Alternatives to Adobe's Creative Cloud

Alternatives to Adobe's Creative Cloud

Discover the software alternatives when you unplug the Creative Suite drip

If you are one of the people outraged by Creative Suite moving to a software-leasing model, it may be time to start looking at the alternatives. In order to have the latest versions of Adobe software you will need to pay £46.88pm as a new customer, £27.34pm if upgrading and £17.58pm if you only use one app. The complaints have come in thick and fast from those who don't want to be held hostage to a monthly fee and the consequences of stopping paying, so in this feature we'll take a look at what else you can be spending your money on to get a similar, Adobe free, level of software.

Photoshop photo-editing

The current version of Photoshop is something of a sprawling epic, covering a variety of fields, but at heart it is an image-editor. The most affordable alternative is of course, GIMP (, which is entirely free. It also most closely resembles Photoshop with a good RAW import engine, layers, brushes, and a host of image correction tools. The basics of Levels and Curves plus colour correction are all handled well and there are also a large number of filters for creative effects. The interface is somewhat piecemeal and takes getting used to, but for most photo-editing tasks, it's very capable. Note that it doesn't support CMYK, just RGB, Grayscale and Indexed. On the plus side, there's also a Bezier Curve pen tool and layers can have masks and alpha channels. It can be slow to do the more intensive processing tasks, but otherwise it's quite slick and smooth. One thing that Photoshop now offers is 3D, so if you want to consider that then DAZ Studio 4.6 offers a free route into basic rendering. Alternatives to GIMP are less serious, but Acorn 4 (£20.99) features non-destructive filters, layers styles, curves and levels and a range of simple editing tools. The Clone tool though is limited. For pure painting options you really can't do better than Corel's Painter (£190) which features natural media painting, paints that actually mix and run and brushes that Photoshop can only dream about. For a more creative aspect, replicating Photoshop filters, rather than Photoshop itself, then FX Photo Pro (£16.81) supports RAW files, has a good set of editing tools and supports images up to 40Mp.

Photographic workflow with Lightroom

While a busy design studio will make use of most of the features of Photoshop, a photographer tends not to, meaning that Lightroom actually does most of what they usually need. The clear rival to this is Apple's Aperture (£54.99) which now has a unified library with iPhoto. Photos can be searched by location, which is handy, and by face recognition, which is a little more gimmicky. There is also integration with Photo Stream in iCloud, with either a manual import or a rolling, automatic flow of the last 1000 images. The heart of the package though is the ability to process your RAW files without having to reach for Photoshop, or if you're Adobe-free, GIMP. There are all the basics such as contrast, exposure, colour, highlights and shadows, curves and levels. Then there are the correction facilities like noise reduction, red-eye, retouching, white balance and removing chromatic aberration. The retouching can be global or brush-based with non-destructive, selective editing. There are also some effects to consider as well, with cross processing, vintage style, toy camera, Cyanotype and sepia. Hovering the mouse over the effect produces a pop-up preview. Output options cover the usual social media if required, but the eye-catching feature is the built-in hard and soft cover book ordering facility.

If you want something that is more reminiscent of Lightroom, then turn your attention to Corel's AfterShot Pro (£80). Though slightly pricey, this offers a great RAW conversion engine, advanced tagging and metadata browsing and searching, plus easy-to-use adjustments for common problems. The asset management is good and it comes with some decent creative options as well as Perfectly Clear, a technology for automatically adjusting and enhancing lighting.

Illustrator vector graphics

The obvious alternative here is CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X6 but as that's Windows only you'll need a dual-boot system. There is Corel CAD 2013 (£696.97) which is vector graphics, but for mainly for industrial illustration. For vector graphics more in line with Illustrator, then VectorDesigner ($69.95) offers a simple and intuitive interface. It's good for simple shapes, web design, sticks and brochure art with a wide range of tools and smart shapes. You can convert bitmap images to vectors and there are tools for geometric operations and constraining text within irregular shapes. There's also a Flickr browser to allow images and textures to be harvested by the program. Reads PDF, EPS and SVG files and can export PDF and EPS. The main alternative to this, and probably the best like-for-like replacements are Inkspace and iDraw (£17.49). Like GIMP, Inkspace is open source and free. It offers a streamlined interface and features like markers, clones, alpha blending and tracing bitmaps. Editing node points is easy and you can perform complex path operations. However, it bombs out on Mountain Lion and the current version is only rated for Snow Leopard.

Over to iDraw then and this imports and exports vector PDF and SVG documents. It has drop shadows, inner shadows, strokes and fills on objects. Text can be bound to follow any path and there's a Bezier pen tool for editing points, curves and lines. Multiple points can be selected at once. For graphical fanciness there are gradients, vector brushes and shape libraries.

Page layout with InDesign

If you're going to abandon InDesign it's probably time to say hello to QuarkXpress (£799) again. Since Quark's heyday it has extended traditional page design to include create e-books, Android, web and iPad apps. The headline feature though is composition zones, where different people can work on different parts of a magazine at the same time, without separating documents. You can do all the things in Quark that you were doing in InDesign, including design grids for unlimited baseline grids, transparency boxes, CMYK and spot colour support. The typography is the heart of the system with hanging characters, a story editor, conditional style rules, linking and unlinking of text boxes without overflow, bullets and numbering for lists and complete control over text and object alignment. Text can also be styled with style sheets, run along complex paths or converted into graphic boxes so they can be filled with images and gradients. When busy designing new layouts, the Jabber command will fill your page automatically with dummy text, and you can use the automatic kerning table built into a font or tweak it with your own values. The real bonus though is the ability to create tablet and smartphone apps, websites and digital magazines.

Of course, at £799 you might not really consider QuarkXpress to be much of an alternative, in which case Scribus (Free) might be more appropriate. This is open source so it's free but still supports colour separations, CMYK, ICC colour management, PDFs and spot colours. Graphics are supported with images, charts and graphs while text features drop caps, frames, lists and a Story Editor.

Dreamweaver web design

If you like the drag and drop, visual method of designing websites, rather than hand-coding everything, then Dreamweaver is ideal. Finding a like-for-like replacement is a little harder because it features the WYSIWYG design interface as well as a code editor with sophisticated syntax-checking. However, one to look at is RapidWeaver 5 (£54.99) which comes with 11 types of built-in page content types. These cover everything from graphics-heavy photo albums to text-friendly blogs and contact forms. For the actual website design there are 45 preset themes included where you can change from one theme to another with just one click. There's built-in support for FTP and SFTP to upload the site. If you do need to get your hands dirty with coding then that's possible as well but it's the automated features like relinking when you move pages around and a dedicated plugin that creates a sitemap automatically that will be most appreciated. To back it up there's support for GoSquared LiveStats and Google Analytics plus a host of add-ons, all rounded up in one area. Code generated by RapidWeaver is guaranteed to look good in all popular browsers and the themes are built using CSS so they can be customised if required. Some alternatives include Sandvox ($79.99) from Karelia Software which offers a drag and drop interface for HTML5 code with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube integration. There's also Freeway 6 Pro ($149.99) which allows you to design the pages visually with master pages for content and style. It's ideal for creating new website concepts and testing them.

Easy websites with Muse

So if you found Dreamweaver too technical then you may well have become acquainted with Muse which offers an even more visually orientated design interface. More like page-design than web, Muse still allows snippets of code to be used but they are cut and pasted in when required. Again, RapidWeaver is a great alternative but for truly simple web design take a look at Artisteer ($49.95/$129.95). This uses basic templates and adds photo objects and buttons and can export Wordpress themes, Joomla and Drupal templates. Of course, iWeb was the natual alternative to Muse but Apple canned that along with MobileMe. Online alternatives now include Jimdo (Free) where you can start creating a hosted website by selecting templates and layouts or customising the ones supplied. You can add a webstore, include image galleries viewable with Flash and HTML and add Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links. The Pro version is £60 per year and adds more professional designs and options, while the Business version at £180py adds a sophisticated online store. There's also Weebly (Free) which has a free model for a basic website, $4pm for the Starter package that adds custom branding options, expanded site stats and support, and the $8pm Pro package. All the sites are SEO optimised, have links to social media and blogging. There are 100s of contemporary site designs and layout is easy with a drag and drop interface. Sites will work on everything from the desktop browsers to iPhone and iPad.

Premiere Pro video editing

The choice of alternatives in the video editing and post-production world largely depends on what your studio has been doing. A lot of seasoned editors are tied to Avid's Media Composer (£862.80), thanks to the, previously, rigid hardware-software requirements. While Media Composer can now work as an off-line editor and doesn't require Avid-certified hardware to run, it remains the choice of the established studio with powerful editing and colour grading facilities. It also has a dated, idiosyncratic interface and only fully supports hi-res formats with just-launched version 7. That's why Apple's own Final Cut Pro X (£199) presents a fresher alternative. FCP works a little differently from rival apps, with a dynamic editing interface and a magnetic timeline. This automates assembling clips by closing up gaps, shunting clips around to avoid collision and sync problems. However, you can get specific and use the Position tool to accurately place clips. Developing multiple angle shots is possible with up to 64 angles of video and photos in a Multicam Clip. Open this up in the Angle Editor, move and edit the clips then when finished, drop the Clip back into the project.

There's support for a wide range of formats including AVCHD and RED plus h.264 from video and stills cameras. Once input there are options for correcting stabilisation issues, the rolling shutter problem and cleaning up the audio. All effects have a preview option before being applied and there's a variety of methods for colour grading the footage. A final word is that FCP uses all Mac CPU cores and likes plenty of RAM and power to work with.

After Effects video compositing and effects

If you've decided to ditch Premiere Pro for Apple's FCP then it also makes sense to abandon After Effects in favour of Apple's Motion 5 (£34.99). Motion 5 has a redesigned interface, dedicated to making it easy to work with, and swap between, it and FCP. It features templates for effects, transitions, titles and generators. One key feature is being able to create rigs that control a group of parameters at once with sliders, pop-up menus or a tick box. One of the strengths of Motion is the chroma keying with control over uneven background and edge softness. There's high quality rendering, GPU utilisation and the ability to use video tracks and image without size limitations. There's more interoperability with FCP in the form of the editable templates. Import them from FCP, customise then export back to FCP again. Of course you get a heap of content with Motion 5 anyway, with more than 1900 royalty free elements. There's a real-time design engine that let's you make adjustments during live playback and you can record moving objects around the canvas. Behaviours can be added to objects so the are repelled, thrown, whipped around or bound by gravity.

If you aren't going down that route then it's worth considering Blender (Freeware) for compositing and animated graphics, especially 3D. Another alternative is Wondershare Video Editor ($39.99), which is a simple video editing package but could be considered for the 80+ artistic filters, title screens and intros. Video can be output in HD formats.

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