Build Your Own Adobe Creative Suite With Free And Cheap Software

Build Your Own Adobe Creative Suite With Free And Cheap Software

Adobe’s Creative Suite is one of the best software packs out there for professionals, but the suite is prohibitively expensive for most people. If you can’t afford it, you can still get a similar experience with free or cheap software. Here’s how to build your own Creative Suite.

NOTE: This guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version.

Title image remixed from Africa Studio (Shutterstock).

Adobe Creative Suite is more than just Photoshop: it contains other software that helps you build web sites, design logos, edit video and lay out books. Recently, Adobe accidentally gave free access to the 2005 version of Creative Suite, and it became clear that demand for even outdated versions of the software is high. You can avoid paying a huge sum up-front through Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription option, but the price for that still adds up over time.

You can’t get quite the same experience with free software as you can with Adobe’s offerings, but you can come close. Whether you’re a student looking to test the waters of design before diving into the full Creative Suite package, or you’re just an amateur who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, these free replacements to Adobe’s lineup offer enough more than enough for most of us.

Note: Mac users running OS X Mountain Lion may need to download XQuartz to get some of this software running since Apple has dropped support for the X11 X Windows system interace in Mountain Lion.

Best Replacement For Photoshop: GIMP


When it comes to replacing Photoshop, nothing is better than GIMP. GIMP has sometimes been accused of being a little rough around the edges, but the recent update to version 2.8 really cleans up the interface and makes it a lot more usable. Alongside a huge list of updates, GIMP added a new single-window mode that mimics Photoshop’s tabbed view, and makes it considerably easier to use. GIMP has come a long way since it was first released, and it’s now a serious replacement option for Photoshop.

Once you’re up and running, take a look at our guide to getting started with Photoshop (which also applies to GIMP) to learn how to perform all sorts of tasks, from colour correction to basic drawing. If the slightly different interface in GIMP is throwing you off, it has a Photoshop-based port that looks and operates exactly like Photoshop.

Also try: Pixlr Editor (Windows), Paint.NET (Windows), or Pixelmator (Mac, $US14.99)

Best Replacement For InDesign: Scribus


Adobe’s desktop publishing software InDesign has been a standard for magazine and newspaper layout for a long time, but the decrease in paper publishing has made it less of a necessary tool. With that said Scribus is free and open source software that can do just about everything InDesign can. Scribus isn’t nearly as intuitive (or pretty) as InDesign, but it gets the job done.

Scribus does things a little differently than InDesign, so it’s necessary to run through the quick-start guide to get started if you’re familiar with how InDesign (or Quark) work. As a program for laying out a few simple pages, a small pamphlet, or even a short book, Scribus works surprisingly well. It doesn’t do a great job at handling a large number of images, and it doesn’t offer that many options for really tweaking the layout. Still, as a free alternative to Indesign, Scribus should work for most people.

If you want to lay out an ebook, you have a few other options, including Sigil and Calibre. Neither is particularly feature-rich, but if you’re simply looking to lay out and publish a simple ebook (or PDF), both are free options that handle text and simple layout well.

Also try: Serif PagePlus Starter Edition (Windows), iStudio Publisher (Mac, $US17.99), Swiftpublisher (Mac, $US19.99)

Best Replacement For Illustrator: Inkscape


Illustrator’s main claim to fame is vector-based art — the clean, simple art often seen in clipart, web graphics and a lot of print art. The main appeal with vector graphics is that it’s based on mathematical equations instead of a bitmapped image, so it can scale up (or down) to any size, which makes it perfect for printing.

It doesn’t seem that complicated, but few programs have been able to really replicate what makes Illustrator great. The closest is Inkscape, an open-source program that does just about everything Illustrator can do without the extra bells and whistles (such as live trace).

Inkscape can create and edit standard vector graphics really well, and a quick glance at the Inkscape Tutorials Blog showcases how powerful it can be. If your main goal is to make clipart style graphics, icons, logos, or even do basic single-page layout, Inkscape handles just about everything Illustrator can.

Also try: OpenOffice Draw (Windows, Mac, Linux), DrawPlus (Windows), XaraExtreme (Linux), or Torapp (Chrome)

Best Replacement For Premiere: Lightworks or VideoLAN Movie Creator


Unfortunately, Adobe’s video editing software, Premiere is one of the hardest programs to replace in the Creative Suite. If you simply need to edit a few home videos, the cross-platform VideoLAN Movie Creator is a very early alpha, but can handle a number of video formats and offers basic editing and a small collection of effects. It doesn’t come close to the powerhouse that is Premier, but if you just need to do some simple editing, or add a soundtrack to your home movie, VideoLAN Movie Creator does the trick.

Windows users can also check out the previously mentioned Lightworks. The free version allows you to do basic editing, and if you decide to upgrade to the full version, it’s only $US60.

If you’re on Linux, you have a couple of really solid options. Kdenlive, PiTiVi and OpenShot are about as close as you’ll get to commercial editing software for free. They’re both a little closer to iMovie than they are to Premier in terms of features, but they work really well.

The fact of the matter is that you’re not going to find a perfect substitute for Premiere, but if you’re just looking to make simple video edits, it’s possible to do it without spending a dime. Once you get going, our guide to video editing will teach you all the basics.

Also try: Avidemux (Windows, Mac, Linux), Magistro (web), iMovie (Mac, $US14.99), or Screenflow (Mac, $US100)

Best Replacement For Dreamweaver: KompoZer or Learn To Code


What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors for making web sites are easy to come by, but few match the toolset included in Dreamweaver. Since Dreamweaver works both as a WYSIWYG editor and a site manager, you’re not going to find a free alternative that does both.

However, KompoZer gets as close as possible while still being simple to use. As a web authoring tool that doesn’t require you to learn HTML, it’s easy to get used to, and you can design a basic web site in a few minutes. The addition of add-ons can also extend its functionality. KompoZer is a bit outdated (the last update was way back in 2010), but it can still handle basic CSS and HTML.

Bear in mind that most WYSIWYG editors, Dreamweaver included, are often criticised for outputting bad code and doing a poor job of teaching the basics of web site design. If your goal is to get into web design, you’re better off learning how to build a site from scratch. We have a huge guide for doing just that. The best part? You can learn all the coding you need with free tools, and moving forward you’ll know how to make a web site without relying on Adobe’s expensive software.

Also try: SeaMonkey (Mac), Aptana Studio 3 (Windows, Mac, Linux), BlueGriffon (Windows, Mac, Linux), or Amaya (Windows, Mac, Linux), Flux (Mac, $US75), Espresso (Mac, $US75)

Best Replacement For After Effects: Blender or Wax


After Effects is a relatively niche piece of software for special effects and post-production video editing. It’s also one of the cheaper retail options out there. Subsequently, you have a pretty small selection of free software to choose from to replace it.

The closest analogue is Wax for Windows. It’s a bit old, but it’s one of the few free choices that can handle video compositing and special effects and offers a wide selection of plugins.

Alternately, Blender is a cross-platform tool meant for 3D design that can also handle a surprising number of composting options. You might not be able to do everything as easily as you can with After Effects, but if you just want to toss some light sabers into that home video you filmed at the Grand Canyon, Blender can do it. It’s also worth checking out BlenderGuru for a huge list of tutorials.

Also try: Jahshaka (was out of date for a while, but has recently relaunched to push a new 3.0 build), Motion 5 (Mac, $US49.99),

Best Replacement for Flash: Various Tools


Flash is one of the hardest Adobe tools to replace with free software because Adobe invented the entire system it’s based on. However, depending on what you’re looking to make with Flash, you have a few different options.

If you want to use Flash to create 2D animation, Synfig Studio is your best option. Synfig Studio can do about as much as Flash can do with animation, and once you run through the tutorials it’s a snap to make to make 2D animations. Unfortunately, you can’t export your animations to the Flash standard SWF format, but as a learning tool it works well.

If ActionScript programming is what you’re interested in, Flash Develop is a great coding program built specifically for ActionScript. It’s a little tough to get started with, but once you get the hang of it, Flash Develop can handle all the code that Flash can.

Finally, if making Flash games is your interest, Stencyl is an absolutely fantastic free tool for budding game developers. Its tutorials walk you though every aspect you need to know, and the visual design mimics a lot of what you’ll also find in Flash, but works considerably better. The best part? It’s entirely visual, so you don’t need to code, and when you’re done, you can instantly export your project as an iOS game (Android support is also on the way).

Also try: Hyper (Mac-based HTML5 Editor, $US49.99), Microsoft Silverlight (Windows, Mac), Vectorian (Windows), Awesome Animator (Windows), Ajax Animator (browser)

Best Replacement For Acrobat: Preview or PDF-XChange Viewer


Replacing the gigantic, all-encompassing Adobe Acrobat is no easy task. On Windows, we like PDF-XChange Viewer. While its set of free options are limited to reading, annotation and signatures, that’s enough for most lightweight users. That said, the $US40 Pro version does everything Acrobat does and more.

Mac users should be able to get by with the built-in functions of Preview for most of their PDF editing and creation needs. Preview can handle annotation, highlighting, editing and signatures. It’s not nearly as robust as Acrobat, but for the bulk of people out there who need simple editing tools Preview works great.

Also try: Formulate Pro, Foxit Reader (Windows, $US29 for the Express version, $US95 for the Standard), or Nitro Reader (Windows, $US119.99 for Pro version)

Most of the above options won’t replace Creative Suite for professionals, but they’re usually enough for amateurs. They might take a little more work to learn how to use them because they’re rarely as well-designed as Adobe’s offerings, but they’re often nearly as functional.


  • Inkscape is not a suitable replacement or substitute for illustrator. Just try and open an .ai file in Inkscape and see what happens to it. Sure it has *some* of the features Illustrator has, but you can’t use it the same way, it’s a very poor substitute.

    Don’t even get me started on GIMP…….

    • Yeah, it’s more a replacement to CorelDraw. I used Corel for over a decade until I just couldn’t afford to update it anymore. Ink solved that problem. After Effects is still cheep enough to keep up to date though.

    • I’m curious as to what you would recommend in the Open Source world as alternatives to PS and Illustrator if Gimp and Inkscape are both so unsuitable.

      • I can answer that – I wouldn’t. There are no comparible open source alternatives to either. In fact to anything on this list. The author struggled though, especially when “learn to code” is put up as a serious alternative to Dreamweaver.

  • Having both Photoshop, Coral Draw & I’m always finding myself reverting to for the quick jobs. I know it’s odd, but the constant stream of community released plugins seem to come out almost daily. Once you add these it becomes quite a powerful program.

  • Gimp is not a replacement for Photoshop. Not even close.

    Come on people, get real. There’s a reason why Adobe have this market locked down, and that’s because these products — for all their many, many faults — do what people need.

    Gimp doesn’t. It’s not for professionals, or even people who want to be a semi-pro.

    Sometimes, being cheap isn’t being economical; it’s just wasting time.

    • True. And aren’t Adobe giving away Photoshop CS2 for free these days? Perhaps it’s just for a limited time – but even so, CS2 will do almost everything you need.

    • Free & cheap are far from the same thing. Overcharging for something doesn’t make it cutting edge, or keep it relevant. It may depend on a person’s specific needs, but there are plenty of people doing “professional level” work on these programs – albeit with less PR than Adobe administers.

      If anything, that’s the biggest weakness of a large number of open-source programs… remaining marginalized or unsung.

  • How about Windows Movie Maker? Ha ha… I know probably not in the same league, but it has basic effects, fair few formats and it’s free…
    I’ve been getting better with Gimp all the time. I have never used PS and probably never will, Gimp does enough basic’s I need for free.
    I also have been using Artisteer’s platform to create CMS templates costs $50. Works fine and creates nice looking responsive templates for most basic sites IMO. easy to use WYSIWYG.

    If you need power and tools for professional grade work, step up and buy professional software.

    • Regarding Windows Movie Maker: I needed a video editor that did most things a home user would need, including multiple simultaneous tracks, videos, pip etc. Trak Ax PC I can recommend as a great alternative. Good tutorials for it too.

    • Blender actually has a very capable Video Sequence Editor, and I would take it over VLMC anyday. Blender’s latest release just enabled basic colour grading tools, along with already having transitions and effect strips.

  • When I started out as a Graphics major, Illustrator didn’t yet have “Live Trace”, & when I found out about the feature, it was after I had already used it in Inkscape… here’s a video:

    I’m not surprised of the comments about no suitable replacements (open source or otherwise), but I have never had anything I used to do in Photoshop or Illustrator escape me in Gimp or Inkscape, with an acceptable minimal learning curve…

    Kind of like the girl I knew who was so sure she could only do the things she needed to do in Paintshop Pro, only to manifest a rain cloud over her head when Photoshop was shown to do her tasks faster.

    Let’s not even talk about the general stigma associated with open source when it comes to Adobe users. “How could it be a valid player when I wasn’t overcharged for it?”

    People hate change?

  • I wonder is there a valid open source alternative to Adobe Audition. And don’t even mention Audacity- that thing is terrible. Kills anything other than simply cut and pastes.

    • I haven’t tried the progam myself, but a google search led me to Traverso –

      I also came in as an Adobe Audition user as well, & admittedly, I haven’t spent enough time with Audacity to actually get over the learning curve fully. I will say that googling for a task I needed to accomplish when I have used Audacity finally did do the trick – albeit interrupting my workflow more than a program I was already used to would have.

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