I’ve been looking for alternatives to Photoshop (and Illustrator, but I digress) ever since Adobe apps started refusing to launch if they couldn’t phone home (i.e. around 2001).
Since Adobe introduced product activation, I’ve been searching for something I can just license and install on any machine I use, the way I can with a lot of indie products (e.g. Silo, Cheetah, and Unity).
Well, my search is over, and if you’re like me, maybe yours is too.
Photoline is a Mac (and Windows) image editing program that is clearly intended to be a complete Photoshop replacement. Its user interface is pretty similar to Photoshop’s (although less polished, to be sure, and prone to the occasional untranslated piece of German).
If you can’t stomach using a program that uses scrollbars as numerical input widgets, you may find Photoline intolerable (some of its dialogs have definitely been whacked with the ugly stick). Oh, and for such an excellent graphics program, it has one of the most lamentable icons I’ve ever seen. That’s about all the bad stuff I have to say about Photoline though.
Here’s what Photoline does that a lot of wannabe apps don’t:
- Pixel accurate drawing and selection tools
- 16-bits per channel
- CMYK and Lab color
- Full masking support
- Fully editable text layers with proper typographic controls (such as kerning and paragraph spacing)
- Shape layers with solid bezier tools
- Layer effects (drop shadows, etc.)
- Difference Clouds
- HDR image support (including creating HDRs from multiple source photos)
- Image slicing, image maps, and animation tools for web designers
- Useful web export tools with presets, previews, file size info, etc.
- Recordable Macros
Photoline’s user interface won’t win a beauty contest against, say, Pixelmator, but it’s fast, tidy, extremely functional, and rock solid.
Here’s what Photoline does that even Photoshop can’t match:
- Useful named presets for most filters
- Ability to name and save your own presets for most filters
- Text (paragraph and character) style sheets
- Launches in less than 1s on my MacBook Pro
- Costs about US $90 (59 Euros)
- Doesn’t phone home on launch
- No product activation
Photoline also supports most of the bitmap graphic file formats you’re likely to care about – check the image at right for a full list.
Photoline has excellent file format support. Combined with its fast launch time, you might find yourself using it instead of GraphicConverter and Preview, too.
There are a few annoyances. Photoline’s user interface is neither very Maclike (it has a ton of floating palettes, which it tastefully drapes around the edges of your screen) nor an obvious clone of Photoshop’s. You won’t discover that your knowledge of Photoshop’s keyboard shortcuts is very helpful, and some functions have been renamed for no good reason (e.g. “Levels” is called “Histogram Correction”). Often, however, I was surprised when I found things different but better in Photoline.
For example, Photoshop’s noise tool — which is incredibly useful — hasn’t changed much since Photoshop 1.0. You get two kinds of noise, and you can decide whether you want monochromatic or colored noise. (Hint — you almost never want colored noise.) Similarly, Photoshop’s clouds tool — also incredibly useful — hasn’t changed much either.
Photoline has a single tool that does both jobs, can be configured to do almost anything either of them can do and a lot more besides with continuous adjustments, and has presets. My initial disappointment at not finding an “Add Noise” filter turned into delight at discovering a much better thought out alternative (and it produces “nicer” looking noise, too).
Here is the Clouds tool (it does everything Render Clouds and Noise do in Photoshop, and then some). Note the named presets and the before/after view with slider.
There are obvious interoperability issues. Photoline isn’t written by Adobe, so it doesn’t understand the deep inner workings of PSD and PDF and AI files, which means you won’t be able to seamlessly replace Photoshop in an Adobe-centric workflow. Similarly, when you save to PSD, Photoline doesn’t know how to convert its text layers into Photoshop text layers (so your text will get rasterized).
Photoline does, however, tell you exactly what you will lose when you save in different file formats (something Photoshop is less clear about). But for cases where you’re mainly working with bitmaps (and not trying, for example, to import complex illustrator designs), Photoline is a very solid Photoshop replacement, and a fabulous image editor which you can launch in a fraction of a second. Just its launch time has me hooked.
Did I mention it launches in less than a second?
Photoline offers a 30 day free trial, so don’t take my word for any of this! The only limitation I’ve found is that you need to wait 10s after it launches before you can start working (which prevents you from enjoying its best feature). Try Photoline today.
- Fast, powerful, stable, easy (for experienced Photoshop users) to use
- It’s not very pretty (prettier than GraphicConverter — what isn’t? — but uglier than Pixelmator or Photoshop)
- More capable in some ways than Photoshop, but limited interoperability with Adobe workflows
- Free 30 day trial with nothing major disabled (just 10s wait after launching)
- Costs 59 Euros ($90 or so at time of writing)
- More expensive than Pixelmator, Acorn, or Iris, but a heck of a lot more useful; more Maclike and considerably more stable than Pixel.