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Issue 11.3 ('XDC 2013')
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Acorn 4

Issue: 11.3 (May/June 2013)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 5,194
Starting Page Number: 13
Article Number: 11302
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While I've been an Adobe Photoshop user for _decades_ (wow), for some reason I'm always looking for a replacement, or at least a supplement. I want something simpler and less of a behemoth, something quick and light. I've finally found that with Acorn 4.

I've tried other "light" image editors and the problem is that I always keep running into walls. Either the program won't do what I want—it's missing key features—or the user interface is so different from Photoshop that it's more trouble than it's worth.

Acorn 4 really pushes the limit of smaller and light, for it feels extremely full-featured. It has full support of vector graphics, text, multi-color gradients, and layer masks. It's built around layers, and even filters are on their own layers and therefore non-destructive—you can easily go back and modify them later.

The program adds some nice features such as instant alpha (a bit like Photoshop's magic wand, but designed for masking), an awesome arrow tool (why doesn't Photoshop have this obvious need?), and a wonderful brush editor. In the latter feature, I love that whatever you draw on the sketchpad redraws with whatever changes you make to the brush—you don't have to redraw it each time to see the new effect.

There's also a nifty screenshot tool that captures every window on your computer on its own layer. This is great as you can rearrange windows afterward; however, it does capture a bazillion layers (including tons of invisible programs that don't even have windows).

While the user interface has a few quirks, in general it's Photoshop-like and familiar and easy to use. My favorite feature is that Photoshop shortcuts like typing letters to select various tools and using arrow keys in number fields to increment/decrement the value both work—it drives me nuts in other programs when those standards aren't there.

Perhaps the oddest difference is that Acorn has the zero point in the lower left corner instead of the top left; this means settings for things like a drop shadow are reversed from Photoshop, and use negative numbers to be a bottom shadow. Weird, but you quickly adjust.

Another struggle is the way certain tools work. For instance, if I draw a shape with a vector tool such as the Arrow tool and then select a different tool, the Inspector doesn't show me the settings for Arrows even though my arrow's still selected. To get Arrow-modifications, I have to click on the Arrow tool on the tool palette again. But then I have to be careful about clicking on the image, because I might accidentally draw a new arrow while I'm trying to adjust the old one (you can hold down the Command key to alleviate this problem).

Surprisingly, my biggest complaint about Acorn is a slight sluggishness when drawing and using filters on large images, even on a fast Mac. For a program that's supposed to be faster, that's odd. It also uses an obscene amount of RAM (a few minutes of playing had Acorn using nearly 2GB; even after a fresh launch, just drawing an arrow jumped up the RAM used by 300MB).

Still, despite a few complaints, I like that I'm not solely dependent upon Photoshop for my image editing needs. (I had a problem last summer where my Adobe Suite suddenly decided I wasn't authorized to run it any more and it took days of tedious tech support to get the matter rectified.) Acorn 4 is the first low-cost image editor I've found that is genuinely competitive with Photoshop, and while I'm sure there are tons of things Photoshop can do that Acorn can't, for most of my image editing needs Acorn more than suffices. It's definitely worth checking out, and if you don't already have Photoshop, it's a no-brainer purchase (especially while it's on sale this month).

End of article.