Who doesn’t enjoy a mud wrestling contest with two hot chicks? The tit for tat action (so to speak) between Apple and Adobe continues unabated.
About half of Adobe’s revenue comes from Mac users who feel taxed to death by frequent and expensive Adobe Creative Suite updates, many of which feel foreign, are crash prone, and full of bugs that take forever to get fixed. Creative Suite 5 is waiting at the door. Are there competent alternatives?
Photoshop: The Macy’s Of The Graphic Mall
I’ve owned and used many of Adobe’s products, Mac and Windows, from way back when it wasn’t cool to be a Mac user, so I can speak from experience and provide some brutal honesty.
Last week I came up with a few decent alternatives for Fireworks and Illustrator.
This week? Adobe. Listen up. You have some great stuff, but increasingly, your sweet suites are bloated, crash happy, expensive, and sometimes don’t behave like a good Mac app citizen.
Just weeks before Fireworks CS5 is due to hit the streets, Adobe fixed a long standing crash-on-quit bug that’s been around for 18 months—since Fireworks CS4 hit the streets.
Gimme a break, guys. Work with me here.
Any Adobe Creative Suite is anchored by Photoshop, the aging Rocky of graphics editing apps, Mac or Windows. There just isn’t much that Photoshop can’t do except be easy to learn and use and come with an affordable price.
Are there alternatives to Photoshop for those who cannot afford the upgrade cost in real world dollars, let alone the assortment of Dummies and Idiots books, and multiple, back-to-back semesters in a University new media course?
3 Photoshop Alternatives For Mac Users
I have three recommendations. What we’re looking for is a Mac graphic app that’s both powerful and somewhat easy to use, and much lower in cost, thereby increasing overall value—the so-called value proposition.
GraphicConverter – Alright, two out of three isn’t bad. The venerable GraphicConverter is truly a Swiss Army Knife of graphic apps for Mac users. If Angus MacGyver, obviously a Mac user, needed an app to save an advertising presentation before it blew up, he would use GraphicConverter.
If Photoshop never left 1999, it would be GraphicConverter. That means the interface is confusing and archaic, but every feature you can think of is thrown in and works reasonably well—if you can find them.
GC can import nearly 200 graphic file formats, export approximately 80. It scans, it converts, it batches, it enhances, it runs scripts, and it does plugins. Pretty much whatever you can do in Photoshop you can do in GC—only slower. At $35 US, GraphicConverter is a bargain, a worthy alternative or add on, though not so easy to master.
And it’s soooo 1999. Are there any 21st century alternatives to remove oneself from the nearly annual Photoshop tax?
Pixelmator – If I didn’t know better (and I don’t—it’s just a figure of speech), I’d swear that Adobe’s top Photoshop guys all quit and formed Pixelmator. It’s that good looking and feature laden, but at an order of magnitude less money than Photoshop.
Pixelmator isn’t Photoshop but it feels like it. Tools and palettes are everywhere and laced with that nice charcoal 21st century look we so love. If you’ve ever used Photoshop then you’ll be right at home in Pixelmator.
The tools and icons look familiar, yet refreshed, younger, more vibrant.
Information labels abound. Popular file formats are everywhere. Can you say layers? Pixelmator does layers for everything, but also blends layers, and has masks that hide portions of some layers.
Pixelmator has brushes collections, precision selection tools, painting tools, retouching tools, text tools, color correction tools, and filters and effects. Draw with tablets. Drop in 3rd party filters.
Compare and contrast the image below with the image from GraphicConverter above. One is 21st century graphic madness. The other is so last century.
Pixelmator bursts with a desire to help you complete your graphic project, whatever it may be, with tools that beg to be used. That can’t be said of GraphicConverter, regardless of all the powerful features. If you can’t find the right blade, how sharp it is doesn’t matter too much.
Which of these two powerful but totally different approaches to a Photoshop alternative wins the crown?
Wait. Didn’t I mention 3 alternatives vying to replace the seemingly-annual Adobe CS Tax? If it’s not GraphicConverter (and it’s not), and if it’s not the lovely Miss Pixelmator strolling down the graphic runway (it’s not), then what’s the best value to replace Photoshop?
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Let me recap the situation. CS5’s flagship Photoshop is a gargantuan, expensive beast of graphic burden—so loaded with features that Adobe needs your credit card on file at all times just so you can have the privilege to say you’re a Photoshop user.
Or, so it seems.
Those Mac users who need a powerful graphics app may not need all the power that comes with Photoshop, let alone the expense. Photoshop requires books and videos and classroom instruction to master. Photoshop is a multi-headed beast not easily tamed by those unwilling or unable to devote eight hours a day to reach mere competence.
So, what should a Photoshop alternative do?
First, it needs to be more affordable, certainly somewhere near the nominal price tags of the aforementioned wannabes.
Second, it must have an array of tools that are somewhat familiar (not familiar in a 1990s way like GraphicConverter, but familiar in a 21st century way like Pixelmator).
Finally, to round out the value proposition, any true-blue, double-deluxe Photoshop alternative must be substantially easier to use. Professionals can work on Photoshop all day. The rest of us have lives, limited learning time, limited personal funds to buy the product in the first place, and need quick access to advanced tools without the advanced training.
In other words, make it powerful, but easier to use, and cost less.
The Best Value Alternative To Replace Photoshop
After looking around at the alternatives, and there are many more options available (no, GIMP fans, don’t tell me how wonderful it is and that it’s free—it’s not that good; really), I settled on increasingly obvious alternative to Photoshop CS5.
Think of my choice as Photoshop Lite. Adobe’s Photoshop Elements (for Mac or Windows) really fills the bill as a full-fledged Photoshop alternative.
I’m serious. Think about it. It’s powerful. It’s familiar. It’s easier to use. It’s loaded with well known features and tools, and yet, unlike the big brother (let me call it Adobe Photoshop Heavy) version, also comes with a number of outstanding consumer level features which make it a simple point and click effort to achieve professional results—without a tutor who lives in your basement or over the garage.
For example, Elements has functions which combine more complex features into an easy-to-use feature like retouching skin and soften surfaces without affecting other areas. Elements has step-by-step assistance which walks new users through ways to touch up a photo or add basic and artistic effects.
A single click will give you a range of enhancements for a single photo, and let you preview all of them together before choosing the one you like. The Photomerge Scene Cleaner is to die for. Take multiple shots of a subject, then clean and combine each to create an even better original.
Elements has a recomposition feature which completely recomposes and resizes a photo without distortion; eliminating blank areas. It’s like photo reconstruction. Change exposures in a similar way but for different areas of a photo—highlight the foreground and the background, even if one or both are too dark.
These are all average user functions that would take forever in GraphicConverter and Pixelmator, and nearly as long as in Photoshop Heavy, but are the handiest of handy consumer level functions in Photoshop Elements.
I don’t want to let Adobe off the hook, but they deserve a punch or two from a long-time, experienced Adobe customer. A Mac user. Me. Hey, Adobe. What happened to Photoshop Elements 5? Or Photoshop Elements 7?
They never existed as Adobe elected to skip both odd numbered versions for Mac users.
Yet, the company was quite content to ship Windows versions of Elements to PC users with all those wonderful feature updates that Mac users pined to have and to hold, to point and to click.
Fortunately, Photoshop Elements 8 reduces the disparity, and creates a true value and something of a surprise from a company so seemingly intent on soaking every penny from every Mac user every 18 months or so.
Pixelmator, GraphicConverter, and other Mac graphic apps have their place on the Mac desktop. They’re inexpensive and powerful. I must be honest. With some reluctance my Mac360 Value Crown™ for a Photoshop CS5 alternative goes to Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.