Jens Lodholm

Resisting the Adobe Price-Choke

Alternative Software for the Budget-Conscious

A masked villain in black holds you by the throat. “You will pay. There is no other choice.”

Struggling to pry his muscular fingers from your windpipe, you gasp, “But it’s too expensive, Lord Adobe. I don’t have the credits!” 

“I find your lack of funds disturbing.” Disgusted, the villain hurls you against the wall.

You collapse to the floor, faking unconsciousness and hoping he’ll ignore you. Do you dare defy him? If only there were another way.

Adobe helped lead digital creative industries out of the dark ages. Photoshop, a groundbreaking image editor, is now a verb. Digital art could not be what it is today without Illustrator. Likewise, PDF and Acrobat are indispensable internet standards. And InDesign once freed a planet of graphic designers from slavery to the evil tyrant Quark XPress.

Yet Adobe can’t see the irony of its own evolution into a full-fledged empire. In 2005 it eliminated its largest competitor, Macromedia, by purchasing it. The resulting stranglehold hindered progress in graphic design software for years. It also ran prices up.

Cost-sensitive consumers responded by skipping upgrades and exploiting other cost-saving measures. Adobe countered by implementing Creative Cloud subscriptions and closing loopholes.

For some, the steady cost of a subscription ended large outlays for software license purchases and upgrades. But for those on shoestring budgets, the new model amounts to extortion. Gone is any discount for upgrades, as is the savings of bypassing a new version entirely. Adobe has greedily squeezed loyal customers, slapping them in the face for the privilege of keeping its empire solvent.

Thankfully, revolutionaries continue to oppose too much power in one set of hands. Read on for some of the most promising alternatives to the imperial options.

Please note: ‘*’ indicates products available in the Mac App Store. A ‘†’ marks applications the author has used. Prices are rounded where appropriate.


Pixelmator ($30*†) - I love its familiarity, simplicity, and price. Many say they prefer it to Photoshop. (It certainly launches faster.) Its biggest limitation is lack of CMYK support, which only print designers should miss.

Affinity Photo ($50*) - For those willing to pay more for CMYK support. Apple Mac App of the Year 2015; Mac App Store Editor’s Choice.

GIMP (free; - A popular open source option for those willing to learn at the expense of interface.


Graphic ($30*†) - Formerly iDraw, this product is a good fit for those who need Illustrator-caliber tools. It is owned and supported by AutoDesk, makers of 3Ds Max and other commercial software.

Affinity Designer ($50*) - A solid tool for serious illustration. Apple Design Award Winner 2015; Editor’s Choice.

Inkscape (free; - A powerful and beautiful open source illustrator. Uses internet-standard SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). It does require XQuartz (formerly X11) and some configuration.


iStudio Publisher ($18*) - A powerful page layout application with tutorials for newcomers. Featured in Apple’s Apps for Designers.

Swift Publisher ($30*) - A user-friendly desktop publisher with a clean interface.

Scribus (free; - A robust open source tool aimed at professional graphic designers. Much like with InDesign, that power comes with a steep learning curve for the uninitiated.

Acrobat Pro

In no area do there seem to be more options than in PDF editing. Unfortunately, the free ones seem to migrate quickly to the paid side.

PDFExpert ($60*) - A strong, optimized PDF editor with very good reviews. Runner-Up for Apple Mac App of the Year 2015; Mac App Store Editor’s Choice.

Inkscape & Scribus (free; see above) - These open source replacements for other Adobe applications can also serve as capable PDF editors.


Coda ($100; - With code editing, preview, file management, standards support, and a free trial, this WYSIWYG editor comes highly recommended within the community.

BlueGriffon (free; - Not the only open source WYSIWYG web editor, but a veteran one with strong credentials.

Premiere Pro

DaVinci Resolve (free lite version; - The free version lacks some features of the professional Studio app ($995), but is surprisingly stocked with capabilities.

After Effects

Motion ($50*) - Apple’s alternative offering has good overall reviews, with a few limitations.

Blender (free; - This open source 3D creation suite has created buzz for offering so much at no cost.

Animate (Flash Pro)

Anime Studio Debut ($40*) - Full-featured 2D animation software. A free trial is available from Smith Micro’s website.

Synfig Studio (free; - Open source 2D animation tools, strongly supported and streamlined for efficiency.

As this list ends, so does Adobe’s chokehold on the empire. Rebels resisting oppression have risen to the call and seeded the market with great software. 

Although this article can’t cover each product in-depth, hopefully it gives you a good place to start. Let your own research guide you to applications which best meet your needs.

Hearing voices, you open your eyes. Thousands crowd around you, glaring at the would-be tyrant. A man reaches down to help you to your feet. Together you raise your fists and chant for freedom.

 Little did you know you had so many allies in the struggle; they seem to have thought of everything. Avoiding imperial entanglements has never been so easy.