Free alternatives to Photoshop
It’s hard to justify paying for photo-editing software (like Adobe Photoshop ) if you’re not a professional photographer, designer, or artist. Fortunately, there are a ton of capable, free alternatives. The list includes age-old standbys like GIMP along with relative newcomers like PicMonkey and Autodesk’s Pixlr.
Keep in mind that what we look for in a photo editor might well be different from your personal requirements. A dad photographing his kids might just want basic exposure adjustment and rudimentary red-eye removal. An artist might need extensive control over individual layers of an image. Needs vary and something as basic as Paint might be all that’s required for a simple project where more complicated tools would just get in the way.
Microsoft Paint has been included in every single version of Windows and it’s useful for dumping the contents of your clipboard, cropping an image, and for some people: drawing unbelievably realistic renditions of Santa Claus . But try to adjust contrast or sharpness and you’ll find Paint severely lacking. There’s also the noticeable absence of any sort of layer system.
Simple, clean, and easy to use. Not very useful for advanced tasks.
Despite the lackluster feature set, Paint is fast and works well for very basic tasks. The ribbon-based interface should be immediately familiar to Windows users, and the obvious tools—pencil, paint bucket, text, erase, etc.—are a cinch to manipulate.
Final Word: Paint works well for what it is. If all you need is a simple way to crop, rotate, resize, and annotate images, this should work just fine.
GIMP is the Audacity of photo editors. It’s been around forever and it’s one of the most feature-rich free photo editors available today. Unlike Paint, it’s got full layer support, a packed toolbox—with staples like the Clone Tool, Healing Tool, and a magic-wand style Fuzzy Select Tool—along with a vast library of additional plugins .
GIMP looks complicated because it is.
If anything, the sheer power of GIMP is it’s greatest downfall. As much as GIMP mimics the tried-and-true interface of Photoshop, it’s a program with a massive barrier to entry. Photoshop veterans might feel at home, but unaware users will need to spend time exploring the program to decipher icons—i.e., an X-Acto knife for the Crop Tool—and menu options.
The sheer number of file formats supported by GIMP is a huge boon. The compatible extensions include basics like PNG files and JPEGs as well as Photoshop’s own .psd extension.
Final Word: GIMP is a definite front-runner with its incredible feature set and huge user base. If you can get past the sometimes confusing interface, GIMP is a great alternative to Photoshop.
Paint.net began as a student project in 2004 at Washington State University. It has since evolved into an editor that can go toe-to-toe with GIMP and quite possibly Photoshop itself. It has full layer support and offers many of the same features that both GIMP and Photoshop users consider essential—the Clone Tool, a rudimentary Magic Wand, and all of the basics.
Yup, that's a history window. Paint.net has all of the features that most editors would consider essential in a clean interface.
Where it begins to set itself apart is its user interface. At first glance, it meshes well with the modern aesthetic of Windows 8. Individual toolbars and property windows are easily distinguishable and are relegated to distinct portions of the screen. Each is clearly labeled and only essential items are displayed onscreen by default.
The application’s only real shortcoming is that it’s got fewer features than GIMP. Paint.net’s streamlined interface comes at the cost of quite a few features that haven’t yet been implemented.
Final Word: If you value ease of use and aesthetics over raw power, Paint.net is an amazing alternative to Photoshop. It may not be as expansive as GIMP, but it’s a huge leap over Microsoft Paint.
Click through to the next page to see what we thought about Pixlr Editor, Picasa, Photoshop Express Editor, and PicMonkey.