Graphic editors and painting packages

Graphic editors and painting packages have been around since the early days of the personal computer. But graphics need memory and this was in short supply with the first generation PCs, few of which could handle photo editing or painting apps. As in other areas of computing it was the games industry which drove rapid development.

Adobe Photoshop appeared in 1988 for the Apple Mac and is the best known photo editor/paint app although there are and always have been many alternatives, many of which are open-source or exist in a niche form. Some of these such as DeLuxe Paint (1985) for the Amiga are remembered fondly (by the elderly such as myself) but most failed, in part because for many years pirate copies of Photoshop and Corel Paint were available almost everywhere. This may have been a deliberate policy by Adobe – charge the corporate and professional users but ignore the home users, for a while – to build an, ‘industry standard’ base or even a ‘world-wide standard’ such as Microsoft Office.

30 years ago…

Wherever the truth lies it’s certain that Photoshop set a standard for others to aspire to. Adobe’s main rival in this field is Corel, offering a more integrated vector and raster/bitmap package. Both are subscription priced, with hefty annual payments for ever. Both Corel and Adobe packages are ‘mature’ and major development of either seems unlikely, so what are we paying for each year, many users ask?

The 2002 version

Comparison of raster graphics editors – there are currently 44 free or open-source graphics apps or packages available and around 50 commercial ones.

The potential for world-wide sales have attracted many other developers and a number of apps are available at low cost. The most recently successful of these is the Affinity suite, Photo, Designer and Publisher and I use these for much of my work. Affinity is a brand name of Serif Europe, a UK company who previously sold the popular DrawPlus (suite) – Affinity replaces this.

The Affinity suite is well integrated and does most of what I need but the things it cannot yet do – such as Trace – are quite desirable. So there are still gaps in this market, and plenty of people who want to fill those gaps. Developments in hardware – more memory and better graphics chips – make this easier to achieve. All the major IT players are continually developing the software systems which underly graphic editing (OpenGL, WebP for instance) and this leads to faster, more stable and seamless graphics working.

Taking advantage of Apple Mac developments is Pixelmator which has been around since 2007 with support from Apple but has not really gained a following, yet it is cheap and pretty effective, most users will be satisfied I think. It is aimed squarely at photo editing and claims to work across all the Apple platforms which many would find helpful, and there are a fair number of useful tutorials available. It is partially integrated with Vectornator but I haven’t really explored this as yet.

All these apps take time to learn but the layout, use of icons and tool symbols tend to follow the Photoshop style. The exceptions are the apps more devoted to on-screen painting and drawing, mostly available for Windows and quite cheap or free, these often have their own way of doing things. One of the most popular is SketchBook and this is available for all platforms and free for the time being, it’s being given away to schools and colleges. Seashore is a fairly simple painting app for the mac, available for free on the AppStore, popular with children.  As with all painting applications a touch screen or pad and a stylus/pen is essential, painting with a mouse is tiresome.

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