Tuesday, 13 January 2015

FireAlpaca: Test & User Review

4 years ago I received a full Adobe CS5 creative suite package from school... and I have been using it ever since. I considered buying the CS6 suite a while back, but it was too expensive for me. Now that you have to subscribe to CC, I will probably be using my CS5 collection for years to come.
Realizing this, I started researching alternate digital painting software a few months ago to see what my options in software really are. I came across a pretty promising freeware program called FireAlpaca. I thought it sounded pretty great in terms of capabilities, being free, and just for the sheer fact that it was named FireAlpaca, but I never tried it... UNTIL NOW!

First things first, FireAlpaca is completely free, and available for Mac and PC. You can get it here!
I downloaded my version on my mac (there are small differences between this version and the windows version, mostly just shortcut keys) . When opening this program on a mac, make sure you go to your security settings and allow apps downloaded from anywhere (security & privacy > General > "allow apps downloaded from: Anywhere") or else it will not recognize FireAlpaca as a legit program and won't open.

When I opened FireAlpaca, I was surprised at how fast it started up. It takes up very little resources on my computer, which is a great bonus for people with older computers like me. Here is what the layout looks like when you open it:
If you are used to Photoshop, this layout is very similar with all the tools on the left hand side, and the layers on the right. 
You can start a new file by going to the top menu bar: File > New... where you can change canvas size by custom sizes or choose a preset paper size, and set your dpi. 
One thing I thought was cool about FireAlpaca is that it gives you hints on the lower panel bar depending on what tool you have selected, which is handy in a new program. The controls and icons are simple and recognizable, there are familiar commands (command Z for undo, draw straight lines by holding shift, command T for transform, etc), and everything is in plain sight so there is very little mystery to FireAlpaca. 

Itching to try it out, I started a quick drawing. I use my Wacom Intuos 3 tablet (2nd best *optional* school purchase ever, only 2nd to this trooper of a macbook pro), and found that the pen tool works well with it. It does lack the pen sensitivity that I get in photoshop, but thats okay by me.
There are a few different options for brushes, and you can change the weight and opacity of the brush in the brush control panel (or you can hold command to change the size while working). I stuck to the pen tool, fill tool and the eraser for this drawing. 

Along with the Fill, Pen and Eraser tool, you will also notice that FireAlpaca has the gradient tool, various selection tools, blending modes for layers, and a transform tool, among other familiar tools.
FireAlpaca workspace
Look at my messy layers! Blending mode and opacity can be changed in the layers panel. 
Saved working files in FireAlpaca are in the format .mdp. If you click save as you have the option to save files as .png, .jpeg, .bmp and .psd.

Overall, I found working with FireAlpaca easy, painless and fun. I didn't have to worry about any rainbow beachballs of doom while making this sketch, which makes digital painting here on FireAlpaca very stress free for me. Apparently it is great for editing photos as well, which is definitely something I will be trying at a later time. 

I would recommend this freeware to students, digital painting hobbyists, and people who have older computers that don't handle large programs well. While this freeware doesn't offer as many options as Adobe does, it has the core tools, resources, and similarities to make this a wonderful, free Photoshop alternative.
FireAlpaca Black Girl with Curly Hair Portrait
My finished-ish speed drawing. I wanted to test the layers & brush control mainly, and I was not disappointed!
Have you tried FireAlpaca? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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