Nicole Harrington

Since the web’s invention in 1989, it has transformed the creative industries, opening up new – and free – ways to create, produce and edit images and sounds.

Leading software companies such as Adobe have released free versions of their paid-for programs, which can provide a user-friendly way of familiarising yourself with professional interfaces, while there are also a vast number of standalone tools with their own unique features.

One of the most revolutionary developments has been the arrival of open-source software (OSS), which is a licence granted by the software copyright holder allowing users to improve, modify, share and enhance a program’s source code for any purpose. The majority of open-source programs are free, and some offer capabilities to rival the paid-for alternatives.

Today, there is a greater range of free software for design and creation than ever before, and the amount of choice can be overwhelming. We have selected some of the most innovative and useful tools and resources out there for design, illustration, making music, writing and more – and all at no cost.

Ideas and workflow

Mindmup is an easy-to-use tool for brainstorming ideas and creating mind maps, which can be stored and shared online. If you’re in need of creative inspiration, look no further than Brainsparker, which generates trigger words and phrases to inspire new ideas, enrich creative writing and journaling, and spark innovation.

Creative writing

A plethora of free apps and programs can help you write down your ideas quickly and efficiently. HaikuJAM is a collaborative writing app that allows users around the world to work on short pieces of poetry together. Wattpad is home to a global community of readers and writers who share stories with each other, on both mobile and desktop.

Also take a look at: Zoho Writer, Evernote.

Image editing

Whether you’re a budding photographer or just trigger-happy with your phone, there are countless free platforms available to help you create and enhance your images. The most popular is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), an open-source program that enables you to retouch and edit images using an array of filters, layers and brushes.

For instant access, try Pixlr Editor, which has an easy-to-use web interface accessible from desktops and tablets. Photoshop Express is a great option for users who want to familiarise themselves with the Adobe platform without incurring the associated costs. It’s available via web browsers and on Android, Windows and Apple iOS.

Also take a look at: Paint.NET, PhotoScape, Ultimate Paint.

Video editing

Filmmakers have a wealth of free video-editing programs to choose from. Lightworks has Hollywood credentials, having been used to edit films including The Wolf of Wall Street, Pulp Fiction and The King’s Speech. The free version comes packed with features to help you splice, refine and enhance your videos. Another major player is DaVinci Resolve; its free version may lack some of the more elaborate features, but comes with easy-to-use colour correction and audio tools.

There are plenty of apps available for editing on the go. VivaVideo allows users with Android and Apple devices to create their own montages and fill them with a variety of effects, while Apple’s iMovie is one of the most user-friendly, allowing for quick and easy edits.

Also take a look at: HitFilm Express, VideoPad, VSDC Free Video Editor. 


Howard Lawrence B


Feliphe Schiarolli

Graphics, illustration and design

If you want to develop your own graphics or illustrations, there are plenty of brilliant options available for free on the web. Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics program that comes with an extensive toolkit and works across Windows, Mac and Linux. As well as being a tool for image editing, GIMP can also be used to create graphics and illustrated artworks. Krita features animation tutorials on top of a great selection of tools and templates, which makes it a great choice for aspiring animators.

For drawing purists, AutodeskSketchbook is available on desktop and tablet and features a comprehensive list of customisable brushes and easy-to-use blending and layering functions.

If you’re creating your own magazine, Scribus is widely considered the best free alternative to Adobe’s InDesign, with specialist features including a typesetting tool.

If 3D design is what you’re after, Blender offers a remarkable set of tools that can help you produce a multidimensional render, or even your own video game.

Also take a look at: Gravit Designer, Easel.ly, Vectr

Music editing

The web holds a host of free resources and software to help music lovers put professional-quality tracks together..

Audacity features effects such as bass boost and a tool that allows you to remove background noise, and will even save your work if it crashes. GarageBand, Apple’s staple digital music production studio, allows users to create songs from scratch using thousands of musical, mechanical and even animal sound effects.

Also take a look at: Acoustica Basic, Wavepad, Soundation.

The programs we have selected are just the tip of the iceberg, and there are countless other options on the web, tailored to specific interests and needs. If you need help using any of the software mentioned, or want to gain new skills, a great resource for learning is YouTube, which has tutorials and reviews available whenever creativity strikes.

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