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I have been using GIMP for many years and do not want to go through the expense and learning curve issues of Creative Suite/Photoshop but occasionally I may need a CMYK file. Other than the Separate/Separate+ Plugins, are there any reasonable alternatives?

EDIT: I edited rather than commenting so this would remain visible - Thanks to everyone for their input so far. I haven't accepted an answer yet as I am reviewing the options presented, but I do plan to when appropriate--Ray

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Out of curiosity: have you used the GIMP plug-ins and do you have any problems or critiques of the process and end result? –  horatio Apr 28 '11 at 16:15
    
@horatio To be honest, I have not tried them yet. In the quick search I did, I only found versions for linux installs, not Windows. At this point, if I have to start learning about tarball's, it's going to push something important out of my brain. Trying Separate/Separate+ will have to be a weekend project –  Ray Mitchell Apr 28 '11 at 16:34
    
Most RIP software takes (and sometimes prefers) RGB files anyways. –  DA01 Apr 28 '11 at 17:26
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The separate+ website has source and binaries for windows. ( cue.yellowmagic.info/softwares/separate-plus ) –  horatio Apr 28 '11 at 17:55
    

6 Answers 6

I doubt that Photoshop's CMYK features have changed much in the recent past, and you would probably be well served by a much older version - such as CS1 - Which can be very affordable on eBay. I don't know if a cheaper older version counts as an "alternative" to Photoshop, but decent graphics software that isn't Photoshop is hard to find.

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The short answer in no. Gimp, Inkscape, Imagemagik and others do not natively support CMYK. These programs have RGB to CMYK converters which is fine for images but that's it. When designing for print, starting in the CMYK colorspace is a must. Most printers will not accept RGB files unless it's kinkos and getting files converted to CMYK can cost $60-$100 an hour. You can probably find an old version of photoshop for cheap or free. If you are going to do a lot of print work then I'd recommend CS Design Standard or the cloud services offered by Adobe.

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It's been a while since this question has been asked, but a 'cheap' alternative to buying Photoshop is subscribing to it.

If you buy a 1 year subscription, the current price is $24/month (or if you prefer, month to month is $36). As much as I love Gimp's philosophy, its CMYK support is still limited.

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Check out Paint.NET. There's a great, great amount of plugins available to do practically everything you'd want to do. Take's some playing around to get it set up just right but well worth it and totally free.

The basic functionality is fair as well but once you get the right plugins, watch out.

Edit: Here is a link to one psd loading plugin which handles CMYK. There are quite a few, perhaps that will help more than PDN alone.

http://www.boltbait.com/pdn/ <-- I can't seem to find the CMYK plugin info in this plugin pack but I remember the plugins being pretty good in general. Apologies for the oversight in CMYK, I was focused most on the cheapness :P I'm not saying PDN is a replacement for Photoshop but it goes a good distance if you put in the extra effort.

And here is one I know practically nothing about just for kicks.

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While Paint.NET is nice tool, it doesn't have native/real CMYK support. :-/ –  koiyu May 4 '11 at 20:29
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Gasp~~ :/ I do understand that however Paint.NET is not really meant to be complete on it's own. The plugin community for it is really truly impressive imho. Plugin development is also fairly simple. There are quite a few CMYK facilities out there for Paint.NET –  Garet Claborn May 4 '11 at 20:36
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can you edit some / very best of them in to the answer? I think CMYK-support is what OP is really up to. –  koiyu May 4 '11 at 20:44
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I completely admit that the support is not as naturally built in. I was reviewing some of the plugins as I've lost my old set, the others I found quickly had a lossy form of conversion - this one uses separate layers and masking to avoid that, best I can tell. –  Garet Claborn May 4 '11 at 20:52
    
thx for understanding ;p i don't know why but I get kinda defensive about Paint.NET lol –  Garet Claborn May 4 '11 at 20:56

Unless you work in a big printing place then you should ALWAYS work in RGB and leave the CMYK nonsense to the experts in wasting dead-trees. Pro printers and their software will do a better job of CMYK than you will. Besides, do you really want to fill up your disks twice as fast with extra-dull CMYK-ness? And then when you have a colleague put those images online that they don't show up in some browsers because they end up as half-supported CMYK-jpeg's?

You have heard 'if you cannot do, then teach', well, there are a lot of teachers out there killing the minds of keen art students by instilling the overstated importance of CMYK into their brains. Nobody really cares about dead-tree CMYK no more except these 'teachers' and those they brainwashed.

If you do happen to have to work with a batch of CMYK images that you NEED to get into RGB, then Photoshop 'batch' is your best option, however, if Linux is your preferred tool of choice then apt-get install imagemagick and put your own command-line batch file together.

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This answer seems to come on a bit strong, given that the question makes it clear it's for occasional CMYK output. I don't know if you're thinking only about photographs, but there are very good reasons for a CMYK workflow when working for print; it's not just a simple conversion the printers can do for you. –  e100 May 9 '11 at 19:09
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Really not a useful answer (well, actually not an answer at all). Considering that (other than the relatively small number of web-only folks) almost every design shop produces for print as well as web and mobile devices. As e100 points out, the question was about an occasional need to produce a CMYK file. –  Alan Gilbertson May 11 '11 at 4:42

Well, if you are on a Mac, Pixelmator can do the job. I really like it.

But, if you really want the best software on the market, you should use Photoshop. Very huge community, a lot of tutorials, and everything else you can imagine.

http://www.pixelmator.com/

Good luck :)

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While I like pixelmator, I'm finding it has a long way to go in terms of solid color support. –  DA01 May 2 '11 at 14:52
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It seems Pixelmator doesn't have native/real CMYK support. –  koiyu May 4 '11 at 20:27

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