Acorn 2: Simple, Powerful Image Editing

Have you ever needed to do some simple photo editing or creation, but didn’t want the hassle of opening up Photoshop, or are too afraid to learn it? Then Acorn is for you! It’s a lightweight image editor that allows you to do many of the functions of more advanced programs (such as Photoshop), but doesn’t have quite the same learning curve or price.

Developed by Flying Meat, Acorn is an image editor that allows you do paint, draw and crop photos. It is also jam-packed with other features and a range of useful filters.

We reviewed an earlier version of Acorn last year, but will be covering new features and exploring the basics in greater depth today.

The Canvas

The Canvas

The Canvas

The canvas is a separate window, detached from the toolbox. The wonderful thing about the canvas is the simplicity that it has. The window of the canvas has few elements on it. On the bottom right, there is a zoom panel – much like in many OSX applications. This slider also functions similar to the ‘Navigator’ pane of the Adobe suite.



On the bottom left-hand side of the window, there is also information about the project you are working on. This includes canvas size and the positioning of your layers.

As you would expect the canvas window can be resized to suit your amount of screen real-estate. This gives you ultimate control of how much of your screen Acorn takes up.

To make the canvas full screen, hit ‘F’ on your keyboard.


The toolbox in Acorn is very similar to that of competing applications. I came to like the toolbox in Acorn because after selecting a tool, the advanced options show up in the same panel, right next to it (as seen below). In applications such as Photoshop, these options are part of the bar at the top and can be often hard to locate for beginners. This is a perfect example of why Acorn’s learning curve is so small.



Acorn has many tools for you to use at your will. Including; move, zoom, crop, pan, draw, select, erase, text, gradient, flood fill clone and shape. In a similar style to Photoshop, tools that have a black triangle on the bottom right of their icon, can be changed to other tools of a similar nature. This includes custom shape selections, pencil, dodge, burn, smudge and custom shapes.

Extra Tools

Extra Tools

One of my favourite attributes about Acorn is it’s crop tool. For those of you who love the rule of thirds (like myself!), then this is what you want. The crop tool automatically creates a grid for you so when you are cropping, you can get your image just right. It should also be noted, for those of you who want advanced grid features such as this, check out Slammer.



Acorn also has a surprisingly good type tool. It has many advanced options that allow you to set spacing between letters and lines – giving you more power than just a text box!

Working with Text

Working with Text




Like most of its competitors, Acorn has a layers palette. As many of you would know, this is used to separate different elements of your design. It makes the manipulation and editing of images very easy. You are also given blending modes and opacity sliders so you can take control of your layers. New in 2.1, you can also sort your layers intro groups so that they stay organised (handy for when you are sending your work to others).

Other Features


Acorn has a large range of filters. There are a fair few that users will notice from Photoshop and other graphic editing applications. The filters reside in the menu bar in a hierarchal structure.



After playing around with the filters, I must say, I have come to love the way Acorn’s interface stylises it. The window takes on an ‘Automator’ approach. You can flow filters into each other by clicking on the ‘+’ icon. The filters window also gives you a live preview of what your design will look like the the filter applied – the advanced thing about it however, is it will give you an animated preview (Very useful when doing blurs because you can see what looks good before you even add it!).

Applying a Filter

Applying a Filter

Tablet Support

Tablet Options

Tablet Options

Under the pen tool, there is an option to use tablet pressure. I didn’t have a tablet myself to test this on. But after searching through the documentation, I have found all the tablet features that work with Acorn. For those of you that have a tablet, It’d be great to see your experience with this application in comments below!



Photoshop is by far the most popular image editing application for both Mac and PC. It has a solid foundation and is used by professionals all over the planet. The tools in Photoshop are advanced and offer a lot of flexibility. Problems are that it is costly and a little bloated with a great deal more functionality than most people need. Acorn, offers some of the functionality of Photoshop at a fraction of the cost, meeting the needs of many!


I would have to say my favourite alternative to Acorn in this league is Pixelmator. It feels a lot more like Photoshop and has a beautiful interface. Pixelmator takes the same approach as Acorn – using the tagline “Image editing for the rest of us”. It is available for $59.


GIMP is another popular alternative. Primarily because it is open source. I haven’t had too much to do with GIMP myself, but I have heard great things about it. It is definitely worth a look if you’re after a free solution.


Acorn is a good, solid image editing application for those who are afraid of the Photoshop learning curve and price. It does have a few bugs here and there but the developers are very active.

For what it does, Acorn comes very close with Pixelmator in terms of features and value for money. If you’re looking for a lightweight application that offers basic editing, than this is the application for you!


Acorn is a solid image editing application for those who are afraid of the Photoshop learning curve and price. It does a great job of providing simple graphics editing with a set of advanced tools.



Add Yours
  • One of my favorite apps! As a non-designer it’s an excellent tool to have without having to dish out hundreds for something like Photoshop.

  • Leaving Adobe Photoshop CS4 out of the equation, the Gimp is by far the most feature complete App, it beats Acorn, Pixelmator and even Elements 8 hands down.
    There is one big caveat, however, using X11 on the Mac which makes copy-pasting and overall integration a mess.

    Unless there will be a Cocoa version for the Mac, Gimp on OSX won’t be able to compete. On Windows and Linux, it’s just amazing.

    On my Mac I prefer pixelmator over acorn.

    • With all due respect to the opensource community and the developers of GIMP, GIMP is garbage. I shouldn’t have to explain why because if you have ever used any of its competitors you will see how weak it actually is.

  • I have never gave acorn a true test, I will have to try out the demo. Right now I am using pixelmator.

  • Acorn really is an image editing tool for the rest of us. Much easier to figure out than GIMP and Photoshop. But really, let’s compare apples to apples. Acorn is leagues above what you get with Photoshop Elements and other light image editors.

  • Can anyone comment on what the keyboard shortcuts are like for Acorn? As a seasoned Photoshop user and used to using the keyboard heavily, I’ve always felt that it was too much work to learn another set of shortcuts enough to be productive (ex: move object should be “v”, marquee should be “m”, fill with bg color cmd+del etc…).

    • much better than Photoshop. They feel much more native.

  • Pixelmator is the best! You can get it for free

    • Are you seriously telling us to pirate software?

      • I guess he is… Or he means the trial…

        But Acorn 2 has really evolved in something great. It beats Pixelmator hands-down, with vector support and all it’s great other features.

        And it even features all of the the DrawIt functions available. This makes it an serious threat to Photoshop if it keeps evolving like that (Might even beat him!).

  • We would not recommend a client paying $49.95 for Acorn. Save some extra money and get iphoto, lightroom or Aperture. If you are going to be editing a lot of images, investing in these programs would b well worth it.

    • Are you kidding me? Save 50 bucks? And get iPhoto!?

  • I’m surprised that this wasn’t compared with Photoshop Elements 8 in this review There really is a much closer match between this and Elements, pricewise and featurewise, and most importantly in terms of ease of use. Comparing it to Photoshop CS4 leaves quite a few features out of the discussion. OTOH, I would like to see if the folks at Flyingmeat are going to produce some features in Version 3.0 that allow you to do Illustrator-like raster activities within Pixelmator.

    My great wish has always been for Adobe or a competitor to release a good, currently maintained product that did both for a lower price than Photoshop.

    • Hey there!

      I was writing the review submitted it and thought doh! Forgot elements! Little mistake of mine, sorry!

  • whoa, I stand semi corrected. I meant Acorn should have Illustrator features under the hood as well, not Pixelmator (although it would be nice if Pixelmator did it too)… Sorry Freshmeat ;D

  • I use Pixelmator for this kind of thing.

  • Pixelmator is far more better than Acorn when dealing with big images such as a 3600*3600 one.

  • Would really like to see a comparison of Acorn vs. Pixelmator vs. Elements.

    The GIMP isn’t even in the conversation. I’ve used it on Linux, Windows and the Mac. I’m a big supporter of opensource and kudos to The GIMP developers for their efforts… however it’s the absolute worst in UI design… and they actually take pride in that. It should only be considered if nothing but “free” will do. It often gets mentioned as being “popular”, but that’s only because it’s the only choice on Linux (outside of a VM) and so gets talked up by geeks as a Photoshop “alternative” to cover their bases when touting Linux as an alternative to Windows/OS X (don’t get me wrong – I’m very fond of Linux and have used it for years, but it’s a very distant third to Windows and OS X for average user usability).

    • p.s. where does Iris fit in?

      Make that Acorn vs. Pixelmator vs. Iris vs. Elements?

  • I have no problem is paying for software which make my life easier

  • Howdie. This blog was extremely of interest to me, particularly because I was searching for ideas on this matter yesterday.