Paint Tool Impressions – Affinity Photo

After finishing up the post about my impressions of various paint programs a couple of years ago, I realized that I had not mentioned Affinity Photo. At the time, Affinity Photo was gaining a lot of ground in the competition against Photoshop, and I admit that it was an oversight to not include it. Now, Affinity Photo is considered to be a comparable alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

As of this writing, Affinity is offering 90-day free trials for their 3 products: Photo, Designer, and Publisher. And each is also selling at 50% of the full price. Photo is clearly the direct competitor to Adobe Photoshop, as Designer is the direct competitor to Illustrator, and Publisher is the direct competitor to InDesign. I’m only looking at Photo for this post.

Immediately after launching Affinity Photo, I went straight for the brush tool, laid down some strokes with the stylus, and was underwhelmed. No line variance. My next thought was that paint programs never have their default size jitter set to stylus pressure, and it’s just always a minor inconvenience to set this up. I did the usual driver version checks and reboots, and finally discovered I had to enable Windows Ink for this. This was a little bit unintuitive compared to most of my other paint programs in which I usually have to have Windows Ink disabled instead.

Despite the size jitter defaults, the brush types feel good “out of the box”. They feel very fluid and lightweight.

I like the “preview mode” of the tools that I used, to indicate how the tool would be applied before actually applying it. I can see how a particular tool will affect the image before commiting the action.

Generally speaking, Affinity Photo has a lot more contextual modes that just make sense for every action you do in the program. Something that has made Photoshop slowly grow to be more disjointed over the years, and have basically forced its user-base to adopt and just “live with”.

I just realized I can change the color chooser to a triangle, which I prefer over the sliders. The cursor on the color chooser feels a little sluggish though, so switching between slight variations of saturation and luminance can sometimes be a challenge. The rectangular color chooser seemed to exhibit the least amount of lag.

Another thing I found out is that you can drag a document outside of the main program window for doing reference or comparison work. Looks like Krita cannot do that, but I haven’t verified this with the other paint programs.

Having quick mask and pen tools available in Affinity Photo already makes it a better image editing program than Photoshop Elements, making it more on par with full-blown Photoshop. These are major pluses, considering the price point.

And one other notable and refreshing feature is that you can toggle the toolbar directly below the menu bar to save valuable screen space when editing; something that Photoshop Elements seems to be adamantly against!

Here’s another screenshot with the collapsed toolbar and triangle color chooser.

Affinity Photo is not without its problems. I ran into various instances where I had a marquee or crop tool selected, yet I couldn’t move it until I re-opened the document. Maybe I was in some sort of locked state or something, but if I was, I couldn’t find an indicator of such a state.

Selecting child layers was a little finicky. Sometimes, I would select a child layer, like a mask of an adjustment layer, wanting to delete it, only to find out the parent was selected, and it would be deleted too, which caught me off guard. Layer selection can use a little bit of improvement.

And sometimes zooming in/out with the keyboard shortcuts stops working, although the scroll zoom continues to work. There have also been a few times when selection widgets, like the crop tool wouldn’t drag, but would start working after I restarted the program.

Despite the list of nitpicky bugs, albeit fairly egregious ones, I’m still on board with Affinity Photo’s workflow over Photoshop’s workflow.

Affinity Photo. From upper left to lower right: sketch, ink over sketch, ink, paint, ink over paint, ink over paint on background

If I were to compare Affinity Photo to all the other paint programs that I use, I’d say Affinity Photo has better stock paint tools than Photoshop Elements, but not quite the variety of brush types that Krita provides. It’s got the snappiness and lightweight feel of SAI Paint Tool, and definitely has better image editing tools than any of the dedicated painting tools like Corel Painter, and the aforementioned SAI and arguably, Krita. Overall, I am impressed with Affinity Photo. It feels like I can get a lot done more intuitively in this program than any other paint program. I’m looking to make this my primary paint program moving forward.

Stay Safe, and Make It Fun!

  • Affinity Photo 1.8.3.641
  • Wacom Intuos3, 8×6
  • Windows 10
  • ASUS ROG GL753VE, Core i7, 4GB GTX 1050Ti
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