Best Free Art Apps

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of brand-name items in the house. We drank cola, not Coke or Pepsi. We blew our noses on facial tissues (or paper towels), not Kleenex. When we got sick, we took cold medicine, not NyQuil.

So when I became interested in screenwriting in high school and asked my parents for Final Draft, the industry-standard screenwriting app, I wasn’t surprised to learn they weren’t going to buy it for me. The cost of Final Draft at the time was several hundred dollars. Suffice it to say, I learned script formatting the hard way.

Then I discovered someone on the internet had created templates for Microsoft Word to make formatting easier. I downloaded the free templates and was finally able to concentrate not on the science of screenwriting—the formatting—but on the art of it.

There are many robust, open-source computer applications for the arts. Open-source software is computer software that is free to use, distribute, study, and alter for any purpose. One of the most famous examples is Netscape Communicator from back in the ’90s, which eventually became Mozilla Firefox, an open-source web browser you might be using right now.

A 2008 report by the Standish Group estimated that open-source software saves consumers about $60 billion per year, conversely resulting in a $60 billion annual loss for software companies, so regardless of your perspective, the open-source concept has had a huge impact on the industry.

Whether you’re into screenwriting, audio production, music composition and notation, graphic design, video editing, or animation, these free art apps can help you realize your vision.

SCREENWRITING: TRELBY

Compare to the active ingredients in Final Draft ($249.99)

Originally written by Osku Salerma in 2003 and sold as a commercial program by a company he founded, Trelby didn’t sell well enough for him to continue working on it, so it became open-source software in 2006 and was later improved by Anil Gulecha beginning in 2011.

Trelby has most of the same features you’ll find in Final Draft, including auto-completion of character names and locations, generating useful script reports, and exporting to a variety of formats including PDF and XML (Final Draft). The software is also capable of importing screenplays from many different screenwriting apps, including Final Draft.

AUDIO PRODUCTION: AUDACITY

Compare to the active ingredients in Pro Tools ($599)

According to Audacity’s website:

Free software is not just free of cost (like “free beer”). It is free as in freedom (like “free speech”). Free software gives you the freedom to use a program, study how it works, improve it and share it with others.

In this spirit of freedom, Audacity has been translated into over fifty languages, making it globally accessible.

Audacity is a digital audio workstation (DAW), which allows users to record and edit audio with a ton of features including a wide range of effects and editing capabilities. With this app, you can do everything from recording a podcast to converting old analog tapes and records into digital formats to producing an elaborate EDM track. You can even create your own effects!

MUSIC COMPOSITION AND NOTATION: MUSESCORE

Compare to the active ingredients in Sibelius ($599)

Musescore is a powerful music notation application that allows you to create, play, and print professional-quality sheet music. You can use a MIDI keyboard to streamline the process, and you can transfer your scores to and from a variety of other programs and formats. With templates for everything from solo piano to full orchestra, this is one of the coolest free art apps available.

The Musescore community is also awesome. Beyond translating the software into 64 languages, members of the community upload their own sheet music, which you can search, download, and even edit within Musescore. They’ve gone beyond open-source software, creating a massive database of user-generated content that is always being expanded upon and updated.

GRAPHIC DESIGN: GIMP

Compare to the active ingredients in Photoshop ($20/month subscription)

The brand name Photoshop has become so ubiquitous that it’s now a verb in the dictionary: to “Photoshop” an image means to digitally alter it, especially in a way that distorts reality. But image-editing software has many other uses, and Photoshop is not your only option.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) was created in 1996 by Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, two students at UC Berkeley. Over the years, it has been refined and upgraded by users. The program has the same types of sophisticated tools you’ll find in Photoshop, allowing graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators to produce high-quality work in a variety of formats.

VIDEO EDITING: OPENSHOT

Compare to the active ingredients in Final Cut Pro ($299.99)

Conceived by software developer Jonathan Thomas in 2008, OpenShot began with three simple criteria: it had to be easy to use, powerful, and stable. Thomas faced many challenges at first, but once he invited the video editing community to help him, everything finally came together. And that’s what’s so great about open-source software: users have a stake in improving it.

OpenShot is a video editing app with a clean user interface and a plethora of features, including unlimited tracks, video effects, audio waveforms, a title editor, slow motion and time effects, and 3D animations. It has been translated into over 70 languages.

ANIMATION: PENCIL2D

Compare to the active ingredients in Harmony ($375)

In 2005, Pascal Naidon discovered an open-source software program called Pencil Planner, a simple animation program by Patrick Corrieri. Naidon realized it could be evolved into a more complex program for traditional 2D animation. Over the next several years, and with the help of a few other programmers, the application grew and developed into Pencil2D.

As a child, Pascal Naidon, like many children, created animated flipbooks by drawing pictures on the pages of a notebook and then flipping through them. Pencil2D is like a digital version of that childhood pastime with many useful features, including the ability to export animations into several formats. This amazing app helps you create full-color animations with sound.

GO DOWNLOAD THE APPS!

These free art apps make it easy—and affordable—to use some of the best tools available for the creation of a wide variety of art forms. And if you want to experiment with screenwriting, audio production, music composition and notation, graphic design, video editing, or animation, these apps allow you to get your feet wet without diving headfirst into an expensive purchase.

Better yet, open-source software makes these tools accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the “name brand” versions. They’re especially great for kids and students who want to learn the tools of various trades. And because they’ve been translated into many different languages and are available for free, they help foster a global diversity of voices in the arts.

So, what are you waiting for? Download one of these great apps today and get creating!