SeaShore: An Open Source Image Editor

Photoshop is the undisputed king of image editing, but it also has a huge price tag and an even bigger learning curve. If you don’t make a living as a designer, the time and money necessary for professional photo editing software is hard to justify. Further, some free options like GIMP are much more than many users will ever need.

So what should a Mac owner use for casual graphics editing? One option is Seashore, a free image editor that’s easy and fun to use. Below I’ll walk you through the basic functionality and tell you what I thought of the application.

Meet Seashore

Seashore is a simple but effective image editing application. The basic interface is quite similar to Google SketchUp with a bar of large buttons running across the top representing your tool set and a main image area below that.

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The Seashore Interface

Rather than messing with a million palettes as in Photoshop, Seashore integrates nearly all of its functionality into a single window. The one floating palette you have to deal with regularly is the color palette, shown above at left.

The layers are shown on the left, the context-sensitive tool options are shown under the toolbar, the foreground and background colors are at the top right and the zoom options are on the bottom.

Working with Layers

Layers work pretty much how you’d expect. You can add, delete and rearrange them using controls on the left side of the interface. Clicking the info button on a layer will pop up a menu that allows you to name the layer and set various options such as opacity and size.

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Layer options

I was pleasantly surprised to find blending modes in here. You can use many of the popular options from Photoshop, including multiply, overlay, screen, and more.

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Blending Modes

Tools

The tool set here is pretty standard. You have some basic selection options, including rectangular marquee, elliptical marquee, lasso, polygonal, and magic wand.

Next up is the art section. Here you have a pencil, brush, text tool, eraser, paint bucket and gradient tool. You have a number of options for customizing your brushes including several presets, spacing options, textures, fade out and pressure sensitivity.

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Brush Options

Your toolbar also has an eyedropper, crop tool, magnifying glass and move tool. The most fun set of tools though is the set in between those we’ve already looked at.

Here you have a smudge tool, a standard clone tool, and then this crazy effects tool that lets you do all sorts of fun stuff. When you grab this tool you can choose between a number of blurs, distortions and transforms and then click on specific places on your canvas to apply them in different ways.

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Effect Brush

I found the motion blur above to be especially nice as it produced much different results than the same tool in Photoshop.

Effects

Located under the selection menu is a number of effects that are similar to filters in Photoshop. These are broken up into Blur, Color Adjust, Color Effect, Enhance, Generate, Halftone and Stylize.

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More Effects

Each effect comes with a unique set of controls (usually simple sliders) for varying the application. As you experiment with different settings the controls fade out so you can have a decent view of the entire image.

Using effects you can easily create noise, make a photo black and white or sepia tone, or posterize an image.

How Is It?

As a graphic designer, it’s hard to give Seashore a proper analysis. Since I live in Photoshop, I definitely found Seashore to be very limited and even frustrating at times. For instance, the type tool is abysmal and works in a very indirect fashion and the document color options are limited to grayscale and “full color” whatever that means. Also, there are a few big feature holes such as layer masking capabilities or layer effects like drop shadow, outer glow, etc.

However, that being said, I was surprised by how much fun I had with the app. Seashore has a lot of tricks up its sleeve and even does a few things better than Photoshop. As an example, the halftone effects are much closer to something you could actually use in a design.

Bottom line, it’s not a professional graphics application. It neither claims to be nor tries to be. If you want to be a professional, learn Photoshop and maybe even Pixelmator. if you can’t afford these, use GIMP (Seashore is based on GIMP but is simpler). Everyone else, download Seashore.

Conclusion

Seashore is free, lightweight, has a low learning curve and is perfect for a much larger audience than more powerful and expensive alternatives. It’s definitely not for professionals but it does have some impressive functionality.

If you’re not an avid Photoshopper, go grab the free download and let us know what you think. Are there any features you’d like to see added or tweaked? How easy was it for you to pick up and use? Leave a comment below.


Summary

Seashore is a free open-source image editor with plenty of fun features and neat effects. It's definitely not as powerful as its more famous image editing brethren but it's perfect for users who don't need a huge and expensive editor.

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