Six Great Software Tools for Budget-Minded Creatives

For creating great images, audio, and video, there are some great programs that we can use for turning our ideas into awesome final products, but many of these programs are very expensive. I have been looking for more budget minded options and have found a set of tools that I can recommend for being not only powerful, but also very affordable.

Photo Editing: Affinity Photo is an excellent pixel-based image editor that is an obvious alternative to Photoshop. It is not an exact clone, but if you’ve used Photoshop, it will be familiar. If you REALLY know and use Photoshop, then you’ll notice what is missing…maybe. But for what I do, I can accomplish anything I’ve tried so far, quickly and easily. In fact, for basic tasks, I think I can do things more quickly in Affinity Photo. The current price is US$49.99, making it an incredible bargain.

Vector-Based Graphics: Affinity Designer is also an excellent program, with an obvious comparison to Illustrator. It is vector-based, like Illustrator, but while it is similar it also has some differences. And as with Affinity Photo, I find the differences actually speed up what I’m trying to do.  If you need a vector-based program for graphic design, this is a great deal at US$49.99.

Audio Editing: REAPER is hands-down my pick for best value in audio DAW software. I know a lot of people talk about Audacity since it is free, but I think REAPER is much better in terms of functionality and usability. REAPER is a pro-level DAW that runs on Windows or OSX. You can download it for a FREE 60 day full-featured evaluation, but they don’t lock you out at the end of that period, they just remind you how affordable the license is every time you open it. I agreed and spent the US$60 for my license several years ago and have no regrets.

Some people will point out that REAPER does not come with many plug-ins, which is true. For the cost, you cannot expect a lot, although they do have basic effects like EQ, compressor, gate, etc. But for the money that you saved on the DAW software, you could easily afford some great plugins.

Video Editing: I have three picks for editing videos, depending on your needs.

DaVinci Resolve is created by Blackmagic Design, which also produces very nice cinema cameras.  This is a full-featured non-linear video editor with nice built-in effects, and a robust audio editor. It really stands alone for it’s color correction and color grading. You can use the basic version for free, or pay for the “Pro” version that is currently priced at US$299. This is an incredible price for what the software does, making it an excellent value.

Even if you end up using different software for editing, you really owe it to yourself to get the free version of DaVinci Resolve and use it for the color correction and grading.

DaVinci Fusion is Blackmagic Design’s VFX software. This is node-based software, so it works differently than some other VFX software. If you’re not already used to it, that can be a hurdle at first, but once you get into it, it’s a very powerful tool. As with Resolve, Fusion comes with a free version and a “Pro” version for US$299. Another incredible value.

HitFilm is a great non-linear video editor that I can also recommend. Not only is it great at editing videos, but it also has a robust compositor built-in. This means that you can edit videos and produce stunning visual effects within the same software, so you don’t have to jump between the editor and the VFX programs. As with the DaVinci programs, they have a free version (“HitFilm Express”) and a full-featured version (“HitFilm Pro”) the main difference between the two is that the Pro version has all the effects built-in, while the free Express version has a limited set of effects. With the Express version, you can buy the effects in packages, as you need them, though.

If you’re just starting out with video editing, then HitFilm Express is a great platform to begin with.


I’d love to know what you think of my list. Please post your comments and let me know if you agree, or if you have other suggestions that I should consider.

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