During my time at university, I was involved in a few clubs that required me to produce magazines, brochures and Facebook banners. With a budget so stringy it could barely be used to tie shoes, I had to find a few alternatives to produce my content as we could never afford the full creative suite of Adobe products. I have listed some of my favourites below.

1. Apache Open Office

Despite the no-frills looking website, Apache Open Office is a great alternative to Microsoft (MS) Office, and has many of the same features and functions that you would be familiar with if you use MS office. The three main programs I used were Writer (the Apache version of MS Word), Calc (Excel) and Impress (Powerpoint), although Apache open office does come with three other programs, Draw (for image production), Base (a database program) and Math (supposedly for mathematical equations).

Writer, Calc, and Impress are useful alternatives to their MS counterparts, and can produce documents of acceptable quality for any university work, and are great for all basic functions that the MS office suite can carry out. The only downside is the learning curve can be daunting for new users, as the interface for all of these programs will not be as intuitive to you if you are used to using MS word. Being free software, it also does not have all the features of MS office.

If you can get used to it though, Apache open office runs on most operating systems, and requires no licences or requirement to be online.

2. Scribus

I used Scribus quite a lot, as it is an InDesign alternative. It will let you do almost all of the same things as you can do with InDesign. Using Scribus I have put together banners, brochures and magazines, for both print and online use.

As with Apache, it does not have all of the features of a similar paid program such as InDesign, so it can require a little more manual input to get the most out of. It also does not have the same error-detecting features that InDesign has, so you need to pay more attention to detail when you are producing any work.

As with all the other software on this list, there are great Youtube tutorials to get you started with Scribus, and if you want the ability to produce media collateral from the comfort of your own home (and without a hefty licencing fee) Scribus can be a great place to start.

3. GIMP

GIMP actually stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program” in this instance is not the name of a questionably dressed man who resides in a cupboard. GIMP is a Photoshop alternative, and has a great host of tools for fixing up images, or adding effects or filters for added visual impact. It also has many of the familiar tools that I found useful in Photoshop (such as a healing tool and a cloning tool, among others) and is able to export images in a wide variety of formats.

Like the other software on this list the learning curve can be a little difficult if you are accustomed to other programs, but the freedom to doctor your own images without resorting to living in a cupboard to save money for licencing fees is invaluable.

4. Inkscape

Inkscape is a drawing program, and is a good alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Like illustrator, Inkscape has the ability to export to a Vector image format, so that you can create images that do not look pixelated when you re-size them.

The story is the same here as it is with the other software. While it does not have all the same features of Illustrator, it does have many of them and will be enough to create most of the images you need for any commercial application. Inkscape can also export images to many of the same file types that Illustrator can.

5. Stock Photos

Not software, but I found these resources to be invaluable when producing content. You always need a photo with your written work, and stock photo subscriptions can be expensive. Pexels, Pixabay and Morguefile all have a host of photos that are all (mostly) free for personal and commercial use.

When using these collections of stock photos it can help to get creative with your search terms, as many of the photos can have abstract tags attached to them, and not the tags you might initially think of.

Using the above software together, I was able to produce print and electronic publications that were of the same quality I could produce on paid programs, at no personal cost to myself aside from the time it took to learn the programs. It was also great to able to work on a design assignment at home, without needing to slave away at a lab somewhere because it had the programs I needed.

By Kane Robinson

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