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A blurred background features a laptop with the software display floating above it. Text reads "Ives Squared Top Picks for Free Creative Software"

by Rose Simpson, Ives Squared Community Technology Librarian

For anyone who wants to work on a creative project on a computer, there’s a lot of options for software they can use. Some of the most popular programs can get rather pricy. Thankfully, there are many free options as well, and they can deliver results just as good as the expensive ones. Here’s a few recommendations for free creative software you might want to try.

Top Picks

Digital Drawing

GIMP

Operating systems: Windows, Mac, Linux

One of the most-recommended free graphic design programs, useful for photo editing and digital drawing. The site has a number of tutorials to help you get started. Since it’s an open-source program, many people have created plugins that you can install to add or change features.

Vector Graphics

Inkscape

Operating systems: Windows, Mac, Linux

A program that has a variety of tools for creating and editing vector graphics, including

text and shapes of varying complexity. It has a series of interactive tutorials built into the program. There are also many extensions available to add additional functions. For example, the design computers in Ives Squared have one extension called Ink/Stitch, which allows you to turn vector graphics into files for a computerized embroidery machine.

The library has put together a tutorial on how to use Ink/Stitch.

Desktop Publishing

Canva

Operating systems: All (works in any internet browser)

An easy-to-use browser-based program useful for making graphics and small publications. It has built-in templates for different types of publications, as well as free images and fonts you can use. At NHFPL, we often use Canva to make fliers and graphics for social media. While the base version is free, you can also pay for a Pro account for more features, and you can test out Pro with a 30-day free trial.

Audio Editing

Audacity

Operating systems: Windows, Mac, Linux

A popular, open-source Digital Audio Workstation, which you can use to record and edit audio. The website has many tutorials to help you get started.

Video Editing

The two main computer operating systems already come with video editors built in: Macs have iMovie, and Windows has the Video Editor app. Both are great for getting started with simple video editing.

Adobe Premiere Rush

Operating systems: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

Adobe is one of the best-known companies for creative software, but most of their programs require a monthly subscription. Fortunately, Adobe Premiere Rush is free. While it doesn’t have as many features as the more advanced Premiere Pro, it’s great for getting started. Plus with a free Adobe Creative Cloud account, you can easily switch between devices (for example, start a video on a desktop PC, then continue editing on an Android phone or iPad).

To download Premiere Rush, click on the link above, then click on the blue “Start now” button. The “Buy now” button will instead direct you to one of Adobe’s paid programs.

3D Modeling

TinkerCAD

Operating systems: All (works in any internet browser)

TinkerCAD is a great way to get started with 3D modeling. In this program, you start with basic

shapes like cubes, cones and spheres, then combine them together to make more complex shapes. It

offers a series of interactive tutorials to help you learn to use the program. In Ives Squared, we teach the basics of how to use TinkerCAD to anyone who takes a training class on how to use our 3D printer.

Blender

Operating systems: Windows, Mac, Linux

For anyone looking to make more complex models than TinkerCAD can handle, Blender is a great next step. It’s an open-source software used for 3D modeling, rigging and animation, which can also create 2D animations. The site has free tutorials and videos to help you learn how to use it.

Learning to Use These Resources

Most of these programs have free tutorials on their websites. If you’re looking for a different form of instruction, we have books available on how to use them:

You can also find training videos on how to use many of these programs on LinkedIn Learning. You can access this great resource for free with your library card by visiting the E-resources page on the library’s website.

More Options

If you’re looking for more options, there are many other free and low-cost programs available. We’re pulled together some more recommendations, which you can read about here: https://nhfpl.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Adobe-CC-alternatives.pdf

In addition, in the Ives Squared department of the Ives main library, we have several computers (both PC and Mac) with design software installed. Anyone can use them for free, and all you need is a library card. The programs we have include:

  • Rhinoceros 5: for professional-quality 3D modeling
  • Unreal Engine: for making 3D videos and games
  • Inkscape: with the Ink/stitch extension
  • Audacity
  • Adobe Creative Cloud: a suite of industry-standard creative programs, including Photoshop (for drawing and photo editing), Illustrator (for vector graphics), Premiere Pro (for video editing), InDesign (for desktop publishing), and more.

No matter what you’re looking to make, there are plenty of great options to get started for free. We hope you have fun with your next creative project!