We recently took a look at the Adobe Creative Suite, breaking down when to use Photoshop vs. Illustrator vs. InDesgin, but there’s one glaring fact we didn’t mention: not every designer has access to these programs.
For designers who are just starting out, still in school or operating on a tight budget, Adobe Photoshop might be a luxury that you just can’t afford. But if you find yourself in one of these categories, breathe easy; there are several free photo editing programs out there that can deliver close to the same results as Photoshop with none of the added cost.
You’ll probably end up upgrading to photo editing software with a little more power at some point in your career. However, if you need something to work with now and you can’t spend any money, using these free Photoshop alternatives as a substitute can be a lifesaver.
Cross-Platform, Open Source Alternatives to Photoshop
You can’t have a list like this one without including GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP to those who know it. There’s a lot to love about GIMP—it features Photoshop staples like layers, masks, gradients, text tools, plug-in support and more. Best of all, it’s open source software with a large community of users, so there are plenty of GIMP tutorials and add-ons out there to help you overcome any of the program’s limitations.
If you really need to work in a Photoshop-like environment, Gimphoto is a version of GIMP that imitates Adobe’s layout while still keeping it open source. The menus, terminology, and basic interface have all been tweaked to give Photoshop veterans a more familiar working environment.
Unlike the similarly-interfaced Gimpshop, Gimphoto includes many extra features, such as new brush styles, layer styles, and support for standard Photoshop plug-ins.
CinePaint is deep image editing software that is primarily used in video editing, but it’s also a useful tool for retouching photos because it can work with images of higher color fidelity. A higher quality image produces better results in your print projects, so this might be a program worth looking into.
Inkscape uses a vector-based environment, so it’s a much better option for illustration than most other free alternatives to Photoshop; in fact, it’s almost more of an Illustrator alternative (though it can still be used for basic bitmap edits like photo retouching). The program’s native format is Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), so you don’t have to worry about your project looking fuzzy if you try to resize it. Overall, Inkscape is a great choice for any designer who wants to learn vector illustration on a tight budget.
Photoshop Alternatives for Mac
Seashore is open source Mac-only editing software based on GIMP, but with an interface designed to match the MAC OS X aesthetic. The result is a good-looking program that may not exactly be equivalent to Photoshop, but ultimately produces attractive results with ease.
The good news is that ChocoFlop is a formidable design tool made exclusively for the Mac OS, and there is a freeware beta version available. The bad news is, the designers decided not to continue forward with the project and will not be releasing any more versions or support for the program. However, it’s still a worthwhile tool, especially with its unique non-destructive image editing capabilities.
This simple photo editor for Mac offers multi-touch support and non-destructive filters as well as some essential drawing tools. The newest version of LiveQuartz does cost a few bucks on the App Store, but if you’re really strapped for cash, you can still download older freeware versions.
Photoshop Alternatives for Windows PCs
Paint.NET might not be fancy, but it has an intuitive interface and plenty of the same features as Photoshop—though you might find yourself missing those features that it lacks. Despite the name, Paint.NET is really best used for photo editing since it doesn’t have many illustrative tools, though it’s also open source with an impressive support base.
Photo Pos Pro is a freeware program for Windows that’s great for beginners. The interface is easy-to-use, there’s a low learning curve and the software even provides helpful pop-up tips. These are the sort of things that might make a more experienced designer lose their mind, but can be a major boon for those who are just starting out.
Many designers look at Serif PhotoPlus as a serious contender with Photoshop. Unfortunately, the advanced version does cost money (though not as much as the Adobe products will set you back.) However, there is a basic freeware version of PhotoPlus that might not have as many features, but still gives you the basics at a comparable quality to Photoshop, along with a simple, user-friendly interface.
PhotoFiltre is an easy, intuitive program for photo editing and manipulation. True to its name, the program has a wide range of filters that make it easy for novices to jump right in and alter their images, but there’s plenty here for the seasoned pros to find appealing, too.
Pixia is a Japanese program which has found popularity in the west and has since been translated into English. Pixia was created mainly for digital illustrations (specifically for manga and anime artists), but it has plenty of useful features for design and photo manipulation as well. The biggest downside to Pixia would be the outdated-looking interface, but if you don’t mind your editing software looking a bit “retro,” this may be the right tool for you.
Google’s Picasa software might not have the full capacity of Photoshop, but it’s a good program for making last-minute edits. Picasa does have a few unique tricks up its sleeve such as batch editing and photo-management tools, not to mention easy integration and sharing on Google platforms.
Online Photoshop Alternatives
Pixlr is a great online Photoshop alternative, especially if you need to do work when you’re nowhere near your home computer. It has an impressive amount of clout for a program that works in your web browser, and it stands out for having three different levels of editing power to choose from: playful, efficient or advanced. There’s even a mobile app version for designers who are on the go and need to make quick fixes.
Splashup is an online image editing program with a clean design interface that’s highly reminiscent of Photoshop. It doesn’t have a ton of features, but it does support layers and pixel-level control. Splashup is a good tool for beginners, especially since it allows for easy sharing on the web’s top photo sharing sites like Flickr and Facebook.
SumoPaint is another web-based favorite of many professional designers, since it features an interface similar to Photoshop with plenty of the same features. There’s also an inexpensive desktop version available if you don’t want to use it in your browser, and a mobile app for illustration on the go.
If you absolutely have to use Photoshop but don’t have access to it, there’s always the browser version, Photoshop Express Editor. Of course, it would be silly for Adobe to give away their product for free, so the online application has limited tools, but it’s a good option for editing essentials from a name that you trust.
They say a poor workman blames his tools, and the same must hold true for designers. Yes, we admit, no freeware program can serve as a complete replacement for a high-end program like Adobe Photoshop. But we truly believe that a creative, clever, budget-conscious designer can overcome the limitations of any program and create beautiful results.
Are there any free Photoshop alternatives out there that we missed? Do you have any advice for working with free photo editing software? Leave your comments below, we’re looking forward to hearing from you!