Adobe Photoshop has been considered the must-have graphics software for professional digital creatives for decades. It is to image editing what Google is to online search: way back in 2008, Merriam-Webster added the verb ‘to photoshop’ to its dictionary (meaning to alter an image digitally).
Its popularity as a professional tool lies in its powerful features and multi-functionality. Its slightly less popular attributes are its steep learning curve — you can do the basics pretty quickly, but getting the most out of it can take a while — and its price.
Photoshop wears several hats, but what if you only need one or two of them and don’t want to pay for the others? If you don’t actually need every feature Photoshop boasts (and almost no one needs all of them) then there are some very attractive alternatives.
3 Alternatives to Photoshop’s Photo Editing
First up, Photoshop’s flagship feature: Photo editing.
Photo editing revolves around perfecting images, from subtle touch-ups to dramatic transformations. A competent photo editor should offer tools for color correction, retouching, cropping, and exposure adjustments. Layers and masks are essential for non-destructive editing, allowing for changes without altering the original image.
In Photoshop, features like the Healing Brush and Content-Aware Fill particularly stand out, enabling users to seamlessly fix imperfections or remove unwanted elements. However, as good as Photoshop is, there are specialized alternatives that may cater more directly to photographers.
Another of Adobe’s own apps, Lightroom, is optimized for photographers. Unlike Photoshop, which excels in detailed image manipulation, Lightroom provides a more straightforward approach to color correction, exposure adjustments, and photo cataloging.
Its non-destructive editing allows for revisiting adjustments without compromising the original. Lightroom offers a sleek workflow for photographers looking to enhance and organize large batches of images seamlessly. It is worth noting that Lightroom is cloud-based, so it is easy to work with across devices.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, iOS, iPadOS, Android
Capture One Pro
Capture One Pro is distinguished by its superior color grading and tethering capabilities, making it a favorite among professional photographers. The software’s advanced color correction tools allow for nuanced adjustments, resulting in vibrant and lifelike images.
Moreover, its tethering feature ensures immediate, high-quality previews during studio shoots, enhancing the photographer’s control over the outcome. With a meticulously designed interface and a focus on image quality, Capture One Pro delivers a refined photo editing experience with precision and detail.
Platforms: macOS, Windows
DxO PhotoLab excels in offering automatic optical corrections, leveraging detailed lab data from thousands of camera-lens combinations. Its ClearView Plus technology stands out, effectively reducing atmospheric haze and rendering images with unmatched clarity.
Additionally, the software’s Prime Noise Reduction tool is highly regarded for its ability to enhance low-light shots without compromising on detail. In the realm of image quality enhancement, DxO PhotoLab has positioned itself as a leader, turning good photos into exceptional ones with minimal effort.
Platforms: macOS, Windows
4 Alternatives to Photoshop’s Image Manipulation
Image manipulation extends beyond photo corrections. While photo editors are aimed primarily at photographers, this branch of graphics work requires a skillset all of its own, somewhere between photographer and painter. It involves complex compositions, blending, and manipulation.
An effective image editor must provide tools for layer management, precise selection, filters, and blending modes, enabling users to craft unique visuals.
Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool and Layer Styles are particularly noteworthy, allowing for fast selections and diverse layer effects, respectively. While Photoshop’s prowess in this arena is undeniable, various other software options are definitely catching up.
Affinity Photo has rapidly gained traction as a comprehensive image editor, rivaling Photoshop in many areas. Particularly strong in non-destructive editing, it offers real-time performance and a user-friendly interface. With features like live filters and advanced selection refinement, Affinity Photo streamlines image manipulation.
With a one-time purchase model and an array of impressive features, Affinity Photo offers a comprehensive solution for those seeking a professional-grade image editing application.
Platforms: macOS, Windows and iPadOS
PaintShop Pro Ultimate
PaintShop Pro Ultimate is a dedicated image editor equipped with sophisticated tools, albeit for Windows users only. Its AI-driven features streamline tasks such as photo retouching and color correction, delivering professional-quality results.
The software’s intricate layer system offers users flexibility in composing and managing edits. With a host of brushes, textures, and customizable settings, PaintShop Pro Ultimate ensures precise image manipulation, positioning it as a good choice for Windows-based designers.
Corel Photo-Paint — part of Corel’s Graphics Suite — is a formidable player in the image editing arena. Its standout features, such as the Cutout Lab and Object Docker, provide precision in isolating and manipulating image elements.
Paired with a powerful layer system and an extensive collection of brushes and effects, the software allows for intricate adjustments and creative experimentation. Corel Photo-Paint ensures a seamless blend of advanced tools and user-friendly interfaces, making detailed image manipulation both accessible and effective.
The downside is that the full version is only available as part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite.
Platforms: macOS, windows
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free, open-source image editor. Renowned for its flexibility, GIMP offers a suite of tools that rival many premium software options. With features like customizable brushes, advanced layering, and a plethora of filters and plugins, it provides a versatile platform for photo retouching, composition, and more.
Particularly commendable is GIMP’s adaptability, allowing users to extend its capabilities through various plugins and scripts, ensuring a tailored editing experience.
Platform: macOS, Windows, Linux
4 Alternatives to Photoshop’s Digital Painting
Digital drawing and painting require a toolset that mimics the natural feel of brushes, pencils, and other traditional mediums. A top-tier application should offer pressure sensitivity, customizable brushes, blending tools, and layering capabilities for artists to realize their vision.
Photoshop’s Brush Engine stands out, allowing artists to craft custom brushes and simulate real-world artistry. But while Photoshop offers a comprehensive palette, specialized drawing, and painting apps have the freedom to create a user experience tailored specifically to artists.
Procreate, designed exclusively for the iPad, offers a tactile experience for digital artists. Its high-resolution canvases, intuitive gesture controls, and vast brush library make it a favorite among illustrators.
While Photoshop provides a broader set of image editing tools, Procreate shines in its focused approach to digital drawing and painting. The app’s touch-centric interface leverages the iPad’s capabilities, enabling artists to craft detailed artwork with a natural feel. For those seeking a mobile, artist-friendly platform, Procreate is a top contender.
Krita has emerged as a leading free, open-source digital painting tool loved by many illustrators and concept artists. One of its standout features is the Brush Engine, allowing users to customize and craft brushes to suit any artistic need.
Krita’s wrap-around mode makes creating seamless textures a breeze. With a UI designed by artists for artists, it offers a suite of tools that cater specifically to digital painting, setting it apart from other general-purpose graphic software.
And it’s free.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, Linux
ArtRage brings the tactile essence of traditional media to the digital realm. It stands out with its unique tools that mimic real-life painting and drawing techniques, from oil brushes to watercolors. The intuitive interface and real-world color blending give artists the sensation of working on a physical canvas.
ArtRage excels in simulating the nuances of paint texture, thickness, and wetness, allowing digital artists to capture the organic feel of traditional painting while enjoying the advantages of a digital workspace.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, iOS, Android
Clip Studio Paint
Clip Studio Paint is a favorite among manga and other comic artists. Its robust features include vector layers, which allow for easy line art adjustments, and specialized tools for comic paneling.
The software’s brush engine is also noteworthy, offering a natural drawing experience. Clip Studio Paint’s 3D poseable models help artists visualize complex poses, aiding the illustration process.
Clip Studio Paint is a top choice for those delving into the world of sequential art.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, iPadOS, iOS, Android
4 Alternatives to Photoshop’s Design Features
Design hinges on conveying messages through visual elements. The ideal software should provide vector capabilities, typography tools, color management, and layout options. Integration with other apps and easy export/import formats are also crucial.
The Shape Layers and Type Tool in Photoshop are especially advantageous for design work, enabling sharp, resizable visuals and varied text designs. While Photoshop is versatile, other tools are built explicitly for the unique demands of digital design.
Sketch has emerged as a leading tool specifically for UI/UX design. With its vector-based workflow, it excels in creating responsive interfaces, wireframes, and prototypes.
Sketch’s streamlined environment is tailored for web and app design. Features like Symbols and the integrated plugin ecosystem make design and asset management a breeze.
Adobe Illustrator is vector based, making it ideal for creating logos, icons, and scalable designs. With tools like the Pen Tool and advanced typography options, Illustrator excels in precision and design flexibility.
Ideally, using Illustrator and Photoshop together should cover all bases, but if your priority is vector-based design assets for websites, Illustrator on its own might be all you need.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, iPadOS
Price: from $20.99/month
Figma revolutionized UI design by introducing cloud-based, collaborative design and transforming the workflows of numerous design agencies. And because it’s cloud-based, you don’t need a Mac to run it, which opens up design to a lot of Windows users.
What Figma lacks in basic tooling — its typography tools leave a little to be desired — it makes up for in plugins. Now that Figma has been acquired by Adobe, it has the resources to keep setting new standards for how product design works.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, Linux
Affinity Designer stands out as a dedicated vector design tool, perfectly crafted for creating logos, illustrations, and graphic layouts. Its seamless switch between vector and raster environments distinguishes it from many competitors.
Affinity Designer’s focus is on crisp, scalable designs with tools like dynamic symbols and extensive stroke customization. Affinity Designer has emerged as an agile and efficient alternative for those leaning towards pure design tasks.
Platforms: macOS, Windows, iPadOS
With its vast array of tools and features, Adobe Photoshop has rightfully earned its place as a titan in the digital imaging world. However, as we’ve seen, even Adobe acknowledges the need for more precisely targeted tools.
By broadening your digital toolbox, you optimize your workflow and unlock new avenues of creativity. Dive in, experiment, and find the tools that resonate most with your craft.