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Sat, Jul 9 2011 15:45:12 UTC

Doing graphics art for free

A lot of people want to get into graphics design. Whether it's doing VFX on home movies, learning to do digital drawings, or making 3D models for a virtual scene, the first thought often is acquiring professional programs that will help you do the work. Unfortunately, graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop, After Effects or 3DS MAX are expensive. Yet there's free alternatives out there that meet the needs of 90% of what you may want to do.


Paint.NET is a wonderful little utility. It's a 2D program not unlike Photoshop. It supports all common formats, has layers, blending modes, adjustments, filters and effects. The toolbox contains all the typical tools such as clone brush, magic selection and color picker. It also comes with a plugin interface which allows you to download the many plugins people wrote for it such as support for PSD files and new effects.

What it doesn't have yet, but should be coming in the future, are adjustment layers and a good custom brush system. Still, for most 2D retouching, this free software is plenty.

Windows Live Movie Maker

Back in Windows XP days, Movie Maker was seen as a fairly useless piece of software, but since then, Microsoft has greatly improved it. Now, with Live Movie Maker, you can do all your basic video editing. You can crop, trim, speed up or slow down the video, add transition effects and text on top of it, and insert audio. It also has buttons allowing you to upload directly to YouTube or Facebook.

It doesn't come close to a professional app like Adobe After Effects however, and you'll find none of the advanced filters that are available in a pro app, but it certainly is enough to start off with.

Daz Studio

If drawing is not your cup of tea, and still want to do great images, check out DAZ Studio 4. Using pre-made 3D models, this tool allows you to build scenes, pose characters, cloth them and add props to your scenes and then render the result in captivating 2D images. The newest version also has many advanced tools to adjust your textures, shaders and lighting options.

Google Sketchup

Sketchup is a 3D modeler application made mostly for creating architectural buildings for use with Google Earth. But the truth is, it can do a whole lot more. It's incredibly easy to learn, and is powerful enough to do all kind of mechanical shapes, game models, or anything with a low to moderate polygon count. Also, it supports plugins, and there's several out there, including one to add sub-divisions and smoothing, and another allowing OBJ exporting so you can use your models in other applications.

Of course it's not a fully featured program like 3DS MAX. Notably it has no tool to do UV mapping, and no built-in renderer.


If you've seen some of the work that can be done with ZBrush, you might be interested to know that the same people behind that professional program also released a new one called Sculptris. In many ways it's like a younger cousin to ZBrush. It's free, and allows you to do all the same basic sculpting and 3D painting that the more expensive program can do. It's like handling clay, and the program handles the polygon work for you. Then, you can paint directly on its surface, and export your result to ZBrush itself or to another program in OBJ format.

Using all of these tools, one can learn most of the necessary skills to do graphics or video work. While you may not be able to do all of the fancy effects found in movies, you'll be surprised to find out what a budget of $0 can allow you to do.

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© 2007-2019 Patrick Lambert - All resources on this site are provided under the MIT License - You can contact me at: contact@dendory.net