GraphicConverter 7

Out with the old, in with the new
Out with the old, in with the new

GraphicConverter is one of the great shareware apps on the Mac. I’ve been using it since 1.4 or so (I actually paid for a disk when I registered, so I have a floppy disk with a home-made printed label on it somewhere). I remember way back in the days of 8-bit color you had a choice between DeBabelizer and GraphicConverter for converting images from 24-bit color to display on 8-bit video cards with an optimized palette and high quality dithering. For a short time DeBabelizer had an edge because it supported some exotic dithering algorithms, but GraphicConverter was simply better in every significant respect, including costing $35 when DeBabelizer sold for $700.

All that said, GraphicConverter always had a horrible user interface (note that DeBabelizer’s was even worse), and despite being ported to OSX very early has been Carbon until now. The main problem for GraphicConverter though has been the standardization of image formats (almost any program can deal with PSD, TIFF, JPEG, and PNG files, in large part thanks to OS-level support in OSX, but in no small part thanks to the appearance of cross-platform open-source graphics libraries such as ImageMagick and GraphicsMagick), the death of animated GIFs (for which GraphicConverter was an excellent tool), and the disappearance of indexed color displays. So, what does GraphicConverter offer in an era when a solid bitmap editor like Pixelmator or Photoline supports scores of different bitmap file formats (and really, who cares any more?), Acorn supports Python scripting (and offers a pretty capable free version), and all three allow batch processing in one form or another?

The Ugly

Everyone's got a welcome screen these days
Everyone’s got a welcome screen these days

Unlike most of the revisions GraphicConverter has offered over the years (and it seems to get updated every week or two), this is a paid upgrade. In fact the upgrade to version 7 costs almost as much as a whole new program.

While the new icon is, at long last, not a hideous embarrassment (leaving Photoshop CS5 and Photoline 16 in the running for “worst icon for a serious graphics app ever” title), the transition from Cocoa to Carbon weighs in at just under 140MB (226 vs 78 MB for the previous version). I guess we get 512×512 icons for every file format, or something. (Actually I just checked and nope, that’s not it.)

The Good

When I got the email notifying me that GraphicConverter 7 was out, my immediate reaction was to check to see if it was a paid upgrade. There haven’t been many but every previous paid upgrade has been a no-brainer. GC was simply indispensable. But today, when I saw that it was not only a paid upgrade but, relative to its “new” cost, an expensive one, I was ready to dispense with it. After all, last time I checked Photoline actually supported more file formats!

The new image window looks good, works well, and lets you "walk" a directory
The new image window looks good, works well, and lets you “walk” a directory

First of all, the new user interface isn’t merely “not bad”, it’s spectacularly good. GraphicConverter has never even been average-looking, but now it’s ahead of Pixelmator (equally attractive icons, fewer gimmicks, better HIG adherence) or Acorn. Bear in mind, GC isn’t trying to compete with Photoshop or Pixelmator — e.g. it has no layer support. It always has been and remains a product focused on workflow. As such, it’s more of an iPhoto or Aperture replacement.

Core Image filters are very well implemented (not as clever as Acorn but quicker to work with)
Core Image filters are very well implemented (not as clever as Acorn but quicker to work with)

With workflow in mind, Acorn’s tools are focused on the kinds of things you’re likely to need to do in a hurry, like magic wand select things and delete them, or setting a transparent background color. GC does a good job of supporting shortcuts from other applications where it makes sense, so M for marquee select or Command-L for Levels (from Photoshop) or Command-1 thru 5 for image ratings (from iPhoto) work as expected.
One of the first things I check when I first use any image editor is the precision of its selection and drawing tools.

Ever since I first used MacPaint (which was pixel perfect in every way even in version 1.0) I’ve been stunned at how many programs make bonehead mistakes in simple things like marquee selection. GraphicConverter has, until now, always been an offender in this respect, but at least based on quick testing finally seems to be able to consistently selected what you expect.

The Bad

As stated above, GC still has no layer support.

The new Batch dialog is lovely (and well-integrated with the Browser window), and the new tool for building batch scripts looks good and is a marked improvement on the old dialog, but the main annoyance of the old dialog (it’s not easy to navigate to your desired source and destination directories) is actually worse because you can no longer drag a folder from Finder into the dialog to set the source or destination (and the Browser doesn’t support this either). The basic interface is better, it certainly looks better, but it’s probably less convenient to use. And it takes ages to bring up the dialog (on an Mac Pro with 8 Cores and 8GB of RAM).

While you can browse inside iPhoto events (which is great) iPhoto’s rating and GC’s are as two. Ugh. (It’s a real shame, since GC does support iPhoto’s shortcuts, which may means it’s a bug).

Image export dialogs show incorrect previews of translucent images
Image export dialogs show incorrect previews of translucent images

Global adjustments are handed via a slick interface which makes it much clearer than many rival programs when you’re committing a change, but the controls are unresponsive when making global adjustments to large images (a common failing in apps when they first adopt Core Image support and don’t do any real UI optimization).


GraphicConverter 7 is, overall, a marked improvement on its predecessor. The core functionality is still there (and the menus are as cluttered as ever) and almost everything looks better and works at least as well as before (that I checked), but I’ve probably launched GC less than ten times in the last year when five years ago it was a program I used almost every day.

As an image manager, GraphicConverter is and remains a failure. It isn’t well-integrated with Finder (e.g. you can’t drag a folder to its batch converter to set a destination, it doesn’t offer quick access to your Desktop or Pictures folders) nor with iPhoto (e.g. ratings don’t carry across). As an image editor it’s merely adequate in a world where adequate image editors (such as Acorn’s free version) are free. It doesn’t support layers, so it can’t compete with serious layer-based image editors like Pixelmator, and it doesn’t do redeye reduction or healing, so it can’t compete with iPhoto, Aperture, or Lightroom. It’s really not in the running any more.

If GraphicConverter’s batch conversion capabilities are something you need (and you know who you are) then it’s possibly GC7 will be a compelling upgrade (personally, the long launch time for this dialog and having to navigate its dialog to set a destination folder are each deal breakers for me right now, but both may get fixed).

My initial reaction to seeing that GraphicConverter had received a major (non-free) upgrade was that it was time, at long last, to give up on it. After using it for ten minutes I was greatly impressed at the attractive and well-thought-out user interface improvements and long overdue micro-usability enhancements. After another half hour I was back to my first impression. GC has seen its day.

Farewell old friend.