Paint.Net Easy! Recomended for all tasks expect a couple of high end tasks
The next one down from The Gimp is Paint.Net. Paint.Net is great but still being developed, download it too, it may come in handy. It installs easy and updates itself.
Update: Feb 2013, Adobe have released some programs as possible "abandon-ware". Read about that here.
Nem has a VTF plug-in for this here .
I recommend you use this for most tasks, harder than photoshop when dealing with alpha layers, but you will soon get used to it.
You can make PSD files with Paint.Net, the thumbnail problem is a pain for windows and PSD files, see this page on that subject . You will not have the folders mentioned in the fix readme... just make them and install the fix.
The Gimp (hard but full of features)
The most significant and full featured free Graphics program is The GIMP, (don't download it just yet, read on a bit first).
This is an awesome program and no other free Graphics program is it's equal for editing files needed for Half Life 2 Games.
Why? The ability to work with Layers... and Alpha channels. Sure, there are others out there that can work with layers and Transparency... but not as well as The Gimp. Add to that, the amount of documentation, Tutorials and plug-in support. There is also a system to use Photoshop plug-ins, or at least some of them using PSPI.
There are a lot Photoshop plug-ins that you can use... unfortunately the VTF plug-in that Nem wrote will not work with this. Adobe Photoshop has a plug-in to open and save VTF files, The Gimp does not, more on that problem latter.
The Gimp install is a bit more complex and there is one option to consider. The Gimp's windows are not like other programs like Photoshop or Paint Shop pro. They do not have one big window then smaller "tools" windows inside that, they are just placed over the desktop.
|Click to enlarge.|
If you are like me and think that is messy there is an option that will get The Gimp looking more like Photoshop or a normal graphics program, I used the GIMP Background Window ver 3.0alpha ...Windows Gimp Deweirdifyer Plug-in....
You don't have to use this plug-in and it does have a couple of strange things happen, like not running the window in absolute full screen can have an effect on opening and saving files, that, I don't mind at all, I run it maximized.
It's up to you, install it latter if you like, I will put a link below. Next is installing the Gimp, the files are in installers but parts of it are separate... don't ask me why, probably because of version updates, it's still easy if you do it right, see below!
Installing The GIMP for Windows.
That's about all unless you want more plug-ins or extras, from above....
The VTF and TGA file conversion.
You think your done! NO! You still have to download and install a program for looking at and converting/saving the VTF files.
Now you are finished and you have all the programs you need for making a VTF... for free. Why not read some of The Gimp Tutorials and get used to making a TGA or just a jpeg using some of tools in the GIMP.
Don't want to? Want to do something right now? OK then, press next below!