Best of 2016: Mac creativity

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Welcome to round two of this year’s top picks from my own workflow! The last one was for productivity apps, and this one focuses on creative apps, encompassing audio, video, design, brainstorming, and writing.

Design

Affinity Photo
This one has kind of amazed me over the last couple of months. I switched away from Photoshop years ago as my design needs became less, and have always found ways to replicate most of my Photoshop workflows in Acorn (and have also enjoyed Pixelmator). Affinity Photo, though, I actually find more interesting than Photoshop, and faster, and there’s really nothing from the last version of PS I used (CS6) that I can’t easily do in Affinity. Even most of my muscle memory transfers over, with similar sets of keyboard shortcuts.
Squash
An image compression app from Realmac, Squash 2 came out in 2016 and it’s pretty amazing. It’s deceptively powerful considering the “cute” interface and the absence of obvious controls. Just drag an image file on it and watch it losslessly compress with an “oddly satisfying sound.” The compression is top notch, and little gems like being able to handle RAW and PSD files into JPEGs without thinking twice is delightful.
Sketch
I’ve been using Sketch since well before 2016, but the 2016 update was a big one, and I finally got into using the community developed plugins and found it to be more amazing than I’d thought. Solid vector based tools and the ability to create automatic exports of assets at multiple sizes is perfect for web and app developers.
Sip
Sip is my new favorite color utility. I’d been using Pochade 2 to gather colors with a picker or wheel and quickly turn them into hex, RGB, or NSColor strings. Sip does all this and more, with palette creation, color history, and an unobtrusive drawer on the side of your screen for quick access to any colors you want to save there.
PicGIF
I wrote about my workflow for creating and editing animated GIFs early in 2016, and one of the standout apps I mentioned was PicGIF. I use it primarily for converting video and screen recordings to animated gifs, but it offers good editing and optimization features as well.

Idea development

iThoughtsX
iThoughts remains my favorite Mac app for mind mapping (which also remains my preferred method for brainstorming). The Marked 2 integration makes it great for blogging and writing, too.
I use the MindMeister web app set up in Fluid for collaborative mind mapping brainstorming.
MindNode also gets a mention, as the improvements over 2016 added a lot of powerful features and made it more useful for a lot of my more advanced needs.
Curio
For larger projects, Curio still offers a dizzying array of useful features set up in a creative space that allows customization to the point of utter flexibility.

I’ve also been using MindMeister for iOS, Drafts, and 1Writer on iOS a lot, and the MindMeister Apple Watch integration I posted about recently, but I’ll get into those in an upcoming post dedicated to iOS apps in 2016.

Writing

Marked 2
Over 2016 Marked’s capabilities as a writing tool have continued to expand. I’m not joking. I use it every day for everything from formatting and grammar checking to document analysis and validating the links in my blog posts. And I would do that even if I didn’t get it for free (only because I wrote it, so it’s kind of nepotism but not really).
Quip
Quip has entirely replaced Google Docs for me, and now that there’s a native Mac app (well, a web wrapper, but it adds a fair amount of native improvements) I use it almost exclusively for everything from podcast show notes to collaborative document editing and proofing.
MultiMarkdown Composer 2
While MultiMarkdown Composer didn’t see a lot of updates in 2016, it remains my primary writing app on the Mac. The beta of MultiMarkdown Composer Pro saw more attention and is looking great, and I look forward to further updates on that one.
Ulysses
I’ve developed a new appreciation for Ulysses over the last year. I love Scrivener, but the simplicity of Ulysses often suits my own needs better. Again, Marked 2 integration makes it genuinely useful for me.
TableFlip
I wrote about TableFlip after its October release. This little app is amazing if you work with tables in Markdown documents. A visual editor that integrates with whatever text editor you’re working in for 2-way sync of easily-editable tabular data.
LightPaper
I won’t say a lot about this one because I haven’t used it regularly, but it’s been exciting to watch the development of this Markdown editor. File management, nice editing features, live preview, and my favorite feature: “Real Preview”. Real Preview lets you inject your current text into an existing web page in a separate window, allowing you to see it exactly as it will appear when writing for web-based outlets.

Audio and Video

Boom 2
Boom lets me add impressive sound quality to my speaker setups on various Macs. I’ve continued to enjoy it in combination with an analog pre-amp and Phillips speakers, allowing me to use global EQ settings from my MacBook Pro to make the most of them.
STAMP
STAMP converts your playlists between Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. It’s improved a lot this year, both in speed and accuracy.
Tag
This one isn’t beautiful, but it’s solid and it’s what I’m using to add ID3 tags to my podcast files.
Spotify
I pay for Apple Music, and I enjoy it, but I just couldn’t give up my Spotify subscription. In 2016 they added new music discovery features that make it just as much fun as opening up “For You” in Apple Music, and the weekly new music playlists geared to my tastes are almost always great.
WALTR 2
I wrote about this one in October. It’s a super-fast, super-smooth way to get your audio and video files to your iOS device.

Up next, my favorite utilities and developer tools on the Mac. Stay tuned.