Photoshop is to photo editing what Xerox is to photocopying. Beyond the professionals who use the program, the word itself has become part of the popular lexicon and is often used as a verb, as in, “Can you Photoshop this to make it look better?” More often than not, when flipping through the pages of a magazine, the images you see were once opened in Photoshop.
But while Photoshop may be the industry standard, it’s not the only serious photo editor around. Photoshop remains king for many of the most advanced uses, but programs like GIMP, Affinity Photo, PaintShop Pro, and Pixelmator can offer lower prices and simpler user interfaces — and still complete on many features.
While there are many Photoshop alternatives out there (including these free photo editing programs), the programs that can truly stand up to Photoshop alternatives aren’t basic web-based tools and include things like layers and masking. Here are the best Photoshop alternatives for the photographers looking to do more than crop and resize an image.
At a glance:
- The best Photoshop alternative: Affinity Photo
- The best free Photoshop alternative: GIMP
- The best Photoshop and Lightroom alternative: Corel PaintShop Pro
- The best Photoshop alternative for ease of use: Pixelmator Pro
- No subscription
- Clean design
- Lightweight program
- Available on iPad
- Includes Lightroom
- More advanced features
Affinity Photo and Photoshop have a lot in common, including non-destructive layer editing and both RGB and CMYK color spaces. Right off the bat, however, there are clear differences between the programs — because while Photoshop costs $10 a month, Affinity Photo is a one-time fee of $50. That means Affinity users can pay once and be done, whereas Photoshop users will lose access to the program if they cancel their subscriptions — but they are also automatically kept up to date with the latest version without any additional upgrade fee. While Affinity Photo’s incremental updates are free, moving from version 1.0 to 2.0 will not be.
As the newer program, Affinity Photo launched with a cleaner, more modern design — many users say that the program feels more like using a mobile app. Coincidentally, Affinity Photo is available for the iPad, but it does cost $20 regardless of whether or not you also buy the desktop version. Adobe says they are working on an iPad version of Photoshop, but beyond a hands-off preview of an early development build, there’s no sign of it yet.
The developers at Affinity Photo know that the program is competing directly with an industry-standard, so the company has worked to include all the major features that Photoshop is known for. The two programs aren’t identical, but Affinity Photo still includes many of the more advanced tools, like photo merging for HDR composites, panoramas, and focus stacking. Layers and masking are also a big part of the app.
Photoshop, however, still has some perks over Affinity. Color tools are more advanced, layers are more easily resized, and EXIF data can be edited, for starters. Photoshop also has a more familiar interface for experienced editors, a plethora of tutorials, and plenty of plug-ins. Likely the biggest perk 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. Serif, Affinity’s parent company, also offers Affinity Designer and Publisher, but doesn’t have a RAW management program to compete with Lightroom.
- Lightweight program
- Includes most basic and mid-level editing controls
- Non-destructive adjustment layers
- More advanced tools
- Frequent updates
- Cost includes Lightroom, cloud storage
While there are a handful of free Photoshop alternatives, the open source program GIMP comes closest to Photoshop’s advanced tools. As an open source program, GIMP is free to download for Mac, Windows and Linux.
GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, has several of the same tools as Photoshop. Layer editing is possible, which allows GIMP to do more than just a basic crop and color edit. Many advanced edits, like local adjustment, blemish corection, and object removal, can be easily tackled inside the open source program. While other free programs will crop, recolor and apply filters, GIMP offers enough advanced tools to be considered a true Photoshop competitor.
Of course, a free program is never on par with a paid industry standard. While GIMP contains most of the same most-used tools, it’s lacking a few features. The healing brush, for example, has one option where Photoshop’s brush has four. GIMP also does not have non-destructive adjustment layer editing, where the changes can be reverted or altered later without affecting the rest of the edit. GIMP also tends to be behind Photoshop’s latest new tools, with some new options not arriving to the free program to years later. GIMP also isn’t as much of a graphic design program as Photoshop — CMYK support, for example, is not included.
The GIMP user interface is either great or not so great, depending on how you look at it. As an open source format, the UI isn’t as professional and sleek as Photoshop’s. However, since there aren’t quite as many tools, the program can feel slightly less daunting, and also allows for more customization options.
GIMP can’t replace every Photoshop feature exactly, but it’s the open source program that comes the closest to the Adobe powerhouse, with a free price tag. Learn more about how it compares in our Photoshop versus GIMP comparison.
Corel PaintShop Pro
- Windows Only
- Cheaper, with no subscription
- Multiple interface modes
- More high-end tools and content-aware tools
- More tutorials and plug-ins
- MacOS and Windows
Corel PaintShop Pro is a Photoshop alternative that’s also tied to a Lightroom alternative called AfterShot Pro. Like other competitors, Corel is aiming for the users frustrated with having to pay a monthly fee by offering a one-time price. When bundled with AfterShot Pro, Corel PaintShop Pro is $100, with upgrades for current users at $80. Unlike Photoshop, however, PaintShop Pro is a Windows-only program.
Corel PaintShop Pro is the company’s more advanced photo editor, but attempts to bridge the gap between being easy to use to use and having advanced features using an Essentials panel. This mode is designed for beginners, while if you need more advanced tools, they are accessible simply by switching the mode. That option can make PaintShop Pro easier to dive into for beginners, while offering room to grow.
While PaintShop Pro contains a number of the same tools as Photoshop including layer-based editing, Photoshop is still the best for the content-aware adjustments. Photoshop has tools like the Face-Aware Liquify, while offering a more robust Content-Aware Fill over Corel’s Magic fill, which helps fill in areas of an image based on the surrounding content. Adobe Camera RAW also has more tools than the RAW converter included with PaintShop, though that’s not as much of an issue if opting for the bundle that includes AfterShot. PaintShop, however, does have some options not part of Photoshop, including being bundled with PhotoMirage to animate a still photo and auto paint to instantly convert a photo into a style of painting or other artwork.
- MacOS Only
- Simple interface
- iCloud compatible
- Includes Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW
- Supports HDR, GIFs, actions
- Supports CMYK
- More advanced tools
- MacOS and Windows
One of the top-rated desktop image editors in the Mac App Store, Pixelmator Pro is a MacOS-only editor that’s billed as a set of “professional image editing tools that anyone can use.” The streamlined program doesn’t quite have all the power of Photoshop, but easily rises above other beginner-friendly editing apps. Because it’s designed from the ground up for the Mac, Mac users will instantly feel at home inside the simple user interface while also enjoying features like seamless integration with iCloud. And unlike Photoshop, Pixelmator Pro costs just $40 as a one-time download.
Despite the lower price, Pixelmator Pro still includes a wealth of different photo editing tools. It of course covers the basics like cropping, exposure adjustments, and color correction, but also includes several more advanced features. Layers are included — and non-destructive — along with brush tools and retouching tools as well as compatibility with common file types like PSD, PNG, HEIF, and TIFF.
While Pixelmator Pro isn’t a beginners-only simplified photo editor, Adobe Photoshop still wins out in a few areas when it comes to accomplishing more complex edits. Pixelmator Pro doesn’t support creating GIFs, and while you can manually merge HDR images, there’s no auto-align feature like there is in Photoshop. A few time-saving features such as actions are also missing, which, in Photoshop, let you record your workflow and apply it to future images. And as more of a photo editor than graphic design tool, Pixelmator doesn’t support a CMYK workspace.
Like with many other competing models, Pixelmator Pro is also missing a Lightroom alternative, giving another perk to Photoshop. Unlike the original Pixelmator, Pixelmator Pro does support working with RAW files, however, which is why the Pro version is worth $10 more and is a better Photoshop alternative.
Do you really need Photoshop?
While the first and longest-standing photo and graphics program, Photoshop is no longer the only major photo editor. Photoshop maintains its title as an industry standard and, more often than not, includes the most advanced features. If you want the most photo-editing tools with graphic design options mixed in, Photoshop is still the one to beat. While the subscription is a turn-off for many, Photoshop comes bundled with Lightroom for just $10 a month, which we think is a very fair price.
That doesn’t mean Photoshop is the best photo editor for everyone, however. If you don’t need to do much beyond crop, correct colors, and adjust a few blemishes, you can save a ton of cash by opting for a Photoshop alternative. Other programs are often easier to learn, because when you ditch the more advanced tools, the program feels less daunting. Affinity Photo is the best paid Photoshop alternative, and we particularly like that it has an iPad version. PaintShop is among the best for Windows users that also need a RAW processor and organizer. Pixelmator is an excellent option for MacOS users who wants an approachable but powerful app, while GIMP is available for Linux in addition to MacOS and Windows — and carries an unbeatable price.