14 Free Software For Every Artist

What is Industry Standard software?

The tools you use will make or break your career in the arts. It is incredibly difficult to make money off art, and so it is important to use free software which enable you to efficiently produce high quality content. In this article, I share with you the free software I use in writing, film editing, visual effects, photo editing, and audio production. Maybe you can pick up a few hints to ease your workflow. Whether you are a filmmaker, or a photographer, or maybe you are producing videos for YouTube, or perhaps a podcast, or you want to be a musician, there is a software here that you can use. Read How to successfully become a full-time artist

When I was starting out, established artists would laugh when I’d tell them I wanted to use free and open-source software, which they considered for amateurs. If I had listened, I’d not have succeeded. They kept using the phrase ‘industry standard’ and today some stick to popular software because it is the ‘industry standard.’

But I asked myself, which industry? In terms of geographic location, that is. If you want a job in Hollywood or in Europe or some place like that, then use the so-called ‘industry standard’ software. But if you are an artist like me, who is based in Africa and working for himself, what’s the point of using Final Draft (the industry standard for screenplays) instead of Scenarist? Some of those software are industry standard simply because they came first and the industries got tied to using them, not because they are the best tools in the market.

Times have changed. Free and open-source no longer equates to amateur. Software is becoming cheaper and free. Windows 10, for example, was free for a while, and I think you can still upgrade it for free from Windows 7. In another ten or so years, all software might be free, and only plug-ins and add-ons will be on sale. Or, they might want to mine your data for using their free products.

So here is my list. I work in many media, and I use each of these regularly, which is why I can proudly talk about them. There are a lot of free and open-source software, and if you just google for one in your field, you’ll find others. Read How I Quit My Job to become a  Full-Time Artist

Free writing software

Any word processor is good enough for writing, with Microsoft Word being the most common. However, it costs you to buy a license, and if you want a free alternative, then Libre Office Writer is what you are looking for. It is a free software for artists and other kinds of professionals. With it, you can do everything that Microsoft Office does, of course with a few minor limitations. The good thing is you can open and edit and save your documents as a MS Office files. There is also Open Office. I used it for a while, but it did not work for me as Libre does. Download Libre Office from here

For screenwriting, KIT Scenarist is my favorite free writing software. When I just started out, it was a pain formatting screenplays in MS Word. This was way back in the early 2000s and I could not find a cracked version of Final Draft, which is the Hollywood industry standard. I eventually found a way of using the Styles feature on MS Word to auto-format the screenplay, but it was still cumbersome. Then someone created Celtx, and for a while I used it. Celtx became very popular, and an alternative to Final Draft. It is not open source, and its makers stopped giving it out for free. I think the free version only works on smart phones, but who writes screenplays on their phones? Until this year, I thought all hope was lost, because the other free screenwriting apps, like Trelby, were not being developed. Then I found KIT Scenarist, and I it changed my life.

KIT Scenarist can do most of your pre-production work. It can generate generating cast reports, location reports, scene reports. It has a cool Cards feature, which gives you an overview of the script and you can easily move scenes around, or delete an entire scene. It also has features that I’m still exploring like story structure analysis and character activity, not sure what they do. The best part is it can open Final Draft and Celtx projects on it, making it painless to migrate from other screenwriting apps. Download Scenarist from here

The other screenwriting software is STARC, short for Story Architect. I have not used it much, but it is developed by the same people behind KIT scenarist and it’s worth a look.

The all-rounders (visual effects, film editing, animation, DAW)

Blender (3D and 2D animations, visual effects, digital arts)

I don’t know how to categories Blender and Davinci Resolve, because they are apps that do more than just one thing. Blender is principally a 3D software, but the recent release incorporates 2D animation, and it is a great tool for visual effects. It even has a video editor, in case you are ever stuck!

I make science fiction and fantasy films, and for a long time I struggled with creating photo realistic visual effects. Everyone told me to use After Effects (one of the industry standards), and for a while I did just that, but the best I could create were effects like you see in this film, Ghost of a Broken Heart. A little amateurish. Then I discovered Blender, and it changed my life.

At first it appeared to be a difficult free software to learn, because it is not intuitive, but I quickly got the hang of it and now I can dream of Hollywood style visual effects. Here is the trailer of a short film I did this year, Akoota, so you can see what I’m talking about. Not yet there, but Blender will take me places.

Blender is free software and is an example of changing attitudes toward open-source software by professionals. The release of Blender 2.8 has ruffled the animation and visual effects industry. Major Hollywood studios now use Blender in their workflows, while a Japanese studio announced that it is switching entirely to Blender. If that does not convince you, Nvidia now funds Blender’s development at Patron level, which means a lot in terms of making Blender work efficiently with Nvidia GPUs. Download Blender from here

DaVinci Resolve (Video editing, visual effects, Audio production)

Something big is happening in the film editing community. There is a massive migration from Premier Pro to Resolve. It happened around 2011 when Apple released Final Cut X, which angered many editors and there was a mass movement to Premier Pro. This year, I’ve seen many blogs and Youtube videos where people are saying why they are moving to DaVinci Resolve, and it indicates another mass migration. Most of the reasons given are related to costs, while some claim Premier is so slow and buggy that editors become technicians because they have to do a lot of troubleshooting during a project. I stopped using Premier in 2017, so I can’t say much about it. I’ve since been using DaVinci Resolve. I was at first hesitant, but after the release of Resolve 16, I don’t think I’m ever going back to Premier Pro, or Final Cut, or even Avid.

The reasons are many. Top, is that DaVinci Resolve is professional, and it is free software. And then, Resolve utilizes a computer’s GPU and CPU, which makes native edit of 4K material painless. Furthermore, nothing beats Resolve in color grading. Even those who use Premier and Final Cut use Resolve for color grading. On addition, with Fusion, you can do visual effects right inside Resolve, and with Fairlight, a great digital audio workstation, you can work on your audio without needing another app. All this is free! There is a studio version which costs $299 (you get it free if you buy any Blackmagic product) but it has only a few advantages, notably Noise Reduction, over the free version. Download the free DaVinci Resolve from here.

Film editing software for beginners and Youtubers

I have already raved about the free professional film editor, DaVinci Resolve, but here are two that I’d recommend if you are a beginner, or if you just want to create videos for YouTube. The problem with DaVinci Resolve is that it requires AMD or CUDA compliant GPU with at least 4GB of graphics RAM. You can’t run it on an ordinary laptop or PC. There are however other very good free film editing software that you can use, and the two that I have the most experience with are Hitfilm Express and Kdenlive. I use both to teach students at Mobile Film School, and they are so easy that even people with basic formal education and literacy have no problem figuring them out.

Hitfilm Express is an example of how software might operate in future. It is free, but you pay for add-ons and extra features. You have to create a free account to download it, and you have to register for a free license. On a good internet connection, the registration process is fast and easy, but on a slow connection, it is tedious and frustrating. Recent releases utilize GPU, and so we failed to run it on ordinary laptops, or there was lag in the playback, which made editing a little bit tiresome. Download Hitfilm Express here

I was getting frustrated of there not being a good free software for video editing, and then I discovered Kdenlive. It is an open source app, and its ambition is to become a professional software. I highly recommend it for making short films and YouTube videos. Unlike Hitfilm, or other free film editing software, its features are not limited. You can even do stuff like rotoscope and chroma keying, or noise reduction, and these are often only found in professional editing software. It also enables you to easily edit 4K videos using proxies. I believe after a few more releases, it will be as good as Premiere Pro. Download Kdenlive here

There is a new film editor that aims to be high-end and professional. This is Olive, and it is also open-source. I have only looked at the interface and played around with it a bit, but not done a full project with it since it is still in development and has a lot of bugs and often crashes. However, if you want to give it a try, you can download Olive from here.

Other free film editing software include OpenShot and Shot Cut. I found both to be pretty basic, more like Windows Movie Maker (which by the way was the first editor I ever used :D)

I’ll have to mention two free professional editors that Hollywood studios use, that is Lightworks and Avid Media Composer First. I however found the free versions to be so limiting that you would rather use Kdenlive or Hitfilm.

Photo and Image editing apps

Yes, everyone knows Photoshop, but I just can’t understand people who in 2019 think that it is the only professional software to manipulate images. There are tones that do the job just as well, and many of these are free.

Darktable is a free image editing software. With it, you can easily and quickly edit RAW images. It does not work like Photoshop and is more an alternative to Lightroom. Rather than ‘photoshop’ an image, you tweak. It is a great piece of software and I don’t know why I didn’t discover it earlier. Download Darktable here.

If you want to ‘photoshop’ an image, then Krita is the tool you are looking for. I used to keep Photoshop on my hard drive, just in case, but after finding Krita this year, I made the final shift away from all Adobe products. The critic of most image editors is the destructive workflows, which means once you apply an effect it is irreversible. Photoshop stood above all other apps with its adjustment layers. Krita, however, has that feature. You can undo changes (and I’m not talking about CTRL+Z). Other than photo editing, Krita is also a good tool for digital painting, I think it was first made as an app for painters. Download Krita here.

Gimp is another free and open source software for photo editing. I have used it since 2010, and only recently added Krita and Darktable to my workflows. The downside, for now, is the destructive workflow as it does not support adjustment layers. Still, I’ve grown attached to it and use it to edit photos and to create textures for 3D models. Download Gimp here

There are others that I have played around with, like Inkscape, which is a vector editing software, and RIOT, but I have not used them enough to talk about them.

Digital Audio Workstations

If you are looking for a digital audio workstation that is an alternative to Adobe Audition, look no further. Audacity (see update below, this may not be free much longer) is a free and open source software that allows you to record and edit audio files. I principally use it to clean dialog tracks in my movies. Normally, when you record a film on location, there is a lot of background noises, which distracts from the voice of characters. Audacity has a noise reduction feature that takes care of that, giving me very clean dialog. You can also use it to make sound effects, any sound effect actually. And you can use it to make music, which is what most people use it for. If you are into podcasts, then this is the software for you. Learning it is pretty easy. The interface is straightforward. Download Audacity from here.

But Audacity might not remain free for long. It was recently bought by the Muse Group, who immediately implemented changes that angered the open source community who accused it of turning Audacity into spyware. This caused the community to come up with alternatives, and the most popular right now is Tenacity. You can download Tenacity from here.

For making music, and also creating sound effects from scratch, I have used this free and open source software, LMMS. In fact, I played at being a musician once, and created the soundtrack to my short film, Cursed Widow Blues, using LMMS. Download LMMS from here.

Now that you are here, I have a small favor to ask. I regularly make science fiction short films and I’m looking for your support. It’s very difficult to make it as a filmmaker in Africa, where there is virtually no market to encourage big film investments, and so any dollar you can spare will go a long way into changing things. Please pledge on patreon.com/dilstories You only pay after I make the film, and you can stop payments at anytime. For other options, like donating via mobile money or PayPal, please go here dilmandila.com/donate

Similar Articles

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.