Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology
Illinois State University
Jump over the College navigation bar.

Open Source (free) Alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud Applications

As Adobe Creative Cloud applications are sometimes too expensive for individuals (or departments, even with Illinois State’s educational discount) below is a list of free, open source alternatives. These programs give faculty and staff options they might otherwise not have. We do not recommend these programs as replacements for programs students might need to learn to advance their future careers.

None of the alternatives below are as polished or as feature-rich as Adobe’s fine applications, but they are well-supported with large communities of users and developers. Help using any of these programs, or their features, is typically as easy as a simple Google search. They are professional-level applications. They have comparable learning curves to their Adobe counterparts.

  • Photoshop (raster image editor)
  • Illustrator (vector graphic editor)
  • InDesign (page layout editor)
  • Acrobat Professional (PDF creator and editor)
  • Premier (video editor)
  • Dreamweaver (HTML editor)
  • Flash (2-D animation creation tool)
  • Audition (Audio editing)
  • LightRoom (Digital darkroom photo application)

GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program)

Where to get it:

First released to the public in 1996, GIMP is a free, open source project with a strong community of developers and users. It is the closest there is to a Photoshop replacement (because that was its purpose during development) although it is not as polished and not without a few lingering bugs.

Users starting out at professional image editing on GIMP will face a learning curve similar to that of Photoshop’s while those already familiar with Photoshop will only have to deal with small frustrations (such as functions being slightly different, like the healing brush source function being Ctrl-click rather than Alt-click).

It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

For something closer to Photoshop Elements, try Paint.NET, which feels like using a simplified GIMP. It is less powerful than Elements, but is free and more than capable of simple to moderate editing tasks.


Where to get it:

Since 2003, Inkscape has arguably been the best vector graphic editor available for free from the open source community. It is intended as an Illustrator alternative, nearly as powerful and not without its own unique learning curve.

Check this page for a more thorough list of features.

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux


Where to get it:

For professional-level page layout, Scribus is pretty much your only reasonable choice. Closer in use to QuarkXPress than InDesign, users of the latter will have a higher learning curve than the former if switching over. (Text boxes have to be linked manually, image frames must be drawn before inserting pictures.) May also have to install an additional piece of software (Ghostscript) if planning to use PostScript functionality.

However, despite the fact you might have some initial issues setting it up and getting used to its basic use, it is a very well-made and very powerful product.

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux

PDFCreator/PDF Architect

(for printing PDFs)

Where to get it:

PDFCreator is a good option for adding customizable PDF printing functionality to nearly any program (just like Adobe PDF). It is totally free. It will also install PDF Architect, which functions like the Acrobat Professional application BUT has gated, paid access to certain features such as its edit functions.

PDFCreator/Architect are Windows only.


(for editing PDFs)

Where to get it:

A better option for editing is to use the PDF escape option. PDF escape is browser-based so you can use it on any computer regardless of OS, seems robust and easy-to-use, but is limited to PDFs smaller than 10MB and less than 100 pages.

DaVinci Resolve 12

Where to get it:

Once a professional color-correcting tool, Davinci Resolve is now also a powerful Non-Linear Editor (NLE) in its own right. Version 12 is the most recent version, though currently technically in Beta. Resolve has released two versions of the program for a while now, the free version (this one) and a more expanded version that costs $1,000. However, the free version is perfectly fine for nearly any professional task under 4k resolution. The learning curve is on par with Premier, and users accustomed to professional video editors won’t find it too difficult to find where all the tools are and how to use them. (Can seem to render rather slowly when adding long clips in the timeline on older hardware, but works.)

Available for Windows and Mac.

Requires Quicktime to run (part of the install package), and CUDA, found at

Aptana Studio 3

Where to get it:

Aptana Studio 3’s list of features is best found here.

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux

Synfig Studio

Where to get it:

From the site: “Synfig Studio is a free and open-source 2D animation software, designed as powerful industrial-strength solution for creating film-quality animation using a vector and bitmap artwork.” In its 10-year history, support for this product has waxed and waned (as with many open source applications), but seems to have a strong community of users and developers in recent history, with a lot of tutorial materials on the web and active user forums on their website.

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux


Where to get it:

This one’s kind of an easy choice for most people. Audacity has been around forever and, along with GIMP, is one of the poster boys of the open source movement (and all the little ticks that come with it).

A good, easy-to-learn multi-track audio editor with a devoted community of users and developers.

Because of licensing issues, if you want to export to .MP3 you’ll also want to download the (also free) LAME MP3 encoder, at:

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux


Where to get it:

Despite the fact that their website looks about 10 years too old and the site owners seem a bit cranky at some media coverage crashing their servers a few times, LightZone is a very good open source alternative to LightRoom.

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux

Users must register (basically to prove they’re human beings) before getting access to the download links.

For help selecting Adobe alternatives, please contact Greg Maier at

If you need assistance installing programs, please contact your departmental IT support.

2018-06-13T15:27:27.249-05:00 2018