PhotoshopFeature

The 10 best alternatives to Photoshop

Photoshop's not the only image editor on the market. We round up the best alternatives to Adobe’s software.

Photoshop has become so pervasive in the last few years that, like Google, it's become a verb: 'to Photoshop' has became shorthand in common parlance for editing an image. Which might give the impression that Adobe's got the market sewn up - but that's not actually the case.

There are a wide range of very capable alternatives to Photoshop just waiting for you to discover. Whether you're looking elsewhere because you can't justify the hefty standalone price tag, or you want to support smaller development houses, or you just don't need all the bells and whistles that come with the latest version of Photoshop, we've got you covered. Check out our selection below, and let us know in the comments if we've missed your favourite Photoshop alternative!

01. Pixlr

Pixlr comes with more than 600 effects
  • Platform: iOS, Android
  • Price: Free

Pixlr claims to be "the most popular online photo editor in the world", which may have something to do with the fact that it's free.

But it also boasts more than 600 effects, overlays, and borders and lets you do all the main things you'd expect from a 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.

02. Serif PhotoPlus X6

PhotoPlus X6 explicity sets out to recreate Photoshop's functionality
  • Platform: Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP
  • Price: $89.99/£71.48

Of all the tools featured in this list, PhotoPlus X6 is perhaps the most direct competitor to Photoshop in terms of trying to replicate the different tools in Adobe's software for the PC at a lower price.

It's definitely a case of getting what you pay for. To be frank, the tool can be tricky for beginners to use, and lacks the slickness and reliability of its big-bucks competitor.

But in the right hands it's possible to create quality work with PhotoPlus X6, and at under $90 it represents a huge saving on buying Photoshop CS6 or subscribing to Photoshop CC.

03. Aperture

 Aperture
If you're a photographer, Aperture is a brilliant, budget alternative to Photoshop
  • Platform: Mac
  • Price: $79.99/£54.99

If you're a photographer, Apple's Aperture is a brilliant alternative to Photoshop. While full of familiar features to Adobe's image editing software, Aperture lacks all the other features - animation, 3D, web, etc - the average photographer never uses, making it much simpler to use. It's packed with innovative adjustment and enhancement tools to refine images, including Auto White Balance that uses skin tones to correct color casts, and a professional Auto Enhance that applies Exposure, Vibrancy, Curves, and more with a single click.

The software also includes a set of brushes for painting image adjustments on to images and dozens of ready-to-use professional photo fffects

04. Acorn

 Acorn
Acorn's new update includes the addition of non-destructive filters
  • Platform: Mac
  • Price: $49.99/£34.99

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 latest version, Acorn 4, was released recently, the update adding improved speed, an enhanced UI and more. One of the most sought after improvements was the addition of non-destructive filters, which includes includes a great interface to chain filters together to create unique effects. You can even save and modify your filters after you've closed and re-opened your Acorn image.

05. Sketch

 Sketch
Sketch includes tools similar to that of Photoshop and Illustrator at a fraction of the price
  • Platform: Mac
  • Price: $49.99/£34.99

Described on its site as 'The Designer's Toolbox', Sketch by Bohemian Coding is a professional vector graphics app for creatives. With a simple UI, Sketch has many features similar to that of Photoshop and Illustrator, including layers, gradients, colour picker and style presets.

Aware of the growing popularity of Retina displays and mobile devices, 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.

A budget alternative, Sketch comes in at just under $50. However, if you're not sure about switching, take advantage of the trial version on offer and try before you buy. 

06. GIMP

 GIMP
GIMP is a popular, free alternative to Photoshop
  • Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac
  • Price: Free

An open-source alternative to Photoshop that debuted on Unix-based platforms, 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 alternative 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.

Full suite of tools

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.

07. PaintShop Pro X6

 PaintShop Pro
PaintShop Pro: a Photoshop alternative that benefits from a streamlined and slick interface
  • Platform: Windows
  • Price: £59.99

Brought to you by the same software house that produces Painter, Paintshop Pro is a long-standing alternative to Photoshop that offers a huge range of photo-editing and graphics creation tools. The latest version features a streamlined and slick interface with a focus on photography.

Naturally there's support for layers here, and a complete suite of tools for editing, colour correcting, cloning and 'makeover' of photos, but you'll also find sophisticated art media tools with realistic brush effects and a range of vector options.

Additionally, Paintshop Pro supports Photoshop brushes, allowing you to considerably extend the built-in library of tools.

Price drop

Paintshop Pro has always been a viable and very capable alternative to Photoshop. With the price having dropped over the years to its current level, it's a very tempting alternative if you're Windows-based.

There's also an Ultimate version which costs an extra few pounds, but bundles in additional filters, brushes, and royalty-free images.

08. Paint.net

 Paint.net
For photo editing, free Windows tool Paint.net is an excellent alternative to Photoshop
  • 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, as 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.

Ease of use

The focus is on ease of use, and there's a definite tendancy 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.

09. Sumopaint

 Sumopaint
Sumopaint works in the browser, and requires Adobe Flash to use
  • Platform: Web browser (requires Adobe Flash Player)
  • Price: Free for basic online version, $19 for pro version with offline app

Sumopaint is a highly capable browser-based image editor. All the standard features you'd expect from a desktop tool are present and correct (and by buying the Pro version for $19 you can install a desktop version of the app if you prefer).

You need the Adobe Flash Player to use this tool, so you're not going be using Sumopaint on your iPad. That said, it's lightweight and quick to load, and the free version is very usable.

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.

RGB only

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.

The most important of these is that the editor appears to be RGB only, limiting its use to screen-destined artwork only. No CMYK, Lab or other colour models to be found here.

10. Pixelmator

 Pixelmator
Workflow is often much quicker using Mac tool Pixelmator than Photoshop
  • Platform: Mac
  • Price: $14.99/£10.49

Pixelmator uses Mac OS X libraries to create fast, powerful image editing tools.

As it's built on Mac technologies, it's not available for Windows or Linux, but it does allow the software to integrate seamlessly with the likes of iPhoto and Aperture, as well as iCloud. There are also built-in export tools for Facebook and Flickr.

There are a wide range of tools available within Pixelmator that allow you to paint, draw accurately, and retouch images.

Colour correction

Colour correction tools such as Hue/Saturation, Shadows/Highlights and Contrast are all present and correct - so the vast majority of operations you'd use Photoshop for are all possible.

Indeed, in many cases the same workflow is substantially quicker in Pixelmator than Photoshop, demonstrating the benefits of limiting to and optimising the software for one platform.

Filters and formats

Like Photoshop, Pixelmator supports filters and comes with a collection of 150 to play with. You can also open and save images in many of the popular formats, including PSD, TIFF, PDF, and PNG.

When saving or opening Photoshop documents, layers are preserved allowing you to collaborate effectively with colleagues using Adobe's software.

Words: Sam Hampton-Smith

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Did we miss your favourite image editing tool? Or will you always prefer Photoshop? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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