There are loads of reasons you might be searching for alternatives to Photoshop. Maybe you can't afford the pricey subscription, or want to support smaller development houses. Or, maybe you don't need the millions of features that come with Photoshop.
Photoshop is such a powerful brand that, like Google, it's become a verb. We no longer edit images, we Photoshop them. This is all great PR for Adobe, but it might make you believe that no other software could possibly do as good a job.
These alternatives to Photoshop, however can be just as powerful, and still produce super-professional results. For even more options, see our list of photo apps and photo editing software.
Digital painting app for iPad.
Platform: iPad (iOS 13.2+), separate iPhone app (iOS 12+) | Latest version: 5.0 | Free trial: No | Free version: No
If it’s a painting app for iPad you’re after, you’d be hard pushed to find better performance and value than Procreate. What first started out as a basic drawing app back in 2010, has transformed over the years into a highly professional tool – so much so that it even bagged itself an Apple Design Award back in 2013.
With an easy-to-use layout, Procreate is packed with features artists will love, from true-to-life pencils, inks and brushes, to advanced layer compositing and unique digital tools to help realise your creative visions. Added palm support means you no longer have to worry about accidentally drawing over your canvas, and an ever-growing library of Procreate brushes will help you add flair to your artwork.
Procreate has full support for both first- and second-generation Apple Pencils (depending on your iPad model). And last year, users welcomed a long-awaited new Text tool with open arms. 2019 also marked the release of a dedicated iPhone version of the painting app too, aptly named Procreate Pocket. You won't find all the features you'd expect from Photoshop here, of course, but for digital painting specifically, you'll have at least most of what you need.
There’s a free handbook on the Procreate website, featuring an overview of all the apps features and tools, to help get you started. Lifetime access to this all for under £10 begs the question, 'Why wouldn’t you?'
Emulate traditional painting techniques.
Platform: Windows 7, 8 and 10; OS X 10.11+ | Latest version: 3 | Free trial: Demo version | Free version: No
If you’re looking for a program that provides a true-to-life painting experience, look no further than Escape Motions’ Rebelle. This excellent, affordable program replicates traditional painting techniques – watercolour in particular – with absolute authenticity.
Rebelle mimics the way paint behaves in the real world, enabling the users to simulate a drop of colour being blown and running in different directions. You can specify blow length, drip size and the amount of water you ‘use’ with your paints. Meanwhile, the Tilt option makes it possible to let your colours run in whichever direction you choose.
If there’s one slight drawback with Rebelle, it’s the limited number of brush presets you’ll find included. However, the option to create your own is available, with a built-in Brush Creator tool to help making them a cinch.
A highly professional painting software package, Escape Motions is keen to keep the focus of Rebelle on traditional media and the best way to present it in the digital realm. And we have to say it’s doing a darn fine job.
Realistic and intuitive drawing software.
Platform: Mac OS X 10+, Windows 7+; separate apps for for iOS and Android | Latest version: 6 | Free trial: Demo version | Free version: No
ArtRage is designed to ensure artists can focus on their creativity. It offers realistic oils, pencils, watercolour, canvas textures and other traditional media painting tools, many of which are fully customisable.
The program’s minimalistic interface disappears when you start painting near it and returns as soon as you finish. Popular tools are immediately visible, with other less-frequently used features concealed in pods to avoid taking up space. A small workflow issue crops up in the program’s multiple ways to resize a brush, but this is by no means a deal breaker.
If you’re new to digital painting and looking for an affordable, intuitive program, ArtRage is an option seriously worth considering. The software is also available for iOS and Android, priced at just £4.
04. Affinity Photo
Direct rival to Photoshop, matching most features
Platform: Mac OS 10.9+, Windows 7+; iPad version sold separately: iOS 12+ | Latest version: 1.8.3 | Free trial: Yes | Free version: No
Fully compatible with Photoshop and other file formats, Affinity Photo is aimed squarely at professional photographers and designers, and although it is hugely cheaper than Photoshop (with no subscription), its creators argue it's actually better. We think it's perhaps the most serious Photoshop alternative we've seen to date.
It comes with a promise of higher speeds, fewer crashes and unlimited undos but 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).
Affinity Photo is available for both Mac and Windows, and there's a separate version for iPad. If you're looking for an alternative to Photoshop, Affinity Photo is definitely worth investigating.
Free web-based image editor
Platform: Web | Latest version: N/A | Free trial: No | Free version: Yes
Thanks to continual advances in web technology you don't always need a discrete app to do much of what you'd use Photoshop for, and Photopea is the latest browser-based image editor that can handle a decent chunk of your workflow.
Designed to be an advanced editor with pro tools, Photopea bears a distinct resemblance to Photoshop and features most of the tools you'll need for everyday image work. It'll open most standard file formats such as JPG, PNG and RAW, and it'll accept Sketch, GIMP and even Photoshop PSD files.
Photopea supports layers and layer masks, lets you use blend modes and features a stack of selection tools, from standard marquees through to a magnetic lasso and a quick selection tool. While it doesn't offer the sort of advanced features you'd expect in Photoshop such as content-aware fill, it still has a more than enough going on to keep most designers and artists happy, and it's completely free to use.
However if you don't like ads, there's also the option to subscribe to a premium version which gets rid of them and also gives you extra levels of undo: 60 rather than 30.
Popular tool for UI and UX design
Platform: MacOS 10.14.4+ | Latest version: 66.1 | Free trial: Yes | Free version: No
Sketch is a professional vector graphics app for creatives that has created enormous buzz within the design community, and web designers in particular.
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.
It has a pleasingly simple UI and 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.
Veteran open source image editor.
Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac | Latest version: 2.10.18 | Free trial: No | Free version: Yes
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.
08. Pixelmator Pro
Image editing app for the Mac.
Platform: macOS 10.13+ | Latest version: 1.6.4 | Free trial: Yes | Free version: No
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.
Free browser-based image editor.
Platform: Browser | Latest version: X | Free trial: No | Free version: Yes
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.
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.
10. Corel PHOTO-PAINT
Professional image editor for Windows.
Platform: Windows | Latest version: 2020 | Free trial: Yes | Free version: No
PHOTO-PAINT is a dedicated photo editor in the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. The suite has been updated for 2020, with a slick app for creating on-the-go, improved collaboration features and all the professional vector illustration, layout, photo editing and typography tools you need.
The suite is geared up to work perfectly with Windows 10, offering multi-monitor viewing and support for 4K displays.
Open source image editor for Windows
Platform: Windows | Latest version: 4.2.12 | Free trial: Yes | Free version: Yes
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 via Getpaint.net (there's also a paid-for version in the Windows store).
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.
Lightweight browser-based image editor
Platform: Browser | Latest version: N/A | Free trial: No | Free version: Yes
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.
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 re-editing.
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, especially in the free version.
Budget image editor for Mac.
Platform: MacOS 10.11 | Latest version: 6.6 | Free trial: Yes | Free version: No
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)
Parts of this article were originally published in ImagineFX, the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists. Subscribe to ImagineFX.