Open Source Graphic Arts Software

There are a great many barriers that block open source graphic arts software from making it into the mainstream. There is the issue of the proprietary elements present in the big print shops. Adobe, not just Photoshop, but most of their print/image based products are based on a proprietary color system that large ink printers use to guarantee color quality. Sometimes called “spot color” but the real term is Pantone Color. Pantone is an global industry standard for professional graphic artists and professional print shops – and it’s proprietary of course.

Every time I send a PDF to a print shop for a job, they need to know the Pantone Color number of EVERY COLOR USED in the PDF unless it is a photographic image. Then they switch to CMYK (explained below) and then I need to trot down to the print shop and give “loop approval” of the final photo print.

This LINK has a good, old-fashioned flame war over Gimp, Photoshop and Pantone.

Then there is the issue of CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key) color to overcome. Adobe guards their CLUT (color look up tables) viciously, these are the translators that translates between RGB and CMYK.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love a great open source graphic arts studio suite I could use. As it stands, it costs me about $4,000 – $5,000 per seat in graphic software and support software per artist. Then there are the costs of constant upgrades to keep up with. Drives me nuts. Then there are the costs for Photoshop and Illustrator filters – add another $5k per seat. Don’t get me started on font control.

To really offer a professional alternative I think the community needs to rethink the approach according to filling the pro needs. This has been done with accountants, writers and administrative office workers, but not the graphics part of the creative class.

What a graphics pro needs…
1) Ability to use TrueType and OpenType fonts. (This has already been achieved in Windows and Mac and I guess it has been done for Linux).

2) Bitmapped image graphics manipulation app. This is Photoshop’s main job. Manipulating bitmapped images.

3) Vector graphics images. Vector art is where the image is made up of lines (defined by mathematical equations) instead of pixels.

4) Layout app. – The granddaddy is Pagemaker, an app that can pull in bit mapped images, vector art images and fonts into a file and produce a MULTI page file. Catalogs are an example of the end result of a Layout app. It is also used in newspapers and magazines. Other closed source apps are Quark and Adobe’s InDesign.

5) Bullet points 2, 3 & 4 must work seamlessly together.

6) An open source font management app similar to Suitcase.

7) Apps 2, 3 & 4 are App 6 aware. For example, when a document is opened, it installs the needed font for that doc but does not copy it to the system resources. Adobe products are all “Suitcase Aware” for example.

8) Open source Pantone equivalent. This is a must have and all open source graphic apps must be able to use this system. We all need OpenTone!

9) Most print shop business originates from in-house graphics departments or ad agencies. So from a strategic point of view, you need to get these open source apps running on Macs ASAP. You are not going to have big movements towards Linux for graphic arts pros, no matter what Dell or HP does until the above issues are solved.

These print shops are not going to do anything until the printer manufacturers begin adopting new OpenTone and OpenArtFile (replacement for PDF) technologies in their systems. And it is pointless for me to use open source stuff in my shop until print shops have equipment to read it.

Overcoming the issues surrounding print preflighting will also help a lot.

If the open source community wants to make an impact, here is where I would start if they want to change the way I MUST do business.

A) Start work on OpenTone and let artists have some input on this. Websafe colors is an example of geeks not understanding artistic use of color. I understand why websafe was put together the way it was, but it is no where near a great color palette.

B) Keep pushing open source PDF efforts to better serve vector and layout applications.

C) Take Inkscape and Gimp for the Mac and translate them to run natively on Mac OS (move from X11 to Cocoa based Intel). That takes care of items 2 & 3.

D) Begin developing the open source layout app.

E) Start working on the font management app. You can’t just load 40,000 fonts into your system. (I have tried!!!)

So for now, I am stuck with Adobe and will be for the next decade unless the open source community get serious about opening up the graphic arts world like they did with Microsoft Office. I think one reason they were successful with OpenOffice was the common hatred of Microsoft. That passion does not exist for Adobe.

I hope this helps better explain the path to get real open solutions for graphic artists.

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