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Free Software Alternatives to Adobe CS6

Adobe CS6 Alternatives
Adobe CS6 Alternatives

In 2012 Adobe released CS6. What set this release apart from previous versions was the licensing path that Adobe has chosen. For more information about the Adobe Creative Cloud model, see Adobe’s Creative Cloud FAQ.

While I have been using Photoshop since Photoshop 5, it wasn’t until CS4 was released that I bought my first full Adobe suite. Adobe Design Premium CS4 included:

  • Acrobat 9 Professional – for PDF creation
  • Dreamweaver CS4 – for web site creation
  • Fireworks CS4 – preproduction and mockup for web page creation (combines Dreamweaver and Photoshop features)
  • Flash CS4 Professional – Flash creation
  • Illustrator CS4 – for creating vector graphics and for graphic design
  • InDesign CS4 – for desktop publishing
  • Photoshop CS4 Extended – Photoshop with 3D capabilities

Of the programs that make up the Design Premium suite, Photoshop is where I live and is the application which I am most qualified to comment on. I must say that I have become increasingly disenchanted with Adobe’s approach to the software/graphics market. This has strongly influenced my decision as to whether or not to continue to upgrade my Adobe products. From one review of CS6 we have this summation:

"No creative professional will deny the need for Adobe Creative Suite, and 2012’s version, CS6, focuses on some of the toughest demands designers face in an interactive, digital, multimedia landscape."

From a corporate perspective, that is probably true. Once upon a time you could not get criticized if you bought IBM products. With the advent of the desktop computer, Microsoft became the safe buy. With respect to visual creative software, Adobe holds the corporate safe to buy crown. But I am not a corporation. Nor do I have the deep pockets that would allow me to continue to ride the Adobe Upgrade Train.

So this article is for those who are in search of an alternative to Adobe. For this article, I am only going to look at those alternatives that are free. However, I am not going to do this for every program that is a part of the Design Premium package – just those that I use.

Acrobat 9 Professional

When it comes to creating PDFs, I have never had to make use of the advanced features provided by Acrobat. Instead I have found the capabilities of OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer’s Export to PDF function to be sufficient for my needs. I will note that Acrobat has come in quite handy when it comes to editing PDFs that I did not create.

If all you need is to create simple PDF versions of documents you’ve created then I suggest using Writer – which is available as a tool in either OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Dreamweaver CS4

While I have experimented with using Dreamweaver as a web site creation tool, I’ve always had a certain disdain for WYSIWYG web site creation tools. Once upon a time I used NetObjects Fusion professionally. If Microsoft FrontPage was a nightmare, then Fusion was a dream. But I never opted to use Fusion for my personal web sites. I much preferred the hand-coded approach – and still do. As the focus of this article is on graphic software, I will comment no further on Dreamweaver.

Fireworks CS4

Fireworks I’ve used a couple times just to give its web page creation tools a try. As I am not engaged in web design as a full time professional pursuit, I was unwilling to devote time to learning how to use this software, preferring to create quick graphic mockups in Photoshop.

Flash CS4 Professional

I confess that I have never even opened the Flash application. I have never had an interest in using Flash to create digital art and as a web designer have deliberately avoided using Flash for the web sites I’ve done – a strategy that in hindsight appears to have been the right one to follow. So no recommendations here.

Illustrator CS4

I’ve never been much of an Illustrator user so am not really qualified to testify on its strengths and/or weaknesses. All I can say is that it has worked for me when I’ve needed it.

As to free alternative vector software it seems that Inkscape is the most popular option. It is worth noting that Draw, which is another of the software components of both OpenOffice and LibreOffice, is also used to produce vector-based art and diagrams. Draw is the one component of OpenOffice/LibreOffice that I have never used. (Note that my chief reason for migrating from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice was that I viewed OO Impress as a superior product to MS Powerpoint at that point in time). Inkscape is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

Inkscape – inkscape.org

InDesign CS4

My use of InDesign has been minimal. For the most part the documents I create are simple enough in terms of layout that they can be created in OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer. However, for people who need the capabilities of a desktop publishing (DTP) application then Scribus is worth a look. This free software is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms. Oh – it is amazingly enough also available for those running OS/2 Warp (my favorite operating system of all time!).

Scribus – http://www.scribus.net/canvas/Scribus

Photoshop CS4 Extended

Photoshop – the software I love to hate due to its frequent crashes and operational glitches. I must say that it seemed to me that each new version of Photoshop crashed more often than the previous version. I was able to eliminate many of the crashes with CS4 by turning off all OpenGL features – which has the unfortunate side effect of reducing Photoshop’s functionality – but I prefer losing features to losing work!

As to free alternatives to Photoshop, there are many. The oldest and most well known of the free alternatives is GIMP. My use of GIMP has been limited but fruitful. My main problem with GIMP is that I would have to learn the GIMP way of doing things. Having used Photoshop for so long, I just know how to do what I want to do without having to think about it. Migrating to new software is always painful in that time must be spent in learning both the GUI and the tools. GIMP is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.
GIMP – www.gimp.org

It is not just photographers using Photoshop, but artists as well. Photoshop’s paint brush engine is quite powerful and allows artists to create many painterly effects – serving as a challenge to Corel Painter. One of the free, open source painting software alternatives is Krita. Krita started out as KImageShop, a component of KOffice, a free open source office suite, which was available for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Calligra has apparently stopped development on KOffice (2012) which does not impact Krita. The next version of Krita, 2.7, is expected to be released next month.

Krita is available for Linux and Windows with a beta version available for Mac OS/X. Windows users note that the "highly experimental MSI installer" installs the entire Calligra Suite which includes the applications Words, Stage and Sheets, Flow, Braindump, Karbon and Krita.
Krita – krita.org

Another free open source painting program for artists is MyPaint which is available for the Linux and Windows platforms. What I find appealing is this part of the site’s description of their software: "MyPaint supports pressure or tilt sensitive graphic tablets and comes with an easy-to-use brush collection. There is a complex interface for creating your own brushes, focusing on brush dynamics (changes with speed, pressure, randomly)" Creating my own brushes is one of the Photoshop features that I regularly use so this capability is a must for me.
MyPaint – mypaint.intilinux.com

Adobe Camera Raw

While not listed as a separate product, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) played a big part in my decision to upgrade from CS to CS4. Adobe did a great job with ACR. In my opinion, it was the best modification made to what was a part of my core work flow as I do a lot of digital photography.

For photographers who are looking for a free alternative to Adobe Camera Raw, one product that is highly rated is RawTherapee which is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

RawTherapee – rawtherapee.com

In Summary

For me, the hardest part of migrating to new software is the loss of knowledge and experience I acquired using my current software. When I started with Photoshop there really were no good alternatives out there. For my money, I prefer to stick with my CS4 software vs upgrading to CS6 or migrating to alternative solutions. However I do anticipate the arrival of a day when I judge some free alternative to my Photoshop CS4 to be of superior quality.

In closing, for artists or photographers who are just starting out and do not have a history of using Adobe products to consider and are not seeking employment that requires a knowledge of Adobe products, this is a great time to investigate the many free software options that are available to you.

Happy Computing, Jim

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4 Responses to “Free Software Alternatives to Adobe CS6”

  1. Charles says:

    Great post, Jim.

    I have to admit that I’ve been loyal to Acrobat 9 Pro and Photoshop CS4 so far just because they are familiar. But with the speed Adobe is churning out upgrades and the price tag attached, I’ll have to look for free alternatives soon and your list looks good to start with.

  2. Jim Plaxco says:

    Hi Charles,
    I’m in the same situation. I’m still debating on whether or not to buy Photoshop CS6. Having used Photoshop for so long and only having so much time to spend learning new software from scratch, that has a big impact on whatever my final decision will be.

  3. Socorro says:

    I just upgraded to CS6… I can’t find InDesign locally..is Scribus compatible with PS CS6? I have no plans on subscribing to Adobe products…

  4. Jim Plaxco says:

    Not being a user of InDesign or Scribus I can’t say how compatible the two are. I suggest going on the Scribus forums at forums.scribus.net to get a more knowledgeable answer to your question.