11 alternatives to Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop – now 26 years old – is the worldwide gold standard of pro-level image editing production and workflow. So why even consider using another photo editing app? Plenty of reasons: You may not need Photoshop’s heavy-duty firepower or you may not want to invest the time and effort required to scale its learning curve. You might also simply prefer to hold on to your software license without a perpetual monthly fee. Happily, there are some top-notch alternatives to Photoshop for Mac, Windows and Linux that are bound to please shooters of every level.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6
- $149 for standalone perpetual license; also available as part of Adobe’s $50/month Creative Cloud subscription or its $10/month Creative Cloud photography plan
- System requirements: 64-bit Macs running Mac OS X 10.9 or later; Windows 7 (SP1) or later
Adobe’s own Photoshop Lightroom is often a perfect Photoshop substitute. Primarily a photo manager, Lightroom also provides myriad image editing tools targeted to advanced enthusiasts as well as pros. As a non-destructive editor and manager, Lightroom lets you view, organize, and batch process images of various formats, including Raw. It also focuses on common editing functions like color balance, tone, sharpening, retouching, noise reduction, photo filtering and monochrome conversion.
Unlike Photoshop, it is not a graphic design tool. But you can use it to map your photos by location and create photo books, slideshows, prints and web galleries — and even find your best friend via facial recognition. Lightroom is one of the few Creative Cloud apps available as a standalone perpetual license. A free mobile app lets you work independently or access images from the desktop.
Affinity Photo 1.4
- System requirements: 64-bit Macs running Mac OS X 10.7.5 or later; Windows version in beta
Serif’s Affinity Photo is poised to challenge Photoshop on its own turf. Its massive number of features are segmented into four distinct sectors, called personas: Photo, Develop, Liquify and Export, each concentrating on different operations. Affinity Photo provides high-level output including four-color (CMYK) separation, ICC color management, 16-bit output and compatibility with Raw files from numerous camera vendors.
In addition to a feature-rich editing package with the usual suspects like exposure, white balance and vibrance adjustments, it also offers refined selections, live blend modes, advanced retouching tools, and panoramic photo stitching. Affinity Photo also plays nice with Apple Photos, providing six extensions that you can access from within that app.
- System requirements: 64-bit Macs running Mac OS X 10.9.5 or later
Pixelmator is specifically designed for consumer photographers who seek a vast portion of Photoshop’s functionality, but who do not need print production or photo organization features. As a Mac-only app and specifically optimized for Retina MacBook Pros, the app takes advantage of OS X technologies like Cocoa, OpenGL, OpenCL, Core Image, and Grand Central Dispatch to offer features like selection, painting, retouching, and drawing tools as well as color correction, layer styles and more.
Like Photoshop, Pixelmator offers precise Quick Selection and Magnetic Selection tools. Apple’s Photos users get special treatment, as some Pixelmator features, like the Retouch and Distort tools, can be accessed via Extensions. An independent mobile app lets you work at or away from your desk.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 14
- System requirements: 64-bit Macs running Mac OS X 10.9.5 or later; Windows 7-10 (SP1)
Adobe Photoshop Elements is Photoshop’s consumer analog, targeted to amateurs and enthusiasts, but offering abundant high-level features. Like Photoshop, Elements can serve as both editor and manager, shipping with an Organizer companion app that keeps your shots searchable by people or places. Elements is famous for its roster of guided edits that give you step-by-step instructions on how to do things like add vignettes, create reflections, remove the camera-shake blur, add a sense of motion to a static shot, and resize photos based on destination.
Consumer features like Custom Looks offer a choice of tailored special effects. Elements has a special relationship with Photoshop: It often gets advanced new features like De-haze from the parent program (as does Lightroom). Its friendly interface makes it easy to use and learn at your own pace.
- System requirements: Mac, Windows, Linux
GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a free, open source image editor that offers many of the advanced features of Photoshop — photo retouching, painting, compositing, online batch processing, working with text and color management. Like Photoshop, GIMP is targeted to designers, artists and photographers. An advanced scripting interface lets you automate image-manipulation procedures and welcomes a variety of plug-ins and extensions. GIMP’s designers have made a heroic effort to update and modernize the interface and make it more familiar and Photoshop-y. The tool interface and tabbed windows resemble Photoshop’s, though the graphics are less elegant. Photographers shooting Raw need to download a separate converter, as the app does not offer built-in Raw processing.
- Free with OS X
- System requirements: OS X 10.10.3 (Yosemite)
The launch of Apple Photos last year brought to a close the iPhoto and Aperture era. Apple’s current flagship Photos app — targeted to consumers and enthusiasts — highlights and integrates with its companion mobile app. Photos has a simple, streamlined design that helps you edit your images, offering a range of common tools like exposure control, retouching, filters, crop, straighten and red eye correction. You can also access higher level controls like white balance, noise reduction, and sharpening. The Extensions feature, which lets you access other apps directly within Photos, facilitates more sophisticated editing opportunities. The app concentrates on syncing with your iCloud Photo Library, which lets you store photos and videos in the cloud, and access your entire collection from your Mac, PC, or iOS devices.
- Free to $250 a year depending on the number of devices, photos, formats, and cloud storage needed (3-12 devices, up to 500,000 photos, up to 25GB of cloud storage)
- System requirements: OSX 10.9 or later, Windows 7 (SP1) or later
Mylio, a database organizational tool, can gather and consolidate your images from Facebook, Flickr, camera cards, Camera Roll, computers, and hard drives via Wi-Fi, without relying on the cloud. At the same time Mylio supports basic editing features like sharpness, vibrance, saturation, red-eye removal, and cropping. You can use Mylio’s backup and sync capabilities for general image management and even have the app watch your Lightroom folders. Raw format editing is available only with a subscription plan. Free companion apps are available for iOS and Android devices.
Corel AfterShot Pro 3
- System requirements: OSX 10.9 or later, Windows 7 (SP1) or later
Corel’s AfterShot Pro is a full-featured photo manager as well as a non-destructive photo editor with a variety of capabilities from adjustments, multi-version editing, selective editing, HDR, noise reduction and red-eye removal. Whether you’re shooting Raw or JPEG format, you can alter photos with the app’s crop, highlight recovery and noise reduction adjustment tools. Metadata-based search tools, star ratings and other management tools help you quickly find the photos you seek, plus you can add your own searchable keywords, ratings, tags and labels. Though a catalog structure is an option, AfterShot Pro allows you to store photos in existing folders, or on a network or memory card.
- System requirements: Mac OS X 10.10 and later
If you’re looking for a solid photo editor — and are bringing your own organizer — Flying Meat’s Acorn is a good option for Mac users. It offers a huge selection of raster and vector tools, custom brushes, non-destructive filters, curves, shapes and special effects in a contextual editing setup that presents only the menus you need for a particular operation.
The software features standard editing tools, including selection, resizing, cropping and brushes in an inviting interface, and it also works with Raw images. You can add text to your photos and even create effects like placing text around a circle to give your message some punch. Batch processing lets you apply the same edit to multiple photos. Use the cloning tool to eliminate unwanted objects or the makeover tools for facial touch-ups. If there’s something you need that you can’t find, Acorn is scriptable.
CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra 7
- Three versions: Deluxe ($49.99), Ultra ($144.99), and Suite ($199.95)
- System requirements: Mac OS X 10.7 and later; Windows 7 and later and Vista
PhotoDirector is a fun program with a multitude of editing and adjustment tools from curves, cross processing and white balance to noise reduction and HDR. The basic Deluxe version is the most economical, but to get all the flashy new features, it’s best to swing for the Ultra version.
The app’s distinctive body and face beautification tools have elaborate facility for ‘fixing’ faces from enlarging and removing bags from eyes and smoothing skin to whitening teeth. While this may be frowned upon in some quarters, many users appreciate the body reshaper and skin adjustment tools that can modify facial shape and body contours. A huge number of one-click presets and brush-on effects give images a unique look. A facial swap feature — similar to one in Photoshop Elements — lets you merge multiple photos so that everyone in a group shot looks their best.
- System requirements: OS X 10.6 or later; Windows XP or later
PhotoLine is a professional photo editor and graphic design tool for advanced imaging, drawing or page layout. It supports pro-level features like Lab, CMYK, 16 bit channels, ICC profiles, and Raw profiles for a variety of digital cameras. PhotoLine’s plain but customizable interface provides a range of advanced tools, filters, effects, brushes, keyboard shortcuts, layer and mask modes, 3D, image-tracing, vector editing tools, multi-page layout features, 32- and 64-bit modes for Photoshop plugins, and an assortment of import/export formats.
The best for…
Choosing an image editor is a personal decision, and app developers work hard to target their programs to certain groups. The 11 apps we looked at all offer different but outstanding features, and your distinctive approach to your pictures will determine which one best suits you. But if we had to choose right now, here are our picks.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is will tuned with needs of consumers — the casual shooter documenting daily life, kids, vacations, friends, and family. Elements breaks down complex operations so that anyone can create sophisticated photo effects. Lightroom is also worth considering, offering robust photo management and photography-specific editing features, with or without the subscription commitment.
Advanced photo manipulators
This segment of shooters is in it for the visual challenge of capturing more complex and conceptual photos, or is interested in developing their talents in specialty fields of photography. For them, we recommend CyberLink PhotoDirector, which we like for its flexibility, ease of use, vast range of options and pure fun.
Affinity Photo has all of the editing features needed for a pro workflow and is easy to learn and use. Because it is currently available for Mac only (though there is a Windows beta), we are also recommending Corel AfterShot Pro as a cross-platform option, which has the advantage of significant photo management chops.
The above apps are our favorites and widely recognized as excellent choices for varying levels of photographic expertise. But we couldn’t cover everything. If you have a favorite that was not mentioned, please share it in the comments.