There are a wide variety of 2D applications available for free for game developers. Here we are going to look at a bunch of different 2D applications, including bitmap, vector and pixel art 2D paint applications. 2D animation applications are available here. Of course, every application appearing here will all be available in a free form to make this list.
Paint and Image Manipulation Applications
Previously a commercial application, Autodesk has made it free. It’s a natural media painting/drawing application available for Windows and Mac.
GNU Image Manipulation Program is a general purpose image manipulation and drawing application. It’s open source, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and often referred to as the open source alternative to Photoshop. In recent years, GIMP has gotten a lot of improvements on the UI side of things.
Fire Alpaca is a free painting application for Windows and MacOS. I did a hands-on video with FireAlpaca available here.
Krita is an open source paint application that recently gained animation and vector graphics support. Krita is also cross-platform, available for Linux, Windows, and Mac. Krita has improved massively in the last couple of years.
MediaBang is a paint/drawing app optimized toward comics/anime creation. It’s available for free for several different platforms including Windows, Mac, and several mobile devices.
Mischief (No longer available as of August 2019)
Mischief is a drawing/sketching application available for Mac and Windows. It’s ideal for freehand sketches/recording ideas. There is a free version and a $25 commercial version that adds layers and palette tools.
Paint.NET is a free image manipulation program available for Windows only (although works under WINE). It’s a turbo powered version of MSPaint with plugin support and over a decade of development.
I’m just putting this here because if I didn’t it would be in the comments non-stop! MS Paint is as streamlined as a paint application can be and comes free with Windows and has since the very beginning.
Think Photoshop, but in the browser… and free. That’s Photopea in a nutshell. If you are comfortable in Photoshop you will be comfortable in Photopea. It’s ad supported with a subscription option to remove the ads. Check out Photopea in action here.
Pixel Art Graphics Packages
Arguably the most popular pixel art application available. It costs $15 but you can download an older binary version or build it yourself from source.
GraphicsGale used to be commercial software, but in 2017 it went freeware. It is Windows-only software.
An open source painting application based on the classic Amiga Deluxe Paint. The website is currently broken so I’ve linked to the source instead.
Piskel is a Pixel editor that runs in the browser or can be downloaded for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
PyxelEdit is a pixel based image editor designed to create tiled sprites. It is available for Windows and Mac, with the newest version being commercial while an older release is available free.
Lospec Pixel Editor is a free pixel art editor that runs in the browser.
Vector Graphics Packages
Draw.io is a browser based vector application, mostly oriented toward flow charts and design than art.
Gravit Designer is free and available in both web and downloadable forms for Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as Chrome.
Inkscape is the seminal open source vector graphics package, with the 1.0 release around the corner. It’s available for Linux, Mac and Windows platforms.