The best Photoshop alternatives are no longer merely poor imitations of Adobe's industry-leading image manipulation program. They're becoming more sophisticated, and in 2022, some not only come close to matching Photoshop for many uses, but they also offer unique features of their own.
Of course, some do remain significantly less powerful than Photoshop, but even these have their place since they're usually a lot cheaper (sometimes even free). And after all, many people simply don't need all of the features that Photoshop offers, particularly if it's only to edit photos rather than make more advanced manipulations.
It's worth remembering that Photoshop is a lot more than a photo-editing program. It allows you to create original digital art and totally transform images with wholesale manipulations and compositions. In this guide, we'll focus on tools that offer those kinds of functionalities. If what you're looking more for a tool to edit photos without making such transformations, see our guide to the best photo editing software.
In the guide below, we've made a pick of the best Photoshop alternatives mainly based on our hands-on reviews. We've evaluated them for features, ease of use, and of course value for money. See our how we test software guide for more info. Photoshop is only available on a subscription, whereas most of the best Photoshop alternatives below can be purchased for a one-off fee, and some are free.
Some of these programs are available for mobile, but we also have a guide to the best photo apps if that's specifically what you're looking for. And if do decide that you need the rich industry-standard features offered by Photoshop, make sure you see our guide on how to download Photoshop or click on the link below to start a free trial.
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The best Photoshop alternatives available now
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From its interface to its range of features, Affinity Photo is the closest thing to Photoshop that we've seen yet. Aimed squarely at professional photographers and designers, it's fully compatible with Photoshop and other file formats. It also works out a lot cheaper than Photoshop in the long-run since you can buy it for a one-off cost rather than an ongoing subscription).
When we reviewed it, we also found Affinity Photo to be less demanding on hardware than Photoshop, although that may depend on what equipment you're using (it's been specifically designed to take advantage of the latest quad-core technology). It doesn't offer all the features of Photoshop, particularly in terms of features like neural filters, but there is still a lot to impress. We found the Personas – customised toolsets for different jobs – to be particularly handy.
Affinity Photo is available for both Mac and Windows, and there's a separate version for iPad. If you're looking for an affordable alternative to Photoshop, Affinity Photo is definitely worth investigating.
See our full Affinity Photo review for more details.
If it’s a painting app for iPad you’re looking for, we highly rate Procreate. What started out as a basic drawing app back in 2010 has transformed over the years into a highly professional tool; so much so, it's even bagged itself a couple of Apple Design Awards.
Our testing found that the easy-to-use layout is packed with features artists will love, from true-to-life pencils and inks to advanced layer compositing and unique digital tools. 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 since 2019, there's been a dedicated iPhone version named Procreate Pocket. In November, the 5.2 update introduced some fantastic new tools, including 3D model painting, stroke stabilisation, page assist, and the ability to view 3D models in AR (see our reviewer using the tools in the photo above).
You won't find all the features you'd expect from Photoshop for editing photos here, 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 app's features and tools, to help get you started.
For more information, read our complete Procreate review.
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. Photopea, which runs in the browser, is a case in point.
Designed to be an advanced editor with pro tools, it 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.
On the downside, it comes with ads, although paying for the premium version gets rid of them, and gives you extra levels of undo (60 rather than 30).
If you’re looking for a program that provides a true-to-life painting experience, look no further than Escape Motions’ Rebelle. This affordable program replicates traditional painting techniques – watercolour in particular – with absolute authenticity – making it a worthy contender on our list of Photoshop alternatives.
Our review found that Rebelle does exceptionally well at mimicking the way paint behaves in the real world, enabling you to simulate a drop of colour being blown and running in different directions. You can also specify the blow length, drip size and the amount of water you ‘use’ with your paints, while the Tilt option lets your colours run in any direction you choose.
The latest update, Rebelle 5, released last December, features a ton of advanced new features. These include pigment colour mixing, enabling you to paint with traditional pigments like cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson, ultramarine, and others; real-time zoom and the export of large canvases with sharp details; a Photoshop plugin; Express Oils, a new tool designed for concept art, sketching, and designing; life-like granulation effects; and time-lapse video recording of your painting process.
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.
See our Rebelle 6 review for all the details.
ArtRage is another great option for those looking for digital painting that can pass for the real thing. It offers realistic oils, pencils, watercolour, canvas textures and other traditional media painting tools, many of which are fully customisable, replicating an old-school art studio in digital form.
Its makers say that ArtRage is "a canvas for thick, expressive oils and delicate watercolors, a sketchpad with a full set of pencils, and a sheet of paper with a stack of wax crayons all in one."
2021 saw the release of the latest version, Vitae for Windows and macOS. We found highlights include being able to virtually smear and blend thick oils to create natural colour gradients; sketch with pencils and shade with the edge of the tip; and create delicate watercolor strokes that react to canvas texture. Like most visual editing software, there are layers, blend modes, guides, grids, and perspective layout tools, and you can also use photos as references if you choose.
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, although you pay for those apps separately.
Check out our Artrage 5 review to find out more.
If you're after free software for digital painting, Krita is an excellent Photoshop alternative. As an open source program, it's been created by artists who want to give others access to quality, affordable software. And they've focused on tools they know artists want and need. When we reviewed it, we were particularly impressed by the brush tools – there are 100 brush types, nine brush engines, and a brush stabiliser.
The latest version, Krita 5, fixes many previous bugs with tagging and loading resources as well as a handful of UI problems. It also makes the software faster and improves the gradient tools.
The interface is very similar to Photoshop, so users familiar to Adobe's software will find this easy to master. However, our test found that as a digital painting program, Krita does lack some of the specific photo editing features of Photoshop. For more details, see our full Krita 5.0 review and our roundup of Krita tutorials.
Sketch is a professional vector graphics app for creatives that's created a huge buzz within the design community, and among web designers in particular, since its launch in 2010. It's very flexible, supporting infinite zooming and vector shapes for multiple resolutions. You can build a new graphic from primitive shapes, or start a new one with the Vector or Pencil tool.
We've found Sketch to have a pleasingly simple UI and many features similar to those 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.
2021 saw a flurry of new features added to Sketch. These include improvements to real-time collaboration; in particular, developers can now view, inspect, and measure designs in any browser, on any operating system, all for free. Also, new document permissions allow designers to limit who can edit specific designs.
More broadly, new math operations make editing faster and easier, while Linked Data allows users to create better mock-ups and prototypes with real images and information that relate to their designs. For more details, see our Sketch 2021 review.
A free, open-source Photoshop alternative, the amusingly named GIMP has been around for years (the name stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, if you're wondering). Today it's available for Linux, Windows and Mac.
We think 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. Our testing concluded that the interface differs somewhat from Photoshop, but there is a version available that mimics Adobe's look and feel, making it easier to migrate over if you're ditching Photoshop.
The full suite of tools includes painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement. We find it ensures good compatibility too, so you'll be able to work with all the most popular file formats. You'll also find a very capable file manager built in, along similar lines to Adobe's Bridge.
As open source software, GIMP is constantly being improved. In December 2021, PSD support received various types of improvements. So if you tried GIMP before and didn't like it, it may be worth taking a second look. See our full GIMP review for more details.
Pixelmator Pro is a kind of Photoshop-lite tool for Mac only, bringing together a photo editor, illustration and painting tool in one place. It offers non-destructive image editing, and supports features like tabs, fullscreen and split view.
The interface is nicely minimalist and so won't be confusing for newbies. Plus there's a great 'hidden interface' option you can activate if you just want to see your image, with no distractions. This Photoshop alternative is fairly limited on features compared with the original. But our Pixelmator review found it's cheap, light, fast and fun to use, so if you just need to do basic Photoshop-like things every now and again, it might be just up your street.
An update in November 2021 introduced a Magic Background Eraser tool, allowing you to remove the background from any image with just a click, and a Select and Mask Tool, that lets you easily make advanced selections of challenging image areas such as hair or fur. Since then, Pixelmator Pro 2.4 Odesa, released in April 2022, introduced support for Apple's M1 Ultra chip for the Mac Studio. Note that there are also slimmed-down apps for iPhone and iPad called Pixelmator and Pixelmator Photo.
Pixlr is a suite of three tools that work in the browser and via iOS and Android apps. The first is Pixlr X: a photo editing tool that's great for giving your work a quick boost with one-click edits and artistic effects. If you're used to using Photoshop, you'll find its interface easy to pick up quickly, as it's very similar.
Pixlr E is a more substantial image editing app, with collection of useful editing tools. Finally, Pixlr BG is an AI-powered tool focused on one thing: removing backgrounds from photos. All three apps are free to use, with premium versions available to unlock advanced features.
Parts of this article were originally published in ImagineFX, the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists. Subscribe to ImagineFX.
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