Stop Using Photoshop You Broke, Beautiful Bastard
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Hello again! This is another repost from my proto-blog. You can see the original here. Or you can just keep scrolling and read it again here.
Once upon a time (last week), a moment of anger got away from me and I wrote a blog post featuring dozens of free websites and software people could use instead of the Adobe suite. I did this because Adobe was raising their prices, which was rightfully terrifying my fellow broke-as-shit creative people. I also have an extremely personal vendetta against Adobe. I hate them.
As it turns out, so do thousands of other people! The post blew up in a way I could have never imagined. It was a wonderful and humbling surprise. Actually, it was the complete opposite of humbling. My ego's never been bigger. I'm still waiting for my Buzzfeed feature.
Anyway, I've since updated that post based on tons of suggestions from people like you, and I'll continue updating that post as I learn more. People continue to come out of the woodwork to offer suggestions and insights beyond what I'm capable of on my own. Your love and feedback sustain me. My sincerest thanks.
For my second post on our adventure together, I want to take a deeper look at one particular section of those free Adobe alternatives I suggested last week: Art programs. Specifically, alternatives to Photoshop. The grandaddy of Asshole Programs.
I do this for two reasons. The first, and more important, is that the overwhelming majority of people who shared my original post appeared to be digital artists. Because the blogger-reader relationship is just that, I want to meet your needs just as much as I meet my own. Plus, by catering to my largest audience, I maximize my chances of being able to monetize this shit to help fund my planned escape to Canada.
The second reason--and somehow also the less noble one--is that of all those Adobe alternatives, art programs are the ones I'm most familiar with. My academic and professional background is in writing but before that, I was an art student. For like, six whole months. And art is still an important part of my life. It seemed like a fitting place to pick up.
So, my artistically-inclined readers, this post is for you. Here is a round-up of three free and three relatively inexpensive art programs to help you wean yourselves from the Photoshop titty.
Autodesk Sketchbook (FREE)1
GOOD FOR: Beginners, Cross-Platform Usage, Hobbyists
BAD FOR: Super Serious Professionals
Autodesk Sketchbook, or just Sketchbook, wasn't always free. It recently became free across all platforms for individuals, though there is a paid "Enterprise" subscription. All you need is an account, which handily syncs your work across your devices if you create from a computer and a tablet or phone.
Sketchbook is not complicated. Its minimalistic interface is a breath of fresh air if you find yourself overwhelmed by all the bits and bobs in Photoshop or other Grown-Ass Art Programs. It draws cleanly and offers a lot of neato features like rulers and guides, a Copic color library, and a hell of a brush library. There's even some animation functionality.
However, if you're looking to make the big bucks, you might find Sketchbook falls short when it comes to editing, polishing, and publishing. If you care about CMYK/RGB colors and other stuff I'm too amateur to know about, keep reading.
As an aside, I've also used the Android version of Sketchbook and as far as I can recall, it's identical to the desktop version. I'm quite fond of it, though lately, I've been using ibisPaint X for phone doodling.
Krita (FREE) (ACCEPTS DONATIONS | VOLUNTEER)
GOOD FOR: Adobe Refugees, Comic Artists
BAD FOR: Text Editing, People Who Need Mobile Versions
Of all the recommendations people sent me for my anti-Adobe free software roundup, two programs stood out. One wasn't free so I couldn't include it. The other was Krita.
Krita has a hell of a story. It's designed by artists and is specifically for digital art, rather than being an image manipulator moonlighting as an art program (LIKE A CERTAIN SOMEONE WE KNOW). I knew vaguely of Krita from downloading and playing with it once maybe a year or two ago. For whatever reason, I wasn't impressed then, but I sure as hell am now. There is a wealth of tools and brush presets. There are guides and perspective assistants. You can change the layout of your workspace based on what you're doing. It does vectors. It does animations. If Krita could talk, it'd tell you how nice you look and that it's rooting for you every time you make something with it.
Truthfully, I didn't see anything worth hating. So, I went to r/Krita to see what other people hated about Krita. The answer was almost unanimously text editing. This feature is admittedly clunky.
Note: The Krita Foundation is a non-profit organization that was made for Krita's development. It is staffed with two full-time employees and dozens of volunteers. If have any to spare, consider donating some of your money or time to the Krita Foundation.
Medibang Paint Pro (FREE)
GOOD FOR: Cross-Platform Users, Adobe Refugees (Who Aren't Quite Art Experts Yet)
BAD FOR: Ads, Ugly-Ass Interface and Website
Medibang Paint Pro was another program that's only recently entered my circle of awareness. It's another program whose major selling points are that it's cross-platform and free as hell. UNLIKE Sketchbook, however, the desktop version seems to have more features than its mobile counterpart (or perhaps I'm just not finding them).
Medibang looks and feels like a Photoshop Lite and that's kind of a compliment. It's got some layout tools for comics and, if you're willing to brave the butt-ugly website, the community is massive enough to support tons of tutorials, brushes, and other resources. One thing that sets it apart from Sketchbook is the Reference tool, which lets you keep a reference image right on your workspace while you're drawing, either as its own window or in one of the sidebars.
Personally, Medibang was my least favorite of the three free contenders. While it's better-suited for serious artists than Sketchbook, I found the workspace ugly and difficult to navigate, especially compared to Krita. I think I would only recommend Medibang if you need Krita but are stuck on a phone or tablet. But I'd also nudge you to try Sketchbook first. Just in case.
"STILL CHEAPER THAN PHOTOSHOP" TIER
ArtRage ($79 USD)
GOOD FOR: Novelty, People Who Don't Mind Spending Actual Money For A Shittier Version of Sketchbook, Which Is Free
BAD FOR: Poor People, Art, People Living in 64-Bit
ArtRage was something I vaguely remembered from the past and downloaded the trial just to see what it was like. I was very tempted by the promise that drawing with ArtRage would feel like drawing traditionally, which is my preferred drawing method. For me, digital art is something I only do because I can't afford a traditional art hobby. Also because there's no undo button in real life.
At first blush, ArtRage actually quite promising. The canvas texture is visible and nice and the pencil tool was sinfully delightful to use. The program also features a Tracing tool, which places a reference image beneath your canvas to trace over. It's basically a semi-transparent layer beneath your layers. You can also put reference images on your canvas, which look like pinned photos. It's charming.
"Charming" is really the word I'd use to describe ArtRage. It was a fun plaything that I thought might have been worth the investment for me personally. I was even seriously considering buying it. Then I checked the price.
Seventy-Nine Fucking Dollars.
Y'all, I'm just gonna come out and say it. ArtRage is not worth 79 fucking dollars. Just use Sketchbook instead.
Paint Tool SAI (¥5400 JPY / $50 USD)
GOOD FOR: Professional Digital Illustrators, Brush Customization, Textures
BAD FOR: Comics, Animation, Printing (probably), Tablet Compatibility
My digital art journey started when I was almost out of high school. I'd saved up for a 7" x 8" Wacom Bamboo that had an eraser function on the back of the pen and that I loved more than 90% of people I've known. Back then, I struggled to make GIMP work as a budding illustrator and usually just stuck to MS Paint, where my notoriously shaky hands struggled to produce anything clean.
For the record, if you think GIMP is ugly now, You should have seen GIMP in 2008. You kids don't know how good you got it.
Fast forward two years, when I took my first wobbly steps into the world of Tumblr, and with it the biggest art community I'd ever seen.2 With that came an embarrassment of resources, including one that everyone seemed to be using at the time: Paint Tool SAI.
Being painfully easy to pirate, I got a copy, and promptly fell in love. SAI is elegant and simple but POWERFUL and you can do incredible things with it artistically.
But it's not without flaws. Big projects can cause it to crash and it's notoriously fussy about tablet compatibility. All that said, this is the one art program I thought was worth paying for. I stand by that, though I admit it was before getting to know my next and final entry...
Clip Studio Paint ($49.99 USD Pro | $219 USD for Paint Ex)
GOOD FOR: Illustration, Animation, Adobe Refugees, Customization
BAD FOR: Nothing. NOTHING, OKAY? IT'S GREAT. YOU WERE ALL RIGHT. ARE YOU HAPPY???
Remember earlier in the post when I mentioned there were two programs that stood out among the tidal wave of recommendations I got following my Fuck Adobe Post Heard Round the World? Remember how I mentioned one of them wasn't free and therefore didn't meet the single criteria needed to qualify for a spot in that round-up?
Yeah. This was that one.
I got notifications about Clip Studio Paint in all caps. People balked that I had not mentioned it. Not in an angry way; it was more like shock. Indignant shock at worst. It was ultimately this reaction--and the recent observation that all my art friends are apparently using this program now--that led me to make this post.
By the time I'd gotten to testing it, I was prepared to be grumpy about it. It was the fourth unfamiliar program I was test-driving, and I haven't regularly made digital art since those early twenty-teens. It was late at night near the end of an uncharacteristically stressful week. I couldn't wait to say all the ways Paint Tool SAI was better than Stupid Clip Paint.
Suffice it to say that is not what will happen. Stupid Clip Paint is incredible. And any artist who has used it will tell you as much. I know this because thousands of them have told me. They told me to tell you. And here I am, telling the fuck out of you, because you need to hear it.
For the same price as Paint Tool SAI, you get all the magic of SAI and more. If you're used to the Photoshop interface, you'll feel right at home. If you're not (like me), you might feel a bit overwhelmed at first. Luckily, there are tons of tutorials and tips built right into the app that will walk you through whatever you want to do and the customization options are endless. You can design for print or digital. It can do vector art and has a (simplistic) animation tool. The damn thing does 3D modeling for God's sake. If it's not as good as Photoshop, it's probably better. If I hadn't just last year purchased a SAI license after pirating it for years, I'd have bought this by now.
For the admittedly much steeper price of $219, however, you get a veritable explosion of other features. The ability to work with multi-page files. Full production animation. Exporting multiple-page documents for print or publication. Conversion of 3D images to 2D, which is apparently a thing.
Even as expensive as that is, however, it's still infinitely cheaper than Photoshop and it does way more. And, most importantly, you only have to pay for it one goddamn time.
I know we're all still reeling from Adobe being assholes. I know it's easy to be angry and talking shit is satisfying. But we've gotta do more than be angry, guys. I can't overstate the necessity of supporting smaller developers, now more than ever. It's all well and good to pump our fists and scream "FUCK ADOBE" but we owe it to the people doing actual work offering solutions to amplify and support them.
I hope this post finds you well. See you guys next week, where I will (hopefully) talk about something that isn't art-related.
1. I know the entire section is dedicated to free programs and listing each individual program as free was both redundant and silly. I did it anyway though, on the grounds that I really love free shit.
2. I was largely ignorant of Deviantart until it got so big I was terrified of going anywhere near it. My first art community was the much-smaller--and amazingly still active--PaperDemon. I even found my old account, made in 2006, just for you guys, which to my shock and hilarity still exists and features art from, amazingly, as recently as 2013. And I can't remember the login information, so if there's anything problematic buried in that account, I can't really do anything about it but apologize and assure you I've grown. 2006 Me wouldn't recognize 2019 Me. 2019 Me barely recognizes 2019 Me.