While many professionals swear by Adobe’s photo editing tools, others find it a bit overkill, either in terms of usability and interface or price. Ever since Adobe moved to a subscription model, it can cost between $10 and $20 per month to use Photoshop or Adobe’s other photo editing apps. And like other subscription services, you don’t get to keep the software, so if you want to edit a .PSD you created after your subscription ends, you’ll have to re-up.
Suffice to say, Adobe’s tactics have left some looking for an alternative, and we have a pretty thorough list to check out. Some are free, others are online-only, there are some multiplatform choices and platform exclusive options as well, so take a read-through and try some of these useful photo editing tools.
Multiplatform and Web-based
It’s customary to cringe at the name of this multi-platform application, which is an acronym for the “GNU Image Manipulation Program.” Look past the name, and there’s a lot to like here.
Available on Windows, Linux, and macOS, GIMP is a free photo editing tool with the ability to have masks, layers, color adjustments, and a huge library of plug-ins. There’s also a fairly large community of users, and thorough documentation making it a good tool for power users and photo enthusiasts.
Krita is an open-source application ideal for content creation, illustrations, painting, sketching, comic books, concept art and more. Available on Mac, Windows and Linux, Krita has a ton of features that should appeal to pros, like brush stabilization, extensive brush customization, HDR painting and animation.
Frequently updated, Krita supports multiple monitors and tablet inputs. The app has recently been offered on the Epic Games Store too, increasing its audience. It’s also stable enough for prolonged use. Many users install Krita alongside GIMP to provide a powerful but free suite of software that covers all their image editing and creation needs.
Darktable is a suitable option for those looking to edit and export RAW files. Like GIMP, it’s free, but it’s not as powerful. Darktable is more of a Lightroom competitor as it focuses on non-destructive editing over other photo manipulation, but for many photographers, it may do the trick.
There’s also a great photo organization tool included in Darktable. The RAW photo processing is robust, and there are lots of controls to adjust photos, but there are some complaints about the stability and speed of the program. Some may be able to overlook those issues considering the price tag.
A lightweight online photo editor that may be better suited for those on devices with limited storage. PhotoPea runs completely in your browser, and according to the documentation, doesn’t upload anything so you can load Photopea.com, disconnect from the internet and keep using it offline.
Photopea is great at resizing images and adjusting colors, but can also be used to work with vector graphics, creating illustrations, and more. It has support for most graphic formats including PSDs which is extra handy. Those used to Photoshop should find themselves in familiar territory with Photopea, as it supports layers, masks, brush tools, guides, scripts, and even animation tools. While a premium account is offered, it just removes ads and increases the history steps to 60 rather than 30 in the free version. Critically, PhotoPea isn’t the most stable and can take a while to process some actions.
Pixlr X and E
Pixlr was introduced back in 2008, was then acquired by Autodesk, who was then picked up by stock photo company 123RF. Pixlr comes in a few different forms, including two browser-based options (X and E), a mobile app, and a desktop app for Windows and macOS. Pixlr also offers a dedicated app that just removes backgrounds.
Pixlr X is meant to be the easier application, for one-click effects and touch-ups, while Pixlr E is the more advanced application. Both are free with ads, but there are premium subscription models available that provide more templates and other creative assets, as well as support for larger images.
Canva is another browser-based photo editor, with a slightly more modern design and layout when compared to Photopea. While Canva features photo editing, it’s also a pretty robust application for content creation and has plenty of assets to make fun images and designs.
Furthermore, Canva has publishing tools to help you export your creations directly to a social media platform or website. Free with no ads, and 5 GB of cloud storage, Canva offers a paid Pro subscription and an Enterprise plan which adds more designs, templates, stock photos, and other assets, as well as one-touch, resize features and additional cloud storage.
Affinity Photo is considered a lighter but robust and up-to-date alternative to Photoshop. It features a significant number of tools to help with photo editing, retouching, compilation, and content creation. It supports the latest Macs with M1 processors, and includes DirectX 12 GPU acceleration on Windows, ensuring speedy performance.
Windows only Apps
PaintShop Pro 2021
Originally published by Jasc Software back in the 90s, PaintShop Pro is now a part of the Corel graphics suite. PaintShop Pro has always been a reasonable alternative to Photoshop, and that continues today. One advantage here is that, unlike Photoshop and Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you just need to purchase PaintShop Pro once, rather than subscribe.
It has support for a long list of file formats including Adobe’s PSD and others and allows for editing of RAW images as well. PaintShop Pro offers a few AI tools to stylize photos, reduce noise and artifacts and upsample images.
Paint.NET is a free graphics editor that allows for photo editing, manipulation, adjustments and even includes some drawing tools. There’s a large community of users, a busy online forum, a robust amount of tutorials, and even plug-in support behind it.
For Apple users
Pixelmator Pro 2.0
Mac users who want an alternative to Photoshop and photo editing tools may be impressed with Pixelmator Pro, which is pretty affordable and offers plenty of features to help perfect a photo or image. Pixelmator Pro includes illustration tools so you can create content, in addition to manipulation and editing images. You will find color adjustments with varied presets, ML tools for editing and upscaling images, support for M1 Macs for killer performance, to name just a few.
Still want to give Adobe a chance?
Those feeling burned by Adobe’s creative cloud subscription service, may want to opt for Photoshop Elements, which is a slightly pared down version of Photoshop, but is still very powerful when it comes to image editing, and adjustments. The latest versions of Photoshop Elements include AI enhanced features, clever object removal, and even a meme generation tool and easy way to create animated gifs. All without the subscription price of Photoshop.