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Indispensable tools for low-budget startups

By Emma Grant Posted Dec. 24, 2015 Reading time: 4 minutes

Starting a web design studio can be an expensive undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be impossible! In this article, I will take you through some of the software and hardware options available that will help keep your costs down during this critical phase of your business venture. An old saying goes that a poor workman blames his tools. Indeed, it is true that if you can’t create awesome designs using free or low-cost tools, then you’re probably not really a designer. You are relying on the tool itself to do the work for you. If, on the other hand, you are truly worthy of the title “Designer”, then you should be able to create great designs using anything at hand. Which obviously begs the question: Why pay more?

 

Operating system: Mint Linux (Mate Edition)

Alternative to: Windows, Mac Cost: $0 This really does not require a lot of thought. The best strategy for any good designer, regardless of budget, is to build in Linux and test on Windows. Then test on your friend’s Mac. By building your sites in Linux, you gain some advantages:

  • Stability
  • Security
  • No upgrade cost
  • Access to thousands of free software titles

Of course there is also a downside:

  • Limited (but improving) hardware support
  • There are not many mainstream entertainment titles

Well, that last one should not be too much of a worry for a business machine. Hardware compatibility is a bit more of a concern, but you can deal with this in four ways:

  1. Check for Linux compatibility before purchase
  2. Run Windows in a VM, and it’s possible your hardware will work
  3. Boot into Windows if you only need to use the hardware occasionally
  4. Buy HP products, because HP products are natively supported

You could choose any version of Linux; but if you are coming from a Windows background, Mint will make the transition smoother. Mate is a simpler desktop user interface that does not have the annoyances present in the default edition. Using this OS, you will save money and time. You will be more productive and spend more of your time on income producing activities and less of your time babysitting the OS.

 

Vector drawing software: Inkscape

Alternative to: Adobe Illustrator, Sketch Cost: $0 Illustrator has a few advanced features that are still missing from Inkscape; but for most people those extra features are not used often enough to justify forking out extra cash for them. Besides, it is also true that Inkscape has a few features that you won’t find in Illustrator or Sketch. The argument that you can’t make professional illustrations with Inkscape can be squashed immediately with this showcase of images created by Sven Ebert (aka “Dillerkind”). Personally I found that working with text in Inkscape on Linux was much easier than trying to do the same thing in Illustrator on Mac. But maybe that was just me…

 

Photo editing software: GIMP

Alternative to: Photoshop, Affinity Photo Cost: $0 The biggest argument against GIMP is that it does not support CMYK color spaces. If you’re a web designer, that is not relevant to you, and furthermore GIMP is natively tuned to work in RGB color space. You could always use both anyway, since Photoshop can be made to work in Linux. One of the things that I really like about using GIMP in Linux is that I can assign the various dialog boxes to reside in a different workspace to the editor window. This means I can let the whole image fill my screen, and just switch to the other workspace when I want to select a different tool or layer. Many filters designed for Photoshop will work in GIMP; and some of GIMP’s built-in filters actually work better than their Photoshop equivalents. This is not to say GIMP is a substitute for Photoshop, but then again it isn’t trying to be. GIMP does what it does very well, and if you are good at image editing, you should be able to produce amazing results with GIMP; but perhaps with some extra effort compared to using Photoshop.

 

Color matching software: Agave

Alternative to: Adobe Kuler Cost: $0 Agave is a simple tool that helps you quickly create color schemes based on criteria you select. It works like a color wheel, only faster.

 

2D animation software: Synfig Studio

Alternative to: Flash, Unity Cost: $0 Synfig Studio is one of those rare gems where an open source product has significantly fewer features than its main commercial rival, but still tends to receive better consumer satisfaction reports (at least according to data sourced from a direct comparison by Software Insider). Synfig Studio can’t yet directly import SWF files, and it doesn’t support ActionScript, so unfortunately you are not going to develop the next Candy Crush game with Synfig Studio as a standalone product. Even so, Flash is no longer the sole option for online games, and doesn’t have the same feature set as Unity. Developers are increasingly attracted to the potential offered by HTML5, SVG, and JavaScript to create manageable online games that don’t require a plugin to work. Synfig studio allows you to create extremely high quality animations which can be used in any context, even for movies and television. You don’t have to take my word for it though, check out some sample videos of animations that were made with Synfig.

 

Accounting software: GNU Cash

Alternative to: QuickBooks, Microsoft Money, etc. Cost: $0 Any serious design business needs to have good accounting software. I have used many different products in this category and none of them have been as good as GNU Cash. It is extremely easy to set up and use, but has powerful features that are sometimes lacking in commercial software. It’s a really high quality piece of software with an unbeatable price tag!

 

Office software & PDF editor: LibreOffice

Alternative to: Microsoft Office Cost: $0 For all the miscellaneous documents you need to write for your business, LibreOffice fills that need; and goes even further by providing built-in PDF creation. Team it up with Master PDF Editor and PDF Shuffler, and you can create pretty much any kind of business document you need. LibreOffice can read and write documents formatted for Microsoft Office.

 

Conclusion

These solutions won’t suit every business, but if you are just starting out and need to carefully manage your expenses, saving money wherever possible, then you really can’t go wrong with the items on this list. Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar earned!

 

Featured image, web design tools image via Shutterstock.

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