Creativity On A Budget: Free Digital Art Tools

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Robyn On A BudgetHi! I’m Robyn. You may remember me from the Animal Facts short and from some of Mr. Schleifer’s tutorials. As you may have seen, we mice are very talented. We are expressive, have strong legs for jumping, and we have earthquake detectors (our whiskers). But do you know what mice don’t have?


That’s right! Even an up and coming famous mouse like me doesn’t have a penny. But then again, I also don’t have any pockets in which to keep a penny.

So what’s a penniless mouse to do when he wants to move behind the camera and direct his own animated short? Well, the fine folks at Nimble Collective have made this handy guide to FREE digital art tools you can use to make your very own animation.

Blender is a free and open source 3D creation suite, and best of all, I was made in Blender! It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline including modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation. Advanced users employ Blender’s API for Python scripting to customize the application and write specialized tools; often these are included in Blender’s future releases. Blender is great for individuals and small studios.

Pixar created RenderMan as a photo-realistic 3D rendering add on for Maya. It has a free version that can be used for non-commercial purposes (student projects, education, etc.).  RenderMan has been used to create digital visual effects for Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Toy Story, Jurassic Park, the Star Wars prequels, and The Lord of the Rings.

NUKE is a node-based digital compositing application developed by The Foundry, and used for film and television post-production. NUKE is available for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux. It has Python scripting, and support for a stereoscopic workflow. NUKE supports use of The Foundry plug-ins via its support for the OpenFX standard.

Krita is designed to be a digital painting application. It has been influenced to some extent by software like Corel Painter and SAI. Krita packs with some key features different from most of its kind, including the ability to work with both bitmap and vector illustration. The developers also strive to simplify user interaction and focus on features more relevant to painting and drawing.

GIMP is a free and open-source raster graphics editor used for image retouching and editing, free-form drawing, resizing, cropping, photo-montages, converting between different image formats, and more specialized tasks. GIMP is released for free under GPLv3+ licenses and is available for Linux, OS X, and Windows.

Pixlr is a cloud-based set of image tools and utilities, including a number of photo editors, a screen grabber browser extension, and a photo sharing service. The suite was intended for non-professionals, however the apps range from simple to advanced photo editing. It can be used on PCs, and on smartphones or tablets using a mobile app

Adobe CS2
Adobe released the older CS2 version of their tools for free. These legacy tools are much older versions and are no longer supported, but if you need a basic suite of tools for image editing, asset creation and video editing, then you can grab the CS2 suite and give them a whirl. If you find them useful, then you can step up your game with the entire Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, giving you access to Abobe’s most current versions of their tools (and all updates) for a low monthly fee.

Barry T. Smith
Barry T. Smith
As Nimble Collective's Content Marketing Ninja, Barry is responsible for bringing Nimble news and goodness to all the animating boy and girls of the world. And he does it through the power of the Internet, and not a rickety 'ol sleigh and tiny reindeer.


  1. Another great 3D digital tool is Daz Studio ~

  2. Nimble Robyn says:

    Wow, that’s an excellent suggestion! Thanks for the heads up. I’m seeing some REALLY impressive work on the galleries page.

    • Yes, Daz Studio started out as a tool for the Digital Artist, but it has evolved into a very impressive tool for video, animation, and gaming industry work. You have to do your modeling in a different program but for all the rest, it rocks for a free tool 🙂 And yes, we need a bigger list!

  3. Scott Wiser says:

    Thanks Robyn 😉 There are some great pieces of software in here I hadn’t yet heard of! I can’t wait to try them. Also, don’t forget OpenToonz, the software choice of Studio Ghibli. It’s now free at:

  4. Nimble Robyn says:

    Another great suggestion! Boy, there sure are a TON of great resources people can get for free. We’re gonna need a bigger list. 😉

  5. Don’t forget about the amazing open source nodal compositing application Natron, which is based on the Nuke workflow and is truly free!

  6. poison says:

    CS2 is not free. It is only available for download, because there is no support behind any more (registration servers were shut down) and it is the only way to install it legally.

  7. Dave Nix says:

    Hi gang! Good list. I’d also highly recommend Blackmagic’s Fusion compositor and Davinci Resolve color grading and non-linear editor. Both are available in free, fully functional versions, with only slight differences from their paid versions, and can be used for commercial work without restriction unlike the learning editions of other packages.

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