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The best Photoshop alternatives in 2021

Photoshop alternatives: Affinity Photo
(Image credit: Affinity)

Photoshop alternatives used to be only for amateurs and hobbyists who couldn't an afford an Adobe subscription. But in recent years, that's all changed. 

The latest Photoshop alternatives are surprisingly capable. Some of them equal Adobe's software, and even improve on it. Others may be less powerful, but only a fraction of the price, or even totally free. 

In this article, we've brought together the best Photoshop alternatives available today. Note that Photoshop does a lot of things, so some of these apps are quite specific. For instance, if you primarily use Photoshop for digital painting, then Procreate or Rebelle are good choices. Or, if you want to make quick photo edits, Pixlr is a great option. 

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That said, there's only tool that replicates the majority of Photoshop features, with a similar interface and level of sophistication, and that's number one on our list, Affinity Photo. So if you seek something that feels and acts like Photoshop overall (but without the subscription), that's our top pick.

Below, we list the best photo apps and photo editing software that can rival Photoshop today. But if after seeing all these rivals, you decide you want to download Photoshop after all, check out the deal below.

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The best Photoshop alternatives 2021

(Image credit: Affinity)

01. Affinity Photo

The best Photoshop alternative overall

Specifications
Platform: Mac OS 10.9+, Windows 10+; iPad version sold separately: iOS 12+
Latest version: 1.10.1
Free trial: Yes
Free version: No
Reasons to buy
+Professional tool +Advanced features
Reasons to avoid
-No Android version -iPad version sold separately

Fully compatible with Photoshop and other file formats, Affinity Photo is the most serious of the Photoshop alternatives we've seen to date. Aimed squarely at professional photographers and designers, it's hugely cheaper than Photoshop (with no subscription). But its creators argue it's actually better.  

Affinity Photo comes with a promise of higher speeds, fewer crashes and unlimited undos. That said, 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 affordable alternative to Photoshop, Affinity Photo is definitely worth investigating. 

Photoshop alternatives: interface screenshot featuring impressionistic painting of woman's face

(Image credit: Procreate)

The best Photoshop alternative for digital painting

Specifications
Platform: iPad (iOS 13.2+), separate iPhone app (iOS 12+)
Latest version: 5X
Free trial: No
Free version: No
Reasons to buy
+Low cost +Apple Pencil support
Reasons to avoid
-iOS only-Lacks some advanced features

If it’s a painting app for iPad you’re primarily looking for, then let us point you towards 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 an Apple Design Award. 

With an easy-to-use layout, Procreate 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. 

You won't find all the features you'd expect from Photoshop 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 apps features and tools, to help get you started. Lifetime access to all this, for such a low price, begs the question, 'Why wouldn’t you?'

Photoshop alternatives: Photopea

(Image credit: Photopea)

03. Photopea

The best Photoshop alternative for editing images in the browser

Specifications
Platform: Web
Latest version: N/A
Free trial: No
Free version: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Free version+Cross-platform
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks advanced features -Ads with free version

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).

Photoshop alternatives: interface screenshot featuring male steampunk figure

(Image credit: Rebelle)

04. Rebelle

The best Photoshop alternative for emulating traditional painting

Specifications
Platform: Windows 7, 8 and 10; OS X 10.11+
Latest version: 4.1.2
Free trial: Demo version
Free version: No
Reasons to buy
+Mimics real paint+Tilt option
Reasons to avoid
-Not for mobile devices

If you’re looking for a program that provides a true-to-life painting experience, look no further than Escape Motions’ Rebelle 4. This affordable program replicates traditional painting techniques – watercolour in particular – with absolute authenticity – making it a worthy contender on our list of Photoshop alternatives.

Rebelle mimics 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 4) solved the previous issue of the limited number of brush presets – there's now more than 170 presets available. There are also new watercolour and oil effects, brush stabilisation and a bunch more brilliant updates. We're impressed.

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. 

Photoshop alternatives: ArtRage

(Image credit: ArtRage)

05. ArtRage

The best Photoshop alternative for realistic and intuitive drawing

Specifications
Platform: Mac OS X 10+, Windows 7+; separate apps for for iOS and Android
Latest version: 6
Free trial: Demo version
Free version: No
Reasons to buy
+Thick oils+Delicate watercolours
Reasons to avoid
-Not the cheapest-Mobile app sold separately

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, although you pay for those apps separately.

Photoshop alternative: Krita

(Image credit: Galaad G)

06. Krita

Great free Photoshop alternative for brush performance

Specifications
Platform: Mac, Windows, Linux
Latest version: 4.4.8
Free version : Yes
Reasons to buy
+Free+Open source+Excellent brush selection
Reasons to avoid
-Lacking photo editing features

If you're after software for digital painting, Krita is an excellent Photoshop alternative. So much so, our sister site Tech Radar voted it the best free painting software back in 2019. 

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. The brush tools, for example, are excellent (there are 100 brush types, nine brush engines, and brush stabiliser). 

The interface is very similar to Photoshop, so users familiar to Adobe's software will find this easy to master. However, as a digital painting program, Krita does lack some of the specific photo editing features of Photoshop. 

Photoshop alternatives: Sketch

07. Sketch

The best Photoshop alternative for UI and UX design

Specifications
Platform: MacOS 10.14.4+
Latest version: 77
Free trial: Yes
Free version: No
Reasons to buy
+Professional tool +Clear focus on UI design
Reasons to avoid
-Mac only-No raster editing

Sketch is a professional vector graphics app for creatives that's created enormous buzz within the design community, and web designers in particular, since its launch in 2010. 

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.

Photoshop alternatives: interface screenshot featuring illustration of woman's face

(Image credit: GIMP)

08. GIMP

The best free Photoshop alternative overall

Specifications
Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac
Latest version: 2.10.28
Free trial: No
Free version: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Free+Open source
Reasons to avoid
-Learning curve-Can be laggy

A free, open-source Photoshop alternatives pick that's been around for donkey's years, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Today it's available 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.

Photoshop alternatives: Pixelmator Pro

09. Pixelmator Pro

Image editing app for the Mac

Specifications
Platform: macOS 10.14+
Latest version: 2.0
Free trial: Yes
Free version: No
Reasons to buy
+Low cost+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Mac only-Limited features

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 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.

Photoshop alternatives: interface screenshot featuring farmhouse

(Image credit: Pixlr)

10. Pixlr

Free browser-based image editor

Specifications
Platform: Browser
Latest version: X / E / BG
Free trial: No
Free version: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Simple to use+Free
Reasons to avoid
-Limited features -Doesn’t work with TIFFs

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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