Affinity Photo: What is it? And How Does it Compare to Photoshop?

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Affinity is a raster graphics editor developed by Serif that was launched recently (in software timescale) in July, 2015. As of today, on Windows it is in version 1.6. In comparison, the latest version of Adobe Photoshop CC (2018) is in version 19.

Unlike Photoshop, Affinity Photo was developed from the ground-up using current software technologies like OpenGL and uses modern software programming code. Leveraging current technologies brings a host of amazing tools to the program that remain lacking in Photoshop.

Though Affinity Photo has been available to the market since 2015, it only became available for Windows in 2017. The software was awarded the Best Imaging Software by TIPA (Technical Image Press Association) in 2016.

With regards to functionality and toolset, Affinity Photo shares striking similarity to Adobe’s Photoshop. An intermediate user of Photoshop will quickly find themselves at home using the software as even the user interface in most respects is similar. It does make me wonder how Serif was able to develop software clearly emulating so many features of Photoshop without infringing upon patent or copyright law.

The Affinity Photo User Interface. There is also a lighter colored version.

The Affinity Photo User Interface


Affinity Photo contains all the advanced editing tools that you’d expect from a modern professional photo/raster software – and more. Unlike Photoshop, it contains personas that house major user working environments. You cycle through these personas depending on where you are in the editing workflow.

  • Photo: photo editing
  • Liquify: distortion/manipulation of image areas
  • Develop: development of raw images
  • Tone Mapping: tone mapping for 32, 16 and 8-bit images
  • Export: outputting images

The Affinity Photo Export Persona

Affinity Photo Persona Export Screenshot

Not a Cataloguing Software

It is important to note that Affinity Photo is not a cataloguing software like Adobe Lightroom. It is a raster image editing program exclusively like Photoshop. As of writing, there is no indication that Serif is developing a cataloguing software. I sought clarification on this in the official Affinity forum. After much research, I responded with this to another forum member after coming to a conclusion on the topic:

“There are several threads in this forum about this topic already. The short summary is, no they are not, but intend to in the future. They are concentrating their efforts on Affinity Publisher, and updates to Photo and Designer instead.”

It’s a real shame that there is no cataloguing software yet, because if you are a professional doing photo editing it is paramount to have some way to organise all your thousands of images. Right now, many forum members are using third party programs like ON1 RAW, Capture One Pro or Dxo’s new Photolab. Strangely, not many Affinity Photo users are still using Lightroom. The forum does tend to attract the anti-Adobe crowd, apparently jilted from the subscription fees Adobe charges for their software.

The Affinity Photo Export Persona

Affinity Photo Persona Export Screenshot

Overall User Experience

Simply, Affinity Photo is amazing. It feels like you really are using the latest in software technology. This is particularly the case when using live filters where you witness live changes when you make adjustments to your image using traditional filters found in Photoshop like gaussian blur and unsharp mask. In Photoshop, you adjust the slider then the preview is shown – in Affinity Photo it is all live, really remarkable and much more intuitive then can be described. The feedback makes a huge difference to the overall enjoyment of the editing process.

Compared to Photoshop

It’s very difficult assessing Affinity Photo on its own. It’s enviable that you end up contrasting it to Photoshop as that is the industry benchmark and has been for years. So, in this brief overview here is a list of the highlights where Affinity Photo adds to the feature-set established by Photoshop:

Differentiating Feature Summary

Live filters as mentioned above

There is a built in frequency separation tool that adds the necessary. View Demo

Resize without losing data

Every layer works like Photoshop’s Smart Objects allowing you to resize them without ever losing the original data. View Demo

In-built frequency separation tool

There is a built in frequency separation tool that adds the necessary layers for high end portrait re-touching. View Demo

Permanent history

The history panel allows you to scrub a slider to go back in time – all the way to the beginning of the project. View Demo

Split and mirrored views

Every non-live filter dialog contains the ability to see a split or mirrored view of the changes before they are applied. View Demo

Parametric vector shapes

An extensive host of vector shapes – that remain fully parametric! Meaning you can change the geometry of an object by changing values like the number of points on a star after it has been created. View Demo

Zoom in further

You can zoom much closer into images – right into an actual pixel. View Demo

Several additional blend modes

More control over blending (Photoshop’s Blend if) with Blend Ranges View Demo

Comparitively smaller file size

Much smaller file size when compared to Photoshop. View Demo

Go back in time

The Save History with Document tool does just that – saves the history so you can go back in time after you’ve closed the program! View Demo

Live brush preview

Amazing ability to change parameters live after playing a previously recorded macro. View Demo

Semantic useful interface

The interface makes semantic sense. Titles and descriptions given to tools mean what they say, unlike Photoshop where some tools you’d never guess what they actually do. Color range comes to mind.

Interchangeable file type

Has a file type (.afphoto) that is natively interchangeable between their other software’s Affinity Designer and the upcoming Affinity Publisher.

Support for unlimited layers

I’ve never had this problem before as I usually run into file size issues first of 2GB with a PSD file first.

Change parameters from existing macros

Amazing ability to change parameters live after playing a previously recorded macro.

Not All Great

There’s probably others (I know there’s others) that I’m missing from the list. But that should be enough to get you interested in what great developers along with modern software/hardware technology can do for image editing.

All this glamour is not without its negatives, and really this is to be expected with software still relatively new.

I found that there is a significant performance issue on my i7, 16GB system. My system handles large Photoshop documents fine but seems to have issues with Affinity Photo. According to the forums the developers are continuing to improve performance.

Features Lacking that Exist in Photoshop

Notable losses found when compared to Photoshop include:

  • Every layer works like Photoshop’s Smart Objects allowing you to resize them without ever losing the original data.
  • A very limited color range tool.
  • The complete inability to crop to a selection (very frustrating).
  • No 3D implementation at all.
  • Limited Photoshop 3rd party plugin emulation.
  • Poor implementation of EXIF. It imports fine the data parsed by the camera but here is no ability to edit EXIF data at all.
  • No video timeline.


Not mentioned throughout this article is the complete omission of AI (Artificial Intelligence). I have not seen it mentioned anywhere regarding Affinity Photo. Adobe however has their Adobe Sensei AI which is slowly being incorporated into the Adobe suite, Creative Cloud. For example, just released in Photoshop 19.1 is a new tool utilising AI that will allows automatic selection of objects against a background based on what Sensei knows of that scene – really amazing.

In the end I love Affinity Photo but I can’t help but feel like Affinity Photo is still the little brother of Photoshop. There’s a general proclivity in society to jump onto the next latest and greatest technology – but there ‘s a reason Adobe has been number 1 for decades – namely reliability. And if you’re a pro, that’s what matters most.