Some of the most popular image editing and graphic design programs are commercial and high-cost. For example, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are very popular Adobe products. Many schools offer students and instructors free or discounted access to Adobe’s products.  However, depending on your skill set or technology set up, you may want more options. Here are some free/open source alternatives:

GNU Image Manipulation Program/GIMP (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Free and open source image editing software. (Similar to Photoshop.)

Inkscape (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Free and open source vector graphics software. (Similar to Illustrator.)

Scribus (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Free and open source desktop publishing/graphic design software. (Similar to InDesign.)

Adobe Express (Browser-based)
Express is a free and web-based graphic design tool from Adobe. It can be used to edit images, videos, and documents. Express offers a range of design templates, including many which allow you to create content sized for many widely used platforms (YouTube videos, Instagram, etc.).

Canva (Browser-based)
Canva is another popular browser-based graphic design tool. Canva comes with free and paid features. It also offers special plans for students, teachers, and nonprofits. Similar to Express (above), Canva offers users a broad range of design templates which can be customized in various ways. There are also many options specifically tailored to popular online platforms (YouTube, Instagram, etc.).

Many colleges and universities offer students, faculty, and staff access to the Adobe Creative Suite and other design software at reduced rates. These discounts can vary depending on your department or position in the institution. In my own experience, I’ve found that university-wide versus program-specific discounts can vary dramatically. Sometimes this discount is minimal, other times it will be a significant cost reduction.

Information about discounts and where/how to access them can be hard to track down.

  • If you’re a student, ask your school’s Information Technology Services department if the school offers software discounts to students. If you’re in a media/communications program, check with your department too. Sometimes the department will have different/additional discounts for its students.
  • If you’re faculty/staff, I suggest following a similar protocol. Don’t just check with one place about discounts. Contact both ITS and your department/program’s more local IT contact.

If the above options don’t work for you and you’re looking for a lower cost alternative to the Adobe CS, check out the Affinity suite of design software. Their software averages $40-60:

Affinity Designer (Windows, Mac)
Vector graphics design software. (Similar to Illustrator.)

Affinity Photo (Windows, Mac)
Image editing software. (Similar to Photoshop.)

Are there other tools you can recommend? Let me know and I’ll add them!