Serif Affinity Photo

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Serif Affinity PhotoA serious new rival to Photoshop for Mac usersNo image-editing program compares with Adobe Photoshop, with its ridiculously comprehensive range of tools covering everything from medical scanning to 3D printing. But quite a few mimic some its features at a lower price. For PCs, Serif’s PhotoPlus X7 is one of the best. For Macs, the company has launched Affinity Photo, a different program with a new approach that could make it the best Photoshop rival yet.

Affinity Photo looks like Photoshop, so experienced users will find everything almost immediately in its dark-grey toolbars and palettes. The way layers and masks are listed is slightly different, but arguably more logical. What matters most is that there’s a full set of tools for selecting areas, cutting them out into new layers, and controlling how those layers interact with each other. This is what’s missing from the basic photo-adjustment programs that proliferate these days, which may be fun but don’t let you take your creative ambitions to another level.Some of Photoshop’s more advanced features also have their equivalents here, such as Liquify, Warp Mesh (distorting an image using an editable net of points), and Lighting, where you can add multiple lights and create 3D-effect artwork from ‘bump maps’ (simulating bumps and wrinkles on the surface of an object). You can edit in CMYK mode, to control colours for commercial printing, or Lab, which separates colour and lightness for retouching. There’s even a unique Frequency Separation feature, which takes an advanced technique used by Photoshop pros, involving laborious layer-tweaking, and automates it – although you’ll still need advanced skills to use it effectively.You can open and save Photoshop’s multi-layer PSD files, so collaborating with other users shouldn’t be a problem, and there are lots of other export options for print, screen and web use. Everything works lightning fast, and effects are demonstrated instantly in the main window, not via tiny previews. We did miss Photoshop’s Preview tick box to quickly compare an image with and without an effect, and it was just as tricky as in Photoshop to make changes to images that have multiple layers, despite an Edit All Layers button.As with Photoshop, you can use Adjustment layers to apply changes non-destructively, which means you can edit or reverse them later. Live Filters apply other kinds of changes (including blurs, sharpens and distortions) in a similar way. In Photoshop, you need to convert layers to Smart Objects to do this, a flexible but confusing process. In Affinity, you just pick an Adjustment or Live Effect from the palette and a layer is created for it.This reflects a very user-friendly ethos that makes things straightforward without dumbing down. This doesn’t mean things are hidden or over-simplified: you can tweak things as much as you like. It’s just that when the program can make things easier for you, it does.If you have little or no experience with image editing, Affinity Photo may still not feel quite as accessible as an overtly hand-holding program like Photoshop Elements (Adobe’s home user version), which offers you ‘quick’ and ‘guided’ options. There is an introduction for beginners among the tutorials on Serif’s website (www.snipca.com/17475), but the rest are aimed at intermediate users.But it’s perfect for those who don’t mind a learning curve. It’s cheaper than Photoshop Elements and has most things a professional could need. The fact that no Windows version is planned reminds us that Apple’s computers are still the platform for creative work, and everyone who’s bought a Mac for that reason should take a long, hard look at Affinity Photo.A full-blown pro photo editorfor £40? Buy it immediately.

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