I like to enhance my personal and professional work utilizing graphics design. I am a bit of an amateur. I have found with just a couple tricks it is easy to quickly enhance ones presentations and documents. It is better than searching the internet for the right graphic and worrying about intellectual property violations.
I use an assortment of open source, free software to get a wide array of effects. I will list a quick summary of what I use and when.
Paint.Net can be found at http://www.getpaint.net/download.html. Paint.net was created by several Visual Studio programmers in the early 2000’s. The were looking for an alternative to Microsoft’s Paint program. If you are starting out I recommend using Paint.net. I have moved to other programs but it is still my go to graphics creator for quick images or photo manipulation.
Paint.net is like a simple painting pallet were the user uses tools to paint pixels or bitmaps onto an image. What breaks Paint.net out is the use of layers and plugins. Painting in layers is probably the amateurs first step out of simply painting pixels. I almost never paint in paint.net with at least five layers immediately. One nice thing about layers is that you can save the layer design and us it later. I still layers that are several years old that I still use. Layers can be used to put words over graphics. I created the following in about a minute.
Plugins can be downloaded from several sites, which I will not go into now. Plugins can add a lot of effects and functionality. There is an extensive list; for example you can quickly blur an image:
As I stated above, I always recommend starting with Paint.net (PDN). There are certain concepts and ways of thinking about digital graphics that can be hard for the beginner. Jumping into Inkscape or GIMP, will more than likely just confuse the beginner; learn to walk first. At some point, PDN will become clunky. It is time to learn Inkscape. I first started getting frustrated with PDN’s line drawing and manipulation of images. Inkscape is a Scalar Vector Graphics (SVG) design program. It was written by open source designers looking for a way to manipulate SVGs. SVGs are XML representations of images, which you can open note pad and actually read the code. What this means is that the images are created in objects. Instead of layers, I import an image and write the lettering in separate objects, I don’t need layering as much.
So, let me explain the difference between layers (PDN) and objects (Inkscape). The image of my daughter and two types of lettering (black and white) are separate layers in PDN. PDN is drawn in pixels and each layer is the manipulation of those pixels. Any manipulation will be a manipulation of the pixels. Objects in Inkscape are drawn in code (SVG). Any manipulation of the drawing is done to the code and not the pixels; pixels won’t be created until you save the image. What this allows you to do is manipulate the values of the object faster and more precisely. Now, I say faster loosely, if you are beginning the manipulation of objects is going to take exponentially longer.
GIMP is GNU Image Manipulation Program. The best way that I can describe GIMP is that it is the best of both Inkscape and PDN. It paints in pixels like PDN, but allows you to manipulate the images like objects in Inkscape.
GIMP utilizes layers (like PDN) and Paths (like objects in Inkscape). Let me explain paths in GIMP. When you draw objects in Inkscape, those objects are groups of paths. You tell Inkscape to make a path and then turn left at a distance. The above image is an imported picture of my daughter with lettering on top. The lettering is created in a separate layer like PDN, but unlike PDN, I can convert the lettering to a path like Inkscape, and then I manipulate that path to give me a perspective.
So, to summarize: PDN paints in pixels and utilizes layers and plugins to manipulate the pixels.
Inkscape paints in SVG and utilizes objects to manipulate the SVG images. Pixels will be created on export.
GIMP paints in pixels and utilizes payers and paths to manipulate pixels.
I want to close with saying that what distinguishes the different programs is SPEED and COMPLEXITY. I created all three of these images in less than 3 minutes. I can still create all three of these images in PDN, but it would have taken me longer to get the precision of Inkscape and the perspective change of GIMP. But, just beginning, using Inkscape and GIMP would have taken 10x longer and a lot of frustration. Start with PDN and when you start getting frustrated learn GIMP and Inkscape.