This past year has been pretty great for graphic design buffs. First PhotoShop CS5 dropped jaws with its Content-Aware Fill algorithm - "magic" being the most common word that's been used to describe it, even outside marketing talk. The tool is by no means perfect, and most practical editing tasks still require some manual labor, but it's easier to use than the clone brush and can easily cut the workload in half. See the above video for making the most famous bridge in the world disappear in just over a minute.

But that's not all. The open source side of things is stirring too. Blender has gotten a great user interface overhaul in version 2.5, getting more competitive with costly professional tools. Even GIMP shows some long-awaited progress with its new single-window mode. Oh, the old guys churning out upgrades is all well and good, but what about all the new guys on the block?

Sculptris, the creator of which I happen to know from IRC, appeared in May, making 3D sculpting both easy and free. And already in January, the first public testing version of Alchemy appeared. If Content-Aware Fill is magic, then Alchemy is just that: creating gold out of thin air. Non-artists might not see the point, but every painter has known the horrors of the white paper in front of them. Alchemy takes that away by making starting pictures easy, and then some.

A scribbling tool doesn't sound like something that changes the world, but that's just the thing: it's a new kind of tool. Opening a whole new category of tools is something that doesn't happen every day. Information technology has changed the world of graphic design, but watch out, it might change the world of fine art too. In some ways, it already has. The Internet has a lot of use: finding good reference pictures of naked people has never been easier. By that, I refer to, of course. Then there's this little thing called collaborative editing. Just wait until all these new ideas grow to their full potential. Or don't wait, and go create amazing things right here and now.

My work with the newfangled tools produced a would-be t-shirt design, go see it at Threadless for a little example of Alchemy if you're interested.