Is Adobe the only Choice?

Let’s be honest; software is an expensive, yet essential, part of many production workflows. Chances are, if you’re working on a design project, you are using an Adobe product. There’s no doubt the software giant has become an indispensable asset in the design industry, dominating the digital graphic creation market with competitors like CorelDraw, Freehand, and Quark seemingly unable to compete with the interconnected 20-app Creative Cloud.  

Still, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking the software is overpriced. When I was a student, I paid $500 for Adobe Creative Suite 6. Last November I took the plunge and purchased a Creative Cloud “all apps” subscription for over $300 dollars per year, if you’re an individual or business owner, you’re looking at a cost of between $500 and $1000 per year per computer. Crunch those numbers and a freelancer, student, and small business owner is going to be paying a lot for software over their lifetime.

While it can be easy to accept this expense as a necessary sunk cost, if a designer is willing to get creative, there are other options. Most workflows use print-ready PDFs; the steps a designer takes to deliver this file don’t have to break the bank. At the free end of the spectrum is one of Photoshop’s most popular alternatives the opensource image editor GIMP. It can open and edit a layered Photoshop file, with similar editing tools. To support a desktop publishing workflow it pairs with its sister programs, Inkscape and Scribus, the complements to Illustrator and InDesign respectively. Inkscape is powerful, with robust tools including: a spirals tool, a tool to create patterns, advanced object manipulation options, multiple filters (including bevels, textures, overlays), and some nifty fill settings. Other alternatives for vectors and digital painting include Gravit, sketchbook, and Krita.

However, the newest kid on the block, who may actually give Adobe a run for their subscription fees, is Affinity. UK-based Serif Labs, a developer of low-cost, PC/Windows desktop publishing software for entry-level users, is taking on the graphics software market. The Affinity Suite (Designer, Photo, and Publisher), has been developed specifically as an Adobe desktop publishing alternative.

Both Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo each retail at a one-off fee of about $70 Canadian, and Affinity Publisher is a free download because it is currently in beta testing. While the suite could be dismissed as a cheap graphics program aimed at amateurs, it actually offers a plethora of features that could make it an attractive choice for designers. Moreover, the software runs on iPads something Photoshop only recently introduced in 2019.

Affinity is flexible. An Affinity document can open seamlessly across Affinity applications, and the software is able to open PSD, AI, and EPS files making the ability to update and transition client files easy. Although you won’t be able to save back into the native Adobe formats Affinity can export files to many vector and raster formats. Be cautioned, because there is a broader range of editing in Adobe some features may not import.

However, many of the core tools and functions found in Adobe exist in the Affinity software. Affinity Photo has the clone tool, healing brush, liquify, dodge and burn, and patch tool as part of a complete non-destructive workflow. Affinity Designer boasts a stabilized drawing tool, advanced geometry tools, PANTONE swatches, and full optimization for UI, websites, and app design. Furthermore, Designer has the ability to switch to a pixel environment without leaving the application, allowing the user to paint with raster brushes, adjustment layers, and add masks. Affinity Publisher has many of the same tools found in InDesign, including master pages, page number, and tables, as well as character and paragraph styles. The software frequently updates making it more accessible and versatile.

Will Affinity truly usurp in the market? It’s hard to say. There is a reason we call it “Photoshop” and not “photo editing.” But with other software available and adaptive designers willing to test the scope of these options, while demanding more flexibility in terms of platform and integration with UI and web-based applications, the potential for competition for the Goliath of graphic software could become a reality. I know my wallet would appreciate it.