Can You Tweak This Photo?

We’ve all heard the universal phrase “can you photoshop this?” Yes, Adobe’s raster/image manipulation software has become part of the English lexicon (at least American English). But is it the only tool out there? Short answer: no. Long answer: there are a number of programs that are free.

The one I have installed and use occasionally as the need presents is GIMP. The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) has been around for quite some time and was actually the first FOSS program I recall using.

If you need to work with images (photos and such), GIMP is a good tool. You can adjust, paint, skew, filter, etc. most JPGs, PNGs and even RAW files. Prefer to ‘paint’ rather than ‘draw,’ then GIMP is probably better suited for you than Inkscape. Keep in mind that Inkscape and GIMP can compliment each other as well.

As with Inkscape to Illustrator, GIMP replicates many of the core functions of Photoshop. Does it do it all? No, but it’s not really meant to. Tools like Adobe have the benefit of millions of dollars in revenue to support development, which means more power and capability (in general). That’s not to say FOSS tools are inferior. It just means development takes a different path, but can create the same output in many ways, but might also present new ideas.

As with Inkscape, GIMP is cross-platform, which means it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Are there others, besides GIMP? Yes, but I haven’t used many of them personally.

Layouts without payouts

Last time, I talked about using Inkscape to create many of my logos, patches, etc. This time, thought I would mention what I use when the need is more of a publication, not so much a single graphic. For these cases I use two primary tools/systems: Scribus and TeX/LaTeX.

The FOSS realm provides a lot of tools to replace/supplement proprietary tools. For creating publications (books, flyers, and so on), the main industry tool is InDesign. Unfortunately, even with the subscription model, InDesign is still not a big option when starting out. For me, I found Scribus to be a workable replacement. Again, as with Inkscape, you get what you pay for. With Scribus, you get basic Desktop Publishing (DTP) capability in a free and open tool. Unlike a word processor like LibreOffice (think Office for FOSS), a DTP like Scribus does more than simply put words on a page. A DTP takes words and makes them work on a page. Any time you see a book, magazine, (most) flyers, you are seeing the results of DTP.

I’ll put a caveat – you won’t likely see many results of Scribus here or on my gallery pages. Unless I need to create a book-like product, I don’t use DTP much. Now, one example that will likely use DTP for some final production processes will be the Trigrams deck. This is mostly due to the needs of a potential printer.

Are there other ways to create well-formatted things like books? Yes there are. Another tool I’ve used (mostly for a handbook project) is a system called TeX (not a typo). TeX is a typesetting (or document production) system, not so much a publishing software like Scribus or InDesign. Instead, TeX focuses on the text itself, using tagging to create the output later on. Because of this, TeX tends to resemble HTML or other tagged documents. However, TeX needs other tools to actually render the pages. For this, I use LaTeX editors like TeXstudio. Keep in mind with things like TeX – it looks ‘ugly’ while making, but create some nice looking results. One final note about TeX – if you need to do fancy math equations or similar things, TeX is really good at rendering those things in a document. You’d be hardpressed to replicate them in a regular word processor.

TeX Users Group:


Design….on no budget

As I’ve mentioned, design is a hobby of mine. So, I get to spend lots of money…. Not really. Then how does design work on no budget? One solution: Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

In nutshell, FOSS encompasses a wide selection of software that’s free and open sourced, meaning the code is open to the public (generally). For me, this means I use free and open tools for my work. Yes, I know ‘real’ designers use things like Adobe and such, but they also do this for a living.

The next part of this explanation gives the details. Yes, my first exposure to vector graphic design was through Illustrator (8.x) in my college cartography [mapmaking] class. We used it to make our final map projects, as the main GIS software at the time really didn’t cut it for nice looking maps. Cutting my design teeth with maps, I discovered a taste for making designs. Mind you, it’s taken time to develop skills and I’m still far from well-versed.

But Illustrator is neither free nor open source… what do I use. Many years ago, I discovered a FOSS alternative to Illustrator: Inkscape. While not as powerful or prevelant as Illustrator, Inkscape has served me well and continues to do so. I have many of the core tools I need and have learned to adapt when I can’t use the fancier stuff. All my designs for Data Monkey Designs are crafted with Inkscape primarily, although I do use other programs once I start projects such as playing cards or more book-like concepts. More on those later.

So, I would encourage anyone wanting to try their hand with vector (points, lines, etc.) design to give Inkscape a try. If you prefer more raster (photo)-based work, I would recommend GIMP (perhaps a topic for another post).