Alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite

So far, the single largest possible expense I have identified in my Open Master’s plan will be equipping myself with appropriate graphics-and-photo-editing software.  My main purposes for having this software are to be able to:

  • Edit photos quickly and professionally, mostly for the web.  I have used photoshop and lightroom for years and am comfortable with them, so I was hoping to find something at least as good as them.
  • At some point in the near future, be able to do some of my own professional-quality desktop publishing for things like workshop handouts, publishing the Open Master’s handbook, etc.
  • Quickly draw (digital) diagrams, sketches, process flows, relationship maps, etc. to help explain ideas and systems visually.  For example, this blog post could have been improved by a quick diagram of some of the various graphics-editing tools available, and how they relate to one another, but I wouldn’t know what to use for that currently.

The industry default for each of these would be PhotoshopInDesign, and Illustrator (Also known as the Adobe Creative Suite).  But Adobe products are outrageously priced, and I was having trouble with alternatives.

I have also tried our some open source tools- like gimp and inkscape– and a few online tools like aviary.  These do work and can do everything you could want- if you can invest the time in learning their quirks- but they just aren’t totally there yet in terms of usability for my purposes.  Both have crashed on me very badly- each spectacularly frustrating in their own special way- and the learning curve is steeper than Adobe products.  Sad but true.

Thankfully, my network gave me some great help this week sorting out my options.  A week ago, I put out a cry for help on my gchat status and got some really great suggestions.  There are basically two main options on the table:

Option 1

Go in together with friends on buying the Adobe Creative Suite with a student discount, e.g. through a sibling who is in school or through a company that has spare licenses to donate (thanks Allison Basile and Lucy Burnett for suggesting), or:

Option 2

Cobble together a solution with a collection of alternative programs (thanks Jeff Bordogna, Philipp Schmidt, Dirk Uys, Google, etc.).  Jeff pointed out that maybe several years ago Photoshop and InDesign might have ruled the roost, but today there are many products that do only one or a handful of things that each of those does- but do it very well and are very cheap.

So while I may not be able to replace Adobe Creative Suite with one product, I could do the trick with a variety of more specialized products, such as:

  • In place of PhotoShop / Illustrator – Acorn or PhotoLine – each look like a photoshop lite- with layers, masks, etc. and some vector editing capabilities (though, not really a vector graphics editor).  Maybe not quite as slick, but you can’t beat the price ($50 and €59, respectively).  More than likely, though I would just start off with just Pixelmator– which is primarily focused on image editing and reasonably priced ($15)- and then add something else like Sketch  ($30) to my collection if I ever find that I really need a powerful vector editing tool.
  • In place of InDesign – PagePlus ($100), Scribus (Free, Open Source), or Pages ($20).
  • For sketching systems digrams, etc., there are some tools that were not really made for this purpose but which definitely do the trick in a pinch, such as using Keynote (the mac presentation tool, $20) and Balsamiq (a mockup editor which I am already using for client projects, $158 / year split with my business partner) to quickly sketch up ideas.  There is also MindMeister (Freemium) for relationship mapping.  I could continue to use programs like these for now and hold out on getting a vector editing tool until I really need it (and until I can invest some time in really learning how to use them well).

So for now I think I will:

  1. Hold out on Option 1 a little bit longer.  It’s still the “industry standard” and if I can get it cheaply, that will be less hassle than cobbling together alternatives, but I’ll have to wait to see if others can help me do this affordbly.  Do you want Adobe Creative Suite too?
  2. If not, buy Pixelmator ($15) and Scribus (free) and see how far this gets me for photo editing and desktop publishing projects this Fall.
  3. Later (next Spring at the earliest), look into learning more about vector graphics editors and invest more money and time into learning a program like Sketch (maybe even look into taking a course) and possibly even look into hardware investments that would help with graphics sketching- like an iPad or a digital sketchpad.

Thanks everyone for your help!

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