The Shape of Everything
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March 19, 2021

Acorn 7, our image editor for humans, is out. It's currently on sale for $19.99 (50% off), directly from us or via the App Store. After the sale, the full price is moving up to $39.99 from $29.99. So unless you feel like giving me more money later on, now is a good time to buy it.

So what's new? Here's a casual overview of some things I find interesting with this release.

Visually, the most striking difference is the new unified windows. Acorn 7 has all the floating palettes placed together in the same window as the canvas (and if you prefer floating windows, we've got a pref for that). Unified windows have been a major feature request for a number of years, and I'm super happy to finally have it done for everyone.

It's nice. The same shortcuts work as before - the tab key will hide the inspectors, and ⌘⇧F will bring up the filters inspector as always. Pressing the f key will throw the window into full screen, and now the canvas isn't covered up by the floating palettes.

Acorn 7 is optimized for Apple M1 Silicon. The previous version of Acorn ran pretty well in the M1's emulation layer, Rosetta, but now Acorn 7 is natively built for the M1 which bumps up the speed. Beyond that, a bunch of filters were re-written in Apple's Metal GPU shading language, and I also managed to discover some other Metal optimizations which made Acorn's canvas drawing run quite a bit smoother (As an aside, I was very happy about this. While researching this problem I encountered forum questions posted by myself on this very topic from years ago. It always feels weird when that happens).

The Flood Fill, Instant Alpha, and Magic Wand tools all use a brand new multi-threaded seed fill routine I wrote and optimized on the M1 as well. Super geeky side note: as part of the debugging process when I was coding it, I had each thread draw different colors into a mask which was used for the result. On Intel, each color had a mostly equal representation across the mask. But when I was testing it on the DTK, which has two high performance cores and two low performance cores, you saw an imbalance where some colors were overrepresented and others were underrepresented. It was a visual result of the different speeds of the cores, which I thought was pretty cool.

New Perspective Fix & Crop tool. This handy little tool will draw guides on your canvas to help you fix perspective distortions. You simply line up the guides on your image by moving four handy little corners around, and press enter. Your image is then run through a perspective correction filter and cropped to the appropriate area.

I didn't think much of this feature at first, but I'm pleasantly surprised at how well it's being received. Props to for Kirstin pushing for this feature to be included.

Acorn 7 also has a new color picker. I've been wanting to do this for years, because the system color picker has been nothing but problems for me on account of its inability to set and stick with a specific color profile. For instance, if you have an image open in sRGB but you sample a color from the screen using the system picker, Acorn has to jump through hoops to convert it from the screen's color profile (which most certainly is not what the image is) and then into sRGB, and also keep the color picker informed about this profile change. And then I'd get support questions asking why colors were shifting ever so slightly, and I always hated answering those emails because to understand what's going on requires a lot of base knowledge about profiles and such, and well… it was a bother.

I could write pages and pages of other problems I encountered - but I'll spare you the details. Obviously, I had all these issues in mind when making the new picker, so it only ever has a single profile it draws with, and that's whatever color profile is set for the image. It's kind of nice just side-stepping all of those issues now. It was fun, in a strange way, writing the color picker. I don't consider it finished either, as I think there are a ton of other fun things I can eventually do with it.

OK, what else? The Export window is Über! (Acorn doesn't actually call it "Über" anywhere- I just think it's a good description of what it is now). I combined the previous web export window and the regular export save dialog into a single interface. So you get a nice preview, information on how big the file size is, as well as toggling between what you had previously and what it currently looks like. And I've even added animated GIF support when exporting. So you can open up an animated GIF, apply some filters or add some frames, and export it back out.

There's a new Navigation & Zoom Inspector which will probably be familiar to you if you've used other image editors in the past. It's a good way to quickly pan around your image when you're zoomed way in.

New Command Bar, which is sort of like Spotlight, but geared towards Acorn's commands and documentation. To search Acorn's docs, type "h" followed by a space, and then whatever topic you're interested in. Or, if you just want to quickly use the new Perspective Fix & Crop tool, you can type start to type "pers" which will filter up any commands that have those letters. Perspective Fix & Crop will be first, so you can hit enter and then you're in that mode quickly.

One nice thing about the Command Bar is that I can also include other random oddball things in there which don't necessarily deserve a menu item by itself. For instance, there's a toggle in there to switch Acorn into Dark Mode or to Light. There's an entry to quickly switch to pixels for the ruler, or fill the current selection or layer with the stroke color, or capitalize any currently selected text. I get requests all the time for cool little ideas (just today I got someone asking for the ability to pull the alpha channel out into its own layer). I've always shied away from these ideas because I want Acorn to be approachable, and having too many options in the menus can be a big turn off. But if they could be tucked away in the Command Bar, ready at your finger tips if you know it's there? I think that might end up being a very powerful thing if I can solve the discoverability problem (which might just be a matter of making sure everything is documented).

That's just a few of the new things in Acorn 7 I think are fun. As always, the full release notes are of available. There's a bunch of little things in there that are worth knowing about, so check them out. And of course, download a trial of Acorn today.