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Humans are visual by nature, so, understandably, much emphasis falls on having captivating designs. This penchant for eye candy explains why designers and small business owners constantly explore new design tools.
Photoshop is the first thing that comes to mind when one needs to create and edit photos. It is a ubiquitous product, much like Microsoft Windows or AutoCAD. So much so that we even refer to photo editing by saying “Photoshop it.”
Thankfully, many Photoshop alternatives are available, and here are a few of them.
Thomas and John Knoll developed Photoshop in 1988 but quickly sold it to Adobe. Today it has become the de facto industry standard for any raster graphics editing across the globe. Yet like all other tools, it isn’t perfect.
From price to how certain things get done, architecture and technology have given rise to many formidable alternatives.
Price: From $9.99 (Varies by platform)
Affinity Photo is from the British firm Serif, which has been in the media-creation-software space for over a decade. Its Affinity line started with Mac-only apps in 2015 and won an Apple Mac App of the Year award. It is now also available on Windows.
Affinity Photo is a solid low-cost image editing program. It is compatible with Photoshop and other file formats and is one of the more substantial Photoshop alternatives aimed at professional photographers and designers.
Equipped with a vast toolset that allows you to make local adjustments, Affinity Photo also will enable you to create full-blown multi-layered compositions. Much like Photoshop, you can use levels, curves, black and whites, white balance, hue, saturation, lightness (HSL), shadows, highlights, and layer editing.
The edits you make in Affinity Photo are non-destructive; you can return to the original whenever you want, unlike Photoshop. It also comes with many extras, such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) merging, panorama stitching, focus stacking, and batch processing.
That said, it does take a long time to process hundreds of images. Unlike Photoshop, it also seems to have issues supporting mass editing or bulk organization of files. There’s not much allowance for digital asset management with a companion tool like Adobe has in Adobe Bridge.
Still, their pricing is cheaper than Photoshop, which could be a decisive factor for many smaller businesses.
Price: Free / From $4.90/mo
Pixlr is an online image editing service and has various tools for this purpose. The newest version of the previous-generation Pixlr editor is ingeniously named Pixlr X. Like many modern-day Cloud-based tools, Pixlr X follows a handy freemium price model.
This image editor comes packed with tons of advanced features. Its interface is also clean, clear, and easy to use. Based on HTML5, rather than Flash, Pixlr X works well in any popular browsers, including for mobile devices like iPads and iPhones.
Workflow is pretty streamlined and intuitive, optimizing a drag-and-drop interface. You can also adjust images with familiar one-click filters and sliders along with robust layer support. Backgrounds are easily removable, and you can add almost all kinds of multimedia content as well. I believe one of the best highlights is their de-hazing and curves tools.
However, some essential features seem to be omitted, including custom brushes. There is also somewhat of a limitation in the file types it supports.
That said, Pixlr X is a good option for both newbies and professional designers via its super clean and intuitive interface for basic to medium-complexity photo editing. In short, this is a solid alternative to Photoshop if you're looking for a free and quick way to fine-tune your photos.
Known as the best free Photoshop alternative, the open-source program GNU Image Manipulation Program, or simply GIMP, is a serious contender. Not only is it open-source and available for all major desktop platforms, but it has a matching array to Photoshop’s advanced tools.
GIMP is quite similar to Photoshop in terms of the tools available. Everything you’re usually used to is within reach; layer editing, advanced edits (local adjustment, blemish/color correction, object removal), painting tools, cloning, selection, and enhancement are readily available here.
Like Photoshop, GIMP does have a rather steep learning curve. That said, GIMP offers a wide array of tools, similar to Photoshop in many ways, and is an excellent option if you're looking to ditch Photoshop for a no-cost image editor.
You’d be glad to know that you’ll face no file formats compatibility issues – GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, including some PSD, although not all layers may be readable. There’s also a capable file manager built-in, similar to Adobe's Bridge.
Additionally, there’s a massive community of developers and artists who have created plugins for GIMP. These help with various feature extensions, significantly increasing the utility of the core product.
Nothing is perfect, though. GIMP lacks a few features; the healing brush, for example, has one option, whereas Photoshop’s brush has four, and GIMP does not have non-destructive adjustment layer editing. GIMP also doesn’t natively handle RAW files and needs a converter plugin to help with this.
Probably the best Photoshop alternative for ease of use, Pixelmator Pro 2.0 is the latest release from Pixelmator Pro. Being one of the top-rated image editing apps for Mac, Pixelmator Pro is a macOS-only editor.
While the previous tool used floating windows, this latest Pro version has a more usable single-window user interface (UI) along with a non-destructive image editing function. In addition, it comes with a more intuitive design, all-new support for M1 Macs, and loads of new features.
It can be hard to describe these in one breath, but we’ll certainly try; There’s a wealth of different photo editing tools, including cropping, exposure adjustments, color correction, and others. And that sits alongside brush tools, retouching tools, plus high compatibility with multiple file types.
Pixelmator Pro also comes with a complete set of vector tools for creating resolution-independent designs that include easily customizable smart shapes, an extensive collection of pre-designed shapes, and support for the SVG vector file format.
Adobe Photoshop takes the trophy when it comes to more complex edits, though. For example, Pixelmator Pro doesn’t support creating GIFs, and there’s no auto-align feature like in Photoshop. Also, Pixelmator Pro is missing a Lightroom alternative.
However, unlike the original Pixelmator, Pixelmator Pro supports working with RAW files. This support makes upgrading to the Pro version worth it if you need to work with professional images. However, it is still an excellently streamlined program that rises above many others. So, if you’re a groovy Mac user, this could be the right one for you.
Price: Free / From $9/mo
SumoPaint is a lightweight image editor that is a free and competent browser-based image editor. All the standard features come included, and because it is light, it is quick to load. You can expect to have the usual layering, editing, brush, and wand tools.
SumoPaint runs in most Flash-based browsers, though there is a Chrome Web App available for Chromebooks. It’s also available as a cloud-based version. The interface looks similar to that of Photoshop, so you’ll see the brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning, gradients, and others, all accessible from the floating toolbar.
Because it allows you to open saved documents from your hard drive, SumoPaint is great for editing and re-editing.
However, it has limited file support with no support for Photoshop’s default PSD format and no pen tool, camera RAW filter, and auto-snapping features. If you need more features, you’ll need to look into their paid plans.
SumoPaint is one of the best free Photoshop alternatives for design and functionality, with mid-range editing features available at zero cost.
Price: Free / From $5/mo
Another free web-based image editor, Photopea is a browser-based option designed to be an advanced editor with professional tools. It has a distinct resemblance to Photoshop and features most of the tools you'll need for everyday image work.
Since this is web-based, it’s compatible with all platforms. It also comes with native support for PSD, XCF, Sketch, XD, and CDR formats. Additionally, you can export your work in PSD, JPG, PNG, SVG, and RAW formats.
Photopea supports layers and layer masks. It also features quick selection tools, allowing you to use blend modes, and features a stack of selection tools, from standard marquees to a magnetic lasso.
Even though it cannot compete with Photoshop in terms of more advanced features, Photopea still has more than enough going on to keep most happy, and on top of this, it's entirely free to use.
From Escape Motions, Rebelle 4 emulates traditional painting techniques and mimics how paint responds to paper and canvases in real life. It is a highly professional painting software package and focuses on traditional media and the best way to present it in the digital realm.
Rebelle 4 does exceptionally well in different genres of art as well. It enables users to simulate a drop of color being blown and moving in different directions. You can also specify blow length, drip size, tilt, and amount of water used with your paints.
Rebelle 4 features more than 170 brush presets with new watercolor and oil effects, brush stabilization, and many others.
So, if you’re more into creating a true-to-life painting experience, check out Rebelle 4, as it is an excellent, affordable program that replicates traditional painting techniques, primarily in watercolor with absolute authenticity.
Price: From $249
The latest Corel Photo-Paint 2021 from CorelDRAW is a professional image editor for Windows
Corel Photo-Paint is a dedicated professional image editor that supports PSD files, complementing the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. It allows you to create complex compositions via powerful, non-destructive layer-based editing that makes working with multiple images and objects easy.
Corel Photo-Paint’s retouching and restoring tools allow you to fix any imperfections quickly. It also enables you to add special effects via its effects filters. In addition, the improved replace color pickers and eyedropper tools allow for better and more precise editing along with a new interactive control that makes fine-tuning hue and saturation range more intuitive.
The new Local Adjustment Docker Mode simplifies the task of targeting a filter to a specific image area. Also, its artificial intelligence functionality helps process images via machine-learned models. Finally, take note that it also supports High-Efficiency Image File (HEIF) images captured on iPhones.
You’ll have to purchase the whole CorelDRAW Graphics Suite to use the Corel Photo-Paint, or you can sign up for the 15 days free trial and check it out first.
There is no doubt that Photoshop is jam-packed with many advanced features, and that’s why it not only can retain its title as an industry leader and standard, it is highly popular among many image editors on all levels.
But just because Photoshop’s the biggest name in the field doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only option you have for editing and refining images. Unfortunately, many shy away from its subscription model, and it may not be a cup of tea for beginners.
Some may not even need all those extensive features that Photoshop has to begin with. As such, it would make perfect sense to try out other Photoshop alternatives as listed above. After all, they are solid and great alternatives to Photoshop, with each to their own.