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Get in the Pixia

Use this excellent free drawing and graphics program as an alternative to Photoshop, et al.

Pixia is a free image-editing and drawing program. It's essentially the English language edition of a popular Japanese application. Like many such tools, it offers Photoshop-like capabilities such as layers, multiple undos, and plug-ins; it will even accept Photoshop's plug-ins. The difference, of course, is that Pixia is free, something Photoshop certainly is not.

Pixia's installer is so polite, it even asked to be associated with its proprietary file format. The program's interface resembles similar applications' layouts. Pixia uses pop-ups to configure items like filters and masks, and expandable Palette, Color, Pen, and Layer windows that we could drag and drop anywhere on the interface, hide from view, and quickly recall via small buttons labeled P, C, O, and L. There's also a Tablet control for setting options for digitizing tablets such as our Wacom pad. Pixia seemed perfectly at home with our pen and tablet, something that can't be said about many free graphics apps (and some with big price tags, too). We opened a digital snapshot and began tinkering, using various brushes and applying filters and effects via layering, just like with Photoshop and its imitators. Pixia is hardly an Adobe clone, though; it's got plenty of its own character. We particularly like the variety of selection tools available on the taskbar, including not only a freehand tool but also geometric shapes as well as Bezier selection tools. The Palette window offered some interesting variations on the usual toolsets, including the ability to use patterns and images as the tip of a pen or brush. The versatile capability to drag the pen tip's size in pixels is a neat improvement over Photoshop's sliders. We were also able to acquire images directly from our digital camera and scanner via full TWAIN compatibility.

Pixia is one of the most capable and professional Photoshop alternatives we've tried. It does some things a bit differently from Photoshop and its clones, which is generally a good thing. But though Pixia's icons and controls are all well designed and very visually oriented, we'd like to see more labels and descriptions, especially when we hover the cursor over an unfamiliar icon or tool. However, with a little practice, Pixia can do pretty much anything the others can do, only for free.

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