Friday, May 31, 2013

The 4 Best Non-Apple, Non-Microsoft, Non-Adobe Graphic Design Tools For The Mac

When it comes to graphic design applications on the Mac, the choices are many. At the high end of the scale are the suites from Adobe, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, and others. At the low end of the scale are all those one-trick pony photo enhancement and graphic tools that look like MacPaint, 21st century version.

In between the top and bottom feeders are four apps that are must haves on my Mac, and have come close to reducing my dependence on Adobe’s desire to have me pay each month to use their wares.

#5 – Hype: Flash is dead. Long live Hype. This clever tool uses HTML5 to create animated, interactive web content. WYSIWYG. It takes some getting used to because HTML5 doesn’t replace all of what Flash could do, but it’s a start.


Hype is what the future of the web should be, but it’s here now and priced like a decade of inflation, though far less than anything with Adobe’s logo on it.

#4 – xScope: If you’re into graphic and design even at the non-pro level, xScope is the one utility that does what others do not. It measures Dimension on the screen, adds Rulers that rotate, handles multiple Screens, adds Guides to the Rulers, gives you a Crosshair option to find a pixel anywhere, as well as a magnifying Loupe. This is must have.

#3 – CSS Edit (Espresso): Allow me a moment to become a grumpy old man and express my displeasure that CSSEdit is no more, but Espresso is. Most web sites these days are designed more with CSS than HTML, and for the Mac CSS Edit was the best. Espresso is good, though not as worthy of praise. All other CSS editors pale compared to CSS Edit. In this case, the price of progress is going backwards.

#2 – iDraw: The thing to understand about iDraw is that it’s not Illustrator or Fireworks, but at about 1/10th the cost it’s a good mashup of vector drawing illustration tools.


iDraw is easier to learn, and far more capable than most those who use it, which makes it a remarkable value.

#1 – Pixelmator: You knew it had to happen. Yes, Photoshop can be replaced. No more monthly fees. Much of what can be accomplished in Photoshop for hundreds of dollars can be done in Pixelmator for less than $15. Say what?

Well, Pixelmator looks and works much like Photoshop. What it’s missing are some of the more esoteric Photoshop tools, filters, and doodads that Adobe uses to justify the price tag.


The great unwashed masses of graphic designers can either cut their design chops on Pixelmator and save hundreds of dollars, or forego Photoshop altogether, and save a bundle every year. The rest will want Photoshop because it does more and because anything less is, well, just less. So there.

Also on my list of must have graphic design tools are ColorSchemer Studio, Swift Publisher (think PageMaker, 21st century version), and Comic Life.


  1. znj says

    Though no longer a Mac app for a decade, Canvas by ACD is one of the best design tools I have ever used. It’s the reason I purchased Parallels. I have often queried ACD if there is the likelihood that Canvas will return to the Mac. All I get is the usual, “We’re considering it!”

  2. RogerMercer says

    Pixelmator is almost, very nearly, just about a replacement for Photoshop. It needs to be able to do CMYK to completely replace Photoshop. Without CMYK, Pixelmator cannot be a serious offset printing vehicle.

    Still, if your printer has Photoshop, he can finish the job for you, but he’ll not only have to convert to CMYK for printing, he will have to adjust color values in CMYK to compensate for ink spread (dot gain), color differences, shadows, tone, detail and other values. This can be time-consuming and expensive. So lack of CMYK capability will cost people who do design for print some money.

    • macmeister says

      Spot on. Nice list. The only big improvement Pixelmator could make is CMYK. Now, if you’re a pro Photoshop user you’ll likely have plenty of add on plugins that won’t work with Pixelmator, but all the basics are there and it’s priced about 1/20th of Photoshop.

  3. HeyMikey says

    Is any of these available for OS 10.4? I have a bunch of old Canvas files that I would like to copy/paste into “something” I have an old G3 iMac waiting on a shelf for just the right tool to do it. Any suggestions?

    • killer app dave says

      Give it up, dude! OS X 10.4 That’s Tiger, which debuted in 2004, which means it’s almost 10 years old. That’s ancient in computing years.

      The 21st century called. They’re holding your spot in line but you have to hurry.

      • HeyMikey says

        The reason I’m stuck there (even paid to fix up the old G3 for this) is that I want to run Canvas 5 in Classic, ⌘A (they’re mostly “simple” line drawings), ⌘C, switch to “something” in Tiger, ⌘V, ⌘S to get to a more current format (ditto for some old ClarisWorks drawings). Hard to believe I’m the only one with this problem. :-(