New tools for graphics – what can a small retailer or business use?

Greeting card design is of course an art and graphics business, and the many stages of creating the end product (i.e. the greeting card) are enabled with computer-based graphics packages. This includes preparing images from photographs or scanning original artwork, creating graphics themselves, through to assembling the print-ready file. The graphics industry generally runs on a limited number of big-name apps, particularly Adobe’s Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator etc, and the creation part of the card industry is no different.
Affinity designer screen clip 1 webres

 

bristish coastal spread snap
Barley Bay greeting cards are created using Affinity

These apps require a certain skill-base to use effectively, and a cost-base that needs to pay for itself. Now that is one thing in a busy design studio with a high turn-over of graphics work, but may not be the case in, say, a retail business. Wandering into a retailer a few days ago I noticed that the point of sale notices and posters in the window were of a pretty poor quality and generally did not reinforce the image of the retailer. I began to wonder what they should do to address this.

Assuming that tasks in a small business are carried out by the business owner, team or even the owner’s family, investment needed to be limited. In other words, expensive high-end ‘industrial strength’ apps are not the best tools for this purpose.

So – is there an alternative?

Well, yes I believe there is. But before getting to that, let’s consider some of the common tasks that smaller business owners or retailers may want to do:

  • posters and banners, for printing in-house or perhaps at the local print shop in a variety of sizes.
  • preparing product photos for the website, social media or those posters.
  • graphic elements, such as logos for use across websites and posters, adverting flyers etc.
  • variety of business-related printed items such as business card designs – even when being printed by such places as Moo – and flyers.
  • more ambitious projects, perhaps incorporating design elements bought as stock or commissioned from somebody else.

Years ago as a keen photographer I needed to edit digital photographs. At the time I fought shy of using the ‘industrial strength’ apps such as Photoshop. I was put off by the time investment to be able to fully use them and, of course, the cost, which at the time was not a business expense. So, as a Windows PC user, I searched around and in the late 90’s adopted the Serif brand of software. I began with photo editing, and then progressed into some vector and drawing, and lastly website design. I also picked up a desire to simply edit videos taken with the increasingly sophisticated cameras, which is something I still do for some of my hobby groups.

At the time Serif had three key benefits: sufficient features; reasonable cost; great user manuals/tutorials. After using Serif software for around 20 years, I began to feel it was hobbyist level and was perhaps getting a little tired.

Then, last year I was surprised to learn that Serif had the ‘Affinity’ initiative well under way. This was the dawn of new products and, indeed, a new name – now Affinity rather than Serif. While Serif had a very smart approach to the market – concentrating on the education and hobbyist markets to build credibility ‘under the radar’ – they were definitely not pitched at the sophisticated or professional market.

The Affinity project changed all that! I have been in the IT industry for a long time, and have been a software developer, so when I saw that Serif/Affinity were starting from scratch technology-wise I was very impressed – and considering they were a UK company undertaking the development in the UK – doubly so. So when the first product for the Mac platform Affinity Photo won a coveted product prize from Apple itself, I was truly excited for them.

I personally adopted both Photo and Designer as soon as they were available and now all of Barley Bay’s output (see our range on www.barleybay.co.uk ) is laid out and print-prepped in Designer and all creative editing made in Photo. I still use Lightroom for some multi-images prep functions, but I kind of resent the CreativeCloud subscription a bit.

Suffolk crd spread webres
Barley Bay greeting cards are created using Affinity

But aside from the ‘professional’ excitement, the more important question is ‘what are the benefits for the small business/retailer?’

Affinity provide two products in 2.5 flavours right now. 2.5? Yes – the two products Photo and Designer are each available for Mac and PC, and Photo is now available for the iPad too – so by my reckoning that makes 2.5 flavours!

To put it in a business context, you would use:

Affinity Photo:

  • to use and exchange elements of the work with a professional graphics designer (it is compatible with Photoshop).
  • to prepare (clean-up) digital photos, say of product shots for your website.
  • to easily make different versions of photos for different uses – such as large versions for printing and small versions for websites and social media. This can be done all in one document using multiple ‘artboards’ for layout.

Affinity Designer:

  • to prepare graphic items, such as posters, POS notices.
  • to build up and manage a library of related images that share elements (e.g a logo) or colour palettes. (in the screen-shot you can see my workbench where I create a consistent library of buttons for my website, alongside logos).
  • to create items which need drawn (vector) images as well as painted (pixel) images.
  • to use very specific colours in your artwork and have confidence it will print well (e.g. as PDF given to your local print shop).
  • and again, to use and exchange elements of the work with a professional graphics designer (it is compatible with Photoshop).

Additionally, for technical reasons, the two programs are highly compatible so that you have:

  • seamless compatibility between the two apps – giving you faster time to complete your project with less awkward steps in between.

In terms of investment, both products are available at very much lower cost than other leading products (you need to visit the website). And this includes a generous approach to up-releases at no extra cost.

And then in terms of investing your – or your team’s – time to learn how to use them, this is where Serif’s educational background pays dividends. Affinity has rolled out scores of short ‘how-to’ vids on Vimeo and YouTube channels to walk you through the steps, from basic to really advanced tasks. And be warned they have one of the coolest voice-over voices ever!

I have written this blog from a personal perspective of being a Serif and now enthusiastic Affinity user (on PC) user for around twenty years, and I hope it encourages you to check them out if you are thinking about getting some ‘studio’ apps for your small business or retail outlet. Affinity can be found on https://www.facebook.com/MacAffinity/

There are a few blogs on Affinity, here is one of them: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/118843423/posts/7789

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the release on more professional level apps from Affinity!

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