Adobe Photoshop has been the go-to photo editor for decades, and it’s easily one of the best photo editors on the market. But that doesn’t mean Photoshop is for everyone, and there is a lot of photo editing software out there that beat it in affordability or features, or just bring something new to the table.
What to Look for a Photoshop Alternative
Here are some general things to look out for when considering a different image editor. We weren’t looking for programs that perfectly match Photoshop, but they still needed to meet criteria to be worth including.
- The Features: Every person’s editing needs are different, but regardless, the program you switch to should still provide the basics, even if it’s focusing on simplicity. Most desktop photo editors feature effects, resizing, trimming, and color adjustment and are found in every program on this list. Of course, Photoshop includes a lot more than that, but those are the features a program needs to have to even be considered.
- RAW File Editing: RAW files are often used in photography since they don’t compress the quality of photos. They capture more detail, allowing for more freedom in the editing process. If you’re a photographer, you’ll definitely want the ability to edit these files, so we made sure every program on this list could handle them.
- Photoshop Compatibility: If you’ve used Photoshop for years, then chances are you have a lot of old projects you don’t want to lose. Fortunately, many high-end photo editors can accept Photoshop project files (or .PSD files), so you don’t lose any projects. We’ll make a special note of the programs that accept these files.
- Performance: When dealing with advanced features, it’s easy to bog down a computer’s performance while photo editing. This is inevitable, but we still made sure the programs we included here are optimized to cut down on performance issues.
- Platforms: Photoshop was available on Windows and macOS, along with a largely identical iPadOS version. On that note, we primarily looked for replacements on those platforms, but some of the programs here are also available on other platforms like Linux.
- Pricing: Whether it’s a one-time purchase or subscription-based like Photoshop is, you should know how much you have to dish out for your new editor. We’ll lay out everything in detail for each program, but we also have some free options here if you’re on a budget.
The Best Overall: Affinity Photo (Windows/macOS/iPadOS)
While there are certainly complaints to be made about Photoshop, at the end of the day, it’s still an excellent, all-encompassing photo editor. The program’s design makes accessing the varied tools easy, and it works great whether you’re creating compositions, tweaking a photo, or even drawing. So if you don’t want to step too far away from what makes Photoshop great, then Affinity Photo is for you.
It only takes a few minutes for a Photoshop user to get acquainted with Affinity Photo—from features to design, the programs are very similar. If Photoshop has a feature, Affinity Photo likely does as well, making it an easy choice regardless of whether you’re brand-new to photo editing or have been using Photoshop for years and don’t want to spend weeks learning a new program. You can also load Photoshop files in Affinity Photo for an even smoother transition.
Don’t let that trick you into thinking Affinity Photo is just a carbon copy either—Affinity manages to make a lot of smaller, modern touches to the program that makes it feel fresh compared to Photoshop. The UI is more colorful, there are live editing previews (so you know what a certain effect will do before using it), and even something as simple as moving an image around the canvas is smoother. Affinity Photo was released in 2015, so it has all the benefits you would expect from a more modern program while still retaining all the powerful tools found in Photoshop.
Affinity Photo’s final advantage over Photoshop is that it merely costs a one-time purchase of $49.99 instead of a subscription. That’s just for the desktop version, however—the iPadOS version only costs $19.99. You will have to pay for both individually if you require all the platforms.
A close competitor of Photoshop offering a lot of the same features without the subscription.
The Best for Windows Users: Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 (Windows)
PaintShop Pro is another advanced photo editor after Photoshop’s crown. It offers some unique features compared to the Adobe-owned giant and is built from the ground up specifically for Windows. It naturally covers the basics you’d expect and can also handle Photoshop project files. There are AI-powered editing tools, one-touch enhancements for photography, and comprehensive tools for drawing and graphic design.
PaintShop Pro offers a lot of versatility with how many tools it provides and helps ensure it can cover all of your image editing needs—regardless of whether you’re looking to dive in deep or just make some quick adjustments. Want to fine-tune an HDR photo perfectly? You can do that or just use auto-enhancements to save yourself the hassle.
There are even multiple modes built into PaintShop you can switch between for different levels of editing complexity. These change the way the program looks to limit the number of tools visible—no point in being overwhelmed by every option the program offers if you’re just doing something simple. It’s an interesting way to handle the large list of features an advanced editor like this offers and gives PaintShop a unique identity from its competitors.
PaintShop Pro 2021 costs a one-time purchase of $79.99.
PaintShop covers all your editing needs and includes some useful AI-powered tools as well.
The Best Free Option: GIMP (Windows/macOS/Linux)
The GIMP Team
GIMP is perhaps the most well-known photo editor here. GIMP is open-source, which means anyone with the technical know-how can open up its source code, modify things, and ship that out for other users. There are plenty of third-party add-ons and plugins that expand the program’s utility, but even if you don’t touch those, loads of high-end tools are still built into GIMP by default.
You can use various brushes (including custom Photoshop ones) for drawing, trim, cut, and blend photos to your heart’s content and fine-tune colors all within this one, completely free program. Its third-party support merely strengthens GIMP —it’s still an incredibly strong contender on its own. If you’re looking for an excellent, free Photoshop alternative, GIMP is the one for you.
The Best for Mac Users: Pixelmator Pro (macOS/iOS)
While many of the programs we’ve talked about are available on macOS, none of them are specifically built for it. They’ll work great on an Apple machine, sure, but at the same time, you could use Pixelmator instead, which will feel more at home within the Apple ecosystem. The design of Pixelmator is made to fit in with Apple’s aesthetic and is built to be as easy to use as possible while still retaining the powerful tools you need. From vector editing to digital painting, Pixelmator features all the image editing options you want in as concise of a way as possible.
Pixelmator Pro can handle .PSD files and costs a one-time purchase of $39.99 on macOS. The iOS version is available on iPhones and iPad, only costs $4.99, and simplifies the app’s features and design to work better on mobile devices.
A powerful photo editor built from the ground up for Mac devices.
The Best for Automation: Luminar AI (Windows/macOS)
Photo editing is time-intensive work, so why not automate it to save yourself the trouble? That’s what Luminar offers—a full suite of completely AI-powered photo editing tools. These allow you to replace the sky, fine-tune colors, and remove blemishes from a face with a single click of your mouse—and that’s only scratching the surface. This takes away some control from you regarding finer details, but the tools here still offer a good amount of customizability to personalize the edits. Whether you want to supplement your edits with automation or have Luminar do everything for you, it’s a great and very unique tool for any editor to have.
Luminar AI costs a one-time purchase of $79.99. This includes both the desktop application and plugins for Adobe Photoshop that implement many of Luminar’s features into Photoshop—the desktop application can accept .PSD files.
Automate your editing work with the powerful AI tools found in Luminar.
The Best Cross-Platform Option: Fotor (Windows/macOS/Android/iOS/Web)
Not everyone needs a fully kitted-out photo editor. If you’re a hobbyist, burdening yourself with an advanced editor can complicate your edits without bringing many benefits over something simple—this is where Fotor excels. Fotor is a mobile, web, and desktop editor with a quick UI alongside simple but powerful editing tools.
There’s a built-in background remover, one-tap enhancements, pre-made effects, and a huge collection of design templates and stock photos to further your creativity. If you want to take a more hands-on approach, there are still some in-depth tools you can mess around with to get that perfect look. It’s a fantastic tool for photographers especially, but it still has merits when creating designs and compositions.
On top of that, Fotor is available on a ton of platforms, so you’ll never be too far away from it. The features are mostly the same across different devices (notably, RAW file editing is only available on Windows and macOS), so you can easily pick up where you left off no matter what device you have with you. Regardless, whether you’re in the browser or on your phone, Fotor has some amazing editing tools on offer. Although, it lacks support for .PSD files, so if you’re coming from another editor transitioning can mean losing projects.
Fotor is free to use, but there will be ads, and you won’t have access to the background remover, beauty effects, or stock images. If you want to get rid of ads and gain access to all the tools, you’ll need Fotor Pro, which costs $8.99 a month or $39.99 a year. You need to sign up for Fotor Pro+ for the stock images, which costs $19.99 a month or $89.99 a year. These subscriptions apply to all platforms Fotor is available on, so once you start paying for one platform, the features unlock on the others as well.
A cross-platform editing app that focuses on simple but powerful tools.
The Best Web App Editor: Pixlr
As time goes on, web-based tools are becoming more and more viable, and Pixlr is a great example of this. Pixlr is a completely browser-based photo editor that syncs your work across devices and runs surprisingly smooth for what it is. Tools are as quick and responsive as you would expect from locally installed software, and while the tools aren’t as deep as more advanced editors, it’s still more than enough to create some great edits. You can also open .PSD in Pixlr, so you can safely transition from other editing tools.
Pixlr is free to use, but there will be ads, the resolution is maxed at 4096 x 4096, and the free version will lock certain advanced editing tools such as the bokeh editor away. Pixlr Premium, however, gets rid of ads, grants access to all the editing tools, and bumps the max resolution up to 8196 x 8196 for $7.99 a month or $59.00 a year.
Online photo editing has never been this feature-rich and smooth.
The Best for Drawing: Krita (Windows/macOS/Linux)
While it’s easy to focus on Photoshop’s editing tools, the program is also known for its drawing capabilities. Thanks to the great support for custom brushes in Photoshop, it’s a fantastic tool for creating digital art, but now you can switch to a program solely designed around that.
Krita is an open-source drawing program that features a customizable UI, plenty of in-depth features for drawing, painting, and even animation, and support for custom Photoshop brush files. If you use Photoshop as a drawing program, you likely have an extensive library of custom brushes you’d rather not lose, so Krita will let you continue using them without issue. On top of that, Krita has no issue handling .PSD files, so you won’t lose any of your past projects.
Thanks to being open-source, Krita also has an extensive community creating third-party add-ons and plugins to make use of. It’s also completely free, so there’s no risk in trying it out.
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Eric Schoon