I don’t use Photoshop. Like, ever. I can’t remember the last time I even launched it, but I do remember it was just to convert a CMYK color into a hex value.
How is it possible that I don’t use Photoshop despite the fact that I’m a designer? No, I’m not just a contrarian. It’s because there are alternatives. And no, I’m not talking about GIMP.
The tool that I use for all of my graphics creation is Macromedia, er… *cough*… Adobe Fireworks.
When I was in college, I worked for Apple as a “Campus Representative”. The gig had a lot of perks. One of them was a crudload of free software. One sweet score was Macromedia giving us anything not named “Director” (my main weapon of choice at the time). This package included two pieces of software I had never used—Fireworks 2 and Dreamweaver 2. Macromedia also gave us a Lynda.com video (yes, VHS!) that showed how to use the software.
Another perk was that I got to spend a week on Apple Campus in Cupertino. While killing some time between activities one day, I popped in the Fireworks video. I was like… damn. That’s sweet.
From that day on, I’ve been a Fireworks user. I’ve gone from version 2 up to the weird-ass MX version numbers, to the Adobe sale, to the equally weird-ass CS version numbers. It is the one piece of non-Apple commercial software I could not get by without.
Recently I was asked why I’m a Fireworks fan. So, I figured I’d take the time to write up a few reasons.
The perfect mix of rasters and vectors
Fireworks had vector tools long before Photoshop did. And they mix the vector tools with the bitmap editing tools in a way that feels natural. Photoshop eventually did include vectors (was it version 5?), but the first iteration was horrid and completely unusable compared to Fireworks—and I haven’t touched them since then. I like to say that Fireworks perfectly blends the features of Photoshop and Illustrator that pertain most to web designers.
I’ve said more than a couple times that I like to “design by mathematics”. Photoshop, to me, feels like a paint canvas. It is organic. It is inexact. You establish pixel heights and widths for the document, but everything inside the canvas feels—to me—inexact.
I don’t design with a tablet. I design with a calculator. I wish I could pull something off like Web Designer Wall or Carsonified, but that’s just not in my DNA. I think that’s what made me gravitate towards interface design and application design more than traditional web design in an agency environment.
In Fireworks, if I select any object I get the exact height and width and x/y coordinates. That’s on an object level. And personally, I need to know that when I select an object and tap the left arrow it is going to move one pixel the left. With Illustrator, who knows? This is extremely valuable when prototyping. Which leads me to:
Prototyping has been my #1 task for Fireworks over the years. I have always done a lot of application interface design, so there’s a lot of sharing of elements and layouts that go on. I systematically choose what goes on what layer so I don’t have to maintain multiple instances of an on-screen element. That way, when it is time to export, I just turn on what layers are needed for that screen.
The pixel precision helps greatly with prototyping because I don’t want to see things shifting—even slightly—as I’m turning layers on and off.
You Down with P-N-G?
Fireworks saves in the open PNG format. PNG is small (compared to PSD, anyway) and can be displayed in web browsers. Nathan Smith writes about being able to share native Fireworks source files with clients over the web, being able to make modifications and save, and then having the client see those changes on a refresh. No exporting necessary.
Personally, I love that I can take a screen shot on the Mac (saves natively to PNG as well), mock up some proposed changes, and just send the original PNG via email. I don’t have to worry about compressing because it’s really not much bigger than the original screen shot.
It’s About Comfort
A longtime Photoshop user to switching to Fireworks would be about as absurd as me switching to Photoshop. It’s all about what you’re comfortable using. Every person is productive in different ways. For me? It’s Fireworks. For you? Maybe not. But this is why I love Fireworks.