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Adobe Creative Cloud is barely available as Universal applications for Apple silicon based Macs like the Mac mini (M1, 2020), MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020) and the MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
Yet it costs £708 annually for a single license subscription for a business

Taking advantage the performance of Apple silicon based Macs with macOS Big Sur should be a no-brainer for Adobe Systems. How is it that almost a year after the public press announcement of Apple silicon, only Photoshop and Lightroom are Universal applications (meaning that the apps support both Apple silicon and Intel processors, and uses Apple silicon by default)?

Simply saying that many existing apps can run on M1 devices using Apple's Rosetta 2 technology isn't good enough for professionals who rely on these tools as part of their workflow. So with that in mind, I have decided to try to replace all the Adobe Creative Cloud tools with fully fledged Universal applications which are built to take advantage of Apple silicon. I am no expert in all these tools and I'm not reviewing these apps from that point of view and there are loads of feature based reviews out there already. My needs are straightfoward. I need functionality from graphics tools occasionally for example to clean up an image or edit a scalable vector graphic file. I need effective tools that are designed and built for the latest Apple silicon technology. I really dont need a full Adobe Creative Cloud subscription anyway. So if you, like me, have a new Apple silicon based Mac, you might like this list of software that shows its developers are up to date with Apples technology not falling behind.

TL:DR—I did it! I have been so surprised by the depth and strength in the alternatives I have found. They are all really really good! With Apple silicon support they are blazingly fast and full featured and the come with an extra feature - they don't have the subscription model and lethargic pace of development of Adobe. I am in the trial period for several of them at the moment but I believe I can spend between zero and £150 on Apple silicon apps for macOS Big Sur with no need for an expensive Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

I've downloaded each app, confirmed it is a Universal app running in Apple silicon (I dont have Rosetta 2 installed on my Mac Mini (M1, 2020). Once loaded I have opened a very large PSD file and exported it to PNG format. Ive completed simple operations in each app like resizing the view to get a feel for application snappiness. I've looked at the apps license, and the support and documentation and the community behind it. I've rejected many potential contenders which do not have a Universal application currently available. Thats the whole point of this article.

Just take me to the links

PhotoLine, Krita, Affinity Designer, Affinity Publisher, Affinity Photo, Ardour (experimental) Reaper (beta)

A little background

When Adobe moved to a subscription model in 2013 there was fairly widespread derision at the decision. I'm not going to rake over those coals, but there is hypocrisy in their reassurances at the time which seems demonstably provable now to me. Ashleigh Allsopp reporting for macworld (https://web.archive.org/web/20131029183741/http://www.macworld.co.uk/digitallifestyle/news/?newsid=3446802) noted that "Adobe's focus on Creative Cloud would also mean that subscribers will have access to new features on a regular basis, as it would allow the company to roll out updates more often." This was a major talking point for Adobe and their VP was quoted saying "We'll be releasing updates as soon as the features are ready, so you can expect to see features rolled out." And yet here we are.

"Adobe is actively working to build apps that run natively on Apple computers using the Apple silicon M1 chip."

So what happened? Apple announced the transition of the Mac platform to Apple silicon in a press release on June 22nd 2020 and shipped me a developer transition kit with macOS Big Sur running on non production Apple silicon hardware on June 29th 2020. Im no software giant like Adobe, who would have been well aware of Apple's macOS Big Sur and the technologies included with it. Adobe would likely have a much closer development relationship with Apple than most smaller developer organisations. In my experience that would often include prototype hardware far in advance of more general developer availability, so it would be almost inconceivable that Adobe didn't have access to production M1 hardware before these Mac's became generally available. I don't know the details though, and it would be an NDA violation for them to say so I suppose.

Adobe Apps that run using Rosetta 2 many with known issues

Adobe say you can install the following apps on computers powered by the Apple M1 chip provided you work around the known issues but why should you? Adobe say the apps may initially take longer to open while Rosetta 2 translates them for use in your M1 computer. Apple's Rosetta 2 is fabulous technology but these are professional graphics design and sound apps and need to run without it. There are a lot of apps with significant known issues, including all the apps I rely upon. Again, for professional workflows reliability is key. I guess if the Adobe app you need is not on this list it will not run at all.

  • Acrobat Pro (known issues)
  • After Effects
  • Animate
  • Adobe Audition
  • Adobe Bridge (known issues)
  • Character Animator
  • Dreamweaver
  • Illustrator (known issues)
  • InCopy
  • InDesign (known issues)
  • Lightroom Classic (known issues)
  • Adobe Media Encoder
  • Photoshop* (known issues)
  • Premiere Pro
  • Premiere Rush
  • Adobe XD (known issues)

Drop in replacements for Adobe Creative Cloud apps

Photography — Replacing Photoshop with PhotoLine

Get info for PhotoLine showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary
Get info for PhotoLine showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary

PhotoLine is an image and graphics editor. You can edit images or optimize them for the web, and export professional quality PDF. Back in 1996, PhotoLine was developed for the Atari ST computer. In 2021 Photoline Version 22.51 supports Apple silicon. It supports PSD files, PDF files, animated GIFs, Flash animations, and, SVGs.

Photoline is proprietary software subject to an unknown perpetual license agreement not a subscription. The registration fee of PhotoLine is 59 Euros. When you register you get a registration number and an invoice (PDF) by email. Updates within one major version number are cost free, for example 20.01 to 20.5. The upgrade fee for major upgrades, for example 20.5 to 21.0 is 29 Euros. If you are a single user, you are allowed to use one license on more than one computer. Usage on both Windows and macOS is allowed using the same registration number. The software works for 30 days once downloaded and installed so you can try it out. It is blazingly fast to load on an M1 Mac Mini!

Extensive photo editing functions for enhancement, correcting and retouching functions include, Light/Shadow, Connect/combine Images, White Point, Color Temperature, Chromatic Aberration, Image Noise, Red Eyes, Lens Correction and Perspective distortions. PhotoLine also handles digital camera raw data files as well as EXIF and IPTC data, supports professional PDF export, enables the creation of animated GIFs and supports ICC profiles for colour management. Advanced lossless image processing is provided adding effects to the image without changing the original data. A comprehensive set of filters is included.

Loading a large sample PSD file (107 MB HD 5184×3456)

A screenshot of PhotoLine running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
PhotoLine running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020) with a PSD sample file (107 MB HD 5184×3456) from filesamples.com

Using the software I loaded a large PSD file I found on the Internet. It was so fast to load compared to my experience with Photoshop! It was almost instantaneous to change the zoom and scroll around. I used the colour picker and the brush tools to edit out the serial number from the About this mac screenshot which was a png format file. It was simple to discover how to do it, and the result was pixel perfect.

Summary - 10/10

The software is fully featured. You can read the extensive list of capabilities at its web site. It is sophisticated enough and mature enough to be a powerful drop in replacement for Photoshop. It is fast, reliable and built for Apple silicon. It has a proprietary licence and costs 59 Euros.

Painting — Replacing Photoshop with Krita

Get info for Krita showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary
Get info for PhotoLine showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary. It also shows that it is licensed under the GNU Public License, V2 or, at your option, any later version

Krita goes to great length to explain that Photoshop is an image manipulation program with some painting features whereas "'Krita is a specialized paint application. It has specialized tools for painting. Similar tools are not found in more generalized image manipulation applications such as Photoshop." Helpfully, they publish a detailed guide to what that means for people coming from Photoshop. What Krita Has Over Photoshop. It is part of an extensive documentation website. Krita has a very active community of artists and developers behind it.

Krita is a professional FREE and open source painting program. Krita is, and will always be, free software. It is made by artists that want to see affordable art tools for everyone. It can be used to create concept art, for texture and matte painters, illustrations and comics. Krita is powered by KDE. KDE is a world-wide network of software engineers, artists, writers, translators and facilitators who are committed to Free Software development. This community has created hundreds of Free Software applications as part of the KDE frameworks, workspaces and applications. It is a very clean and flexible interface, which is configurable with panels and functionality called dockers to your personal requirements and saved as a workspace.

Krita contains over 100 professional brushes with a variety of effects. Brushes have stabilisers to help smooth shaky hands. Built in vector tools help create comic panels from SVG assets. Brush can be customised using brush engines which provide specific functionality. Seamless textures and patterns can be created with 'wrap-around mode'. Artists can create brush and texture packs and these can be exported an shared. Krita can be used to create 2D animation, exporting the results to video. Of course, Krita can open PSD files, and supports vector, filter, group and file layers.

Loading a large sample PSD file (107 MB HD 5184×3456)

A screenshot of Krita running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
Krita running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020) with a PSD sample file (107 MB HD 5184×3456) from filesamples.com

Summary - 10/10

The software is fully featured. Open Source and FREE. You can read the extensive list of capabilities at its web site. It is sophisticated and mature and although it is not a drop in replacement for Photoshop it is a painting application for artists. It is fast, reliable and built for Apple silicon. It is licensed under the GNU Public License, V2.

Design — Replacing Illustrator with Affinity Designer

Get info for Affinity Designer showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary
Get info for Affinity Designer showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary

Affinity Designer is a vector graphics editor developed by Serif for macOS, iPadOS, and Microsoft Windows. It is part of a trio of products alongside Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher. Affinity Designer is available for 90-day trial and purchase directly from the company website and for purchase in the Mac App Store, iOS App Store, and the Microsoft Store. During the pandemic it is 50% off at just £23.99 for a one off payment with no monthly subscription.

Affinity Designer was selected as a runner-up in Apple's "Best of 2014" list in the macOS app category. It also was one of the winners of the 2015 Apple Design Award.

The current release, 1.9 is a univeral app, which means it supports Apple silicon Macs. All the major image and vector file types are supported, including EPS, JPG, PDF, SVG, PSD, PNG, TIFF and GIF.

A screenshot of Affinity Designer running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
Affinity Designer running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020) with a PSD sample file (107 MB HD 5184×3456) from filesamples.com

The big PSD file test was just as snappy here as in the other Apple silicon apps. It was quick to export the file into my chosen format. The software and documentation is comprehensive and there is a superb quick start guide.

Summary - 10/10

The software is fully featured and well supported. It has a proprietary license. It is inexpensive and can be used for 90-days as a trial. You can read the extensive list of capabilities at its web site. It is sophisticated and mature and although it is not a complete drop in replacement for Illustrator it seems suitable for all but the most obscure of tasks. It is fast, reliable and built for Apple silicon.

Publishing — Replacing InDesign with Affinity Publisher

Get info for Affinity Publisher showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary
Get info for Affinity Publisher showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary

Affinity Publisher is a professional publishing application developed by Serif for macOS, iPadOS, and Microsoft Windows. It is part of a trio of products alongside Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer. Affinity Publisher is available for 90-day trial and purchase directly from the company website and for purchase in the Mac App Store, iOS App Store, and the Microsoft Store. During the pandemic it is 50% off at just £23.99 for a one off payment with no monthly subscription.

Affinity Publisher was selected as "Mac App of the year" by Apple in 2019. Serif give examples of use for books, magazinesm marketing materials, social media templatesa and website mock-ups. The key feature being the power to combine images, graphics and text to make beautiful layouts ready for publication.

Publisher has essentials like master pages, facing page spreads, grids, tables, advanced typography, text flow, full professional print output and a comprehensive list of other features including data merge from an external data source along with extensive documentation.

The current release, 1.9 is a univeral app, which means it supports Apple silicon Macs. All the major image and vector file types are supported, including IDML (for import and placing content), EPS, JPG, PDF, SVG, PSD, PNG, TIFF and GIF.

A screenshot of Affinity Publisher running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
Affinity Publisher running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020) with a PSD sample file (107 MB HD 5184×3456) from filesamples.com

The big PSD file test was just as snappy here as in the other Apple silicon apps. It was te same experience exporting the file to png, the resulting file was identical to the one produced by Affinity Designer showing the common code shared between them. The software and documentation is comprehensive and there is a superb quick start guide.

Summary - 10/10

The software is fully featured and well supported. It has a proprietary license. It is inexpensive and can be used for 90-days as a trial. You can read the extensive list of capabilities at its web site. It is sophisticated and mature and although it is not a complete drop in replacement for InDesign it seems very full featured. It is fast, reliable and built for Apple silicon.

Photography — Replacing Photoshop with Affinity Photo

Get info for Affinity Photo showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary
Get info for Affinity Photo showing it to be a Universal app which means it contains an Apple silicon binary

Affinity Photo is a raster graphics editor developed developed by Serif for macOS, iPadOS, and Microsoft Windows. It is part of a trio of products alongside Affinity Publisher and Affinity Designer. Affinity Photo is available for 90-day trial and purchase directly from the company website and for purchase in the Mac App Store, iOS App Store, and the Microsoft Store. During the pandemic it is 50% off at just £23.99 for a one off payment with no monthly subscription.

Affinity Photo was selected as "best Mac App" by Apple in 2015. In 2019, Affinity Photo received 'Photography News' Best Software award.

Again the feature set is strong, with raw editing, panorama stitching, PSD editing, 360 Image editing, unlimited layers and smart object support seemingly directed right at the Photoshop user along with selected plugin support, Text on a parth capabilities stand out as one of those professional features you will quickly need that lesser tools won't have.

The current release, 1.9 is a univeral app, which means it supports Apple silicon Macs. All the major image and vector file types are supported, including IDML (for import and placing content), EPS, JPG, PDF, SVG, PSD, PNG, TIFF and GIF.

A screenshot of Affinity Photo running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
Affinity Photo running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020) with a PSD sample file (107 MB HD 5184×3456) from filesamples.com

The big PSD file test was just as snappy here as in the other Apple silicon apps. It was the same experience exporting the file to png, the resulting file was identical to the one produced by Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher, showing the common code shared between them. The software and documentation is comprehensive and there is a superb quick start guide.

Summary - 10/10

The software is fully featured and well supported. It has a proprietary license. It is inexpensive and can be used for 90-days as a trial. You can read the extensive list of capabilities at its web site. It is sophisticated and mature and an almost complete drop in replacement for Photoshop. It is fast, reliable and built for Apple silicon.

Digital audio workstation (DAW) — Replacing Audition with Ardour

Get info for Ardour 6.6 showing it to be an Apple Silicon app which means it is an Apple silicon binary
Get info for Ardour 6.6 showing it to be an Apple Silicon app which means it is an Apple silicon binary

Ardour is digital audio workstation application (DAW) that runs on Linux, macOS, FreeBSD and Microsoft Windows. Ardour is intended to be DAW suitable for professional use and is released under the terms of the GNU General Public License, Ardour is free software, you can purchase a subscription for builds.

The current release, 6.6 has an experimental Apple Silicon build and feedback is being solicited. Reading the notes it looke likely to be included in the next major release.

A screenshot of Ardour ten minute restriction

Ardour has extensive if a little Linux focused documentation. On creating music, it directs the end user to a workflow of creating, importing, editing and arranging, mixing and adding effects and finally exporting a finished ready-to-listen piece of work.

A screenshot of Ardour 6.6 running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
Ardour 6.6 running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)

Summary - 5/10

The software is fully featured and well supported, but this is an experimental build so it is early days. It is open source under the GNU GPL license. It is pay what you wish and can be tested for ten minutes before going silent.

Digital audio workstation (DAW) — Replacing Audition with REAPER (beta)

Get info for Reaper v6.28 showing it to be an Apple silicon app which means is an Apple Silicon binary
Get info for REAPER showing it to be an Apple Silicon app which means it is an Apple silicon binary

REAPER (their caps), is a complete digital audio production application for computers, offering a full multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing and mastering toolset. As such REAPER can be called a digital audio workstation application (DAW). REAPER runs on Linux, macOS, and Microsoft Windows. REAPER is released under a proprietary software license.

The current release, v6.28 has an optional beta build for Apple silicon based Macs. REAPER is a very active mature project, with releases seemingly every few weeks recently.

It took seconds to open and play the sample peoject in order to start to get familiar with REAPER. It worked flawlessly and I felt immediately at home.

A screenshot of Reaper prompting for registration information
A screenshot of Reaper prompting for registration information

A screenshot of Reaper running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)
Reaper running on a Mac mini (M1, 2020)

Summary - 9/10

The software is fully featured and well supported. the sample from the extensive documentation worked perfectly and were this not tagged as a beta release I would give it 10/10. It is more immediately approachable than Ardour, although that is not meant to pass a judgement on features and capabilities. It is proprietary spftware and costs USD 60 for a discounted license subject to some conditions and USD 225 for a commercial license.


About the Mac used for this work

Its a 16GB Mac Mini (M1, 2020), with a 34in 3440 x 1440 resolution display.

About this Mac screenshot showing details of macOS Big Sur 11.3.1 on a 16GB Mac mini (M1, 2020)
About this Mac screenshot showing details of macOS Big Sur 11.3.1 on a 16GB Mac mini (M1, 2020)
About this Mac screenshot showing details of the screen which is 34.5-inch (3440 × 1440) resolution
About this Mac screenshot showing details of the screen which is 34.5-inch (3440 × 1440) resolution