Photoshop is so ubiquitous these days that, like Google, it's become a verb: 'to Photoshop' is shorthand for editing an image. This might give the impression that Adobe has the market sewn up with its Creative Cloud package – but that's not actually the case.
In fact, the backlash against Adobe's move to the Creative Cloud in 2013 helped spur on a wide range of alternatives to Photoshop (there are even some free graphic design software options worth exploring). Whether you're looking elsewhere because you can't afford the subscription, or you want to support smaller development houses, or you just don't need all the millions of features that come with Photoshop CC, there are a number of options open to you.
Here are the best image editing software options that aren't Photoshop.
01. Affinity Photo
- Platform: Mac, Windows, iPad
- Price: £48.99/$49.99 (one-off payment)
Serif's Affinity Photo started creating a stir in the creative community almost the moment it was released, and it's perhaps the most serious Photoshop alternative we've seen to date.
Fully compatible with Photoshop and other file formats, it's aimed squarely at professional photographers and designers, and although Affinity Photo is hugely cheaper than Photoshop (with no subscription), its creators argue it's actually better, promising higher speeds, fewer crashes and unlimited undos. In truth, the amount of improved performance you'll get will probably depend what equipment you're using (it's been specifically designed to take advantage of the latest quad core technology).
Originally Mac-only, Affinity Photo is now available on Windows, and in summer of 2017 Serif also launched Affinity Photo for iPad. Anyone looking for an alternative to Photoshop, Affinity Photo is definitely worth investigating. You can find out more about the features and capabilities on Affinity Photo here.
- Platform: Mac
- Price: $99/year or try Sketch for free
A professional vector graphics app for creatives, in recent years Sketch has created enormous buzz within the design community, and web designers in particular.
With a simple UI, Sketch has many features similar to that of Photoshop and Illustrator, including layers, gradients, colour picker and style presets. Its popularity means there are also plenty of community-created Sketch plugins you can use to extend its functionality.
The development team behind Sketch has made it as flexible as possible, with it supporting infinite zooming and vector shapes that are perfect for multiple resolutions. You can build a new graphic from primitive shapes or start a new one with the Vector or Pencil tool.
- Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac
- Price: Free
A free, open-source alternative to Photoshop that's been around for donkey's years, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Today it's available in versions for Linux, Windows and Mac.
GIMP offers a wide toolset, similar to Photoshop in many ways, and is a great option if you're looking for a no-cost image editor. The interface differs somewhat from Photoshop, but a version of GIMP is available that mimics Adobe's look and feel, making it easier to migrate over if you're ditching Photoshop.
The full suite of tools is available here – everything you're accustomed to is within easy reach, including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement. The team that oversees development has worked hard to ensure compatibility too, so you'll be able to work with all the popular file formats without any trouble at all. You'll also find a very capable file manager built in, along similar lines to Adobe's Bridge.
Overall, this is a great option whether you've either got a limited budget, or want to move away from Photoshop for other reasons.
04. Pixelmator Pro
- Platform: Mac
- Price: $39.99
Pixelmator has been around for a while now, but more recently the team released the Pixelmator Pro. While the previous tool used floating windows, the Pro version has a more usable single-window UI, and offers non-destructive image editing. The team have pared back the interface, which should make it easy to pick up – and there's a 'hidden interface' option you can activate if you just want to see your image, with no distractions.
This Photoshop alternative is geared up especially for use on a Mac, and it supports features like tabs, fullscreen and split view.
- Platform: iOS, Android, web app
- Price: Free
Pixlr is a free Photoshop alternative that boasts more than 600 effects, overlays and borders. It also lets you do all the main things you'd expect from a basic photo editor, from cropping and re-sizing to removing red-eye and whitening teeth.
And if you're used to using Photoshop, then you'll find Pixlr's user interface easy to pick up quickly, as it's very similar. This free app is available in both iOS and Android varieties, or use can use it as a web app.
06. Corel PHOTO-PAINT
- Platform: Windows
- Price: $599.99 / £599.99 (entire CorelDRAW Graphics Suite) or try for free
PHOTO-PAINT is a dedicated photo editor in the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. The suite has been updated for 2018 to offer a Corel AfterShot 3 HDR support, as well as interactive tools for straightening photos and adjusting perspective. There's also improved stylus control, with the PHOTO-PAINT responding to different pressures, bearing tilt and rotation.
The suite is geared up to work perfectly with Windows 10, offering multi-monitor viewing and support for 4K displays.
- Platform: Windows
- Price: Free
Paint.net is a Windows-based alternative to the Paint editor that Microsoft shipped with versions of Windows. Don't let that put you off, though: it's a surprisingly capable and useful tool, available completely free of charge. The software started out life as a Microsoft-sponsored undergraduate project, and has become an open source project maintained by some of the alumni.
The focus is on ease of use, and there's a definite tendency towards photo editing rather than artistic creation. That said, there are a range of special effects available, allowing you to easily create fake perspective, blend and push pixels around the canvas, tile and repeat selections, and so on.
A good range of selection tools, support for layers, and adjustments such as curves and brightness/contrast mean that Paint.net is a great alternative to Photoshop for photo editing, especially if you can do without some of the more recent additions to Photoshop's toolset.
- Platform: Browser or iPad
- Price: Free (basic), $4/mo (Pro)
SumoPaint is a highly capable, free browser-based image editor. All the standard features you'd expect from a desktop tool are present and correct. It's lightweight and quick to load, and the free version is very usable. There's also a paid-for Pro version and a paid-for iPad app.
The standard range of tools and adjustments you'd expect are all included. Brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning, gradients, etc are all quickly accessed from the Photoshop-esque floating toolbar. It can also open saved documents from your hard drive, making SumoPaint a perfectly viable option for editing and reediting.
Some tools work in different ways to Photoshop, offering possibilities that would be difficult to match in Adobe's offering. There are, however, limitations that will put off some users.
- Platform: Mac OS X
- Price: $29.99
Image editing software Acorn debuted back in 2007 and has provided hobbyists and artists on a budget with a great, affordable alternative to Photoshop ever since. Features of the software include layer styles, non-destructive filters, curves and levels, blending modes and much more.
The most recent edition – Acorn 6 – includes new Scale and Transform options, the ability to use the Clone tool across layers or images, and the ability to use emoji on a path (if you so wish).
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