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Digital Photo Software

Acorn 3 review

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After decades of Photoshop’s domination of the image editing market, it’s been surprising to see that, over the last couple of years, a lot of small companies have decided to make image editing programs, and have done a surprisingly good job! Joining affordable image editing applicaitons like Pixelmator, Flare, and Adobe's own Photoshop Elements 9, is Flying Meat Software’s Acorn, which just received an update to version 3.0.

Acorn 3 is a full featured image editor with a lot of high end features, including raw conversion, multiple layers and vector graphics. What’s not entirely clear is who it’s aimed at.

My, what a big tool palette you have

Acorn offers an interface that is very streamlined, particularly when compared to Photoshop and Photoshop Element’s large assortment of palettes and toolbars. In Acorn, your document appears in one window, and your tools appear in a palette. All your tools. One palette. While, conceptually, this is a nice idea, it makes for a rather inefficient use of screen space. You always know where to find a tool, but the tool palette is very wide and kind of squat.

In that tool palette you’ll find navigation tools, a crop tool, a text tool, drawing, gradient, paint bucket, shape tools, a clone tool and a colour picker. When you click on a tool, the right half of the toolbox fills with parameters and tool variants. Basically, it’s Photoshop’s tool palette and control bar combined into one box.

At the bottom of the tool palette sit layer controls. Acorn offers fairly sophisticated layering controls, with the ability to easily duplicate layers, and change their blending mode and opacity.

Good compositing requires good selection tools. The usual lasso, marquee and magic wand tools are provided and, as in most image editors, these are largely useless for creating the types of subtle, smoothly blended masks that you need for sophisticated photo compositing. Fortunately, the program now offers a QuickMask feature, which lets you define a selection by painting.

You can create Layer Masks in the Layers palette, for more sophisticated, non-destructive compositing operations. Be aware though that some essential commands, such as Add Layer Mask, are only available from a popup menu in the Layers palette, not from the Layers menu.

Special effects and new features

Acorn includes a huge assortment of image editing effect filters. Everything from distortions to colour and tone alterations, to stylised effects such as comic book-like edges and kaleidoscopic effects. New to version 3 is the ability to assign many of these to a layer as a Layer Style. What’s nice about Layer Styles is that they’re non-destructive, they can be altered or removed later and controlled with a Layer Mask.

Other new features include more sophisticated gradients, the ability to rotate text and shape objects and the ability to convert shapes to Bezier objects, with all the editing abilities you expect from a fully fledged vector illustration program.

Photoshop support has been improved, and layered files are supported, though I found that importing a complex layered Photoshop document didn’t always work properly, with the resulting image being muddled and garbled.

Raw files are supported, and Acorn offers a very basic assortment of raw conversion controls. However, the program bogs down if you hand it a very large image. Trying to work with images from my Canon 5D Mark II on my 2.1 GHz MacBook Air was an exercise in frustration, as every click led to some quality time with a spinning rainbow cursor.


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