While one has a very difficult time arguing against Photoshop as the top program for any photo manipulation or non-vector design job, the substantial investment required by a Photoshop license can be a scary thing—especially for web designers on a tight budget. Fortunately, designers with less funding can utilize some pretty decent free alternatives to Photoshop. Although these options won’t have nearly as many online help tutorials, they won’t cost a penny and can still produce and manipulate images successfully.
Listed first, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is likely both the most feature-rich and popular open-source alternative to Photoshop that won’t break the bank. While Photoshop may have slightly more advanced features, nearly everything can also be done on GIMP as well. As a cross-platform supported by a large community, the chances of finding answers to your questions (if needed) are greater here, as opposed to a lesser-known one.
Just like Adobe Photoshop, GIMPshop is a modified version of GIMP intended to make regular Photoshop users feel comfortable with navigating it. GIMPshop has all of the advantages found in GIMP (such as a long feature list or the ability to customize) but addresses common problems found in the program’s interface. Even though GIMPshop doesn’t support Photoshop plugins (or all of the GIMP plugins for that matter), it’s still a great open-source alternative.
A quick-fix alternative to Photoshop CS, this program has a good interface with a significant number of features, especially considering it’s a free web application. Users can modify photos with layers, filters, magic wand, styling, texting, editing, and plenty of other effects to achieve the desired result. And because Pixlr Editor doesn’t require signup, one can start editing a file right away.
As an active and growing online community, Paint.net is a free image editing tool for computers that run on Windows software. (Sorry Mac users!) Among a variety of useful alteration tools, Paint.net supports layers, unlimited undo, and special effects. And due to its increasing popularity, it’s also pretty easy to find friendly help, tutorials, and plugins that are compatible with Paint.net.
Originally a Japanese photo editing tool, Pixia has recently developed with English versions that are now available for Windows operating systems. Although little is currently known about this software’s interface and usability, its feature-rich editor may be worth trying out.
Photoshop Express Editor
Don’t let the name fool you—even though this program was built on the pattern of Photoshop itself, the Express Editor comes with significantly fewer features, as well as the technicalities. This software is ideal for beginning photographers and digital artists who don’t want to get tangled in the tricky web of Photoshop tools, but the printing options are limited and it doesn’t support images from a higher megapixel camera.
Phoenix is the photo editing software for Aviary, offing a breadth of tools for altering images such as layering and compositing. Like Splashup, Phoenix is also integrated with popular social media sites (Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, etc.) allowing a user to import and export images easily. For this reason, Phoenix is a good tool to investigate before making a large investment in commercial packages like Photoshop.