In this series I will look at some of the free tools available for use in Web to Print and web development starting with graphics applications and utilities. Whilst many web graphics are now generated using css, I will cover css separately in another post. Also bear in mind that new web apps are constantly being developed and deployed and this list is by no means an exhaustive list or even a 'best of' but merely a list of apps that I have found to be easy to use and effective. Of course few people would deny that the Adobe Creative Suite apps are the most feature rich and intuitive applications available for image editing and desktop publishing but they are also expensive. If you don't want to buy licenses for all the employees in your organisation or you want apps to use on a second device the following apps represent viable alternatives.
Xnview Image Editor
This is an excellent app for editing images in bulk as it features batch processing so it is particularly useful for generating large numbers of thumbnail images as well as performing image and canvas resizing. Available at http://www.xnview.com/en/index.html
Paint.net Image Editor
A lightweight image editor that offers layer functionality and other basic image editing functions. It is an easy to use program but lacks the more sophisticated tools you would find in Photoshop or Gimp. Available at http://www.getpaint.net/download.html
Inkscape Vector Graphics Editor
One of the better know vector graphics editors Inkscape offers many of the features of Adobe Illustrator but is not as intuitive to use. Inkscape can be used to create svg graphics for use in webpages, either embedded in the page or as linked images. To give a bit of background, with the increasing popularity of high pixel density displays, such as the retina display from Apple, 72 dpi raster graphics are lacking when it comes to versatility. The only way to cater for all pixel densities is to use svg images, which can be embedded into html or linked to like jpeg and png images. Some browsers are still catching up with svg technology but in the near future svg will become common practice. Available at http://inkscape.org/
Gimp Image Manipulation Program
Gimp is a powerful Adobe Photoshop alternative and includes many of the same features such as layers, retouching and export to many different file formats. With the recent update at the end of May installation has become simpler and the program can be set to use a single window or separate windows for the image window and toolbars. There are several support forums for users and tutorials are available at http://www.gimp.org/tutorials/
, divided into beginner, intermediate and expert levels. Available at http://www.gimp.org/
Scribus Desktop Publishing
At RedTie we are advocates of the SaaS platform so this list would not be complete without the inclusion of a number of web based tools.
A great online tool for choosing complementary colours and as the name suggests, designing colour schemes.
Pixlr Image Editor
Pixlr is an online image editor that has about 20% of the functions of Photoshop including layers. It can be accessed at http://pixlr.com/editor/
or alternatively it can be installed as a chrome browser extension.
Raven Vector Graphics Editor
A flash based online (very basic) alternative to Illustrator that can be found at http://advanced.aviary.com/online/vector-editor#
or it can be installed as a chrome browser extension. One of the advantages of Raven is that it can be used on low powered machines such as netbooks because the heavy lifting is done on the website itself.
Spice up QR codes with this free tool, it allows you to select the colour of the QR code pattern itself, the background colour, add images or logos and change the shape of the pixels to give a more funky appearance.
A great site for generating background patterns for your website, you can choose from a wide selection of patterns and then edit it to suit your needs. The site lets you download a tile image that you can set to repeat in your css so your background will look great regardless of screen size.
Every website needs a favicon! This simple generator lets you import an image and edit it to achieve the desired look.
That's it for my free graphics tool suggestions, if you know of any other great free apps let us know in the comments.