How I Became a User of Open Source Design Tools: 4 Things

…and I thrive with them.

For the past 10+ years I personally have been using open source design tools, Gimp and Inkscape, to create visual assets. I recently stumbled upon this question on the Stackexchange network: “Professionals: Would you choose GIMP over Photoshop and/or Inkscape over Illustrator?” and the usual answer is “no”. I have only met one other professional that uses open source alternatives and with all the nay-saying, it got me thinking, how did I get here?

There is not a single item in our portfolio that we created using an Adobe product.

I haven’t been a passionate proponent of “Open Source” software and tools, so it wasn’t a philosophical move to go open source. You’ve probably heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”, and this was the beginning of how I got down this road, and how it’s now our standard.

1. I hated installing, launching, and using Adobe software.

Some time ago, Adobe software became exceptionally bloated. It seemed to require an unnecessary amount of computing resources. The software installed slow, loaded slow, and ran slow. I also didn’t like the user-interface and I found it more difficult to accomplish basic tasks. Some of this was subjective. Some of it, in my professional opinion, was less opinion and more objective. Regardless of the UI, I saw Adobe going down a path where I suspected their software would become more and more cumbersome. More on this below.

2. Adobe products were expensive for young companies and freelancers.

In 2012, I was finally able to obtain a copy of the Standard Adobe suite for a cool $1300. My primary use for it was to convert files so I could easily import them into my preferred software. Having the full version of Acrobat was also handy, but not necessary. Sounds silly, but it was necessary in order to collaborate with other design firms. Being self-taught, I didn’t study graphic design in school, so I didn’t have any training bias for Adobe products. This allowed me to freely pursue whatever software I wanted without losing mind share from past training. So when I first started, I saw the cost of Adobe products and immediately pursued alternatives. This necessity drove me to learn Gimp and Inkscape and make them do as much as any project demanded. Did I mention they are both free?

A year or two later, Adobe changed their business model so anyone could pay $50 / month to get access to the full suite of tools. Though the price was high, this was a more attainable alternative for younger companies and freelancers than dropping a large sum of cash all at once. However, once this started, I started to see my suspicions come true. Files became locked down to the online version and would not open properly in older versions of their products. The software was already bloated and now they were handcuffing the files. I don’t know if they’ve sorted this out, but I have run into this problem numerous times.

3. Scribus made print projects possible.

The biggest complaint about open source alternatives is that they cannot do as much as their Adobe counterparts. This is true, but they can still do a lot. I would venture to guess they can do 80-90% of what Adobe products can do (and some things Adobe products can’t do!), which is 100% of many projects. I can do 100% without Adobe, but I understand this is not possible for everyone. One of the largest complaints with Inkscape (the Illustrator alternative), is its lack of ability to handle color profiles. Also true, but enter Scribus. Your publishing needs that are built into Illustrator are parsed out into a different piece of software. It’s a tiny bit less convenient, but it has some nice features of its own that make it worthwhile, but surely needed for any Inkscape user going to print. Scribus is also free.

4. We proved ourselves through deliverables.

“5 years of Illustrator and Photoshop experience” was never going to work for us. But when we deliver high quality visual assets, no one cares how they were made. What matters is the finished product. We love precision. We care about design principles. We think through user experiences. At the end of the day, the tools are just that: tools, to bring ideas into reality.