March 25, 2016

Adobe No More

Adios Adobe

I’ve been an Adobe user for the past 13 years.

I still remember “borrowing” a copy of Photoshop 7 from a buddy during high school yearbook class. That, combined with a cheap graphics tablet from Canada, ended up shaping a lot of my life, even more than a decade later.

Struggling to understand Photoshop through books like Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks was absurdly fun. Learning how to wield the power of Photoshop, and later Illustrator, ended up being one of the more valuable challenges I’ve tackled.

Naturally, when Adobe announced their Creative Cloud subscription service, I was all in. I now had access to not only Photoshop and Illustrator, but damned near every tool Adobe made, too. Through personal and business subscriptions, I’ve maintained that access for the past few years.

But, as of last week, I am no longer an Adobe customer.

I should qualify that a bit. I cancelled my personal subscription. We still use and love Adobe products at Litmus. But, my personal machine is now completely free of Adobe creative software.

And I’ve got to tell you, it’s refreshing. Not only did it clean up much-needed hard drive space, I feel like everything’s a bit snappier than before—regardless of whether or not that has any basis in reality. I think it’s because I don’t see the Creative Cloud updater popping down every 15 minutes now.

I’m not here to lambaste Adobe for their products. They build amazing tools that allow people to make incredible things. While Photoshop and Illustrator crashed on occasion, so does literally every other program I use.

I’ve simply found myself opening other programs instead of Adobe ones and couldn’t justify keeping up my subscription.

So, if I’m not going to roast Adobe for their products, what am I going to do? Simple: go over the alternatives out there for anyone looking to do the same.


My two most used Adobe apps were Photoshop and Illustrator. Photoshop was used mostly for GIFs, memes, and digital drawing and painting (especially with Kyle T. Webster’s superb brushes). Illustrator was used for vector illustrations and some interface/website stuff.

Both hadn’t been opened in quite some time. For digital drawing and photo manipulation, I’ve been using Pixelmator with a sprinkling of Affinity Photo. Both are excellent replacements for Photoshop. Their brushes are pretty damned good, as are their effects, layer management, type… pretty much everything. I’ve had a few issues with Affinity Photo and how it manages colors, so I’ve been mostly sticking with Pixelmator and plan on doing so in the future.

For vector work and mockups, I’ve been switching back and forth between Sketch and Affinity Designer. Again, both are amazing apps.

Sketch is definitely geared towards interface and web design, so that’s mostly what I use it for. On occasion, I’ll pop in there for an illustration since I have a few saved custom artboards. But Affinity Designer is fantastic for illustrators. Its vector tools are top notch and allow me to quickly build illustrations faster than either Sketch or Illustrator ever did. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a world class vector application.

The big pain point with alternative graphics applications is the lack of support for animation. Animating GIFs in Photoshop has become second nature, so it’s sad to see competitors completely ignore animation. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to make an animated GIF in a while (outside of work stuff) but I’m still on the hunt for a good animation program for creating GIFs. Let me know if you have a favorite for Mac.


When editing videos, I would routinely hop into Adobe Audition for audio cleanup and editing. The interoperability between Adobe programs was a godsend for things like that. While I haven’t had to do any personal video stuff in a while, I do have backups laying around.

As a failed musician, I have a history with audio applications and have both Ableton Live 9 and Apple Logic Pro X installed on my laptop. Ableton is cool for playing around, but Apple Logic is insanely powerful and more user-friendly, so I plan on sticking with it as my go-to audio editor. If all else fails, I can pop open Garageband, which has been getting really good lately.


Video is something I tackle only occasionally, but it’s something I’m likely to invest more time in coming up. Adobe Premiere Pro, while complicated, was actually really fun to use—and extremely powerful.

My alternatives right now are iMovie and ScreenFlow. Both a helluva lot less capable, but capable nonetheless. ScreenFlow has proven to be a lot more powerful than it lets on, so I’ve been happy so far.

My fear is that I’ll run into some limitations with titles and effects if I need them. If that happens, I can always dish out for Final Cut Pro X or try out something like DaVinci Resolve, which has what appears to be a killer free tier.

I’m chalking this one up to a future challenge.


Finally, the ultimate hurdle. InDesign.

I never used InDesign much and never got comfortable with it. Still it was the best way to lay out my first book and I planned on using it again for a future update to my second.

As far as I have seen, there aren’t really any good alternative print layout applications. At least ones that are affordable. Serif has promised an Affinity Publisher, but doesn’t have a release date yet.

I’m really at a loss at what to use for generating books. I’ve done a lot of research into publishing workflows only to discover that they’re all shit. They either require expensive software, a contract with O’Reilly (God, I want to use Atlas), or a doctorate in computer science and superhuman understanding of the command line to work.

This is another task I’m setting aside for the future, but I have an idea of what will likely happen.

I write in Ulysses, which allows for custom stylesheets for exporting documents. I plan on hacking my way to a good-looking PDF output, then using PDF Expert for inserting nice cover images and chapter breaks.

It’s shoddy at best, but it will do the trick until something better comes along—or O’Reilly taps me for a five-book deal on email design and marketing.

Life Without Adobe

So far, I’m really happy with my non-Adobe life. The alternatives available (at least to Mac folks) are absolutely fantastic. Sure, there are a few challenges I’ve identified, and more to discover, but it’s been a surprisingly smooth ride so far.

I’m not going to say that everyone should do it. Not everyone can. People have clients and coworkers that give them PSDs, publishing workflows built with InDesign, and the need for industrial strength video editors.

But, for a writer and designer working on his blog and a few side projects, it’s been an eye-opening experience. Maybe I’ll report back in a year to see if that’s still the case.