I previously wrote about my favorite graphics program of all time, Designer Pro. While it does nearly everything I’d ever need to do with images, sometimes you just have to push some pixels. I also mentioned that I tend to use Photoshop for that. But, as Designer pro advances in features, I am finding myself hard-pressed to justify the cost of upgrading it.
Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop is amazingly powerful, but it is expensive. Besides, sometimes the cost of “amazing” is high not only for your wallet, but also for your system resources. Sometimes I want to push some pixels but I just don’t feel like dealing with the load time and memory drain. Thankfully there are plenty of amazing little pixel-pushers out there.
On Windows, my absolute favorite mini-pixel-pusher is Paint.net. It has an intriguing history as a Microsoft mentored udergrad’ project that was a potential replacement for “MS Paint”. But, seriously, mentioning “MS Paint” in the same article does an incredible injustice to Paint.net, which is incredibly feature rich, with a vibrant community. It even supports plug-ins (found on the community forum). One of my favorite features is the ribbon bar showing all the images you have open. It is one of the easiest ways to navigate multiple open files that I’ve ever seen. Paint.net is an incredible tool, and best of all, it’s FREE.
I’ve also mentioned that I recently switched to the Mac, which left a pretty big hole in terms of a replacement for Paint.net. I found an excellent light-weight program called Acorn. It’s not quite as feature rich as Paint.net, but it is an excellent mini-pixel-pusher. It loads really fast and has a very clean interface – one of the most compelling features, in fact. Don’t let the simple interface fool you though, it packs plenty of punch. Acorn costs about $20 bucks – pretty cheap! But, what’s interesting is that you can actually use the software for “free” but with some features removed. While the removed features are awesome and brings it closer to Paint.net’s functionality, I don’t think their exclusion is a deal-breaker by any means.
While I really like Acorn, another app stole my heart on the Mac – Pixelmator. When I say that Pixelmator has the best interface I’ve seen in an image app, I hope that you don’t dismiss it as an empty superlative. The interface is absolutely beautiful. One of the coolest features is its dynamic tolerances. In other image apps, you have a dialog box or slider somewhere that controls the tolerance used in tools like the magic wand. With Pixelmator, there is no dialogue. Say you’re using the magic wand to select a background. As usual, you’ll pick a spot in the area you want the wand to select. But, instead of letting go, keep the mouse button pressed down and drag the cursor up or down to increase or decrease the tolerance. I am not sure if this feature showed up first in another app or not, but it is genius. Pixelmator is not free, but it is fairly cheap (for a limited time it’s $29 – I think it is usually, $59).
In closing, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people’s likes or dislikes are so varied and while I like a tool, you may not. So, I’ve included a couple links to some alternatives here: Mac | Win. Also, here is a good resource for Photoshop tutorials. While they are written for Photoshop, a lot of the techniques are transferable.