What I use: the Open Creative Toolkit (recommendations)

Introduction: An Open Creative Toolkit


In this article, I want to share collection of free creative software that I use to run my small design business. If there’s a need that you have but that I have not listed, please let me know at lemasney@gmail.com, or 609 553 9498 and I’ll respond and update this article. I’m here to help!

open creative toolkit

open creative toolkit

When my clients ask me if I recommend a certain piece of software or not, the principles here guide my answer. This is an Open Creative Toolkit, consisting of mostly free and open source software, meaning that my real intention here is to let other digital artists and graphic designers know that you can do great work without an Adobe or other tax. Making art and executing design digitally does not mean that you must be rich. I’ll explain Open Source in greater detail, and in cases where there are clear commercial alternatives to my suggestions, include them for price comparison, below.

Here’s an example of my work: a speed design of the social image from above. This video features the amazing illustration application called Inkscape, noted in the collection, and free & open source.

Criteria for selection for this toolkit, or what is open source software

I try to keep things simple, and free, both ideologically and monetarily. I use open source as a philosophy, meaning

“(S)omething people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible.  The term originated in the context of software development to designate a specific approach to creating computer programs. Today, however, “open source” designates a broader set of values—what we call “the open source way.” Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.” – What is open source software? | Opensource.com from https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source

It is licensed in such a way as to keep it free in the future, able to be edited or redistributed without penalty, and invites a community to build it. Open Source licensing, like the GNU GPL, does that. I use these applications most days, and I rely on them to do my work.

Open Source is the idea that software is made and distributed by developers, often for free, with the hope being that by offering what they did openly, the software will be improved by a greater number of hands. All are welcome to participate as users, developers, designers, prophets, and volunteers. I do all of those.


A reasonable analogy about open source.

As an example, let’s consider a meal.

Open source software (Like Inkscape) is like a meal at a restaurant (design app) that you get for free along with the recipe (source code) and the chef (Inkscape.org) invites you to either use (download), improve (develop), or share the recipe for free. You also usually can easily become a part of the restaurant by volunteering like they do.

Proprietary software (like Illustrator) is like a meal at a restaurant (design app) that you pay for and leave. You don’t get to talk to the chef (Adobe), you don’t get the recipe for the meal (source code), and the Chef threatens you, before setting the food down, that if you try to figure out or share the recipe, you’ll be fined.

In a soup bowl: Open Source software values community and sharing, proprietary software values money and protections. Yes, I’m biased, and this is not nuanced, but I believe it. Bon Apetit!

In regards to my results, or, why might you care what I have to think:

I’m a designer, and this is my portfolio of work done with open source: http://lemasney.com/consulting/graphic-design-portfolio/

I’m a photographer, and these shots were all edited using open source: http://lemasney.com/consulting/2015/09/08/photo-essay-jedediah-higgins-house-story-love-loss-recovery-cc-lemasney/

I’m a Google local guide in Charlottesville, VA, and here are my latest reviews and photos: https://www.google.com/maps/contrib/113310933187570157722/photos/

The Toolkit:

Each category below (e.g. Operating System) is followed by my selection (e.g. Ubuntu Studio), a screenshot, a brief personal synopsis and link to the site with context, then alternatives where apropos.

Operating System

Ubuntu Studio

I use Ubuntu Studio as a one stop operating system and creative powerhouse. A lot of the software listed on this page is available in Ubuntu Studio. It’s a beautiful operating system, and it runs on the barest of contemporary systems.


“Ubuntu Studio is a Linux-based operating system designed as a free, open, and powerful platform for creative people to create their art. Ubuntu Studio is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), which means it is free to download and use. You can get the source code, study it and modify it. You can redistribute Ubuntu Studio and can even redistribute your modified version. Read more about these freedoms at GNU.org’s Free Software page.” curated by lemasney from Feature Tour « Ubuntu Studio at http://ubuntustudio.org/tour/

Alternatively, you can get Windows for around $100 http://amzn.to/2gqT37u and Mac OS for about $15 http://amzn.to/2gqYF1f



Chrome from Google.

I love and use Chrome from Google both as a desktop browser, and an Operating System on Chromebooks. I use Android, I prefer open source, and I like the Google extended ecosystem. It just makes sense that I use their browser. I do miss Firefox though.

One small note: I use Chromium, an open source version of the browser, as well as Chrome. You can do that too, if you run Linux.

“Explore the Chrome Browser Chrome is a fast, simple, and secure web browser, built for the modern web.” curated by lemasney from Chrome Browser Features at https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/features.html

The browser wars are still going, and most of them (firefox, IE, chrome, Opera) are free, but only free as in free pizza. Meaning in terms of the source code, it’s not available to you or anyone but the company developing it. It may not cost you any money to download and install Chrome, but if you want any of the benefits of Open Source, such as looking at the source code for security breaches as many security technologist do, you won’t be able to do that unless you install something like Chromium.

“The Chromium projects include Chromium and Chromium OS, the open-source projects behind the Google Chrome browser and Google Chrome OS, respectively. This site houses the documentation and code related to the Chromium projects and is intended for developers interested in learning about and contributing to the open-source projects.” – The Chromium Projects from https://www.chromium.org/

Image Catalog

Google Photos

I use Google Photos as my image cataloging tool. Just like a librarian, I need to be able to quickly get back and forth between that set of images about the soccer game in 2014 and the shots I took in a mansion a week ago. When you have thousands of images, that can be tough with the wrong tools. Google Photos offers free storage, built in editing in browser and on mobile, and deliciously powerful search that you can have find faces, places, and more. Google Photos has become indispensable for my work.

“Free storage and automatic organization  for all your memories.” curated by lemasney from Google Photos – All your photos organized and easy to find at https://www.google.com/photos/about/

Alternatively, you can get Adobe Lightroom for $142.99 at Amazon http://amzn.to/2gkYk54

Adobe Lightroom



I once did a two year long project making designs in Inkscape every day, called 365 Sketches. If you look through the most popular posts in the sidebar, you’re very likely to see something from that time. If you look in my portfolio, it’s guaranteed. I have used it in every design project involving vector work for at least 10 years. I love Inkscape. Canva, an online design app has recently caught my eye, but it has a long way to go to win me over from this amazingly powerful free illustration application. If you are paying for Illustrator, and consider it bloated, please consider this alternative.

“Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Freehand, or Xara X. What sets Inkscape apart is its use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), an open XML-based W3C standard, as the native format.” curated by lemasney from FAQ | Inkscape at https://inkscape.org/en/learn/faq/#what-inkscape

Alternatively, you can get Adobe Illustrator for $20 a month at Amazon http://amzn.to/2glbWNP





If I only had two spots to give on this list, the first would be taken with Inkscape, the second with GIMP. I use these just about every time I do digital creative work. If you have used Photoshop, you’ll find yourself in a comfortable place for free.

“GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. The terms of usage and rules about copying are clearly listed in the GNU General Public License. There is a nice Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.” curated by lemasney from GIMP – About GIMP at https://www.gimp.org/about/

Alternatively, you can get Adobe Photoshop Elements for about $70 http://amzn.to/2hu9wga

Adobe Photoshop

Animation and Digital Painting


Krita is quickly becoming a favorite application, but I do not personally have the familiarity with it to consider myself fluent in it. It is breaking new bounds in open source software by offering a free animation and illustration tool that is, above all else, professionally powerful.

“Krita is a FREE and open source painting tool designed for concept artists, illustrators, matte and texture artists, and the VFX industry. Krita has been in development for over 10 years and has had an explosion in growth recently. It offers many common and innovative features to help the amateur and professional alike. See below for some of the highlighted features.” curated by lemasney from Highlights | Krita at https://krita.org/en/features/highlights/

When working with a really great digital painting application, you should consider also getting a stylus and tablet to allow for natural drawing in your illustrations. You can get a refurbished Wacom tablet for just under $70 http://amzn.to/2hrFE0Z

Wacom tablet

Image result for wacom tablets

Video editing


I use KDEnlive and OpenShot to do the video editing for clients, my YouTube Channel and other video work.

“OpenShot Video Editor is a free, open-source video editor for Linux licensed under the GPL version 3.0.   OpenShot can take your videos, photos, and music files and help you create the film you have always dreamed of. Easily add sub-titles, transitions, and effects, and then export your film to DVD, YouTube, Vimeo, Xbox 360, and many other common formats.” curated by lemasney from OpenShot Video Editor | Simple, powerful, and free video editor for Linux! at http://www.openshot.org/

Alternatively, you can get Adobe Premiere Pro for about $20 a month. http://amzn.to/2hJ5RqF

Audio editing


“Audacity® is free, open source, cross-platform audio software for multi-track recording and editing.   Audacity is available for Windows®, Mac®, GNU/Linux® and other operating systems. Check our feature list, wiki and forum.” curated by lemasney from Audacity® at http://www.audacityteam.org/

Alternatively, you can get ProTools from Avid for a few hundred dollars: http://amzn.to/2htfIBY


Music creation

Audiotool (Free but not Open Source, like many other free web based services)

When I paid for the alternative in this case (Reason) I got a powerful music workstation. I felt like I was dreaming to have such beautiful control over sound. When Audiotool gave the same functionality away for free (not open source) I never looked back.

“Produce Music Online Audiotool is a powerful online music production studio right in your browser. All crafted with lots of love for the small details.  ALL IN THE CLOUD  All your tracks, samples and presets are stored on the Audiotool servers and are accessible from any browser.  BUILTIN PUBLISHING PLATFORM  Publish your finished track straight from the app to the Audiotool website, SoundCloud, Youtube or Facebook.” curated by lemasney from Audiotool – Free Music Software – Make Music Online In Your Browser at https://www.audiotool.com/

Alternatively, you can get Reason from Propellerheads for $150 http://amzn.to/2hqMZgQ

Propellerheads Reason


Media streaming


I use Plex to move media that I own from my desktop server to my screen with Chromecast. (free but not open source)

“Chock-full of sweet features, Plex is the best streaming experience possible Every Plex app gives you instant access to these awesome features, wherever you go. Whether it’s your huge movie collection, weeks of music, or loads of video footage and photos, Plex makes it easy to appreciate them all.” curated by lemasney from Plex App Features | Home Media Server | Media Manager at https://www.plex.tv/features/ 

IoT and AI assistance (voice computing)

IFTTT (Free but not open source)

If This Then That (IFTTT) connects services to streamline actions and reactions, like a facebook post autogenerating a wordpress post.

“Do more with the services you love  WHAT ARE Applets?  Applets bring your services together to create new experiences.  WHAT ARE Services?  Services are the apps and devices you use every day. Each service has useful Applets you can turn on.” curated by lemasney from About – IFTTT at https://ifttt.com/about

Jasper (J.A.R.V.I.S)

If you want to participate in the IoT voice computing meme, but don;t want to participate in Echo or Google Home, you can build your own AI assistant with Jasper.

“Jasper is an open source platform for developing always-on, voice-controlled applications  Control anything  Use your voice to ask for information, update social networks, control your home, and more.   Always listening  Jasper is always on, always listening for commands, and you can speak from meters away.   100% Open source  Build it yourself with off-the-shelf hardware, and use our documentation to write your own modules.” curated by lemasney from Jasper | Control everything with your voice at http://jasperproject.github.io/#about

Otherwise, you can purchase a home AI solution, and not build it. I recommend Google Home, but Amazon Echo is very popular.

Amazon Echo and Dot.

“Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more using just your voice Fills the room with immersive, 360º omni-directional audio Allows hands-free convenience with voice-control Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing Answers questions, reads audiobooks and the news, reports traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service Controls lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee smart home devices Always getting smarter and adding new features, plus thousands of skills like Uber, Domino’s, and more” curated by lemasney from Amazon Echo – Amazon Official Site – Alexa-Enabled at http://amzn.to/2gHs7DT

Google Home

“Get to know Google Home. Google Home is a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant. Ask it questions. Tell it to do things. It’s your own Google, always ready to help. Just start with, “Ok Google”.” curated by lemasney from Google Home – Made by Google at https://madeby.google.com/home/?utm_source=en-ha-na-sem&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=googlehome&dclid=CPm8r7u68dACFQ5TDAod_eAJHw



When Google released their Cardboard design for VR headsets, people laughed, then tried them, then stopped laughing and gasped at the simple beauty of it.

“Cardboard VR kit for your mobile device Easy to assemble Fits iPhone and Android devices with up to 5 inch screen Complete laser cut cardboard kit Ultra biConvex lenses” curated by lemasney from Amazon.com: Cardboard 3D VR Virtual Reality Glasses Valencia Quality Lenses: Cell Phones & Accessories at http://amzn.to/2hJ8atX

lemasney tshirt

lemasney tshirt

I hope that this list is helpful to you.

If you want to discuss your personal or business needs, or just discuss your setup, please contact me! John LeMasney lemasney@gmail.com 609 553 9498


This content is published under the Attribution 3.0 Unported license.