Everyone loves free stuff, am I right? Over the past couple of years, I’ve searched high and low for software that can help me make comics. Usually, art programs come to mind but these are rarely free. However, in addition to art programs, there are other pieces of software that are very helpful when planning and making a comic book. I wanted to share some of these as I find them invaluable and can’t believe they are free. Hopefully, you’ll find some of these useful too.

That’s right, every service or software I’m going to discuss in this article is completely free. I’m planning to write another article on the best paid-for software I’ve come across, but for now, let’s focus on all the freebies.

Agantty – Project planning/Overall Gantt chart software

Now you may be thinking what has this got to do with comics. If you are a sole creator like me, then project planning is extremely important. To provide a little background info, I work as a Project Manager during the day and I’ve used a wide range of paid-for project planning software. Planning is essential if you want to reach your goal by a target date.

Imagine this scenario… You want to create a comic book that is going to be launched at the next comic con. You book a table with the organizers and then the countdown begins. How are you going to make sure you get things done in time? This is where you sit down and create a plan, consider all the tasks that need to be done, and assign timelines. Gantt plans help to visually show when tasks will start and end. An advantage of a Gantt plan is that you can easily see the impact of moving tasks around. If readers are interested I may do a more in-depth article on project planning, tailored for comic books.

Agantty allows you to plan multiple projects and create tasks for those projects (setting start/end dates). You can also filter tasks and sort them so you can work in a structured way. Two features I love, are being able to drag and drop tasks to reorder them and the feature to show all your created tasks on a Google calendar. This means Google can remind me of all the tasks I’ve set, helping me keep the project on target.

Agantty has a web, Windows, Android, and iOS version of the software which makes it super versatile. They’re committed to keeping their software free which is refreshing. There are no hidden costs and there unlimited opportunities for using it. They have a roadmap of features which means the software just keeps getting better and better over time. I think Agantty is great and in my search for free project planning software, this is the best I’ve come across.

Trello – Kanban-style, list-making application

I discovered Trello as part of my day job. Many Project Managers I know use Trello for their personal notes or to manage tasks as part of a Kanban-style project. Trello is a collaboration tool that organises your projects into boards. Each board contains cards that can be organised into columns. In one glance, Trello will show you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

Imagine a whiteboard, filled with lists of sticky notes, with each note as a task for you and your team. Now imagine that each of those sticky notes has photos or attachments from other data sources like Google Drive or Dropbox. Then add in the ability to add a comment and collaborate with your teammates. Now imagine that you can take that whiteboard anywhere you go on your smartphone and can access it from any computer through the web. That’s Trello!

The flexibility of Trello means you can configure boards however you want. Often I use boards to gather and sort ideas. In fact, I have a board that I use to gather blog ideas, and this article is taken from that list. 

Trello has free and paid-for options depending on how many live projects you need across a team. The free version will give ample room for the average hobbyist allowing 10 live boards. 

DaVinci Resolve 17 – Video Editing software

DaVinci Resolve is one of those products that continues to astound me when I remind myself it is free. It’s an extremely powerful video editor and colour correction tool. In fact, it’s colour correction tool is unrivalled and it’s commonly used in making Hollywood films. You may wonder, ‘Why would I need a video editor?’. If you dabble in other content streams like Youtube/SkillShare or you need to make Kickstarter video, then you will need the use of a video editor.

There is a premium version called DaVinci Resolve Studio which offers many more features but the free version will certainly cater to the needs of the amateur video creator. Although there are other free video editors available, such as Lightworks and Shotcut, I prefer the interface of DaVinci resolve. There are also fewer limitations compared to its rivals. There is a bit of a steep learning curve but if you are making videos regularly, I feel you can pick up the basics fairly quickly and the number of YouTube tutorials is continually growing.

MailChimp – Email Marketing service

You need to be able to gather your audience and communicate with them easily. For example, say you want to notify them about your new and exciting comic. Where and how do you do it? Do you solely rely on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram? While they are great, there are several articles attesting to the tried and tested process of email marketing. Should Facebook or Instagram change their rules or algorithms, you may find yourself limited by the platform. Email addresses are still the best way to reach your audience in a unified manner. 

MailChimp helps you invite people to sign up for email communication (like a newsletter), assisting you to collect and organise email address lists. If you have your own website then it’s definitely worth integrating with an email marketing service to help grow your audience and potential customers.  On my website, there are email sign-up forms in the footer of the website and in a pop up that appears a few seconds after you land on the site. 

MailChimp encourages healthy contact management practices, provides beautifully designed campaigns, and gives you powerful data analysis tools. The free plan is more than adequate for a creator like me allowing up to 2,000 subscribers, to whom I can send up to 12,000 emails per month.

I have email subscribers from Comic Cons, Kickstarter campaigns as well as organic sign-ups on the website. I currently don’t utilize this tool enough but it’s a great way to let people know there are new articles on my blog or to notify them of a new comic I’m working on. 

SmartEdit Writer – Writing tool

Now here is an interesting tool that I’ve only recently discovered. It’s completely free and is often used for writing novels or scripts. I wondered if I could use it to write comic book scripts and so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

SmartEdit helps you to plan your novel or script. You can prepare and maintain research material, write your story scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. This is all done in a modern Windows application that has a similar look and feel to Microsoft Word.

Powerful features include the ability to drag and drop scenes inside your document until it’s just the way you want. You can identify word and phrase over-use, monitor adverbs, crutch words & clichés, improve sentence structure and punctuation, all using SmartEdit’s editor toolbar. SmartEdit also helps you store images and links to websites and puts them all in a handy research section that sits right next to you as you write. You can create character profiles, outlines, and notes as you work.

I’m going to spend more time using it but what attracted me to this tool is that it’s completely free and has so many great features!

DEV47 Apps – Turn your phone into a webcam

This next piece of software doesn’t directly relate to comic books, but it’s so useful I had to include it. Now more than ever, we spend more time in Zoom meetings. In addition, if you live stream or record the occasional video, then you need a camera connected to your computer. I’ve never had a webcam that wasn’t built into my laptop. Often laptop cameras aren’t the greatest and they are fixed to the screen, limiting how you can position them. I discovered Dev47 Apps that allow you to use your Android or iOS phone as a webcam.

Install the app on your phone and download the software to your computer. Then ensure both the laptop and phone are connected to the same WiFi hotspot. Now you can use your phone wirelessly as a webcam. One of the big advantages I’ve found is the camera quality of the image. Most camera phones have a decent lens and sensor, often better than most cheap webcams. The software has 720p/1080p video support and is completely free with no usage limits or watermarks.

There is a free and paid version of the app. I thoroughly recommend the paid Pro version which is only $4.99. It includes additional features on the Windows client like video mirror, flip, rotate, contrast, brightness, and other controls.

Google Docs/Excel – Scriptwriting

Lastly, I wanted to include the Google suite. I love using Google Docs and sheets in particular. They are quick, easy, and they sync across all my devices. It was only the other day that I realized there is no save button or save shortcut. After years of using Microsoft Word and Excel, I’m used to hitting ctrl+s to save my work. I’m very thankful that Google Docs utilizes an autosave feature that saves whenever a change is made. 

Why am I including these in my list? Often I just need to jot down some comic book ideas in note form. Or maybe I need to write up a blog post like this one without the fear that Wordpress’s editor will randomly delete my progress (which happens more often than I’d like to admit).

I love finding shortcuts to speed up productivity and I wanted to share something I’ve been using recently to get large amounts of information into a Google Doc. Usually, I would type up everything from scratch. That’s fine (as I’m pretty speedy with my fingers) but Google has a function called Voice Typing. It transcribes whatever you speak into your microphone. This means you can very quickly draft the contents of an article and then refine your text by keyboard after. This method can be useful if you feel at ease expressing ideas by speaking them rather than typing them. 

I’m sure the majority of readers of this article are very familiar with the Google suite but it’s not to be underestimated and services like this are great when you are trying to keep tool costs down in the production of your own comic. 

So here is my freebie list. You may not find a use for some of these, perhaps because you outsource some of your tasks. But I quite like developing new skills and having full control of the content that I create. Any tools that help me to write or market my own comic book grabs my attention. Making comics can be a costly business and anything that can save time or money can only be good. I hope you find something useful and wish you the best as you enjoy making or reading comics.