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Author:  Gremlette
November 24, 2008



What is available for the Graphic Designer
on Linux?

I think it is probably safe to say, that if you have searched for this article, you may already realise the benefits of dumping the Windows or Mac installation …. but what about all that proprietry software that you have been using for years?

I agree that it is a good thing to be able to include some big software names on your CV but at the end of the day it is your creative ability that sings the song of greatness in your portfolio. If you have experienced a variety of graphics packages, you of all people should know that using a different or lesser known package to get the result does not affect your ability to use a chosen proprietary package or the quality of the result achieved one iota.

Specifically raised as important to the Graphics Professional are the following programs. All of these are part of what we would normally include in a custom Linux install service at Symsys Ltd.

Vector Graphics Software for Linux

INKSCAPE is the most popular choice for industry professionals within the Linux community. Whether you are used to Illustrator or Corel (two very different packages) Inkscape has literally combined all the best functions into one and allows you to customize the package layout and panels to suit your way of working. There are now no CMYK issues, it includes colour mixing palettes, barcoding, diagram building, node editing and so on. This will open AI, PDF… even ICO and WMF. EPS import does work on the Linux version, but it has bugs that are being currently ironed out. The best thing is, you know the cure is never far behind and as with most open software, a huge community is there to help you and each other out. 

Photo Editing Suite for Linux

As a graphic Designer for some 15+ years now (crikey), I know that we need something much more than just a meager ‘paint program’ or ‘digicam suite’. 

GIMP is THE Photo Suite solution for Linux. Like Inkscape, do not be suprized if you feel a bit like it is Photoshop or Paintshop Pro re-skinned, because of the familiarity. I assure you it is 100% built as new from the ground up between thousands of minds, as an open source project. At the end of the day, all the icons, menus and features are built upon common sense and popular preference. Yes, it will open your layered PSD’s and TIF’s complete with colour profiles as well as EPS with no problem:)

We would normally also include  ’ Digikam ’ on Graphic Design Linux systems as well as any standard home user installation. Digikam is a light version that gives the capability of importing photo libraries from your camera with common editing features. Digikam now allows you to batch process red eye correction - that can be handy.

CAD Package for the Linux User

Now in all honesty, I have not personally had the occasion to use CAD packages all that extensively, but being experienced in pre-press and other design scenarios, it has been required on a few occasions.

KCAD seems to be the number one option and looking at the screen shots I do see a lot of familiarity in the layout and use of the program. It is confirmed that KCAD does open and saves files in DXF format which satisfies one of the main determining factors of program selection - compatibility.

A related Graphics tool included in the designers pack is the Gwenview image viewer.

PDF and Printing for the Linux System

Naturally, Adobe now finally offer a free PDF viewing program for Linux just as well as it does for any other platform.
Most Linux distributions are equipped with CUPS, the Common Unix Printing System, by default, however any that don’t have it in their repositories so they are simply a command away or a few clicks if you’re using a GUI front-end for the package manager.

Pstoedit - This converts PDF files to Vectors - EPS, EMF, AI etc and back again in most cases.

Xpdf  is a very efficient open source viewer for PDF files. Even though Adobe do supply a free viewer these days, I include this in a Graphic Design package for Linux for other valuable features that Xpdf has. The Xpdf project also includes a PDF text extractor (PDFtoTEXT), PDF-to-PostScript converter, and various other utilities. It can use Type 1 or TrueType fonts.

TC PDF  is a good PDF creation program to try out. It supports Barcodes, spot colour, gradient, transparency etc.

Refer to ‘Page Layout’ and Scribus at the end of this post for everything you could possibly need to know.

Even More Design Pro Software

I have outlined the Linux solutions above that are main concerns for the graphic designer. After that, you will soon find that there are absolutely tons of gadgets out there once you know what you are looking for. Just always remember to put keywords into Google like ‘Open Source’, ‘GPL’, ‘GNU’, ‘Linux’ etc… then what you are looking for and you’ll be sure to find one or more alternatives.


Fontforge - A Font editing tool.
On the subject of what can be every designers nightmare - Font Management.
Have you tried Fontmatrix? There is a good reason that we choose Debian Lenny for new installations. Debian seem to be really on the ball when it comes to developing better solutions on things that matter to the Designer. Get Font matrix from Debian


Scribus is what you need. You will find that Scribus offers everything you require to produce professional page layout for everything for pre-press simple layout to award winning magazines. Go to the Scribus website to find many well informed resources for DTP including quite a bit for PDF tools. 


You should now be really beginning to wonder why companies continue to strangle themselves financially, with keeping up extortionately overpriced packages like Quark and Adobe. If you are out on your own though, hopefully I have shown you the way to a productive and creative career without having to take out a small mortgage to pay for the packages to succeed.

Some of you may start to look at certain design and production centers in a new light.

Some companies are more like ’sweat shops’. I have worked in a variety of situations that may sound very familiar to some of you, such as the company that cannot afford enough licenses for you to do your job without borrowing someone else’s machine, ofter resulting in lowered pride in work, poor budget on necessary equipment and even having to share computers. Bad decisions like spending the maximum amount on software and minimum amount on the increased caliber of equipment to run it, makes for nothing but poor wages and miserable staff, which leads to a high staff turnover, and ultimately lower standards, which all leads to making a lower profit.

Some companies invest so much into proprietary software that they cannot or stubbornly will not let it go when it becomes desperately outdated, or no longer fills the requirement. It is very poor management to take preference to a big brand name … that in reality doesn’t to the job any better, over your staff, and sometimes if not usually these days, this software is not as good as an available open source equivalent.


Donate Donate Donate!!!!!
Keep the Open Source projects alive and well. Remember these incredibly powerful tools are provided to you free (Mostly “as in beer” AND “as in speech”, but at the very least “as in beer”), but the time and money required to allow this to be possible doesnt grow on trees (Even though it’s made of paper, which is made of wood ….. never mind you get the idea). So, If I just saved you  $5,000 NZD or more, per computer, because you didn’t need Windows, or that Adobe Creative Suite CS3/Corel Draw after all .. Please donate to the relevant sources and keep the community going. 


Following Editions:


Linux PC Setup for the Web Designer, 

Linux PC Setup for the Multimedia Designer

And on to the Geek, the Office, the Corporate, Fun and recreation, and for the kids.

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