I’m an extreme novice when it comes to image manipulation, being more of a techie than a designer, but occasionally I dabble with playing around with designs for some of my online shops ( shameless plug: if you’re a Healthcare Professional then have a look at https://healthcarenovelties.com for some great gift ideas – it’s my latest project! ) and I’ve been looking for an alternative to the PhotoShop suite for the Mac.
Of course, Adobe are the benchmark when it comes to image manipulation – they’ve dominated this space for decades, although they do have some competition on the Windows platform in the form of Corel who produce PaintShop Pro, as well as CorelDraw and other applications for image manipulation. But on the Mac, Adobe tends to be the de-facto choice.
The problem with the Adobe Creative Suite range of products is that, for the average person who wants to just play around with some occasional designs or photo manipulation, the Adobe products are expensive. They’ve switched to a subscription model which means you now pay monthly for a licence to use them – the licence to use one product is around 20UKP per month. Admittedly that comes with 100G of cloud storage, but I have no need for additional cloud storage and just want to use the app occasionally. So, it’s fabulous software, but it’s just too expensive for me.
There’s a host of free alternatives to Adobe PhotoShop for the Mac. Some are online, web based such as Pixlr, which works well but is limited by the web based technology. Others are desktop apps, and it’s these which provide the best functionality match for Photoshop simply because of that web based limitations.
The most polished free alternative to PhotoShop has to be The Gimp. The Gimp has been around for almost as long as Photoshop and is a free, open source image manipulation package ( Gimp standing for GNU Image Manipulation Program ). The Gimp is powerful, free, multi-platform ( so you can run it on Windows, Linux or MacOS ) and comes with a plethora of powerful features that we’ll look into in a separate article. But it’s quite technical to operate. To be fair, that is rather the nature of the beast and there’s an enormous amount of talented tutors who can show you how to do things on YouTube for example. The Gimp is definitely worth a look if you’re looking for free software.
Inkscape is another alternative, but I found Inkscape to be ugly, requires an extra download on the Mac as you’ll need to install XQuartz – and this package, although produced by Apple themselves as it used to be part of the MacOS operating system to provide XWindows compatibility ( a UNIX windowing system, since MacOS is largely based on the UNIX OS ), the need to install and run a separate application just adds clutter. Lots of people create some extremely talented work using Inkscape, but it is absolutely not beginner friendly. It also looks horrible on the Mac, the interface looks like it’s returned to the olden days when I used to use Sun Solaris desktop. It’s powerful, flexible and free, but the Mac version just isn’t nice to use – even the installation process is hard work ( notably, the latest release doesn’t even have an installer and requires you to build it yourself using HomeBrew or MacPorts – as well as install the XQuartz package manually ). Definitely not for the faint hearted.
Affinity Photo by Serif Software
I stumbled upon Affinity quite by accident while watching a video around improving my online shop presence and trying to improve the Print On Demand aspect of that. I’m disappointed I didn’t know about Affinity Photo before because it would’ve saved me a lot of headaches when playing with images. Serif is a British based company and the Affinity Photo application is priced extremely reasonably at 48.99UKP, which at the current time of writing is exactly $65.00 USD. This is a one off payment, not a subscription – so with only three months of usage you’ve saved money compared to Adobe Photoshop.
I mentioned earlier that I am an extreme novice when it comes to image manipulation software – which is why you’ll find very limited information here at ReviewMacSoftware because we only tend to review software products that we’ve actually used. Well, even I can use Affinity Photo, partially because it’s extremely easy to use but mostly because Serif have produced some extremely easy to watch video tutorials covering just about everything that Affinity can do.
The best thing about Affinity is that almost everything is done in a non-destructive way (providing you use the tools correctly) which means that you load your initial photo into the application then you apply adjustment layers, or filter layers depending on what you want to achieve. Through the use of these non-destructive layers you can see each individual step of the image manipulation process. So if you’re wanting to adjust the contrast – apply a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. You can then manipulate that layer separately from everything else. If the colours aren’t quite vibrant enough, apply another adjustment layer to play around with them. When you think you’ve got the colour changes correct, but those changes have had an impact on the contrast, you can simply go back to the contrast adjustment layer and tweak that again.
With the layered approach to image manipulation you never have to worry about which changes to do in which order, or that you’re going to damage the original image. You won’t find yourself doing multiple ‘Undo / Redo’ keystrokes to backtrack from something you did 7 brushstrokes ago to an unrelated area of the image. Just highlight the relevant layer and modify that specific change.
This layered approach also extends to filters, so if you want to make the subjects of the image stand out and the background blur (since most phone cameras these days have an infinite focus which puts the whole picture in focus) to create a depth effect, you simply add a Filter Layer and play around with that. You can stack multiple filters on each other to produce some fabulous effects.
If you find your picture looks great, except that there’s some subjects in the background that you’d like to remove, Affinity lets you do that too. And, you guessed it, it’s done as a layer. So if you remove a subject from the picture but it doesn’t look quite right, you can remove the layer and the image is back to how it was. Or you can add other layers to improve the effect.
I’ve only just touched the surface of what Affinity can do as I’ve only been playing with it for a few days now. But, it’s newbie friendly enough and you can begin to see results almost immediately and by following the tutorials you can let your creativity flow rather than have to learn how to use complex imaging software. Everything you do updates in real time, so you can see the changes you’re making immediately without having to commit a layer. The text tools, for example, change size and font in real time so you can see them straight away. Overlaying text onto your images, for titles or subtitles is simple. Rotating the title is a simple matter of grabbing the rotate handle and simply positioning it where-ever you want.
Serif have done a fantastic job with Affinity, creating an extremely powerful tool that is so easy to use you can see the results straight away. The software looks professional, is well styled and fits the Mac look and feel nicely.
I will be playing around with this a lot more, as I want to be creating more videos and artwork for my various project.
Oh, and the very best thing about Affinity – it comes with a 7 day free trial – so you can try it for yourself and if you don’t like it, you can uninstall it easily and switch to something different. I’ll not be uninstalling my version at the end of the trial though. For $65.00 it’s a bargain.
Affinity Photo Benefits
- Easy to install
- Easy to learn – even for newbies like me
- Extremely powerful
- Looks fabulous
- Amazing tutorial videos provided by Affinity themselves
- Excellent one-off price – no subscription model
- Can open a huge variety of image files, including PSD
- Available for Windows and iOS too
- Free 7 day trial
- Full benefit list at https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/photo/
If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, please leave them below and we’ll do our best to help.