for CMYK, but this functionality can be added and so make the software suitable for a Designer who produces print materials.


Ease of Use

For Graphic Designers who have experience of working with the common proprietary applications, this can be one the most difficult aspects of using open source design software, however, for new users this presents less of a problem as they are not already familiar with another user interface.

More of a concern is the requirement to sometimes install other pieces of software in order to make the main software work. This can be particularly common when installing plug-ins to add new features and some users who are not very comfortable with their computers may find this problematic.

Paid for software, on the other hand, generally just needs a few clicks to install and have it functioning as expected.

File Formats

All software use their own file formats and this can be problematic if a Graphic Designer has to share files with other Designers or work with files supplied by third parties. If a Designer is regularly collaborating on projects with others, they may have no choice but to use proprietary software, such as those offered by Adobe.

Designers working on their own may not have to worry about this, particularly now that PDF has become the common way of providing artwork for print.


This is obviously the big pro in terms of using free open source software. At the time of writing, Adobe’s Creative Suite Design Standard, which is the lowest cost way of purchasing Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator, is priced at $1,399.

Acquiring Gimp, Scribus and Inkscape will cost nothing, other than the cost of the internet connection to download them. For a Graphic Designer starting out, this huge saving may be enough to convince them that the negative points of using open source Graphic Design software are just minor inconveniences.

Overall, the open source solutions can’t match the powerful feature sets of the industry standard proprietary applications, but their flexibility in being extended with plug-ins and the huge cost savings mean that they are a viable option for smaller Graphic Design studios.


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