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There was a time not so long ago when Adobe Illustrator was one of the only ways to create and manipulate graphic-rich text on the Mac. But even then, its relatively high retail price and the steep learning curve required to use it kept the software out of reach for many consumers.
Fortunately, there are plenty of budget-friendly alternatives now available. Most are intended for a specific purpose, such as creating business logos or web-based content on the cheap, but this software tends to be underpowered for the task at hand or worse yet, plagued with bugs and published by companies that offer little or no technical support.
BeLight Software aims to fill this void with an alternative feature-rich enough to empower users to create spectacular results with very little effort, yet offered at a deceptively low price that sounds almost too good to be true.
Art Text 3 ($30 on the Mac App Store) is an exceptionally easy-to-use graphic design application for OS X. As the name implies, the software’s core focus is creating stylish, attractive 2D or 3D text, but this software is capable of much more than that. You can also use it to create buttons or icons for websites and mobile apps, add backgrounds, textures, or photos, and much more.
The dark user interface helps keep the focus on the creative process, and is laid out in a logical way that doesn’t overwhelm novice users with too many options at once. A design preview takes up the bulk of the window in the center, with a selector for Templates, Images, Shapes, and Layers along the left side and an inspector for modifying the currently-selected item at right.
Multiple projects can be open at the same time, and each window contains its own set of tools. That makes it easy to cut-and-paste between projects, although oddly you can’t drag-and-drop objects from one to another. When selected, the artboard for the current project turns translucent, offering a subtle glimpse at what’s behind the window; this looks particularly nice when in full-screen mode, which displays the Finder desktop background.
But that winds up being the icing on this visually-rich cake: Art Text 3 includes more than 300 3D effects and textures including photo-realistic eye candy like cheese, chocolate, and donuts (so real you can taste ‘em!), a variety of fill tools, and geometric transformations, as well as a huge library of vector icons, symbols, and shapes to spice up any design. You can even convert 2D elements, which enables an on-screen handle that’s used to rotate objects in 3D space.
Create and share
Plenty of applications offer UI wizardry and a long list of features yet still disappoint, but that’s not the case with Art Text 3. The tools are intuitive, and most of the time it feels like you’re literally bending pixels to your will just by pushing them around on-screen. More importantly, the software is fast and responsive; everything renders lightning-fast and looks great on a Retina Display.
While you can always start from scratch, Art Text 3 ships with more than 70 customizable templates that make it easier to get started. Each template can be modified to your liking by adding new elements via drag-and-drop from the left-hand panel, then exported as PDF, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, GIF, or EPS in the desired resolution, copied to the clipboard, or sent to social networks and cloud services with the OS X share extension.
As delightful as it is to create in Art Text 3, there’s still room for improvement. I experienced occasional screen redraw anomalies on my iMac 5K display, almost always caused by switching to and from full-screen mode; re-opening the project cleared up the problem. Although you can constrain the aspect ratio when resizing by holding down the Shift key while dragging a corner, this trick doesn’t work with handles on the sides of an element. There’s also no way to reposition imported photos inside a transform mask after it’s been applied.
For professionals, the biggest limitation will be the lack of CMYK color support. You’ll have to open the resulting file in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to convert from RGB color space. There’s also no way to export layered files for further editing, short of turning off individual layers and saving them one at a time.
Art Text 3 may not have all of Adobe Illustrator’s professional chops when it comes to color and file export, but it’s far more intuitive and a whole lot easier to achieve gorgeous, quality results on a budget.