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Acorn: Easy to Use, Inexpensive Graphics Editor for Macs


Acorn is a brand-new image editor for Macs that takes a different approach to the Photoshop-esque interface with six or seven floating tool palettes. Acorn, by comparison, has but a single palette, yet that palette, because of using tabs, still has all the tools available with but a single click.
I downloaded Acorn not quite knowing what to expect. It comes from a company - Flying Meat (yes... Flying Meat!) - that I knew of from having used and very much enjoyed their flagship product, VoodooPad, a desktop wiki that has come in very handy for me over the years. I read about Acorn while doing a bit of web browsing regarding another graphics program I recently took a look at (Pixelmator), which takes the Photoshop approach as far as its interface goes, while including a number of Core Image effects.

Acorn is very young. It recently launched and is currently sitting at version 1.0.1, so it's only had a single revision, which from what I can tell was basically the first round of bug fixes. From what I've read in the Flying Meat Forums, there are a still a LOT of bugs to be worked out, features to fully implement, and so the folks at Adobe need not feel worried that Acorn will suddenly become the standard graphics application for Mac users.

Far from it.

Acorn, however, which currently only costs $39.95 for a license (although that is listed as an introductory price), shows a ton of potential.

I took Acorn out for a spin and did a few things that make up most of my graphics editing needs. I made a couple CD covers, resized a few images to optimize them for use as desktop images, and generally just fooled around. At the price, in my opinion, there really isn't anything out there that does as much. Sure, a professional isn't going to run out and purchase a license for Acorn, and even Photoshop Elements and Pixelmator have far more features, but those programs are 20-50 dollars more expensive (and the full Photoshop is hundreds of dollars more expensive), so for someone just wanting a nice, easy-to-use program for not a lot of money, Acorn is it.

But all that isn't to say that Acorn is dumbed down. No, it has a lot of the features you expect from a full-fledged graphics editing program. It has the typical Move, Select, Draw and Erase tools, does Gradients and a function similar to Photoshop's Paint Bucket. As well, you can add text to an image, and shapes as well.

Acorn also includes a lot of Filters, including Blur, Color Adjustments and Effects, Composite and Distortion, as well as others. These filters can be applied to a layer one after another to achieve all kinds of cool effects.

That's right, Acorn does layers. It's kind of amazing to me how, when the concept of Layers was first introduced, it seemed like such a simple thing, yet hardly any graphics programs handled the idea, unless you wanted to spend a LOT of money. Layers treat an image like a series of transparencies, stacked on top of one another, and viewed from above. Each layer (or transparency), can be edited by itself, without affecting everything else in the image. This way, if you want to make a change to a layer (or add a filter to just the text on an image, for instance), this is possible.

What this means to users is that no change is really ever "final" the way it used to be. Without Layers, once you've added text and then made another change, the only way to edit the text is to hit the Undo button again and again, undoing EVERYTHING you've done since adding text. With Acorn (and other, layer-based graphics applications), all you need to do is select the layer the text is in, and make the changes.

As I mentioned, Acorn is still very young, and a quick scan of the Acorn Forums shows that a lot of features users are wanting have still not been implemented. The folks at Flying Meat, however, seem to be very responsive, and I've seen instances where bugs were reported one day, and fixed in a day or so. The same goes with features. While a feature may not be added the very next day, it is often mentioned as being planned for the very next minor release, so that's good to see. Acorn may not be perfect yet, but it's obvious the developers are striving for just that.

I'm excited about Acorn. As a computer user who needs a graphics editor now and then, I've never really felt as if I "needed" to own Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements). And yet I have purchased Photoshop Elements, simply because it did the one or two things I needed that no other program offered. But now, with programs like Acorn (and Pixelmator, for that matter), becoming available... programs that offer the features I want at the price I can afford, a whole world of graphics power is now opened up to the "little guy," and that's a good thing.