10 best cheap graphics apps for Mac OS X

Cost-effective and focussed apps for designers

10 best cheap graphics apps for Mac OS X

Adobe's Creative Suite may boast 'industry standards' when it comes to graphic design tools, but its apps are resource-hungry and expensive.

Luckily, there are many great indie alternatives for the Mac, along with additional task-specific tools that can speed up your workflow.

Our 10 favourites are listed below, and whether you're a newcomer looking for a bargain or a professional after a lightweight tool for a certain task, there should be something that'll take your fancy.

1. Acorn ($49.95)

Flying Meat calls its Acorn app "the image editor for humans", and it's clear lots of thought has gone into its straightforward interface. Although its tools are too basic for creating bitmap art from scratch, Acorn is a fantastic app for making quick fixes and edits. Its screenshot tool is also a slice of genius, Command+Shift+6 sending the screen to a new document, but with each window on a separate layer.


2. Pixelmator ($59)

Despite sporting a divisive interface and missing a few key features (notably layer effects), Pixelmator has become a hugely popular Mac image editor, and it's easy to see why: under the gloss, it's pretty much a clone of Photoshop, but from a time when Adobe's app was simpler and friendlier.


3. xScope ($26.95)

This screen-tool set for measuring on-screen elements includes a ruler, loupe, frames, crosshair and 'screens' for testing web-page designs against common browser resolutions.

The best two tools in xScope, though, are Guides and Dimensions. The former is like system-wide Photoshop guides, enabling you to compare mock-up element placement with a related website; the latter intelligently displays the distance between on-screen objects.


4. ColorSchemer Studio ($49.99)

Even if you have an eye for colour, it's worth having a colour-wheel handy. ColorSchemer Studio is an excellent digital colour-wheel, enabling you to build schemes from images, or work up palettes based on colour theory in the new LiveScheme feature. Plentiful export options make it a cinch to get your results into other apps.

Colorschemer studio

5. DrawIt (€29)

A challenger to Fireworks, DrawIt is a vector-based app with bitmap effects. Filters are non-destructive, and so you can continue to edit after applying them.

For screen designers, there's the ability to zoom in and see your drawing's pixels, without you having to first rasterise your work. The single-window interface is streamlined and intuitive, and a refreshing change from palette-heavy rival apps.


6. Opacity ($89.99)

This vector app is aimed at interface designers and is worth checking out even if you're a fan of Fireworks or Illustrator. Opacity offers a host of features and effects, including multiple and gradient strokes, multiple resolutions within a single file, and Factories.

The last of those is a smart-export dialog, which provides the means to define how you'd like an image to be exported, and then in future output multiple files with a single click.


7. GraphicConverter (£26)

It might not be the prettiest app around, but GraphicConverter is a must for anyone who regularly works with images. Although it contains competent editing tools, the main reasons for buying this app are its support for a huge range of image formats (even including those from 8-bit computers) and its flexible and highly useful batch-processing capabilities.


8. ImageWell ($19.95)

ImageWell enables you to resize, crop and perform basic edits to images, but the best features of this lightweight app are its ability to rapidly switch an image's format and then send it to a user-defined location. It'll even copy an uploaded item's URL to the clipboard, ready for pasting into an email or forum message.


9. PhotoStyler ($30)

The first of two filter-oriented apps in this round-up, PhotoStyler enables you to bring the tactile feel of film to digital images. A number of pre-sets are included that ape toy cameras, and you can also create your own by chaining a number of filters.


10. Image Tricks (Free/$19.95)

Mac OS X has plenty of built-in filters that enable you to rapidly transform photos and images. Image Tricks has an intuitive usable interface that enables easy access to 77 Mac OS X Core Image effects/filters and 35 Quartz Compositions. The paid version unlocks more effects, including the lovely 'hexagonal pixellate'.

Image tricks


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