This is one of a series of articles looking at graphics applications for the Mac. See the review of Pixelmator and also of Art Text. Don’t forget that you can use Gimp for free and there are other applications that do graphics for the Mac that are not the cost of an arm and a leg as you would have to pay to get Adobe Creative Suite.

Acorn - Image manipulation for a low entry price

Acorn - Graphics Design Software For MacintoshCompared to Pixelmator, Acorn looks like a poor relation, nowhere near as pretty but does much of what Pixelmator does and a couple of things that Pixelmator can’t do. You would have to work out which you need most in terms of features and choose one as your graphics application. You could use both apps, importing items from Acorn into Pixelmator or the other way around if you need more features.

You can use a Wacom Tablet with Acorn same as you can with Pixelmator, the tablet makes it better for drawing precision. There is pressure sensitivity which will affect the width of the lines you draw and you can change the opacity if the brush strokes in tool settings.

I like the way I can make rectangles of a specific size by giving the dimensions in the tool dialogue for shape tools. I can also choose the radius of rounded corners, the width of the stroke, that’s the line around the object. I can even add a drop shadow to the object created, in this window, very good configurability. Shape Tools give you the choice of rectangles, ellipses, bezier curves and lines, and you can set the settings before or after creating the object. One reason that the resulting shapes look good is because they are vector shapes, no bitmap jaggies.

Resizing the image or the canvas, cropping the image is all super easy and the quality of the bitmap stays good too. The selection tools are precise and you can change the tolerance of the wand for the magic wand selection tool. If you click hold down and move the wand you progressively select more of the area based on the colour you started from. Good if you want to select a sky and the blue at the top is different from the blue lower down.

You can select an area with the magic wand tool and then hit delete to remove it so that all you have on that layer is transparency in that selected area. Or the new tool in Acorn version three will give you the facility that you have in Keynote called Instant Alpha. You find that tool hidden under the eraser tool. It works just like the selection tool but you don’t have to hit the delete button to clear back to the transparent.

Acorn doesn’t have the sexy looks of Pixelmator but it does have some extra tools that are well worth having. The extra tools make it just that bit more useful. The vector tools won’t be as good as what you would get in Vector Designer or Illustrator but still a good addition in an inexpensive bitmap editor. For many Mac users Acorn will be just the job and nothing else required. For the intermediate people you might still need to use a couple of different tools to save you having to bite the bullet on Creative Suite.

ArtText for the Mac and Pixelmator are the applications that Acorn has been compared with in this article. Don't forget to use Hazel to organise the files you create.