Adobe Photoshop has long been the go-to photo editing software for creatives, but it’s expensive price tag doesn’t make it a good fit for everyone. A decade ago using a free alternative meant sacraficing features, but in 2020 this is no longer the case. There are a number of top free Photoshop alternatives that deliver amazing performance without compromising on features.
GIMP: The Classic Photoshop Alternative
The original open source alternative to Photoshop is the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). It has the closet functionality to Photoshop both in terms of features and user interface. Thus it’s easy to switch between the two programs and not feel lost.
Just about anything you can do in Photoshop, perhaps minus the very latest features, can be done in GIMP. There’s also an extensive online community and support for many operating systems, including Windows, Mac and Linux.
Krita: A Great Alternative for Artists
Krita is ideal for sketching and painting. It supports nearly all graphics tablets by default and has a very good brush emulator. This makes it perfect for making any type of art, including digital painting and cartoons. It’s definitely the go-to choice for graphic design and illustration.
Although it excels in art creation, Krita is not a strong choice for general purpose image editing. Like GIMP, it has a strong community of fans and wide platform support.
Darktable: An Amazing Lightroom Alternative
Darktable is a RAW photo editor designed to compete directly with Adobe Lightroom, a cousin of Photoshop designed for professional photographers (see this guide to RAW photos if you’re unfamiliar). We mention it here because many people do not need all the advanced features of Photoshop. Cropping, dust removal, color correction and so on are sufficient for many people.
Earlier versions of the program got so-so reviews from photographers, but Darktable has improved steadily as of late. We would be happy to use it in place of Lightroom.
Paint.NET: Another Great Choice
As the name implies, Paint.NET is an alternative to Microsoft Paint. Although we would never put Photoshop and Paint on the same level, the open source Paint.NET has become quite advanced over the years. It now supports layers, advanced history, and many file types.
This alternative is great for someone who needs more advanced functionality but still wants to keep things simple. The UI could use a modern refresh, however.
Pixlr: Browser-Based Editing
Pixlr is a browser-based image editor. Since you access it via the web instead of your desktop, you can use it any computer any time. Pixlr has many of the same features as Photoshop– including layers, blending, healing, and history. The newest version supports AI background removal, skin smoothing and even has built-in graphic templates to save time.
The disadvantage of browser-based tools is resource usage– Pixlr won’t handle heavy or large files as well as Photoshop.
Other alternatives to consider:
These choices did not make our list of best free Photoshop alternatives because they have very specific use cases or are not completely free. We still think they’re worth mentioning, however:
- Pixelmator Pro is a powerful image editor and graphics illustrator built exclusively for Mac. It’s incredibly easy to use and has an innovative user interface ahead of its time. It’s not free at $39.99, but well worth considering if you have a bit of cash or are looking for a more smartly designed alternative.
- Luminar is another paid alternative to Photoshop. Like Pixelmator, it doesn’t try to compete directly by cloning features– it’s a new way to reimagine your editing workflow from the ground up. Designed especially for photographers, you can easily replace the sky, embed objects, and more. Luminar uses the power of AI to automatically enhhance your photos as well.
- Canva is a graphic design tool popular for creating those all-too-common Pinterest and Instagram graphics. The basic free version let’s you easily add text and graphics to images. It’s worth considering if you just need a quick way to enhance images for social media.
One trick that might just work
Looking for a cheaper alternative to Photoshop but not impressed by the choices listed here? One trick we have heard of but not personally tried is to simply buy an older version of Photoshop from an online reseller. Even Photoshop CS6 from the early 2010s or Photoshop CC from 2013 are very powerful tools.
You can still find these products as boxed CDs with license keys online. Just download the software package, use the key, and you should be good-to-go. Note that we have not personally tried this method.