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Is Affinity Software a viable alternative to Adobe?

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There’s never been a better time for someone to be a content creator, and that includes journalists creating content for their audience. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to create digital content with more being published as either apps or standalone desktop platforms every day.

It can get confusing, but one of the constants for most of us has been the Adobe Suite of software. It’s becoming increasingly common for many to look for alternatives to Adobe, however, for a variety of reasons.

That’s why I want to report that I believe Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher are capable replacements to Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator that MAY fit with some programs. As with anything, there are benefits and drawbacks to Affinity.

In this article I’m going to (briefly) look at Photoshop vs. Affinity Photo, InDesign vs. Affinity Publisher, and Illustrator vs. Affinity Designer. This is not a comprehensive, in-depth review and is simply designed to give you some direction if you’re considering switching software or starting from scratch.


Photoshop vs. Affinity Photo

Photoshop is legend. Photoshop is also a giant, massive, sometimes convoluted program that can do almost anything imaginable to a photograph, sometimes at the cost of simplicity and software feature bloat.

I’ve been forcing myself to use Affinity Photo often for the last few months after almost two decades using Photoshop. I’ve found ways to replicate almost everything I can do in Photoshop, with a few limitations.

The Affinity Photo layout looks similar to Adobe’s offerings but differs in some important ways.

Some good news: Affinity Photo is very user friendly. I found it easy to pick up and create with the program, and some of the tools are far more intuitive than what I find in Photoshop.

A quirk to get used to in Affinity Photo that’s very different than Photoshop: persona’s. They act as different workspaces within Photo that display different layouts and menus, supposedly to help streamline the editing process. It took me a bit to get used to, but I find myself seamlessly working within the personas after some practice.

A look at Affinity Photo’s personas. From left to right: Photo, Transform, Develop, Tone Mapping and Export.

For the most part, my time with Affinity Photo hasn’t stopped me from doing most of the things I’d do in Photoshop, including using lots of layers, masking, color grading and more. For journalists, I think Affinity Photo offers great single-image editing.

The one thing that I miss the most as a photographer is the batch processing of RAW files that Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW is built for. Affinity does have batch processing but if pales in comparison to what Adobe can do. There are workarounds, such as using other free software (such as Darktable or RAW Therapee), but I personally won’t be getting rid of Lightroom anytime soon (and neither will my students!).

Another word about RAW files: Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW, not to mention other programs like Capture One, have far more powerful RAW editing controls that give the photographer finer control over the RAW file. Honestly, I would never choose to process RAW files in Affinity Photo when the other programs are available.

This is the Develop persona. With RAW files, you can’t leave this persona until you “develop” the RAW file. You can see on the right the basic RAW editing tools most other programs have.

Illustrator vs. Affinity Designer

Illustrator has a long history in the design world as the kind of the vectors. Affinity Designer was designed as a direct competitor, and I’d have to say that I personally like Designer quite a bit more than Illustrator for most cases.

The Affinity Designer Vector Persona. This is where you’ll spend the majority of time. Looks similar to the Photo program, doesn’t it?

First, the layout and controls of Designer just seem intuitive. This is after years of working in Illustrator. For whatever reason, I just felt at home with the software.

It doesn’t hurt that Affinity knows most of us have experience with Adobe, so they’ve crafted their menus to be recognizable and even familiar. What I like so much is that they’ve further refined the experience to make Affinity Designer easy to pick up and create with.

I’ve also fallen in love with the iPad version of this software, and when combined with the Apple Pencil, I’ve found it an absolute joy to create vector art while on-the-go, in the waiting room, and even during a staff meeting (just don’t tell anyone).


InDesign vs. Affinity Publisher

After a lengthy public beta, Publisher 1.0 released in June of 2019, making it the newest of the bunch from Affinity, this time to directly compete with InDesign.

I really dig Publisher. As in: I don’t want to work with InDesign any longer, and I haven’t since it’s been released.

Personally I find the program to be far more intuitive for me, snappier and easier to use, and just pleasing to work with for hours at a time.

Affinity Publisher features a slick, modern UI.

I’ve found it renders images far better than InDesign does, even for documents with 30 or 40 pages of image-heavy design. It has run smoothly the entire time I’ve used it and to my eyes, the interface looks fantastic. I know it’s a personal preference, but Publisher seems to have somehow removed a layer between me and the document that I didn’t even know was there in InDesign, making the page creation process more enjoyable and “in the moment.”

More importantly than all that: can you make a yearbook out of this thing? A newspaper?

Yes – the answer is absolutely yes. I’d be fully confident using Affinity Publisher for my yearbook.

A word: we don’t work with a traditional publishing company like Walsworth or Jostens. We’re mostly on our own with support. I don’t think Walsworth or Jostens offers Affinity software support. However, Affinity does have great support forums with an active community that has always seemed eager and willing to help.

StudioLink

Affinity released a feature called StudioLink at the same time as Publisher. StudioLink is Affinity’s answer to Adobe’s integrated suite of programs. For instance, it’s really easy in Adobe to go from InDesign to Photoshop and back again when working with Adobe’s products. Affinity has added much of the same ability with the added bonus of never having to leave the software.

Affinity calls it a “streamlining of the creative workflow,” and I would have to agree. When it works, it works really well. I can make edits to images directly while working in Publisher without having to leave the program. Yet there are limits. I’ve had to do some really complicated edits before, and StudioLink doesn’t allow me to do everything I can do in Affinity Photo, for instance. Just a lot of it.

For high school media programs where most of the time, students are not making gigantic edits of images (for ethical reasons maybe), I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue. Almost all the basic functions are included in StudioLink.

I think StudioLink works wonderfully well and could be a time saver. However, the student will have to have all three programs installed on their machine for it to work.

Final Thoughts

Here are some other things things that stand out as considerations applying to these programs in general.

First is price. The Affinity programs are available for $50 each without a subscription. Adobe provides their software through a month-by-month subscription price that varies depending on what programs you need. A cheaper Photoshop/Bridge/Lightroom subscription costs $10 per month, but if you want the whole suite of stuff, you’ll have to pay quite a bit more. I personally pay $50 per month for the Master Collection, but there are educational/teacher options that change this as well. One thing to note: Affinity products often go on sale.

Secondly, there are iPad versions of both Affinity Designer and Photo. An iPad version of Publisher is on the way sometime next year. These are not stripped-down versions of the software with limited capability. They are the full-featured programs that work with customized touch controls and Apple’s fabulous Pencil. These do require a separate purchase, but are only $20 each.

Third, Affinity does not offer a whole suite for all your journalism content creation needs. It’s kind of great to just subscribe to Adobe’s Master Suite and get almost everything Adobe offers, including video support through Premiere and audio through Audition.

Fourth, Affinity overall has a lighter digital footprint than Adobe. On my machine right now, Photoshop is taking up more than two gigs of hard drive space while all three programs from Affinity take up less than 500 megabytes combined. I’ve also had more luck getting Affinity software to work smoothly on older machines. (However, that situation reverses for more intensive editing – I’ve had Photoshop work on 6-gigabyte images fairly well while Affinity Photo struggled – but this is not something my students ever really encounter).

Number five on my list of considerations is file support. Affinity has done a pretty good job of making their software read other files (Photo does a great job reading Adobe’s .PSD files), but this isn’t always the case. Some drawbacks to consider though: Publisher does not open InDesign files, and I’ve found some other file formats that don’t work as expected. There are some workarounds, of course, but this increases the complexity of working with the software. If you want full support for almost any file in the industry, Adobe is the way to go.

Finally for the purpose of this article, Adobe’s software has incredible third-party support. There are nearly unlimited resources out there available as plug-ins, not to mention templates and such designed for Adobe’s products. Affinity cannot hope to replace decades of software support (but they do support some of those plug-ins). The Adobe legacy also translates into more tutorials, videos, etc., out there designed to help new Adobe users get going.

You might be able to tell that I really dig Affinity products. I do, but I also have to report that my students won’t be replacing Adobe stuff anytime soon.

If I ever run into budget concerns, though, I would be fully confident in the majority of the journalism program using the Affinity suite, but I’d be aware that there would be growing pains and obstacles we’d have to overcome.

For new advisers out there, however, starting off with the Affinity programs would be fairly simple and could replace Adobe’s stuff in many cases.

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