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Open Source Graphics Software
Open source software is software which can be installed, modified and redistributed freely by its users. The main benefit of using open source software is that it's free, but it can also be very useful to developers, who can modify the software as they desire to fit their own needs. Many users also choose to use open source software because they do not wish to contribute to the profits of companies which seem to hold a monopoly in their field.
There is plenty of open source software available in the graphics sector.
3D Graphics and Animation Software
The first choice the field of 3D graphics and animation for many users is Blender, which offers an abundance of remarkable professional-quality features. The software also has realtime 3D and game creation capabilities. Blender is supported on Windows 98-Vista, Mac OS X (PCC and Intel), Linux, Solaris and other platforms.
OpenFX is also an option, particularly for animation, as it has a whole host of exciting post processor and animation effects. Currently, OpenFX is only available for Windows.
Wings 3D does not have animation capabilities, but does include many professional features. The software is fully supported on Windows, PPC Macs running OS X, and Linux (OpenGL or Mesa required), but for Intel-based Macs, the software must be built from source.
2D Vector Graphics Software
Inkscape is probably the most popular open source vector graphics software. Inkscape has many of the features of Adobe Illustrator, although some of the more complex and powerful features are not yet available. Usability and interface consistency are primary goals of the Inkscape project: there are keyboard shortcuts for all transformations, and floating tooltips and status bar hints for all buttons. Some of Inkscape's impressive capabilities can be seen at the deviantART Inkscape group. It's available for Windows 2000-XP platforms, Linux, and OS X.
Xara Xtreme is another option. Unfortunately, open source versions are only available for Linux (and an OS X version is in development); only commercial versions are available for Windows platforms. Xara Xtreme's unique selling point is the rendering speed: it's frequently been hailed as the fastest graphics software of its kind. The user interface is very clean, neat and easy to learn, and the software has some of the most powerful graphics features available, even in the commercial sector. Truly stunning examples of graphics produced with Xara Xtreme can be found in the gallery.
Bitmap Graphics Editors
The most well-known open source graphics software is GIMP (GUI Image Manipulation Program). GIMP has basic vector capabilities, but is mainly aimed at raster (bitmap) creation and editing. GIMP can also handle the creation of GIF animations, as well as most of the features of Adobe Photoshop, including pressure and tilt sensitivity for those using graphics tablets. Where features are not included, there are often plug-ins available which add new capabilities. It's available for OS X, Windows and Linux platforms. The documentation available for GIMP is excellent. GIMPshop is available for those who are familiar with Photoshop and want to use a similar interface.
Krita also offers valuable features, including guided painting and CMYK support. Krita developers are working on support for special graphics tablet capabilities. Plug-ins will also shortly become available.
Other Handy Graphics Software
CinePaint is software designed to retouch bitmap frames of video, and is a "fork" of GIMP, available for Linux, OS X and other Unix-like operating systems. Support for Windows is currently unavailable.
Dia is diagramming software with a wide variety of options and possible diagram types.
A more complete list of available open source graphics software is available on Wikipedia. The best thing about open source software is that you can shop around and it won't cost you a penny; try out different packages and see how they work for you and whether they support the features you need.
By Iain Ford