Linux Software for Artists

Linux is an excellent operating system for use by artists because (1) there are many high quality (and continuously improving) art programs available, (2) most of these programs, as well as Linux itself, can be downloaded for free (which is good news for the many artists who operate on limited budgets) and (3) most of these programs, including Linux itself, are highly configurable (which is important to artists because they tend to be creative people who crave the ability to modify and improve their software and other tools).

Below are brief descriptions (including approximate download size and license type) of some of the best art programs for Linux. Most are free software, which is software for which the source code is freely available and for which there are very minimal restrictions on its use and redistribution. The GNU General Public License (GPL) is the most common license for free software. Freeware is software which individuals are permitted to download and use at no cost, but whose source code is generally not available and for which there are usually restrictions on modifying and redistributing.

Aero - a simulation program based on rigid body systems. The built-in 3D (three dimensional) editor makes it easy to create virtual scenes consisting of spheres, cuboids (boxes), cylinders and plains. These objects can be connected with links such as springs, dampers, rods and joints. The simulation can be started and all objects obey the laws of physics, including gravitation, air resistance, friction and all additional user defined forces. This sequence can be watched similar to viewing a video tape. In addition, AERO can use these sequences to create fully rendered animation sequences for the ray tracing program POV-Ray (see below) as well as MPEG videos. Unfortunately, Aero has apparently not been updated since 1996. 496K. Freeware.

Artstream - a full-featured illustration suite that allows the creation the subtle detail and shading while being fully object-based. The benefits of object-based design include true media-independence with unlimited resolution, along with compactness, reusability and precision. Commercial software.

Blender - a complete and integrated suite for three dimensional modeling, animation, rendering and post-production. The main disadvantage of this highly rated program is that that it can take some effort for new users to become accustomed to its unique user interface. Approximately 7MB. Free software (GPL).

Cinelerra - a non-linear video editor and an advanced content creation system that captures, combines and edits video and audio with sample level accuracy. According to its developer, it provides a seamless integration of audio, video and still photos rarely experienced on a web server. 30.2MB. Free software (GPL).

Corel Photo-Paint 9 - a full-featured photo-editing suite for Linux that is virtually identical to the company's version for Microsoft Windows. The Linux version was released by Corel in 2000 as a free download. Corel is no longer offering it, but fortunately many Linux users acquired it when it was still available. Unfortunately, some users have reported difficulties in installing it on newer versions of Linux. Another disadvantage is that it relies on WINE (software that allows some Microsoft Windows programs to operate on Linux) for much of its functionality (thus resulting in many Windows-related problems such as crashes and GUI oddities). Also, the download is large at more than 90MB, in contrast to less than 15MB for the GIMP (see below). Freeware.

Dia - a technical diagram creation program similar to Microsoft's Visio. It can be used to draw many types of diagrams and has special objects to help draw entity relationship diagrams, UML (unified modeling language) diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams and simple circuits. Dia can load and save diagrams to a custom XML (extensible markup language) format, export diagrams to EPS (encapsulated PostScript) or SVG (scalable vector graphics) formats and can print diagrams (including those that span multiple pages). 5MB. Free software (GPL).

Draw - the graphics program in the increasingly popular OpenOffice suite of office applications. Among the tasks that Draw can perform are manipulating objects (e.g., rotating in three dimensions), arranging objects (e.g., grouping, ungrouping, regrouping, and editing objects while grouped), sophisticated rendering (e.g., creating photorealistic images with the desired textures, lighting effects, transparency and perspective) and using smart connectors (to simplify the creation of flowcharts, organization charts and network diagrams). Free Software (GPL).

EDASCII - EDASCII is an editor for ASCII character drawings. 41k. Freeware.

flow - used to interactively construct sophisticated particle systems and render the results either in real-time via OpenGL (an advanced graphics specification) or off-line by a RenderMan (a computer graphics rendering technology invented by Pixar Animation Studios) compliant renderer. It can also render a particle system to code. Using a project template, flow fills in the required code to automatically produce demos or screen savers. Although it does have limited polygonal object import capability, it is not intended to be a typical modeling and animation package. Unfortunately, the most recent version was 0.53, which was released in May 2001. Free software (Q Public License).

FontForge - an outline font editor that can be used to create PostScript, TrueType, OpenType, CID-keyed, Multi-Master, CFF, SVG and bitmap (bdf, FON, NFNT) fonts or edit existing ones. It can also convert one format to another. Free Software (BSD-style license).

The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) - an advanced, highly versatile image manipulation program that is similar to (and for many applications nearly as good as) Adobe's pricey Photoshop. Begun in 1995, the GIMP is possibly the first major free software end-user application and one of the most successful. The GIMP is included with most major distributions (i.e., versions) of Linux. 13.8MB. Free software (GPL).

gSculpt - a 3D modeling application for drawing polylines, for using translational sweep (extrude) and rotational sweep (lathe/spin) to construct meshes from polylines and for transforming/deforming polylines and models. It also offers a scene editor, multiple path extrusion and import/export filters for common 3D data formats. 514KB. Free software (GPL).

gsumi - pressure-sensitive ink drawing program that allows drawing in black (pen) or white (eraser) on a high resolution bitmap which is filtered down to screen resolution. XInput devices can be used (with pressure support), and different tools and tool properties can be assigned to each device. Free software. Approximately 100KB.

ImageMagick - an image display and manipulation suite of programs that supports more than 90 major image formats. It can be used to resize, rotate and sharpen images as well as create a montage of image thumbnails, create transparent images for web use, turn a group of images into a GIF animation sequence, create a composite image by combining several separate images, draw shapes or text on an image, decorate an image with a border or frame and describe the format and characteristics of an image. ImageMagick can also create images dynamically, thus making it suitable for advanced web applications. Image processing operations are also available from the command line (i.e., all-text mode) as well as through C, C++, Perl and Java programming interfaces. Approximately 5.0MB. Free software (GPL-compatible).

Inkscape - an SVG editor for vector drawing logos, posters, scalable icons, etc. and having capabilities similar to Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw and Visio. Among the supported SVG features are basic shapes, paths, text, alpha blending, transforms, gradients, node editing, svg-to-png export and grouping. Inkscape was begun in 2003 by four Sodipod (see below) developers with the goal of providing a free software SVG drawing tool that is fully compliant with XML, SVG and CSS2 (cascading style sheets version 2). 4MB. Free software (GPL).

KFourier - an image processing program that employs the Fourier transform (a type of mathematical function) to use multiple filters on images. 152KB. Free Software (GPL).

Krita - a painting and image editing application in the KOffice suite of office applications for the KDE desktop. Krita contains both ease-of-use and fun features such as guided painting and high-end features like support for 16 bit images, CMYK, L*a*b and even OpenEXR HDR images. Although development was begun in 1999, Krita was not ready for use until 2005. Free Software (GPL).

KToon - a 2D animation toolkit and IDE (integrated development environment) for developing multimedia projects based on open standards such as SMIL (synchronized multimedia integration language), KToonScript and the persistence format KTN. Free software (GPL).

KVEC - a a command line tool for converting raster (i.e., bitmap) graphics to vector graphics. Shareware (30 day free trial).

libAfterImage - a generic image manipulation library that has some features seen in higher-end graphics programs (such as Adobe's products), including powerful text rendering capabilities, in-memory RLE (run length encoding) image compression, high-quality image scaling, flipping and blending and multi-point linear gradients. Free software (LGPL).

mg^2 - a general 3D modeler that is designed to look and work in a manner similar to Caligari's Truespace (a proprietary animation program). It can open 3D Studio ASCII, DXF ASCII and MD2 files, and it can model, light and render scenes in POV-Ray (see below). 283KB. Free software (GPL).

Moonlight|3D - striving to become a free, modern, flexible, feature-rich and extensible modeling and animation tool. Version 0.1.1 was released in early 2006, which, although a considerable improvement over the previous version, is still basically a technology preview. The most noticeable new feature is support for rendering images using yafray. 6.0MB. Free software.

Photogenics - a photo editing and graphics creation program. Everything, including colors, transparency and positions, can be modified and erased as easily as (or usually more easily than) it was drawn and thus tweaked to perfection. Commercial software.

POV-Ray (Persistence of Vision Raytracer) - a high-quality tool for creating highly realistic three-dimensional images that is based on David Buck's original raytracer, DKB-Trace. 6.8MB. Freeware.

QCad - a simple 2D CAD (computer aided drafting) program for the creation of technical drawings such as plans for buildings, interiors and mechanical parts. No previous CAD experience is necessary. 12MB. Free software (GPL).

ShowImg - a feature-rich image viewer that can display numerous formats, including JPEG, PNG, GIF and MNG (multiple-image network graphics). It consists of a tree view frame, a directory/preview frame and a view frame. The larger view frame can be exchanged with the smaller directory/preview frame. ShowImg can preview and display images from multiple directories and search for identical images. Also featured are a full-screen mode, zooming, sorting, drag-and-drop and support for images in compressed archives. 4MB. Free software (GPL).

SIS (Single Image Stereogram) - creates 3D pictures from a depth-map. Free software (GPL).

Skencil - an interactive vector drawing for illustrations, diagrams and other purposes. A somewhat unique (for a drawing program) feature is that it is implemented almost completely in Python, which is a very high-level, interpreted language that is object oriented and powerful, yet easy to use. 1.1MB. Free software (GPL).

Sodipodi - a general vector-drawing program that uses the increasingly popular SVG data format and which can accommodate multiple files and views, printing, bitmap exports, etc. The relatively modern display engine provides finely antialiased displays, alpha transparencies, vector fonts, etc. 1.3MB. Free Software (GPL).

Synfig - a powerful, vector-based, 2D animation software package, designed from the ground up for producing feature-film quality animation with fewer people and resources by eliminating manual tweening (i.e., hand drawing each frame individually) while improving product quality. Still considered primarily in the development stage and targeted at developers rather than end users. Free software (GPL).

Tux Paint - a drawing program designed for young children (ages three and up). It has a simple, easy-to-use interface, fun sound effects and a cartoon mascot who helps guide children as they use the program. Available in more than 40 languages. 2.86MB. Free software (GPL).

Wet Dream - provides simulation of watercolor painting. Operates as a GIMP plug-in. Now usable, but still lacks some intended functionality. 9.4KB. Free software (GPL).

Xara Xtreme - a powerful, general purpose graphics program that also features ease of use, including extensive documentation. Formerly known as Xara LX, it is based on Xara Xtreme for Windows, which is claimed to be the fastest graphics program available. The Xara Xtreme source code was made open source in early 2006. 19MB. Free software.

Xfig - an interactive tool for drawing objects such as circles, boxes, lines, spline curves and text. It can also import and modify images in several formats such as GIF, JPEG and EPSF (PostScript). 35 fonts are available for text. 5MB. Freeware.

XMRM - a morphing program for multi-resolution images. It extends conventional image morphing algorithms by offering additional control over the processing of the individual multi-resolutions that are used in the wavelet representation when moving from the source to the destination image. This allows the animator to introduce a disparity between the morphing of global and detail features that can lead to interesting new effects that are not achievable with traditional methods. Unfortunately, it was last updated in 1997. 99KB. Free software (GPL).

Created October 16, 2004. Last updated September 22, 2006.
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