Write Stuff – Triple Treat: GIMP, Scribus, Inkscape

If You’re looking for a summer treat, you could always go for ice cream or a dip in the pool. But how about a trio of free, open source graphics and page layout programs that will bring your words and pictures together in all sorts of creative ways? Did I have you at free? Good. Then grab some shade and a cool drink and let’s get started.

The trio I’m talking about is GIMP, Scribus, and Inkscape. No, these programs may not be a full replacement if You’re a high-end graphics artist working in a professional environment. But for a wide spectrum of users who make book covers, graphics, or just about any other digital creation, these programs are a serious alternative to spending next year’s cruise fund on the latest version of Adobe Photoshop.

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It’s a ?freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.? Which means you can play with those holiday photos to your heart’s content, whether You’re working on a Mac, PC, or in UNIX.

You’ll find much more info on the About GIMP page, including links to tutorials, but a few of the things you can use it for are photo retouching, mass production image rendering, and converting your images into different formats (it handles .bmp, .gif, .jpeg, .mng, .pcx, .pdf, .png, .ps, .psd, .svg, .tiff, .tga, .xpm, and others).

A big bonus is that it will open your Adobe Photoshop files, and there’s a growing community of users ready to share their know-how: for example, a SimplyGIMP site devoted to tutorials and a GIMP Magazine being launched in September. The latter will offer master classes?high-level tutorials that showcase creations by digital artists, designers, and photographers.

Next up is Scribus, a full-featured page layout program for ?Linux/UNIX, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4/eComStation and Windows desktops with a combination of press-ready output and new approaches to page design.?

For the tech-inclined, you’ll want to know that Scribus supports ?color separations, CMYK and Spot Color support, ICC color management, and versatile PDF creation.?

And if You’re just looking to dig in and have some fun creating a digital scrapbook or a calendar with family photos, there are wiki articles that start with the basics, and dozens of Scribus how-to videos on YouTube. Another huge plus? It’s available in nine languages besides English, including French, Italian, and Polish.

One caution is that Scribus won’t open Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher files. However, it was surprisingly simple to create a book cover in Scribus using an online tutorial intended for InDesign, and the programs? interfaces are similar enough that InDesign users will be able to navigate comfortably.

Last up is Inkscape, a ?vector graphics editor with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format.?

In other words, if you’ve got an artistic streak and like to build your graphics from the ground up, Inkscape lets you do it. There’s a showcase page where you can see what’s possible and what some talented folks have created, including icons, web design, game maps, and building brands.

The Inkscape documentation is impressive, with everything from tutorials, screenshots, and even workshops.

No matter how your digital creativity expresses itself, you can’t go wrong giving one or all of these programs a try. And since they’re open source, available thanks to the boundless efforts of devoted programmers and writers, you’ll still have enough change in your pocket for that ice cream.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).

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