In the analog days, working in the darkroom was as important as anything you did in the field with your camera. Today, the darkroom has moved to the computer. To be a professional photographer in the digital age, you need access to image editing software. The cream of the image-editing crop is Adobe Photoshop. However, at $700, Adobe Photoshop may be too expensive for an emerging photographer. That’s why we’ve found three free Photoshop alternatives that are nearly as robust and featured as anything from Adobe.
Pixlr is an online image editing software that you access in your browser. This is great because no matter what computer you are on, good or bad, the software should run quickly and smoothly. Pixlr comes in three flavors—Express, Advanced and Playful—that are catered to different levels of users. Pixlr is very user friendly and has an interface that mimics Photoshop’s toolbox and windows.
It has a very deep feature set that includes all of your standard image adjustments (brightness/contrast, color correction, etc), layers and layer masks, filters, and healing/clone tools. Pixlr supports many image types including JPEG, PSD, GIF, PNG, and BMP. If you are looking to edit TIFF or RAW files, look elsewhere. Its crop and resizing tool are inaccurate and don’t allow you to dial in specific sizes, which can be issue if your primary function is resizing images. It does have functionality for exporting directly to social media services such as Facebook and Flickr, a big plus.
Bottom Line: A great, lightweight option that should fill most of your image editing needs, provided you don’t need RAW or TIFF support.
When it comes to free Photoshop alternatives, GIMP is the granddaddy of them all. Developed as open source software, GIMP has been around since 1995 with developers slowly and steadily adding improvements and features as the years have gone on. It is currently available on Linux, PC and Mac OS X.
GIMP has a complete feature set that can rival even Photoshop. It has all of your brushes, layers, history, histogram, filters, clone/heal tools, and support for USB controllers and tablets. It’s a professional level application and it acts like it too. Its user interface is not the prettiest or the easiest to manage. If you know how to use it, it can do just about anything that Photoshop can.
One of GIMP’s best features is batch image manipulation, which allows you to convert a entire folder of images to a different size or file type with a click of a button. In addition, you can add various plugins to the software which add other Photoshop-like features such as RAW support.
Bottom Line: GIMP is the best of free Photoshop alternatives, provided that you can spend the time to learn how to use it.
PhotoRaster is a web application that is very similar to Pixlr. Released in 2012, it is the newest one around. As such, it is a little buggy and does not have all of the same features that GIMP or Pixlr does. PhotoRaster’s user interface is not very attractive but it is very easy to navigate and use. It similarly mimics Photoshop with a toolbox and dedicated windows for layers, history and the navigator.
There are integrated tools for layers, nondestructive editing, photo retouching, and filters. In contrast to Pixlr, PhotoRaster has more specific cropping and resizing tools that allow you to write in specific sizes, pixels and resolutions so that your image is cropped or resized perfectly every time.
It lacks some key features that GIMP and Pixlr have. such as being able to add images from the web or exporting file types other than JPEG or PNG. PhotoRaster is still a pretty new software so check up on them often as the developers plan to add new features over time.
Bottom Line: Easy to use and online only, PhotoRaster is a great Photoshop alternative, but it probably needs some time for the developers to add all the features that GIMP and Pixlr have.