How to build your own Adobe Creative Suite with cheaper Mac app alternatives

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.

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