Affinity for Me
When Adobe and Autodesk scrapped perpetual licenses and introduced rental-only models, forum posts starting sprouting all over the web about alternatives to Max, Maya, and Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
I’m not going to go too much into what I think of the rental model, since I’ve written about it in the past. Suffice to say that it is a very good deal for shareholders and a pretty raw one for users, especially small studios and lone cowboys like me.
The good news is that in an open economy, a company can only force a business model onto dissatisfied users as long as there is no competitor offering a comparable product on a basis users prefer. In practice, however, there are formidable barriers to entry. In 3ds Max’s case, the proprietary nature of the .max file makes it hard for users to switch if the entire industry doesn’t. In addition, Autodesk has had the wisdom to grandfather existing maintenance plans, offering a last refuge to people like me who have vowed never to buy into the rental model (no pun intended).
Adobe is different, especially when it comes to Photoshop. Given the relative openness of the .psd format and the fact that Photoshop has not evolved that much since the Creative Suite, it has been easier for competitors to find a toehold in the image-editing space. And that’s where today’s fantastic news comes in.
When I heard last week that Serif’s Affinity Photo, a highly-praised image-editing app for the Mac, was making the move to Windows, I decided to give it a spin. I’ve been using Adobe CS5 since I bought it and never felt that I needed any of the features introduced since the move to CC. But lately, some plugin developers have started dropping support for the old suite when releasing new versions of their apps, which is a problem. I believe Affinity is the solution.
I’m not saying this because Affinity, which is now in open beta for Windows and free for anyone to try, has a fantastic set of features, including a full RAW-file developing studio, panorama stitching, lighting tools, haze removal, .psd compatibility, mesh-wrapping tools, perspective correction, advanced masking algorithms, and is compatible with 32- and 64-bit Photoshop plugins, all organized in a way that will be familiar to all seasoned PS users.
I’m saying this because it has something that Photoshop doesn’t have and that is going to literally change my life.
I’ve been working a lot with scanned textures lately. My workflow for this has been to extract separate diffuse and displacement maps by baking a high-resolution mesh to a flat plane inside Max. It works great. I’ve done great sand, soil, and cobblestone textures that way. But there has been one huge difficulty in this workflow: How to make the textures tileable.
The offset-and-paint approach that we all use has been tough to translate to scanned textures because Photoshop doesn’t allow the clone tool to work on two layers at the same time, whether you link them or group them. There are workarounds, but they are all very clunky, time-consuming, and the outcome is generally not satisfying.
So after installing the Affinity beta, this is the first thing I tried. I stacked a scanned, non-tileable diffuse map on top of its corresponding 16-bit height map, grouped them, and proceeded to offset and clone them. And surprise: Even though this is nowhere to be found in Affinity’s documentation, it works! The cloning of the top layer is replicated on the layer below.
For me, and I’m sure for anyone who works with scanned texture, this is huge! It is going to change my workflow radically and make my life so much easier.
I felt like posting this because something rare has just happened: A developer has come up with an alternative for a software I’d been desperate to move away from, and it is not only offering all the features I need, but also a crucial one that I didn’t have and had been dreaming about at night.
Some things are still missing of course, starting with better support for 32-bit images (beyond some nice tone-mapping tools that are great for photographers but of little use to 3D artists), but it is also something Photoshop lacks. So I know that when the beta expires, I’ll gladly give Serif my money for a permanent license and will likely keep it up to date.
So go ahead, download it, try it, and prepare to save space on your hard drive by finally uninstalling Photoshop. You will never need it again.
Note: All images in this post are property of Serif