The open source community has worked hard to develop apps with professional-level features. One of the shining examples is Inkscape, a free drawing application that uses X11, a way to run Linux apps on the Mac without a lot of trouble. When you start Inkscape, X11 loads automatically. The menus do not match the Mac’s normal user interface but when you save files, they are saved to the Finder.
For basic drawing tasks, Inkscape is just as powerful as Adobe Illustrator. You can add a plethora of boxes and multi-sided shapes, 3D boxes, freehand drawings, and intricate swirls. Inkscape provides advanced options for editing specific points on a geometric shape and tweaking your illustration down to the exact vector coordinates.
For customizing your workspace, you can add rulers, guides, and a snap-to-grid. There are countless options for controlling any shape’s exact position, layering, color, and size. The program is also highly extensible – there are extra plug-ins and menu options for, say, adding an airbrush look to a box or turning a piece of clip art you imported into an editable object. Export options are also extensive–you can save your document as an EPS file and load it into Illustrator, or export as a bitmap image file.
The only slight complaint with Inkscape is that it tends to run slower than a native Mac application. If your Mac is fast enough, you may not notice the slowdown, though.
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[John Brandon is a 20-year veteran Mac user who used to run an all-Mac graphics department.]