Graphics on Linux: Eight great image image resources and tools

When it comes to the world of graphics, Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator and DTP applications such as Quark Xpress and InDesign, stand head and shoulders above the rest. They are the de-facto standards for graphics professionals. But they’re not open source applications, even if a little Wine hacking gets some of them running on Linux. If you’re committed to doing your graphics the open source way then we have a few suggestions, and a couple of handy tutorials to get you up and running.
If you’re into desktop publishing then you undoubtedly know about Quark Xpress and InDesign. Both are fantastic applications. But they are also fantastically expensive to buy, which is why, if you’re not actually a design house or a newspaper publisher, you’re unlikely to ever own a legitimate copy of one of these. But if you need to publish a newsletter for your local school or hobby group and you don’t want it to look like a Microsoft Word job, then consider Scribus. It’s not InDesign but it has many of the same features of InDesign, can be setup to work using the same keyboard shortcuts and does a very respectable job of producing a print-ready publication. Despite being a relatively new application Scribus has all the essentials built in. So, for example, it produces press-ready PDFs with full and correct colour matching and profiles at a resolution good enough for high quality work. Scribus does still have a couple of rough edges but it is worthy of a look for anyone wanting to do serious looking newsletters and publications.

It’s hard not to mention the Gimp when considering open source graphics applications. Gimp has always been something of a Photoshop clone and in recent versions it mimmicks Photoshop very successfully. But, while Photoshop is best suited for high-end and print publication work Gimp is better suited for Web graphics work. The main reason for this, and one of Gimp’s major failings, is that it doesn’t produce CMYK formats. And in the world of printing that is the primary requirement. This doesn’t mean you can’t print Gimp-produced graphics at your local one-stop print shop, but if you’re producing a magazine with quality images on a real printing press you’ll run into problems. Having said that Gimp is great at producing the likes of animated web images, banners and logos; basically most things you can do on Photoshop without the CMYK.

Mention illustration programs and most people immediately think of Adobe Illustrator. Again, just like Photoshop, Illustrator is a giant of a application, but unless you’re a full-time graphic artist it’s probably not worth the money. If you want to produce good quality vector illustrations there is Inkscape, a simple but highly effective illustration package. Inkscape has all the basics in place so that vector drawings can be produced relatively quickly as well as being able to open other vector formats, convert images to paths and the like. It’s not Illustrator, but it is still remarkably versatile.
Graphics tools are all well and good but you don’t want to have to start from scratch every time you need a piece of line art to illustrate your publication. Which is where comes in handy. As its name suggests Openclipart offers exactly that: free clipart that you can use for publications. Files are available online are free and can, in most cases, be downloaded as PNG or SVG format files. The browsing feature on the site is not that user-friendly but usable. On the other hand, if you have the bandwidth you could just download the whole 300MB+ collection directly to your hard drive. The SVG format files are great for kickstarting other projects in Inkscape.

Xara Xtreme
Longtime PC users may remember the origins of Xara Xtreme as CorelXARA, a proprietary vector drawing application licensed to Corel. During 2006 the makers decided to open source the code and since then have been porting a version of the application to Linux. And the work has paid off with the resulting application being blazingly fast and very much full-featured. Which makes it a very viable tool for designers to create both web and print drawings. As primarily a vector drawing program Xara Xtreme includes the usual tools such as shapes, text, bezier curves and layers but can also handle imported images such as .jpg files and export files in any number of graphic formats. Xara Xtreme also supports CMYK colour models, which makes it suitable for press use.

Like Gimp, it’s impossible not to mention Blender in any lineup of Linux and open source graphics tools. The 3D animation package is not only free software but also widely used in the film and animation arena to create high quality productions. One such example is the The Elephant’s Dream, an open film made with free software tools and released under a Creative Commons licence. Learning to use Blender is perhaps the most challenging part but fortunately there are many fantastic tutorials available. We already mentioned The Blender Basics book in last week’s roundup of great open source books. But, thanks to readers, we also suggest the following: 25 Tutorials To Get You Started With Blender and the Blender Wiki tutorials.

Often overlooked because it is more part of the KOffice suite than a standalone application, Krita is still a great tool for painting and image editing. While Gimp tends to get more attention for each of its new developments, Krita is every bit Gimp’s equal, especially as it supports multiple colour profiles. Being able to handle and create CMYK colour files makes it a useful tool for print workers. Krita has a vast array of tools with which to create images as well as full layer support and a neat layout. Gimp’s animation ability and its text handling make it a better choice for some tasks, but Krita is a worthy alternative for users fond of KDE applications.

ImageMagick is unlike all of the applications already mentioned. For a start it is mostly used through a command line and not through a fancy graphic interface, although there are various user interfaces for it and it underpins many of these applications. It also handles almost every imaginable file format - more than 100 at last count - and can batch process endless collections of images. Which makes it the utility knife of image editing tools when it comes to re-sizing files, converting between formats, adding features such as blur or border to files or even creating animations. As with most command line tools there is a bit of a learning curve attached to getting things going but if you process files regularly then ImageMagick will save you time. A very long list of tutorials on ImageMagick can be found here.

BY Alastair Otter

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