July 24, 2017

Adobe Creative Cloud Alternatives For The Programs I Use The Most

By: Ben Farnham

So I have been extremely interested in learning about alternatives to Adobes Creative Cloud programs such as another photo editor, vector editor, video editor, and video compositor. All in all, the tools that I use the most so if you are here looking for an alternative to Indesign, or Adobe Muse, well then... I won't be touching those as of right now because I have yet to find solid alternatives.

So why am I doing this? Is it hard to believe that I am tired of giving Adobe over $600 a year just to have access to my own project files and assets that I create? I know it isn't a crazy amount of money for some powerful tools but honestly, I have felt like I have started to outgrow some of these tools as well. Maybe I just need a change of scenery if you will. But a lot of the tools I have used with Adobe seem very... limiting...

I feel like in order to finish 1 video project, I am bouncing back and forth between 3 - 4 of their programs which, is OK because they do communicate quite well. But I really would love to have power house programs that allow me to do all of what Adobe's 3 - 4 programs do in just 1. The workflow Adobe presents is just not enticing at all anymore.

I know, I know. Here is where I expect the onslaught of Adobe fan boys / girls who will want to bash this whole idea and say 'you need to pay a premium price for premium tools'. And to them, I say go for it. Continue paying a premium price for tools that you 'think' make you better. But I want to leave you with the notion that true creators know that it is not the tool, it is the creator and their workflow. So with that said, let's dig in to my discoveries.

Please also note that these are programs I have discovered for my workflow and that I am not going to list every alternative. I essentially just want to show you all what programs I chose to learn and start using and share with you as to why. I won't deep dive into every program but should you want that, please leave me a comment below or a note. I do plan to make tutorials on how to use these programs so stick with me.

1) Adobe Photoshop Alternative - Affinity Photo

Oh man. All the incredible things I have to say about affinity. I must admit, I found this program by accident and this is what started my journey to discover new alternatives for Adobe's Creative Cloud.

Affinity Photo is basically (from what I have seen and used) a faster version of Photoshop that took everything we love about Photoshop and rewrote it using a modern programming language. It shares similar hotkeys and professional effects and to top it off, it has a full photo editor version for the iPad Pro (and I mean completely full version with the same effects the desktop version has) that easily allows you to swap between each program should you decide to work on the go or at home on your desktop. 

The workflow is extremely similar to Photoshop EXCEPT Affinity Photo has a small twist called 'Personas' which I personally love. Think of personas as windows with each of the windows having their own special set of tools. You have (currently) 5 personas.

  • Photo Persona - Essentially your main Photoshop window with all of the necessary tools to adjust color, spot heal, hue, saturation, and pretty much every other adjustment needed for photo editing. I can not stress the similarities that Affinity Photo shares with Adobe Photoshop. It is incredible.
  • Liquify Persona - Just as the name says, liquify your image with the same arsenal (if not more) as Photoshop.
  • Develop Persona - Think of Adobe's extra add on of Camera Raw for this one. This tool allows you to adjust exposure, white balance, white point, black point, shadows, highlights, etc.
  • Tone Mapping Persona - Dedicated window for bringing subjects out using tools like contrast, white point, black point. Essentially create a digital HDR creation.
  • Export Persona - A window dedicated to exporting your entire project / your project assets. Kind of a given.
So why personas? Well honestly, I love that I have dedicated windows that are easy to access where as in photoshop you have to dig through the filters option along the top to reach most of these. Yes Photoshop still has them and it doesn't take much more time once you already have it down but, if you are a photographer and have done this full time, you will know that having these few seconds saved really adds up. 

The best part? One payment of $49.99 USD for the desktop version (available for both Mac OS and Windows) and you have your program that doesn't come with shackles.

Overall I just love having a new tool to use and I already love the workflow that Affinity has created. To me, it is the small things that mean the most and with Affinity, I feel they took that in to account.To learn more, see there website here.

2) Vector (Illustrator) Alternative - Affinity Designer

When it comes to illustration, I originally thought that there wasn't any program out there that could match Adobe's Illustrator. But... I hadn't found Affinity Designer yet. Just like the above Photo Editor, it works in 'personas' and comes with all of your major vector based tools. Now, seeing as I have only started using this, I can't give a super in depth review of it. But from my use of it so far, it is pretty much spot on with my workflow and really allows me to achieve the same results of Adobe Illustrator without me being tied down to CC's subscription model.

The user interface is extremely easy to learn and navigate and with that, you will easily be able to start creating. You also, like the Photo Editor, get live previews with each tools you select along with blendmodes. For some reason that is huge to me and removes a lot of the guess work that inevitably happens when using Adobe's programs.

Honestly, I will update this post when I actually use this more. So far, I love Serif's software. They create amazing tools and from what I hear, this program is already underway for a full feature iPad program as well! You can learn more at their website here. And by the way, it also costs $49.99

3) Video Editor Alternative - Davinci Resolve

Ok, I have a dedicated blog post that I have already written (which you can ready all about here) that covers why I am going to be primarily editing in Davinci Resolve versus Adobe's Premiere Pro. All in all, I really feel that I have more creative control with my project. I can color my footage with powerful tools that in my honest opinion, put Adobe's Premiere Pro's Lumetri Color, Speed Grade, and even the plugins available for Premiere, to shame. 

The color effects are all node based and allot me to map my color adjustments in the most abstract way that I cant so I can pull some incredible looks with ease. I can track scenes without needing to bounce to Adobe After Effects and add advanced masks with ease. I can adjust / EQ all of my audio with a dedicated audio tab and easily add in additional audio plugins to extend my audio features. To top it off, I can denoise my footage and not have to maintain licenses to all different plugins as it comes included with Davinci Resolve Studio.

You know what is really cool? If you don't want to worry about rendering in 4k or denoising (and a few other effects) then you can download Davinci Resolve for free... Yes. You heard me correct, you can download the essentials for absolutely free. You will be able to still track, stabalize, color, adjust audio, and edit your footage for no money down. BUT if you are serious about your film, then I suggest purchasing the full version which is currently $299.00. With the full version, you gain additional effects, denoising, and much more. You can see more of the details here.

4) Video Compositor (After Effects) Alternative - Fusion 8

Ok, I have just found this program and it was by stumbling through Blackmagic Designs website and when I found it, I can't tell you how blown away I was. And let's face it. We all at some time have needed a compositor for some small task such as animating a title sequence, tracking text, or something of that nature. So, in my eyes, a video compositor is absolutely necessary.

Honestly, think of all of the After Effects tools but in what is known as a node based system versus a layer based system. As mentioned above, I can route all of my nodes in whichever way I want creating a spiderweb of effects that can be as organized or complicated as I want which gives me (from whatI feel) a greater sense of creative control.

No, like the illustrating program above, I haven't used this one enough for me to be comfortable really giving a thorough analysis of the tools BUT I can say I have yet to find something I can't do in Fusion that I can in After Effects. In fact, I am finding, yet again, that I can do a few MORE things in Fusion than I can in after effects such as create basic 3D elements. And for a compositor, that is pretty darn huge.

And, since it is from Blackmagic (same creators as Davinci Resolve) you can download the basic version for free (which is what I currently have and have yet to feel lacking as mentioned earlier). This is huge for me and I am sure huge for a lot of other companies out there that are tired of Adobe's shackles. For more information, you can visit Fusion 8's home page here.


All in all, I feel like the more I look, the more programs I find that are really trying to give Adobe a run for their money. And for me, I like to support the smaller businesses. To me, I started to feel like I was paying a premium price for software that gets very minor updates. For example, Adobe Photoshops most recent update (as of when I wrote this article) was for Touchbar support with the new MacBook while Serif (Affinity Photo) added new tone mapping features and a dedicated tone mapping window along with a s#!@ ton of new features as well. Yes, some features were crossover from what Photoshop could do but they took the idea and pushed it that much further.

I feel like Adobe is losing their touch as of late and I worry that many others will be like me and start to look for alternatives because their programs really aren't pushing the limits anymore. I love what Adobe did for me in the beginning but I really am continuously growing unimpressed with their recent additions to the Creative Cloud. The idea is so sound but, they really aren't pushing themselves like they used to.

I hope things change because I will always have a soft spot for Adobe. But until then, I will continue to find additional programs that I find fit my needs more.

Benjamin - Teacher At Pure Presence Creative
Post Author

Benjamin (Creative Dork)

I am true nerd to the core, believer in quality design, Horde player, and an all around creative dork. I create films, photos, websites, and music and honestly believe that the saying 'Jack of all trades, master of none' is an excuse. I do what I want really.