Affinity just murdered Photoshop in cold blood

Everything started out when a friend of mine sent me a link to a video featuring Affinity Photo. I was blown away by the features instantly. So I became curious. And sure enough I discovered my way into the beta. Now, I’m a ancient Photoshop user. I know it’s ups and downs, its immense powers and its slippery slopes. On a good day, it’ll help you out and then some. But in a bad day, it’ll take out your PC, churn it to butter and spit it out like it was nothing. It’s become a monster of an app, that’s so far flung from the original design, you can’t even recognise it any more. It’s packed with as many features as hairs on a man’s head. Not all of them useful, or known.

But being the serious designer that I am, I have to use it to do web, ui and all sorts of graphic design. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about the amount of physical resources it uses though. Let me assure you, I’m not ! Adobe did such a bad job at managing resources, it kills my workstation grade laptop at work when trying to do a simple iOS/Android app design. On a 1700 Euro laptop with 16 Gb of Ram, state-of-the-art processor and a nVidia Graphics card with 2 Gb of memory to boot. It’s absolutely absurd. And there’s days I have to run it in parallel with Adobe Illustrator or AfterEffects. It makes you want to cry tears of blood.

But getting back to the point. I’ve installed Affinity Photo, and I was very surprised to see a interface that felt like home. Very very Photoshop-like, which for me is a big +. I had virtually no trouble finding my way around the app and menus. They are where you’d expect them to be, and that’s a good thing ! Remember the fact that you’re trying to break a industry standard here, with a more competitive product that handles similarly. Breaking UX would be a huge no-no ! So, a big thumbs up to Serif for taking the time to study competition and create a familiar layout. Very pleased ! The workflow however, is similar and isn’t. Some things you’ll recognise, others not. Like masking. Or layer Styles. I expected layer styles to be a palette that enabled me to set styles for the currently selected layer. It’s not. Its a collection of saved layer styles. Not happy about that. To apply layer styles you have to right-click on a layer and select Layer Effects. This feels unnatural when compared to Photoshop. Also, the choice of effects is relatively scarce. Doesn’t bother me that much, considering this is supposed to be a photo-editing app (for web design and UI design you got Sketch and Affinity Designer, remember ??), but the fact that I have to have the move tool active (its not active by default, the hand tool is) is not necessarily something I’m happy about. That or the fact that I have to rightclick to use effects on layers. But on the other hand, I understand why a raster app intended for photo manipulation and adjustment would want to have that function pushed more into the background. It’s not that used.

Masking feels a bit hit-and-miss. It’s not really polished enough, nor is it really understandable how it works outright, which from my point of view is a big minus. You would expect a photo-editing app to have first-class masking capabilities, since that’s should be its strongest selling point. In this case it’s not. But being in beta, I would expect some things to work oddly at best. Still, this means there’s room for improvement. The mask workflow feels very complicated and hard to grasp. It should be made considerably easier, if not similar to the one in Photoshop. Apply masking on layer, work with mask as you would do with a regular layer (paint/fill/gradient/etc). Right now it’s just bad. I wouldn’t recommend┬áit.

Selection tools are really nice, and the brush selection mode is very impressive compared to Adobe’s standards. I’m actually quite pleased with that !

Brushes are a delight, since they retain most of Photoshop’s brushes features. Really cool how easy the whole app feels when workign with them. Very pleasantly surprised ! You can change the settings for brushes by clicking a small clipboard-like icon to the right of the brush palette. You can also change brush dynamics ! Wow. Also, you got more blend modes than in Photoshop ! Nice !

To preview blending modes, you can just hover you mouse on one mode and it will update the canvas real-time. Nice !

To invert a layer, you can use the same commands as in Photoshop. CMD+I. However, it will create an adjustment layer which has to be dragged over the layer you want to invert. A bit of a drag if you’re used to Photoshop’s way of doing it. All in all not bad, just different.

Haven’t seen any automation features yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they would turn up later on or even during development. What i’d like is macro recording (was nice in Photoshop, would be nice here as well) and javascripting to create plugins. The reason why I’m mentioning javascript is because its one of those languages even designers understand (most anyways) and with a open enough API that’s well documented, you can do all sorts of wonderful things ! I hope they won’t disappoint me in this aspect.

All in all the app feels very rugged for a beta, is packed with most if not all of the features you know and love in Photoshop, and will probably save you a pretty penny too ! Can’t wait for it to get out so I can buy it. In my article I’ve only touched base very lightly about what the app can do. If you want to see for yourselves if it meets your standards, I suggest giving Affinity a visit, and trying out the beta for yourselves. I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I was. Oh, and did I forget to tell you it only runs on a Mac ? Yeah… Sorry bout that. It does. And I am really happy about it.

The app is available for beta tryouts here if you want to see more for yourselves.

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