And the Winner is…

To complete my roundup of wannabe Photoshop replacements, I went and downloaded the latest beta of Iris from As I understand it, Peter Lewis (the original developer of Interarchy — for many years the best FTP program for the Mac, now superseded by Transmit and Forklift) sold the rights to Interarchy to an former employee who had largely taken over maintenance of it. This chap, while continuing to support and update Interarchy, is writing Iris. Whew.

Iris 1.0b1 and 1.0b2 were unmitigated disasters, and Iris 1.0b5 isn’t much better, and significantly worse in many respects. This is not even a solid alpha (alpha used to mean “feature complete” and beta used to mean “no known bugs when we sent it to QA”) — most of the filters aren’t properly implemented, the tool palette isn’t rendered properly (although the atrocious first cut icons have been replaced by slightly less atrocious icons) and after looking through the menus to verify that even if everything present worked properly it wouldn’t be as useful as Acorn or Pixelmator, I quit and dragged it to the trash.

Here’s a bad sign. Nolobe used to offer forums for its users, but they’re gone. When I last looked, most of the traffic consisted of pretty nasty criticism of Iris (some of it from me).

Apparently, Nolobe plans to sell this crock for $79 (only $39 now though — save $40). That’s the same price as Photoshop Elements 6.0, $20 more than Pixelmator, and $30 more than Acorn’s “Introductory” price.

So here’s the rundown of Photoshop Alternatives for under $100 on the Mac as of right now.

Worth Trying

Photoshop Elements 6.0 $79 — Photoshop for Photographers! Cleverly removing just enough features to keep people like me buying Photoshop, aside from lacking Bezier support, advanced color modes, vector layers, advanced typography, and full blending options and the full suite of non-destructive filter layers, this is Photoshop, but in grey. Annoying Adobe installer and updater, but the time you waste on those will be amply repaid when you use incredibly nice tools to correct color and fix lens distortion.

Photoline 14.51 €59 (~$90) — feature-wise the only credible Photoshop competitor, and offering far more functionality (albeit in an uglier, less usable form) than Photoshop Elements. Cross-platform as a bonus. Rapid launches, quirky but not terrible interface, broadly similar functionality to Photoshop (seriously as in: solid RAW import support, in layer effects, non-destructive filter layers, full bezier curve support, CMYK, 16 bits per channel), but no Core Image filters.

Pixelmator 1.2 $59 — very fast, attractive, easy-to-use bitmap editor, with no vector support and poor text functionality. Best Core Image implementation. No advanced color modes (not even indexed color support). Rudimentary RAW support. Weak color correction tools (iPhoto is far better).

Has Potential

Acorn 1.2 $50 — very fast, attractively minimalist, easy-to-use image editor, with a lot of “placeholder” functionality (e.g. rudimentary support for text, vector shapes, and so on) that may be useful one day. Some basic functionality is MIA (e.g. free rotation of layers). Excellent Core Image implementation, but Pixelmator’s is nicer. Very deep scripting support. Stupid nagware implementation.

Sad Joke

Iris 1.0b5 $39 (for now!) — this program is a sad joke. If it worked perfectly right now, it would be like a crippled version of Pixelmator.

Useful, but Ugly

GraphicConverter 6.x $35 — not reviewed but I used it every day for years and it’s worth mentioning — indispensable for batch processing and optimizing the bejesus out of GIFs and JPEGs. Butt-ugly UI. The Core Image filters interface is barely usable. Totally usefulless (Edit!) for painting. No layer support and transparency support is flaky. It’s a shame that this venerable workhorse’s UI has never received the attention it deserves (heck, its icon is an embarrassment).

Note: although GraphicConverter can read almost any bitmap image, Photoline can open nearly as many, and save far more.