Linux for Graphic Artists and Designers: A real world setup.

I know a lot of Linux and software bloggers write often about the “Photoshop killers this” and the “best Linux/open source that” but I want to add my two cents as a long time Linux and open source user – early nineties to present – who does graphic design. I’m also not gaining financially to pump out those types of articles. I have been writing about this stuff before it was popular and my previous site here had a good following for Linux tutorials and free software listings, even though I’m not the best writer. 🙂 I switched to WordPress a few years ago and rarely update these days since the internet is flooded with similar content, but from time to time I like to think about what I’m doing and how I can share my experiences.

Over the many years I have done graphics I have worked on BeOS, Linux, Mac, and Windows. I have software all over the place for all four OSes. On Windows I think Adobe used to be the best option by far, not that their software was super amazing as you can make art in PaintBrush if you really want to, but rather for the plug-ins, brushes, and ease of use. I swicthed to OS X as my main OS for a few years only using Linux for programming. Of course I ran out and bought Photoshop 7 so I could have the best on Mac, but I lost interest because the software really never changed over the years. Sure, they move things around, make things easier, but honestly there wasn’t a huge change and the software does what it always did.

So my Macbook Pro was finally deemed too old for Apple to support so I decided, considering the apps in the App store are really not any better than their open source cousins I’ve used over the years, that their model isn’t really for me just like Microsoft years earlier. I honestly don’t want to spend $5k to $7k for a decent machine or be controlled by any corporation. Apple is now like Microsoft, maybe worse at this point. I decided to buy a powerful laptop with 16gb ram, fast solid state drives, 12 core i7 latest gen. CPU, and mid-range Nvidia, and best of all, a 17″ display. I ended up with a System 76 machine to support Linux even more and considering the cost to rent Adobe, which is unfortunate because CS6 is the best of the product line ever, I don’t think I’ll miss being billed to work and play.

Actual specs-
Screen size: 17″
Ram: 16gb
CPU: Intel® Core™ i7-8750H CPU @ 2.20GHz × 12
Video: Intel® UHD Graphics 630 (Coffeelake 3×8 GT2) Nividia 1060
Disk 1: 250 gb solid state
Disk 2: 1 tb solid state.

Now you have a bit of background on me let’s get into my choice of Linux and desktop environment. I had the machine shipped with System 76’s Pop! OS, which is a tweaked Ubuntu 18.04 and Gnome 3. I hated it! The core, however, is solid and their drivers and driver support is tops. After giving LinuxMint, Deepin, and Manjaro a try I switched back to Pop and installed Budgie to make it more like OS X. I am not a fan of Gnome 3. Budgie gave me a little trouble but with a little tweaking I find it to be the best environment I’ve worked in for a while. Now that the OS is solid and secured it was time to install the software, and soon after I got a gig to do a bookcover, so away we go.


For the bookcover I needed to create a scroll logo and graphic element. This choice was easy, Inkscape! I have nothing bad to say about Inkscape. It works and works well. For Vector work I have been using it on Windows, Mac, and Linux for years. It does the job of Adobe Illustrator so I never bought a copy. It is the most consistently good application in the open source world.


Gimp worked well with a big image where Krita gave me some trouble. I paint in Krita at high res and had not had this problem before so it may be the latest version I used. I think Krita is as close to Photoshop as you’ll get in the opensource world and it is typically just fine, I won’t fault Krita, it’s really solid and under heavy development. Either way, Gimp did the job of adjusting the image to get it ready for print at 300dpi.

What you lose using these tools. Gimp is a bit of a learning curve from Photoshop, Krita not so much. The way I see it Gimp makes you work harder, or learn the non-automated way to get things done. If you need nice brushes and easier effects use Krita, if you don’t care either tool will do so pick the interface that suits you.

Plug-ins are basically non-existant. Gimp has a few really good plug-ins but finding them and finding versions that work with newer versions can be frustrating. This leads to my biggest complaint against open source, people create and abandon projects/web-sites often so unless you are willing to edit code you have to sometimes wait for others to find an interest in keeping things updated and available.

If you need Gimp plug-ins for versions < 2.8, some work on 2.10 for me, try the Gimp Plugin Registry archive (yes, it is dead as of this writing). Another option is to try other flavors. If you want Resynthisizer, G’Mic, etc. go here.

Other Gimp goodies, Gimp Paint Studio

For Windows users using Gimp 2.10: Gimp Extensions

Some updated plug-ins for Gimp 2.10 and G’Mic for Gimp and Krita

Multiple plug-ins


I don’t do a lot of layout and for the little things I do I typically use LibreOffice Draw. For the book I found wrapping text painful in Draw so I installed the latest Scribus 1.5.5 SNV. It took me a day to figure it out, mainly wrapping text properly, but once I got it down I found this to be excellent software! I do not typically use PageMaker/InDesign so I cannot compare, but the software worked as expected and took only a day of learning and another half day to get everything put together. Book went to print and the customer was extremely happy. This tool will stay in my toolbox. I will admit I poked around for other layout programs for Linux. I was not thrilled with my findings, still you might want to try the alternatives.

I tried VivaDesigner. This is a commercial product and compared to the big boys the price was a bit high for a lower end alternative, strike one. The Linux installer was outdated and would not install on my machine, strike two. I installed the Windows version in Wine, seemed limited for a pay product, strike three.

I also tried Pagestream, another commercial offering. After installing a library it started right up but it seemed limited and dated. It could be a great product, I simply decided not to invest in learning it.

Scribus won simply because it’s full featured, not confusing, and free, but you do have options if Scribus isn’t what you want.

Business Side


When all is said and done you need to get the product to the client. I use Filezilla as it’s the best FTP app IMO.

Now that the tools were picked and product has been delivered I’ll go into the administrative tools that I use that others fail to mention.

Kapow Time Tracking

I like to track my time when I start working on a project so I can give detailed billing. This tool is one that I was going to write until I found Kapow. I was a little bummed it already existed. Oh well. This tool will track time on tasks in real-time. You could just write down start and end time but this is so convenient.


If you’re on larger/longer projects and/or working with teams Planner Project Management may be for you. I have it for this purpose to keep track of everything.


Osmo is a nice personal task manager. It will keep you on track.


For backups and revision I use Mercurial with TortoiseHG. Better safe than sorry.

Office, etc.

For invoicing I designed a simple template in LibreOffice and all other tools are stock Gnome/Ubuntu apps, like Geary for mail, Gnote, Gnome Calender, etc.


Screen Ruler

GNOME Color Manager. Link to color info, the program is in the software repo like many of the others.

Font Manager

Birdfont Create your own fonts.

PDF of my complete software catalog. Download as PDF

In conclusion, I find this workflow to be just as powerful as the expensive alternatives, at least for me. If you do occasional freelance you cannot go wrong with these selections. The best part is that most are also available on Mac and Windows so if you’re not into Linux you can still use or try them freely.

The book can be found on Amazon here.

If you need assistance feel free to shoot me an email. Link under my profile up top. 😉