What is the best graphic design freeware/shareware for OS X?
August 18, 2006 12:22 PM   Subscribe

My 19-year-old step-nephew is going back to community college to study graphic design this fall and he just saved up and bought his first Mac (a MacBook). What are the best shareware/freeware tools for OS X that he should get?

His mother is going to buy him the Adobe CS (essential for the curriculum) and I'd like to find other OS X tools that a new graphic designer could use and that might help to keep him enthused and creative. He has a digital camera as well. Being a Mac music nerd I can point him to loads of great OS X utilities but graphic design is outside of my purview and I am guessing there are some great tools out there. Any suggestions appreciated. And advice, too: I might just direct him to this thread.
posted by persona non grata to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
posted by tumult at 12:24 PM on August 18, 2006

FontExplorer X is an excellent free font management tool from Linotype. Every graphic designer ends up with hundreds of fonts on their machine, and a font manager will help him keep them under control.
posted by chrismear at 12:28 PM on August 18, 2006

Although probably way less than what he needs, I find Seashore to be pretty handy when I just need to make a quick adjustment.

PicturePopPro (Website seems to be down at the moment) is also a cool little utility that makes browsing image files in the finder much nicer.
posted by patr1ck at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2006

Wow... they're buying him the CS2 suite, make sure they buy it at educational pricing. It will save them several hundred USD.

These aren't necessarily graphic design related, but still exceptionally useful.
  • Quicksilver for app launching and all sorts of other good stuff
  • FontExplorer X for font management
  • UNO to kill brushed metal
  • David Lanham's Agua system icon replacement set, best installed with CandyBar
  • Kinkless GTD and a copy of OmniOutliner Pro. kGTD is a great Getting Things Done implementation using OmniOutliner. And OmniOutliner is extremely versatile, great for taking notes.
  • iWork '06. Pages for paper writing, Keynote for presentations that will kick PowerPoint's ass.
  • Camino. Uses the Gecko (i.e. Firefox) rendering engine but wrapped in an excellent GUI.
And get a copy of Quark. I hate to say it, but knowing Quark will open a lot of doors.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2006

One more: iClip
posted by nathan_teske at 12:40 PM on August 18, 2006

This isn't software, per se, but should be on his bookmark bar:

Morgue File
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:48 PM on August 18, 2006

Adobe CS2 will be almost all he needs for graphic design. I can't really imagine doing a lot of graphic design on a laptop, but I guess that is just me. I do all my work on a desktop machine.

Some applications that I find necessary and good (not all graphic design related) that have not yet been mentioned:

TextMate (text editing for web development - I used BBEdit for years but switched to TextMate recently and I love it)
Transmit FTP client
NewsFire (rss reader)
Growl (system notifications, use with Mail and NewsFire, and more)
posted by daser at 1:17 PM on August 18, 2006

Artrage is a lot of fun, it's a program that simulates painting, and does so remarkably well.
Cyberduck is the best FTP software available for the Mac, and it's free.
Blender is a vrey powerful 3d modeling and rendering platform.
DAZ 3d has released DAZ Studio, a free figure modeller, similar to Poser, though not as full-featured.
posted by lekvar at 1:17 PM on August 18, 2006

Things he'll end up getting anyway:

DivX and xVid codecs, to play the downloaded films he'll share with his collegemates.
VLC to play them on, full screen.
Google Earth because it's useful in a new town.
StuffIt Expander because he'll need to unzip stuff at some stage.

Keeping in touch:

Skype Video Preview to keep in touch with the folks back home (this beta includes video support!).
Adium is better than the MSN for Mac client, by far.

Bits of fun:

tickr is fun to play with.
MacSaber because he has a MacBook, and will want to wave it about to make noises.
Photo Desktop is a cute desktop photo album doohicky.

Also, contrary to nathan_teske's comment about Quark, if he's getting CS, he's getting InDesign and Illustrator too, rendering Quark redundant.
posted by armoured-ant at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2006

Quark isn't redundant yet. I see quark files all day, every day. InDesign is a great program but it hasn't killed quark by a long shot, and a lot of employers still expect a new designer to know it.
posted by lekvar at 1:31 PM on August 18, 2006

if he's getting CS, he's getting InDesign and Illustrator too, rendering Quark redundant.

Quark might be useful if he's working for an older/smaller/poorer company during college, but almost every company/printer will be able to handle and probably prefer InDesign.

He'll encounter it at school. There shouldn't be any reason to buy it, especially considering its price and (lack of) support.

If you can find a cheap Wacom tablet for him, they're a highly coveted commodity for people who hand draw.

If you're just looking for things that will help him, buy him a student AIGA membership, Communication Arts subscription or a sketchbook and good markers. The people who can still hand sketch a concept (a rarer and rarer commodity with every graduating class) get respect in the studio in a way that "fresh Quarkmonkeys" don't, no matter their age. Students sometimes let the tools get in the way of the thinking, concepts and ideas at first, so having a good sketchbook might be a fine tool to hone visual ideas.

Or a good color printer that does 11x17 bleed. At $5 a color print in most campus computer labs, those late nights get easier and cheaper if you've got your own printer.
posted by Gucky at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2006

I second the QuickSilver recommendation. Best, most powerful, most weirdly-pleasurabe piece of free/shareware I've ever used. OSX just isn't OSX without it.

I go nowhere without TextMate as well - great bit of software. Learning (in a few minutes) how to do your own snippets will automate your entire life. Remember you can reset the 'days before registration' counter by blowing away the preferences file - unethical but starving artists might need to forego ethixxx a little...

Absolutely fantastic brainstorming/creativity aid: VoodooPad. Essentially an enhanced, friendly, WYSIWYG desktop wiki.
posted by waxbanks at 1:44 PM on August 18, 2006

Quark is hardly redundant - he needs to be, at least, familiar with it. Lots of colleges (community, 4-year, or otherwise) are moving toward InDesign-only instruction with only lip service paid to Quark. Quark still accounts for a huge chunk of the industry and knowing it, versus not knowing it, could very well secure him a job.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:33 PM on August 18, 2006

Nvu is worth a look as a cheap alternative to Dreamweaver.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:11 PM on August 18, 2006

I specifically didn't mention GraphicConverter because he'd be better off using crayons. GraphicConverter does a horrible job at just about everything, doubly so when compared to Photoshop. I speak from lots and lots of experience.
posted by lekvar at 7:47 PM on August 18, 2006

Hugin for photostitching.
posted by polyglot at 11:25 PM on August 18, 2006

Not design related at all, but great for keeping his mac running smoothly :

MacJanitor and / or OnyX.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 2:48 AM on August 19, 2006

software for starving students
posted by nimsey lou at 6:14 AM on August 19, 2006

Cyberduck is the best FTP software available for the Mac, and it's free.

No it's not. But it is free.
posted by justgary at 12:15 AM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: All great answers, folks. Thanks so much! My step-nephew is coming over this evening for a crash course in OS X and we will hit the links. Cheers!
posted by persona non grata at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: We had a great time tonight so thanks again. He's good to go. I think he needs more RAM, though... :-)
posted by persona non grata at 7:44 PM on August 20, 2006

I agree: Quark is not dead by a long shot. Every advertising agency I know still uses it (though many also use InDesign).
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2006

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