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Design

Free Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe products are synonymous with the design and illustration world. They can, however, be expensive for designers, whether professional or not. So this article contains a breakdown of 30-day trials and free alternatives to Creative Cloud applications used for digital painting, photo editing, vector designs, infographic creation, and layout design. 

Explore design programs that serve as interesting substitutes to Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. Any prices or currency conversion are accurate as of April 2015. Due to sales and exchange rates, prices are subject to change.

Adobe Photoshop Alternatives

GIMP 2.8

The Gimp interface when editing photos

GIMP 2.8 is quite well known as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop, having both photo editing and digital painting capabilities. With a Toolbox filled with comparable tool options, you can edit images or create entirely new designs all within the comfort of an intuitive interface. 

In addition to its customizable interface, GIMP was designed for use with plugins that can really aid you in your productivity and capabilities within the program. Users can create their own plugins, or run through the GIMP Plugin Registry, which contains plugins from users worldwide.

  • Download: www.gimp.org
  • Price: GIMP is free.
  • Runs on: Windows XP and above.

FireAlpaca

Firealpaca user interface

FireAlpaca is a fantastic, light, free painting program. It was designed to make it easy for users to digitally paint, whether they're experienced with the medium or not. Brushes and other tools are customizable, allowing you to decide how you want to paint within each tool's own limits. 

While this program doesn't boast the abilities of Adobe Photoshop, you'll find it's lighter in terms of memory used and document sizes, so painting detailed pieces won't cause the average computer to lag. As FireAlpaca is a fairly new program, it's constantly being improved and updated for both Mac and Windows users.

Pixeluvo

the pixeluvo user interface

Pixeluvo servers as a fantastically designed photo editing and digital painting program. With a streamlined, clutter-free interface, you can focus on your work rather than fighting with limited space taken over by tool panels, as some free programs are often guilty of providing. 

Features Adobe users are well familiar with like raw image processing, layer masks, filters, and effects are all present in addition to others, making this quite the contender of Photoshop alternatives. Pixeluvo is available for Windows and Linux users.

PhotoPlus Starter Edition

Photoplus starter edition

PhotoPlus Starter Edition, created by Serif, is a lighter version of PhotoPlus and touts itself as making it simple and easy for users to edit images through cropping, color and tone adjustments. It also offers tools like the CutOut studio, which makes cutting elements out of photos quick and easy.

You can upgrade to the full PhotoPlus program for US$99.99, or stick with the trimmed-down free version to keep your image editing experience simple. PhotoPlus is available on Windows XP and above.

  • Download: http://www.serif.com/
  • Price: PhotoPlus Starter Edition is free. PhotoPlus is US$99.99.
  • Runs on: Windows XP or later.

Paint Tool SAI

Paint Tool SAI interface

Paint Tool SAI, like FireAlpaca, is a digital painting program that doesn't hog RAM but still boasts powerful painting tools. With customizable brush sets, layer support, and a customizable interface, the program is user friendly and a favorite of digital artists worldwide. 

You can download a free 31-day trial from its creator, SYSTEMAX, to check the program out yourself so long as you're running Windows 98 or later. A license for the full program will run you JPY5400, or approximately US$44.95 (exchange rates subject to change).

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10

Xara photo welcome screen

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 is a bit of a hybrid between Photoshop and Illustrator with its raster and vector editing and creation capabilities. Like many of the programs before it, the user interface is customizable and can be as simplified or complex as needed. 

For photo editing, the programs boasts speed with non-destructive methods at a fraction of the RAM used by comparable products. On the vector side, familiar shape building, blend, gradient, and 3D tools abound, making this program a fantastic alternative to multiple Creative Cloud applications. You can download a free 30-day trial and if it's the right fit for you, the full license costs US$89.99.

PhotoLine

Photoline user interface

Photoline is a photo and graphic editing program developed in Germany. Features include photo editing in a lossless format, professional imaging tools with Camera Raw support, image correction features essential for photographers, and even animated gif creation. 

A 30-day trial is available for users to evaluate the program's great potential, and a full license can be purchased to the tune of €59.00, or approximately US$64.28 (exchange rates subject to change).

  • Download: http://www.pl32.com/index.php
  • Price: Free 30-day trial; €59.00 (US$64.28) after trial.
  • Runs on: Windows XP or later; Mac OS X 10.6 or later.

Pixelmator

Pixelmators clean interface

Pixelmator is a gorgeous image editing and painting software available for iPad and Mac users from the App Store. You can download a free, 30-day trial of the Mac version or purchase it for US$14.99 on Mac and $9.99 on iPad. 

Features in the latest version include support for working seamlessly between the Mac and iPad apps, the Smart Move Tool, which may as well be magic, realistic painting tools that mimic traditional media, and wonderful shape tools. These apps are packed with tools designers need in a user-friendly format. 

  • Download: http://www.pixelmator.com/
  • Price: Free 30-day trial on Mac; US$14.99 Mac app; US$9.99 iPad app.
  • Runs on: Mac OS X 10.9 or later; iOS 8.1 or later.

Corel Painter 2015

Corel Painter Box Art

Corel Painter 2015 is a super powered drawing and painting program. Well known to digital artists around the world as amongst the best in mimicking traditional media, Painter ups the ante with paper textures, enhanced speed and performance to decrease your machine lagging out, and Painter Mobile for Android to bring your digital work on the go. Check out a free 30-day trial, or nab the full program for US$429.00.

PaintShop Pro X7

PaintShop Pro interface

PaintShop Pro X7 is another fantastic Corel product that serves as a comparable alternative to Adobe Photoshop. Check out new features like the content-aware Magic Fill, faster brushes for retouching or digital painting, the Color Materials palette, and more! Check out a 30-day trial of the program for free, or download the full version for US$79.99. 

Adobe Illustrator Alternatives

Inkscape

Inkscape user interface

Inkscape is well known around these parts, as we've covered the program in many tutorials. When looking for an alternative to Adobe Illustrator, this open-source vector program was at the top of every list and result. 

Using Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as its native format, Inkscape is versatile in vector design creation, supporting shape building, gradient mesh, pattern creation and more. Get started with this program by checking out some of the tutorials written for it here at Tuts+. Inkscape is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux alike.

DrawPlus Starter Edition

Drawplus starter edition

DrawPlus Starter Edition is another Serif program catering to simplifying the at-home designer experience. DrawPlus is Serif's answer to vector-based graphic software, making the creation of clean vector graphics easy with line, shape, 3D tools, and more. 

As with PhotoPlus, users that wish to upgrade to the full program can do so to the tune of US$119.99, and take full advantage of Serif's design features, especially if they're aiming to use the program for something more than personal projects. DrawPlus is available on Windows XP and above.

  • Download: http://www.serif.com/
  • Price: DrawPlus Starter Edition is free. DrawPlus is US$119.99.
  • Runs on: Windows XP or later.

Dia

diagramming with dia

Dia serves as a simple alternative to Illustrator if diagrams, flowcharts, and infographics are the outcome you're after. It's not a drawing program, but it is perfect for creating supplemental graphics needed for reports, print materials, and blog posts. Dia is available for Windows, Mac, Unix and Linux users alike.

OpenOffice Draw

OpenOffice Draw user interface

OpenOffice Draw is a part of the OpenOffice Suite. Like Dia, it serves as an alternative program to create diagrams and graphics for print, web, and interactive media. Program features like smart connectors make the creation of flowcharts and diagrams easy business, allowing the user to define areas where the connectors "stick" to shapes. 

Additionally, there are tools for transparency, texture, and lighting features, as well as 3D effects, making graphics designed within the program as complex or simple as needed.

Intaglio

Intaglio drawing program

Intaglio was created as a successor to MacDraw, bringing vector-based drawing to beginners and experienced users alike. Described as being an intuitive experience and made to use a Mac's capabilities to the fullest, the program also has companion apps for the iPhone, bringing you familiar drawing tools on the go. 

It's available for Mac OS X 10.8 or later, and you can download a free trial version of the software, with a full license costing US$89.

Mischief

Made with Mischief

Mischief is a drawing program with a scalable, vector-like edge. This program features versatility of painting tools paired with the lossless quality of vector applications. 

Both free and paid versions are available, with the free version offering features like the infinite canvas, brush palette, and small file size. The paid version, however, expands on this to add layer support, custom color swatches, and more. You can try out the complete program for a free 15-day trial before paying US$25 for the full license.

CorelDRAW

corelDRAW interface

CorelDRAW is a part of the Corel Graphics Suite X7 and is no stranger to tutorials covered by the Tuts+ team. Shape building, gradient mesh, pattern tools, and fantastic interactive tools make CorelDRAW a strong contender for a full-time alternative to Adobe Illustrator. 

Take the program for a spin and check out the built-in content exchange where you can check out content from other Corel users or share your own! Try a 30-day trial for free, purchase the full suite for US$499.00, or buy an annual subscription to the program and its updates for US$198.00.

  • Download: http://www.coreldraw.com/
  • Price: Free 30-day trial; US$499.00 full version; US$198.00 annual subscription; US$24.95 30-day subscription.
  • Runs on: Windows; Mac

iDraw

iDraw interface

iDraw is a Mac-based vector application filled with fantastic features and an intuitive user interface. Create fully scalable vector graphics on Mac and iPad alike with various appearance FX, the in-place color picker, and dimensioning tools for all of your technical illustration needs. 

While there aren't trial versions of these applications at this time, at US$24.99 and US$8.99, they're wonderfully affordable alternatives to Adobe Illustrator.

Adobe InDesign Alternatives

Scribus

Scribus interface and layout templates

Scribus is an open-source desktop publishing program filled with tools for layout design, typesetting, print design, and assorted interactive PDF creation. Users can create their own design templates or choose from ready-made templates from the program itself or within the Scribus user community

The default user interface is clutter-free, allowing you to choose how much of your active screen is taken up by program features versus your active document. Scribus is available for Linux, Unix, Mac, and Windows users alike.

PagePlus Starter Edition

Pageplus starter edition promotional designs

PagePlus Starter Edition is Serif's stripped down desktop publishing application, which you can use to create an assortment of print-ready layout and typographic designs. You can work from a provided template or create your own designs for personal use. 

As with the Serif products before it, PagePlus users can upgrade to PagePlus X8 for a fee of US$199.99, or stick to the free edition and keep their document design process simple. PagePlus is available on Windows XP and above.

  • Download: http://www.serif.com/
  • Price: PagePlus Starter Edition is free. PagePlus is US$119.99.
  • Runs on: Windows XP or later.

Xara Page Layout Designer 10

Xara Page user interface and welcome screen

Xara Page Layout Designer 10, like other Xara design programs, is a competent alternative to Creative Cloud's desktop publishing programs. Features include Google font integration, drag & drop editing within page layouts, royalty-free templates, and assorted text and layout design tools you'd expect to find within a desktop publishing program. Download a free 30-day trial from Xara, or purchase the full license for US$89.99.

Quark Xpress 10

Quark Xpress in action

Quark Xpress 10 is one of the well-known, heavy hitter alternatives to Adobe InDesign. Used by graphic and layout design professionals in desktop publishing for over 25 years, the program has kept up with updates and changes in the design world with a user-friendly interface, tools for eBook and app design creation, and integration with Microsoft Word. 

You can download a free trial for 30 days and if you find this is the program for you, the full license will be a worthwhile investment for the publishing professional at US$849.00.

  • Download: http://www.quark.com/
  • Price: Free 30-day trial; US$849.00 after trial.
  • Runs on: Windows 7 or later; Mac OS X 10.5 or later

Conclusion

Professional design applications can be quite the investment. However, all of the programs featured above are free or affordable, or offer free trial versions. You can try each of them out and choose your Creative Cloud alternative at your discretion. A designer is a designer, no matter the applications or tools being used. 

What other alternatives, free or paid, have you used? Let us know in the comment section below! 

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