Adobe Photoshop is the most widely used photo editing software today. Not only is Photoshop more expensive than most other editing programs, but it's also not the best option for everyone because it's difficult to master.
To help photographers with their editing tasks, software developers have developed alternatives to Photoshop. These options cost less and have intuitive editing tools. If you're looking for an affordable and easy-to-use alternative to Photoshop, check out our list. Our top pick, Affinity Photo, was the first to have a full-featured iPad app on top of the desktop version. Adobe is still working on finding the right one for Photoshop.
At a glance:
The best Photoshop alternative: Affinity Photo
- no subscription
- Clean design
- Easy program
- Available on the iPad
- Includes Lightroom
- Advanced features
While Adobe may be slow to update the Photoshop iPad app with the desktop app, Affinity Photo already has a full-fledged iPad version. While the user interface has been redesigned for the iPad, Affinity Photo has the same tools in the mobile app as it does on Windows and Mac. But also for photographers who do not have an iPad, Affinity Photo offers one of the longest function lists of all Photoshop alternatives.
Affinity Photo and Photoshop have a lot in common, including non-destructive layer manipulation, as well as RGB and CMYK color spaces. Right off the bat, however, there are significant differences between the programs – because while Photoshop costs $ 10 a month, Affinity Photo has a one-time fee of $ 50. That means Affinity users pay once and are done, while Photoshop users lose access to the program when they cancel their subscriptions. However, you will also be automatically kept up to date with the latest version with no additional upgrade fee. Affinity Photo's incremental updates are free, but you cannot switch from version 1.0 to 2.0.
As a newer program, Affinity Photo launched with a cleaner, more modern design – many users say the program feels more like a mobile app. Affinity Photo developers know that the program competes directly with an industry standard. Hence, the company has worked to include all of the major features that Photoshop is known for. The two programs are not the same, but Affinity Photo still includes many of the more advanced tools, like merging photos for HDR composites, panoramas, and stacking focus. Layers and masking are also an important part of Affinity.
Photoshop still has some advantages over Affinity, however. Layers are easier to resize and EXIF data can be edited first. Photoshop also offers a familiar user interface for experienced editors, a variety of tutorials, and numerous plug-ins. Probably the biggest advantage for Photoshop is the easy integration with the RAW editor and organizer Adobe Lightroom, which is included in the subscription price when you sign up for the photography plan. Affinity's parent company Serif also offers Affinity Designer and Publishers, but doesn't have a RAW management program to compete with Lightroom.
Best Free Photoshop Alternative: GNU Image Manipulation Program
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
- Easy program
- Contains most of the basic and mid-level editing controls
- Non-destructive adjustment levels
- More advanced tools
- Frequent updates
- The cost includes Lightroom and cloud storage
Although there are a handful of free Photoshop alternatives, the open source GNU Image Manipulation Program (often abbreviated as GIMP) comes closest to Photoshop's advanced tools. As an open source program, GIMP can be downloaded for free for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
GIMP has several of the same tools as Photoshop. Layer editing is possible that allows the GIMP to do more than just basic cut and color editing. Many advanced changes, such as local adjustment, error correction, and object removal, can be easily made in the open source program. While other free programs crop, recolor, and apply filters, the GIMP has enough advanced tools to be considered a true Photoshop competitor.
Of course, a free program will never meet a paid industry standard. While GIMP includes many of the most commonly used tools, it lacks some features. For example, the Healing Brush has one option while the Photoshop Brush has four options. The GIMP also doesn't have nondestructive editing of the Adjustment Layer, where changes can later be undone or changed without affecting the rest of the editing. GIMP also usually stands behind Photoshop's latest new tools. Some new options will not become available for the free program until years later. GIMP is less of a graphic design program than Photoshop – it doesn't include CMYK support, for example.
The GIMP user interface is either great or not that great, depending on how you look at it. As an open source format, the user interface is not as professional and elegant as Photoshop's. However, since there aren't that many tools, the program can feel a little less daunting, and it also offers more customization options.
GIMP can't exactly replace every Photoshop feature, but it's the open source program that comes closest to the Adobe powerhouse with a free price. For more information on how to compare, see our Photoshop vs GIMP Comparison.
A new twist on the GNU image manipulation program called Glimpse is hoping to create a friendlier version of the app with a more refined user interface (and a less potentially offensive name).
The best alternative to Photoshop and Lightroom: Corel PaintShop Pro
Corel PaintShop Pro
- Windows only
- Cheaper without a subscription
- Multiple interface modes
- More high-end tools and content-conscious tools
- More tutorials and plug-ins
- MacOS and Windows
Corel PaintShop Pro is a Photoshop alternative that is also tied to a Lightroom alternative called AfterShot Pro. Like other competitors, Corel aims to frustrate users with having to pay a monthly fee by offering a one-time price. Corel PaintShop Pro is $ 100 when used with AfterShot Pro and upgrades are $ 80 for current users. However, unlike Photoshop, PaintShop Pro is a pure Windows program.
Corel PaintShop Pro is the company's more advanced image editing program, but tries to bridge the gap between ease of use and advanced functionality with the help of an Essentials control panel. This mode is designed for beginners. However, if you need more advanced tools, you can bring them up simply by switching modes. This option makes it easier for beginners to immerse themselves in PaintShop Pro, while also providing room to grow.
PaintShop Pro 2020 adds a photo workspace with tools specific to the photo editing workflow. The update also includes the Refine Brushes option for better selection when working with composites. A new content-aware cloning tool is also part of the latest version.
Although PaintShop Pro includes a number of the same tools as Photoshop, including layer-based editing, Photoshop is still best for content-related adjustments. Photoshop has tools like Face-Aware Liquify, which, compared to Corel's Magic Fill, provide a more robust content-aware fill that can be used to fill in areas of an image based on the content around it. Adobe Camera RAW also has more tools than the RAW converter included with PaintShop. However, this isn't that big of a problem if you go for the bundle with AfterShot. However, PaintShop has a few options that aren't part of Photoshop, including bundling it with PhotoMirage to animate a still image and auto-painting to instantly convert a photo into a painting style or other artwork.
The best Photoshop alternative for ease of use: Pixelmator Pro
- MacOS only
- Simple interface
- Machine learning tools
- iCloud compatible
- Includes Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW
- Supports HDR, GIFs and Actions
- Supports CMYK
- More advanced tools
- MacOS and Windows
One of the top-rated desktop photo editors on the Mac App Store, Pixelmator Pro is a macOS-only editor billed as a set of "professional photo editing tools that anyone can use". The optimized program doesn't have all of the power of Photoshop, but it can easily stand out from other beginner-friendly editing apps. Since it was developed from the ground up for the Mac, Mac users will immediately feel at home in the simple user interface and enjoy features such as seamless integration with iCloud. And unlike Photoshop, Pixelmator Pro is only $ 40 as a one-time download.
Despite the lower price point, Pixelmator Pro still includes a variety of different photo editing tools. It covers the basics like cropping, exposure compensation, and color correction, of course, but it also includes some advanced features. Layers are included – and non-destructive – as well as brush and retouching tools, and compatibility with popular file types like PSD, PNG, HEIF, and TIFF.
Pixelmator Pro is a much younger app than Photoshop, but it regularly adds new features and extends others. Some of the latest enhancements focus on machine learning, including one tool to upscale a photo and another to remove noise.
While Pixelmator Pro is not a simplified image editing program just for beginners, Adobe Photoshop is gaining ground in some areas when it comes to performing more complex edits. Pixelmator Pro does not support creating GIFs. Although you can manually merge HDR images, there is no automatic alignment feature like in Photoshop. It also lacks some time-saving features like actions that you can use to record your workflow in Photoshop and apply it to future images.
As we've seen with many other competing models, Pixelmator Pro also lacks a Lightroom alternative that gives Photoshop another advantage. In contrast to the original PixelmatorPixelmator Pro supports working with RAW files. With the option to work with RAW files, for most users, the Pro version is likely worth the extra $ 10 and a better Photoshop alternative.
Do you really need Photoshop?
While no one can deny that Photoshop defined the photo editing game, it's no longer the only option available to image editors at all levels. Photoshop retains its title as the industry standard and often includes the most advanced features available. If you are in desperate need of most of the photo editing tools with graphic design options mixed in, Photoshop is still the one. While the subscription may be a dislike for many photographers on a budget, Photoshop comes with Lightroom for just $ 10 a month, which we think is a very fair price.
Of course, Photoshop may not be the best option for everyone, especially if you don't want to take advantage of its multitude of advanced features. If all you want to do is touch up or trim a little, there's probably no reason to pay the monthly fee to access Photoshop. Beginners are often better luck starting out with some of the simpler programs with basic editing features, as they don't need all of the advanced tools or they don't even know how to get them with Photoshop. You can always take advantage of the advanced features and invest when you have learned more and can afford the investment.
Affinity Photo is the highest-paying Photoshop alternative, and we love that it has an iPad version. PaintShop is among the best for Windows users as it also gives you a RAW processor and organizer. Pixelmator is an excellent option for macOS users who want an responsive but powerful app, while GIMP is available for Linux alongside macOS and Windows – and offers an unbeatable price.