Acorn 4 review: Affordable image editor gains extra power
Filter effects can be added to layers as non-destructible effects or blended into the layer for immediate application.
For those on a budget, Photoshop for all its great features, is a pricy beast. Acorn has, through three versions, attempted to be a budget alternative that still offered enough to be worth using. With the latest version, developer Flying Meat has pulled out all the stops, adding non-destructive filter effects and speeding the app up considerably. There’s also been a re-jigging of the layer and brush controls so things work a little differently from the previous version.
To start, there’s a standard selection of tools in the palette on the left. This has been enhanced by using a variety of new object shapes. The Crop tool is an interesting one because it can be applied as a non-destructive effect, which basically means adding a masking shape over the top of the image. It can be applied, and probably should as it does look a little odd. Most of the effects are now non-destructive, but not all. Other new features are the gradient fills which have a collection of presets that resemble those from Photoshop, and have a simple method of adjustment as well. The Bezier Pen tool is a real plus point and works smoothly. If there’s one area where the app isn’t as fast as it should be, still, then it’s the Magic Wand which can take some time thinking about large selections.
There’s a good range of brush presets but you can also design your own, including use custom brush blending modes.
There’s more interesting work going on with the new brush control. As well as having a side and opacity slider, there’s also the Brush Designer palette that can be launched. This enables much more control over the brush characteristics and includes a brush blending mode. The brush can then be saved for later use. There’s a slight problem here in that it’s never obvious what brush has been selected, however, it’s easy enough to use the drop down brush menu to select new ones. The other issue is that while brushes propagate through the Photoshop system, they are limited to specific tools here. That leads to the disaster that is the Clone tool. Now, if there’s one tool above all others, that’s vital for retouching, it’s the Clone tool. The one here is, unfortunately, almost useless. For a start, it doesn’t use the brushes that you have made, or any-built in ones. This is then compounded by only having control over the size of the cloning brush. There are no blend modes, edge softness or, critically, opacity controls.
Back on to general image control and there’s plenty of adjustments over colour and brightness on offer. There’s a new Curves control, but this isn’t available as a non-destructive effect, you have to duplicate a layer and use a layer mask to achieve selective control. There are a large number of filters, many of which do very similar things, and also a number which are hard to tell what they do until you try them. Really this needs organising better and the more superfluous ones removing. Some are quite useful, others less so but all the basics like colour manipulation, sharpening and blurring are there, along with some lighting and distortion effects. There’s no Photoshop plug-in support unfortunately, but there is PSD file support. Obviously these have to only use features that Acorn supports, and so tend to be the more simpler compositions.
This version represents a significant increase in functionality at a budget price. Some aspects are idiosyncratic in operation, but there are plenty of good features. The only fly in the ointment is the Clone tool, but that aside, it’s a worthy budget editor.