Let’s say you want to make your own app. If you’re a developer, you might have a good idea of how to use Xcode and write some elegant Swift code. You might not know, however, what program to use to create your images. You could always hire an artist. It’s often nice to create your own filler art during development, though. You may also need to tweak your artist’s images, or you may find it quicker to create some minor UI elements yourself. You might even want to develop your art skills, and do all aspects of the app development process yourself!
Regardless of how involved you want to get into the art element of app development, it’s helpful to have some basic skills with the different types of graphics you might require. You may think that you need expensive software, but there are some free alternatives that are worthy substitutes. Between the following three free programs, you’ll be equipped to handle whatever type of image you want to create.
The most well-known image editing program is Adobe Photoshop, while the most well-known free counterpart is GIMP. These programs allow you to make raster graphics. You’re essentially drawing an image that’s composed of several pixels. This is ideal for drawing realistic images. You can handle intricate shading, run a variety of filters, and manage layers of complex art.
While GIMP is tremendous for making detailed art for a 2D game, it has two major limitations. First, you’re restricted to a 2D canvas, so you’re not going to make any models for a 3D game. Second, the raster graphics that you create in GIMP cannot be scaled up without losing quality. Since there are so many different device sizes to accommodate with your app, you need to create your images in a variety of sizes. If you’re making your images in GIMP, you want to make your images as large as possible, and scale down smaller copies as needed. If a device comes out in the future that needs a larger size image than your original, however, you’ll have to recreate the image.
Unlike GIMP’s raster graphics, Inkscape (the free alternative to Adobe Illustrator) creates vector graphics. Instead of storing individual pixels, vector graphics store the shapes that compose the image as a series of equations. This makes for dramatically smaller file sizes, and it allows you to scale images up without distortion. Consequently, Inkscape is a fantastic tool to create images for your app. It is ideal for the cartoonish 2D artwork that’s popular in many classic mobile games.
On the negative side, you can’t create the same level of texture and realism that GIMP allows. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t use Inkscape for an app that requires detailed art. It’s often easier to create untextured images in Inkscape, then finish up the texture and detail in GIMP. Between these two programs, you’ve got 2D graphics covered.
When you want a 3D model, Blender is the solution. It has most of the same functionality as paid alternatives, such as Maya. You can rig your 3D models for animation and run physics simulations. If you’re creating a 3D game in Unity, this is a handy tool to have in your arsenal.
That’s not to say you should ignore the other graphic tools, just because you’re making a 3D app. You will likely have 2D interface elements that are better suited for GIMP or Inkscape. You also might want to apply a 2D texture to one of your 3D models. There’s a good chance you’ll make that in GIMP.
Free Art Software Recap
If you’re into app development, you’re eventually going to want to create some art assets. These three programs are all free. There’s no reason not to check them out. Even if you do have the paid version of one of these softwares, you might still want to check out the programs I highlighted here. Personally, I find Inkscape dramatically quicker than Illustrator for exporting a bunch of images stored in one project. Have fun with the artistic side of mobile app development!