Free Art and Design Software for OS X

I am a firm believer in not paying ridiculous amounts of money for programs. I don’t think that any program, even for graphic design, is worth over 600 pounds.  I mean, you should just buy a new computer or something for that sort of money.  Not mentioning any names of course…. *cough*Photoshop*cough* …. There are countless downloads and hacks for programs like Adobe Photoshop but I don’t believe that resolves anything.  So I use freeware and opensource programs.  There are far fewer free programs available for OS X than for Windows.  However, here are few art and graphics programs which I think are worth considering.


GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) 

GIMP is a fairly comprehensive replacement for Photoshop.  It is actually my program of choice for most of my art (other than painting for which I use MyPaint).  The layout is basically the same, and most of the features are similar, e.g. layers, filters etc.  It is also compatible with Photoshop files (.psd), which you can import or export to, and Photoshop brushes (.abr).  GIMP files are .xcf which are about 2/3 the size of Photoshop files.  I tested this by saving the same project as .psd and .xcf. 

I haven’t used Photoshop since about CS2 so I can’t say anything about the new versions, but between Photoshop CS2 and GIMP I can’t really see that much difference.

(UPDATE: I have now tried Photoshop CS6 and I still prefer GIMP.  Crazy, eh?)

I am not a professional graphic designer and far be it from me to say that Photoshop is not worth buying.  I’m sure it has tweaks and extras that make it worthwhile for many people.  However, for my non-professional needs GIMP is a perfect alternative.  And, as I always say, you can’t beat a price tag which reads FREE. 

You can download the latest stable version of GIMP (2.8) here:

Just so you know, I actually use GIMP version 2.6.11.  I did the upgrade but I didn’t like it so I reinstalled my old version.  I just find it easier and more familiar.  You can download the one I use here:

There are of course loads of tutorials for GIMP available online.  Or you can just use Photoshop ones like I often do.  But here are a few good websites to look at (aside from

NOTE: Although I am recommending OS X compatible programs, GIMP will run on Windows and of course all versions of Linux (as it is a Linux program).



MyPaint (Another Linux Program)

MyPaint is a nice clean program which is good for drawing, painting and other basics.  It’s a Linux program and you can tell instantly because it is aesthetically Linux.  I had flashbacks of being on a Ubuntu desktop.  I’m still wondering if I can get my Macbook Pro to dual boot OS X and Ubuntu.  But I digress.

MyPaint is wonderfully easy and simple to use. 

It is by far and away my painter of choice, even over SAI!!! (Sorry SAI fans.)  It would win my painting software of the year award any day.

It has a variety of wonderful brushes which are endless hours of fun.  I expect that hardcore fans of Photoshop and Corel Painter could enlighten me as to why it isn’t up to scratch.  But for my non professional needs I find it more than adequate.  I particularly like the pastel and charcoal brushes and the of course the watercolour ones.  The sketching pencils are really good if you are like me and sketch a lot.  I created a quick sample so you can see some of them.

You can download MyPaint here:

There are lots of free tutorials available online, but here are a few links to get you started: 

NOTE: MyPaint is also available for Windows and Linux.


Those are my 2 essential art and design programs.

If I could only choose two art and design programs of all the programs I’ve ever used (including Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Painter and all manner of other fancy programs) it would be these two. There would be several close runners up but these are by far and away my favourites.

ArtRage Starter Edition

I haven’t actually used ArtRage that much yet.  As far as I can tell it’s a painting tool.  It’s probably easiest to think of it as an extremely basic free version of Corel Painter.  I have seen some amazing stuff done in the full version of ArtRage (which isn’t the Starter Edition of course) so I think it’s worth trying.

There is an ArtRage 2 Starter Edition available from the Demos page, here:

I think it’s the same as the one I downloaded, which was called ArtRage Starter Edition 2.5.  You can download this version of ArtRage from  Here’s the link:
NOTE: ArtRage is also available for Windows but not Linux as far as I’m aware.



Pencil looks a lot like a version of Paint for OS X.  But it is SO MUCH MORE!!!!  Not only is it a lot more advanced than Paint and you can use it to create animations!! It’s handy for editing as well.

You can download Pencil here:

I haven’t actually made any animations but you can find loads of tutorials on youtube.  Here are a few tutorials which show you the basics.
NOTE: Pencil is also available for Windows and Linux.



Inkscape (Another Linux Program)

Inkscape is a vector graphics editor which means it is similar to programs like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw.  Because I had never tried using a vector program before Inkscape I can’t really say whether it is a good alternative.  However I have quite a lot of fun with it and there is tons of help available online.  And again, it’s free so you may as well give it a go if you’re interested in vector editing.

 You can download Inkscape here:

There are lots of tutorials available online and on the inkscape weblog.  Here’s a link to the weblog and a few other tutorials:
NOTE: Inkscape is also available for Windows and Linux.


Categories: Art & Design, Free Software, Linux and Ubuntu, Mac & OS X | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Free Art and Design Software for OS X

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