Review: Compositor

In my ongoing quest for a low priced and powerful alternative to Photoshop I recently stumbled on an interesting graphic design package called Compositor from Artly There Software. The name Compositor is a reference to the process of photo compositing where images are combined together to create a new composite image, as in blue or green screening in movies. You can certainly do photo compositing on a small scale in Photoshop and Compositor expands on that capability with the addition of some of the basic functions you’d have in a full-featured compositing application.

At base, Compositor is a fairly functional low-priced alternative to Photoshop which is surprisingly reminiscent of one of the best earlier releases of Photoshop, release 3.0 which was my favorite version of the popular graphic design application for many years and which I kept on using well past its normal product life. I think I used Photoshop 3.0 for almost a decade, up until the release of Photoshop CS and the incompatibility of OSX with older Mac applications. However, Compositor also offers a number of unique features and additional capabilities building off of that classic graphic design base.

The menu structure and the range of features in Compositor are pretty close to what was available in Photoshop 3.0, including the lack of easily accessible layers features (which I always found an asset rather than a liability) and relatively clunky mechanics for changing image shape and orientation. The graphics formats which it can handle are somewhat limited, but include most of the basics, plus the ability to save files as Photoshop PSDs and as Adobe PDFs. True to its name it also has the ability to export sequences of images as Quicktime movies, giving it animation capabilities which even newer versions of Photoshop don’t have. Compositor has some very nice color features, with enhanced color picking tools and can handle different types of color palette, including CMYK. It also has an excellent brush pallette with lots of options.

Perhaps the most significant difference from any version of Photoshop is that it comes with a very large selection of ‘filters’ and ‘actions’ which function in place of the plug-ins in Photoshop. It would be nice if it were also compatible with some of the excellent third party plug-ins which are produced for Photoshop, but the designers have done their best to cover as many bases as they possibly can. Many of these tools are oriented towards animation and video special effects. Some of them are very cool and work very well. Others, even some which are essential standards are weak. The ability to extrude, emboss and highlight text is rudimentary, so if you use it to produce an animated movie your titles may not look as snappy as you’d like.

Ultimately, Compositor offers both more and less than Photoshop at the same time. The simpler design with the basic functions you need in a graphics program may be appealing to those who want to do basic quick and dirty image editing, but when it comes to more sophisticated graphics work it may become frustrating and prove to be inadequate. Yet it also offers some very useful capabilities for animation which I find intriguing and plan to play around with some more. I’d hardly call it a full featured video compositor, but it does have some useful capabilities and is approachable for a novice.

The capabilities of the demo version are somewhat limited, but with a price of only $33 for the fuil version Compositor is worth considering if you need a Photoshop alternative which can also do some video work.

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