Open-source tool kit for 2021: creators edition

Free and open-source software is quickly growing; get the best out of it as an artist with our essential open-source tool kit for 2021: creators edition.

Fidel Chaves
10 min read

Free and open-source software

Last time, we had a quick dive into the FOSS world with our essential open-source tool kit for 2021. Today we bring the creators edition. All of the software listed below is open and offers at least a free, personal version. But before diving into the examples, what’s the difference between free and open source?


Free and open-source software is not the same; we have discussed the difference between them in the past. What’s the dilemma here? Not all open-source programs are free and not all free software is open. Free usually translates as libre in Spanish, which is not the same as gratis. Open source implies its code is available for everyone to see, one of its fundamental principles.

The essential open-source tool kit

We’ve already done an article with the essential open-source tool kit; you might want to check that out. Today, we are slightly changing the focus to the creative types. We will discuss office suites, design tools, vector graphics programs, video editors, photography, audio, and even 3D modeling. I know that office suites could be considered as a more basic essential, but it ended up here.


I’ve experienced many times the pain of the price rise on creative software such as 3D modeling tools, video editors like Premiere and Final Cut, and the general expense that is turning to be Software as a Service (I’m looking at you, Microsoft 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud). Making a one-time purchase is getting rarer and rarer. It is no surprise that they want users hooked for life.


That is why I researched the basic open-source alternatives to some proprietary software, most of which include free software, but remember, supporting free and open-source software is essential so everyone can access quality software anytime. Let’s get to it.

Office suites

You know, there is a better world beyond the Microsoft 365 subscription, and it is not only the Google Drive, Sheets, and Docs service. It's been a while since free and open-source office suites are available.


LibreOffice is the first of the free and open-source office suites we will discuss today. It is compatible with other major office suites and is available on all operating systems. It includes the usual programs needed for writers: spreadsheets, presentations, and vector graphics. Nobody would ever miss Word, Excel, or PowerPoint after trying these. It has a great community and a growing user base. There is no way of competing with that price tag.

Apache OpenOffice

Apache OpenOffice is similar to the other options. It is also available in all major operating systems and provides free and open-source software. It has some issues due to some well-known bugs, so many users have veered away from it and jumped ship to the calmer water of LibreOffice. We’ve seen this issue before—many open source projects are abandoned by their developers, especially when they lack financing and a strong community.


Onlyoffice is a productivity suite, like the others, that enables to manage documents, teams, and customer relationships. I listed it as the last option because it has some SaaS and freemium elements to it, and while we believe in supporting free and open-source software, we like to choose it willingly. In any case, OnlyOffice offers a free online edition for personal use, which is okay as it is an alternative to Microsoft's over-priced, buggy, and privacy-invading Office suite. Strong emotions here.


I am not a designer, so please, just DM me if I got my research wrong. In any case, I have been looking out for free and open-source design tools; you might have read my article about Figma or the open-source trend happening in design these days. Anyways, let’s discuss some essential free and open design tools.


FreeCAD is a general-purpose 3D CAD modeler. It is free, open-source, and available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Those are some advantages, right? Originally, FreeCAD was meant for mechanical engineering and product design, but nowadays, it is also used by architects and other professionals. It is similar to Catia, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge, plus it is modular software, making it highly extensible.

GIMP + PhotoGIMP in GitHub

GIMP is probably one of the most-known free programs. Maybe it is the funny icon or the fact that it is the closest thing to Photoshop you can get for free, I am not sure. But GIMP allows photo retouching, image composition, and authoring, all without paying that costly Adobe Suite. Damned SaaS. Unlike proprietary software, GIMP remains rough around the edges (still my tool of choice) due to the lack of money invested in the project. Beware, changing from Photoshop to GIMP can be challenging but worth it.


Krita markets itself as a professional free and open-source painting program made by artists who strive to create affordable tools for concept art, texture, illustrations, and comics. As with most of the other programs mentioned, Krita is available for all major operating systems and is free to download from the official website. It’s a great alternative to GIMP and Photoshop, so you should definitely try it out.

Vector graphics

We have extensively discussed the importance of SVG in the past. The main program used to create SVGs is probably Illustrator, with Figma and Sketch as close competitors. But there are other options, non-proprietary, not paid: free and open-source vector graphics programs.


Inkscape is probably the most known vector graphics FOSS. It is available in Linux, Windows, and macOS and shares its popularity with GIMP in the art department. It supports many advanced SVG features and has a well-designed and streamlined interface. It might be one of the best alternatives to Illustrator, even with a small team of volunteers and some bugs and issues yet to be fixed.


Akira might be a tough choice to make, as it is a native Linux design application. It is practical for UX and UI designers but requires in software and Linux OS. We will talk more about open-source operating systems in the future.

Video editor

You are probably familiar with video editors like Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, or DaVinci Resolve. I tried them all before, and they are great. The thing is, they are not open source, and both Premiere and Final Cut require a massive amount of money to maintain, plus it is often prohibitive to students and freelancers.


Kdenlive means KDE non-linear video editor. It is a free, open, and multi-platform video editor. Kdenlive is compatible with a wide variety of audio and video formats, and it also allows adding effects, transitions, and rendering into different formats. Even though it is similar to Premiere and pretty straightforward, it can be a bit unstable, which means it can crash unexpectedly. Thanks to the developers, it has an auto-recovery option but still needs some work.


After reading recent comments, I found a new version available with some of these bugs and issues fixed. You might want to give it a try.


OpenShot is a cross-platform video editor supported by Mac, Linux, and Windows. It has all the features that Kdenlive presents with added stability and control. Based on comments from users, it might not be the best option on Windows, even with quality hardware, so take this recommendation with a pinch of salt.


Blender is much more than a video editor, but it presents itself as an alternative anyways. If I had to choose, I would give Blender an award for being an excellent free and open-source program. Blender is a 3D content creation suite and can be used for modeling, texturing, rigging, simulations, animation, rendering, non-linear editing, compositing, and a long list of extra features. The best of it? It’s not only an alternative to expensive programs like Premiere and Final Cut; it also replaces prohibitive software like Maya.


Nowadays, for most people, photography is just taking their phone out of their pockets and taking a quick photo. But if you are a photographer or a digital artist, you know there is much more to it: Adobe Lightroom, Bridge, or Eagle. But what about the open-source alternatives?


DigiKam is an advanced digital photo management software that makes importing and organizing photos an easy process—which is strictly necessary if you are an obsessive person like me. DigiKam helps organize photos in albums that can be sorted chronologically, by folder, or by custom parameters. It supports RAW formats, has a photo editor, allows batch image processing, photo management, tagging, and uploading sites integration. While it presents itself as a great choice, some users complain that the Windows version can be slightly off.


Once again, we face a solid competitor to Adobe Lightroom. Darktable is a virtual light table and darkroom for photographers. It allows for fully non-destructive editing and operates on cached image buffers. Darktable is available in Mac, Windows, and Linux, becoming a perfect open-source photography workflow application and raw developer.


Last time, when we discussed the essential open-source tool kit, I talked about music players. This time, the alternatives are not for listening to music but creating it (podcasts and general audio management also apply). Let’s take a look at some open-source software for audio.


If you have been online long enough, you probably know Audacity: the free, open-source, cross-platform audio and music editor. Audacity allows you to record and edit sounds, convert tapes and records, change the speed, producing all the audio manipulation required. It even has a portable version. Unfortunately, like many FOSS, its UI had the late 90’s Internet look and feel, and we have talked about the need for design in communication.


Another issue is the buying of Audacity by Muse Group in April 2021. Since the purchase, Audacity has changed its privacy policy, and they may collect "Data necessary for law enforcement, litigation and authorities’ requests (if any)." In a world where corporations seek maximum enforcement of copyright laws, this may turn against creators, as it has nothing to do with sound and everything to do with collecting personal information.


On a happier note, remember that this is free and open-source software. So if you don’t like the spyware from the latest update, just fork it!


LMMs is an alternative to programs like FL Studio which allows music production with your own computer. It includes the creation of beats and melodies, mixing and synthesizing sounds, and arranging samples. It has a MIDI-keyboard (I loved playing with it as a child) and much more, all in a user-friendly and modern interface. Take that, Audacity! LMMS has a growing community that produces music and tutorials and fixes bugs quickly—everything any user expects from an open-source program.


Ardour is also a digital audio workstation that works on all the major operating systems. It is freemium software, so check out pricing and alternatives before committing to it. The author is currently charging money for builds, you can manage to compile it yourself on Linux, but it’s not the best alternative for an average user. Again, it looks promising, but it might be a burden for users with no experience.


We’ve seen then how free and open-source software are quickly growing. I hope you can make out the best of this list to continue creating and sharing your creation with the world. These are the elements of our essential open-source tool kit for 2021: creators edition. For all developers out there, stay tuned for our coding and operating systems tool kit.


At Awkbit, we value the importance of free and open-source software. Time and time again, we share information about the open-source culture and how to migrate from proprietary software. Let's continue working towards an environment where the freedoms around software are respected. Are you planning to develop open-source software? Do you know any other open-source alternatives?

Reach Out!

Sources & further reading