Editing Adobe Photoshop files on OS X / linux / Windows (free)

Most professional artists don’t pay for their software (their employers do), and PSD files are the main interchange format for high-end graphics.

But PSD isn’t always possible to open or edit. Adobe’s crappy copy-protection refuses to run on some of my computers, and CS is far too damn expensive for mere mortals, so I can’t always use Photoshop to edit files.

OS X makes this a little easier – it has an excellent built-in image-and-PDF viewer (Preview) which effortlessly (and VERY fast) opens PSD files. It will even export those images to flat PNG, with a 100% success rate. But that’s no use when you’re doing complex graphics (e.g. designing GUIs for mobile-apps) and need to do layer-by-layer manipulation.

Free editors

I’ve tried many editors, both free and commercial, and I’ve found Inkscape (free) and Adobe’s Illustrator/Photoshop (expensive) to be the only ones worth mentioning. Inkscape works great on all major OS’s, too.

BUT … Inkscape still doesn’t support PSD files. This is pretty bizarre – except that Inkscape development has stalled / slowed to a crawl over the last 12 months, and I think they’re suffering the open-source problem of a temporary (long) drout in volunteers.

(interestingly, Firefox is about to release a new version of the browser that displays SVG files natively. SVG is the file format that Inkscape was “invented” for editing – so I suspect Inkscape will see a surge in interest during 2011)

NB: please don’t mention the GIMP. Even the latest version can’t handle simple PSD files – despite that being a “feature” of the app for almost a decade now, it still *doesn’t work*.

OpenOffice: world’s best image-file converter (!)

There are “conversion” programs out there, but they mostly all just use the same open-source backend (ImageMagick), which has long had problems with anything non-bitmap.

Then someone mentioned OpenOffice.

Huh? OO is a word process / excel spreadsheet / powerpoint replacement – why would I use that for a PSD?

Well … it turns out that OO has an excellent PSD importer built in – and, being OO, it happily exports to all major formats.

I tried some simple and complex PSD files, and where GIMP could open them all, but corrupted most of them … and conversion apps converted some, and for others just went blank … OpenOffice opened them all perfectly, and allowed me to save-out to the image-format of my choice.

EDIT: …this isn’t so perfect after all. OO has been collapsing the PSD layers on import for some of the files (maybe all). ARGH! But at least it’s opening files that the supposedly built-for-purpose software (like GIMP) fails on entirely.

Tis a bizarre and strange world – but at least I have a good, relatively quick, way of working with PSD files now, in those few situations where Photoshop isn’t available. And props to OpenOffice for being the one app that makes file import/export do what the *user* wants it to do, rather than propping-up anti-competitive business models and political ideals (which it often feels like the other apps are trying to do).