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Summary:

Here are the best alternatives I’ve found that offer similar functionality to what is available in each of Adobe’s products.

Photoshop to Pixelmator

Though Adobe’s Creative Suite is still the top choice in creative software by professionals, for individuals and smaller businesses Creative Suite may not be affordable, especially if they only need one or two tools included in the set. CS6’s Design Standard suite costs $1,299, and is composed of Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign and Acrobat but will cost you roughly $500 each if you buy them individually. Luckily, much of the core functionality you will find in each of Adobe’s products is available in alternative products for a much lower price.

Adobe Creative Suite Priced Individually

Through apps mostly available via the Mac App Store, you can decide which components of the software set matter most to you and build up your own custom suite over time to meet your creative needs.  Here are the best alternatives I’ve found that offer similar functionality to what is available in each of Adobe’s products.

Acrobat to SmileOnMyMac’s PDFPenAcrobat to SmileOnMyMac’s PDFPen ($59.99, Mac) Possibly one of the best apps on the Mac is PDFPen. Like Apple’s Preview application that comes with OS X, you can annotate and add signatures to your PDF documents. Looking beyond annotations, you can scan documents directly into PDFPen and use its OCR feature on the scanned in text to make the scanned document editable. Being able to edit a PDF document directly, not just annotate it, and saving changes to it as a PDF document is another important feature PDFPen has. Exporting the document to Microsoft Word is a recently added feature that is also very useful. There is a Pro version ($99.99, Mac) that adds the ability to create interactive PDF forms, which allows you to add text fields, check boxes and radio buttons, as well as add submit buttons to your forms.  It is also one of the few apps on this list that has an iOS companion app ($4.99 iPhone, $14.99 iPad) with which you can share your PDF files with your iPad and iPhone via iCloud.

Photoshop to PixelmatorPhotoshop to Pixelmator ($14.99, Mac) By now it’s no secret that Pixelmator is one of the favorite apps on OS X for many. When you think of Photoshop, you think more than just applying filters to your images; you want to edit them. With its multilayered support, you can easily touch up and enhance your images with Pixelmator.  Many of the same tools that Photoshop users have become accustomed too are here too, like the smudge, sponge and brush tools.  Pixelmator also comes with some basic vector tools that may be all that you need from a full-featured vector editing tool like Illustrator.  For most of your day-to-day image editing needs, and at the current low price point of $15, it is hard to beat Pixelmator.

Illustrator to Indeeo’s iDrawIllustrator to Indeeo’s iDraw ($24.99, Mac) If you have not worked with a true vector drawing tool then you have been missing out on being able to make some really crisp and sharp graphics. Indeeo’s iDraw comes with a decent library of shapes to choose from and supports PDF and SVG import/export.  This means that you can import professional shapes from sites like VectorStock and iStockphoto and tailor them to your needs.  For shapes that are not included in iDraw’s library, you will find the pen tool up to the task of drawing your own set of custom shapes.  The gradient editor is more than adequate and you can edit and modify your paths with ease.  About the only feature that is great to have in Illustrator is the ability to automatically trace a path around an existing graphic — an important feature if you happen to inherit a library of graphics that you need to modify and resize to a higher resolution.  iDraw also has an iOS companion app ($8.99 iPad) that can be a useful as well.

InDesign to Belight’s Swift PublisherInDesign to Belight’s Swift Publisher ($19.99, Mac) When it comes to page layout editors, what you are looking for is one that comes with plenty of pre-defined templates to choose from; this one has 180 different templates.  It also has the ability to create additional templates.  With Swift Publisher, you can create professional-looking brochures, fliers and newsletters.  It has a large clip art library, many different shapes to work with and a decent layer editor that allows you to work with multiple layers within your documents.  It also has some convenient features like the ability to quickly center objects on the page with the touch of a button — something that makes Swift Publisher a better choice as a layout editor over alternatives in the App Store like Apple’s own Pages app.

Premier to TechSmith’s CamtasiaPremiere to TechSmith’s Camtasia ($99.99, Mac) If you are looking for a quick and easy movie editor, then look no further than iMovie (free, Mac). If you want something a little more full-featured, then consider stepping up to Final Cut Pro X ($299.99 Mac). But if you are looking for a tool that will help you create screen captures then Camtasia is the best tool that will deliver everything you need to make a professional-looking video.  Some of the included features with Camtasia, like the tilt and restore animations, will bring a level of professionalism to your online screencasts.  Besides being a great screen-capturing tool, its included video editing tool is also easy to use.  Definitely consider this one if you are not splicing together a feature film.

Audition to Amadeus LiteAudition to Amadeus Lite ($24.99, Mac) Of course there is Garageband (free, Mac) and LogicPro ($199, Mac), but if you are looking for a something with a simpler user interface for dealing directly with an audio file, then Amadeus is what you need. Zooming in and out and scrolling through an audio file is straightforward.  It even comes with full support for Apple’s Audio Units,  plug-ins that can be used to process audio.  There is a Pro version ($59.99, Mac) that adds multi-track editing, batch processing and some audio repairing features that enable you to remove some of the background noise from your recordings. As a free alternative, you may also and to try out Audacity (free, Mac).

DreamWeaver to Realmac’s RapidWeaverDreamWeaver to Realmac’s RapidWeaver ($79.99, Mac) With the dawn of technologies like WordPress, Drupal and online hosting providers like SquareSpace, the need to create a website from the ground up for many has almost become a forgotten art form.  RapidWeaver includes 45 different themes that you can use to help kickstart your website development without having to learn how to code HTML and CSS.  RapidWeaver has more of a traditional WYSIWYG document editor feel to it than a traditional HTML low-level development tool.  It really picks up where Apple’s now-abandoned iWeb application left off.  Another great alternative to consider when editing HTML and CSS files on the Mac is Tumilt’s HyperEdit ($9.99 Mac) if you are looking for an editor more appealing to developers.

Flash to Aquafadas’ MotionComposerFlash to Aquafadas’ MotionComposer ($149, Mac) While MotionComposer is not available on the Mac App Store, I was able to pick up a license as part of a bundle from MacUpdate and I’m glad I did. This tool brings the same animation effects that you’d get in Apple’s Keynote and helps you publish them on your website.  MotionComposer will create both Flash and HTML5 animations from the same project.  You get to decide which format you want to publish on your site.  It can also integrate your animations into your iBooks Author document.  If you are just looking to add a little animation to your website, then this is the tool to get.  An alternative to Flash in the Mac App Store that you may also want to consider is Tumult’s Hype ($59.99 Mac), it too can output your animations as HTML5.

Provided you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, shopping for individual apps may be a much more economical route to go.  There are times when you are participating as part of a creative team that you must support the input and output formats of the tools your teammates are using.  This is especially true when you must hand off your artwork to a publisher or printer that requires a specific file format. When this is the case, you must purchase the tools that your team supports.

None of these apps listed are complete replacements for such development shops, but these alternatives will get the job done in smaller or one-person creative teams.  And at these prices, each one of these great software titles are definitely worth the investment.

  1. I’ve used Adobe, Aldus, Go Live, Quark, Macro Media, et al software since 1986 to today as a graphic design for print and digital work.
    But this year, with the changes in how Adobe sells its products, I am VERY open to the idea of a competitor to come in and shake it up. Adobe’s legacy products have bloated up with too many features most people do not use, making the interface a confusing combination of old methods with stuff nobody uses.
    The exception is InDesign. But it too is starting to suffer from bloat.
    I welcome some intense competition against Adobe. But as long as these alternatives are more about templates and non-pros rather than simplicity and power needed by professionals, I feel stuck with owning slowly outdated CS programs. No way I will subscribe to CS unless the multi year cost of “renting” is significantly cheaper than owning. Even then, what if a designer/filmmaker does work for a company and then changes jobs. Many hundreds of hours of work needed for their creative portfolio will be lost since, they or a new employer no longer rent the machine that can read it!

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  2. You missed the announcement that Adobe’s lowered their prices very significantly by going to a monthly fee for the Creative Cloud. If you have a valid serial number it’s $30 a month to get access to pretty much everything Adobe sells.

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    1. Regular price is $49.99, but students can get it for $19.99 per month for one year.

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      1. I do hear what you are saying about software subscriptions, but that is a different discussion when it comes to the merits of buying vs renting software. The context here was that you can pick and choose which creative features you really need, and begin to build your own suite of tools over time. It assumes ownership is desired.

        If you think about it, at the end of the first year, you could own more than half of all of the alternative apps listed here for the same amount of money you would pay out in a subscription model (even when paying the discounted student rate). That is of course if you find you need more than half of all of the apps listed here.

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      2. Geoffrey I hear what you say about your article and subscriptions but, you failed to even mention the subscriptions as an option with CS.

        I think that if a person or small business is making their living by using these tools then for $50 per month they ought to be able to afford that or else, have they actually got a business in the first place?

        You also get what you pay for. Adobe through their subscription model have added several new applications and rapidly updated others.

        That’s a real bargain to me! :)

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        1. +1
          Never mind the fact that a monthly subscription is, like, $30 if you own a version of CS from the past 5 years. Not one of the apps you’ve listed is a decent substitute for the CS; FCPX is the closest thing to a Pro app you’ve come up with, and even it’s a joke compared to PPro CS6 (which isn’t exactly great shakes either, if we’re being honest).
          If you want to screw around making videos of your cat for Youtube, or Photoshopping (“GIMPing”?) your buddies onto hilarious backgrounds, then you’re all set. Those people really have no need for the Adobe suites in the first place…
          The majority of my income is made on the backs of the Adobe suite; while I don’t really agree with forcing customers into a subscription-model, I can’t complain too much. I’ve happily been ponying up a few hundred bucks a year for the upgrades; the subscription model won’t really change that — it’ll even save me a bit of money.

          I know that it probably isn’t a completely fair statement to make, but it seems to me that the people complaining the loudest about this switch are people who weren’t paying for the software in the first place…

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          1. Definitely not a fair statement. A very narrow-minded statement is closer to the truth. There are many highly-skilled creatives who do not earn their living with Adobe software, and for whom the cost of yearly upgrades (or yearly subscriptions) would be a financial burden. As far as I’m concerned, Adobe has declared war on their customers. Let the battles begin.

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            1. I predict Adobe will backtrack but not before losing a ton of customers permanently and too late to dampen new work on Adobe replacement products.

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          2. You’re completely wrong about the loudest people complaining. I’m one of those people and I’ve been paying for upgrades to CS for years, and I’m not alone. What happens if you lose your job, should you still have to worry about paying a fee, or would you feel better knowing you owned the software? What happens when Adobe decides to raise the “rent” on its more popular programs, or all of them, because they have no real competition? I’m glad there are alternative apps out there now, because creatives will find a way to be creative even without Adobe.

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  3. Adobe, Autodesk, and Quark have become big bloated software companies with even more bloated software packages, I don’t need a subscription fee every year for no improvement in the program.

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  4. Since I first learned about it before 2000, I have been using the very good Graphic Converter (Lemke Software) to edit my photos. It is free-to-try and costs $25.95 to upgrade or $39.95 to buy. It’s currently on version 8.5.3.

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    1. Graphic Converter is a very good program. (I’ve used it for 10 years)

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  5. I agree with Graphic Converter being an indispensable tool. I keep finding more uses for it every time I use it. But it competes more directly with Adobe’s MediaEncoder which comes with most Creative Suite Bundles as a sort of included utility application.

    On its own, Graphic Converter is not an alternative for any one of the core Adobe applications as it does not have the main functionality listed above. Pixelmator just seems like a much better fit compared to Photoshop.

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  6. I’ve started using sketch from bohemian coding for most things i used to do in illustrator
    http://www.bohemiancoding.com/sketch/

    its better than AI in many ways

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  7. Inkscape & Gimp – free have been using them for years, and they are not half arsed

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  8. Too bad Canvas by ACD Systems has been stop being developed.

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    1. Canvas was awesome. It was a bit buggy but also way ahead of its time. I remember it had it combine image editing, vector editing, web and layout editing in one program back in 2000. And did all pretty well. Even had features like stroke gradients and vector effects like Blur years before Adobe did.

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  9. I use CS6 and love the programs, and they are all first rate programs. I own them. I will probably continue owning and upgrading, but I’m not happy with their pricing options. All the options pretty much force you to buy the entire suite.

    Its like buying a new car… which usually is unpleasant to most. They should find a way to make it a more pleasant experience.

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  10. Wait till Adobe raises the monthly price to $75. It’s coming. The guy that runs that company has no vision.

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