Photoshop is an absolute staple of modern graphic design, an industry standard for over 30 years. It’s also insanely expensive: no longer available as a stand-alone program, you’ll pay Adobe a minimum of $120 every year to use it as a part of a Creative Cloud subscription. That’s a lot of dough to drop, especially if you’re only using it for the occasional photo edit.
Photopea is a web-based editor, available in any browser. The big appeal here is that, in addition to being free, its interface is based directly on the tools and menus of Photoshop. Veterans of Adobe software who aren’t looking to learn an entirely new system are served especially well here.
Being web-based, Photopea can’t take advantage of powerful hardware, and a few keyboard shortcuts need to be re-learned for long-time Photoshop users. But all things considered, it’s a remarkably effective alternative. Free users get access to all of the program’s tools, but a $3 per month plan unlocks a longer history and banishes ads.
A long-time favorite of Linux users, the GIMP image editor is now available on all platforms. While its interface isn’t exactly friendly to beginners — especially if you’re used to other programs — it’s at least as powerful as Photoshop for standard image editing tasks.
GIMP is short for GNU Image Manipulation Program. GNU is short for “GNU is not Unix.” Unix is — you know what, we’re getting distracted. Just know that GIMP is at least as flexible as Photoshop in terms of capability (albeit without some of the whiz-bang additions in Creative Cloud), so long as you’re willing to dive into a wiki or two.
This Windows-first editing program has been in continual development for almost two decades. As the name implies, it’s a more powerful alternative to the built-in Paint tool that’s still a staple of the operating system. But don’t let the name fool you: Paint.NET is much closer to Photoshop than Paint in terms of capability.
While it lacks some of the more advanced graphic design tools in Adobe’s belt, Paint.NET can handle more or less any basic editing task, with full support for layers, action history, and even complex plugins. Just be prepared for an adjustment period for its interface, which favors floating menus over docked tools.
Photoscape X is definitely more of a photo editor than an image editor, with a focus on easy-to-use tools for rapidly improving photos and adding social media-approved extras. It’s particularly handy if what you’re editing is portraits and other people-focused photography.
Even so, it includes a few surprising tools, like a batch editor and a GIF creator. Photoscape X is a great choice for someone who wants something like Photoshop, but doesn’t have years of experience to un-learn. The standard version is free, while the pro version with better text handling and more powerful filters is a reasonable $40.
In contrast to Photoscape, Krita is for users who need a tool for direct art creation: digital drawing, painting, inking, et cetera. Its interface and tools are tailored to artists first and foremost, and its raster-based image editing capabilities aren’t all that impressive.
Krita’s layout should be familiar to Photoshop users, and its wide array of brush settings and vector tools should allow for flexibility for artists who like to mix media. It even has some basic 2D animation tools. The editing program itself is free, with community development supported by add-ons and tutorials available in its online shop.
Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.