Photoshop has a reputation for being the best image editor out there, but unfortunately, you have to pay a premium for it. If your budget is limited or you’re not ready to commit to the cost of Photoshop, here are some other great options to consider. All come at the best price: free!
Downloading a program onto your computer is the closest you can get to the “Photoshop experience”. Unlike Photoshop, though, you don’t have to pay a subscription fee every month. You download the program once for free, and that’s it.
GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. (GNU is a free operating system, created by the open-source software movement.) It’s the most robust option listed here, rivaling even Photoshop in some ways. It can do practically everything that Photoshop does, and it’s improving every year. Its community is also active and enthusiastic. There are plenty of tutorials and forums to help you learn the program.
Like GIMP, Krita is an open-source image editor with a strong community. Some photographers prefer Krita over GIMP because they like its user interface better. For now, at least, it’s easier to transition from Photoshop to Krita than to GIMP.
However, Krita is mainly designed for digital painting and animation, not image retouching. If you want to create artistic effects or draw on your photos, Krita is perfect for those needs. It has powerful artistic tools (brushes, layers, etc.), but it’s not as well-suited for basic image retouching.
Originally, Paint.net was intended to be a simple program that could replace Microsoft Paint. It started as a computer science student’s project at Washington State University, but the project kept going and going, even after graduation. Now, it’s a full-fledged image editor available as freeware.
Unlike the other options here, Paint.net gives you a basic program that you can build on with plug-ins. For example, if you want more tools for Curves, you can download the Curves+ plug-in. This way, you won’t get bogged down with dozens of tools you’ll never use. You can build exactly the program you want using the hundreds of plug-ins available.
Though this list focuses on Photoshop replacements, we want to throw in an option for photographers who love shooting in RAW, too. If you’re in this group, RAWTherapee might be a good option to try out. It supports most raw formats, as well as the usual non-raw formats. Though its learning curve is steeper than, say, Lightroom, it’ll give you all the tools you need for excellent raw image processing, for free.
Fotor is a good image editor for simple edits, like cropping or color correction. It’s nowhere near as robust as Photoshop or GIMP, but it’s fast and easy to learn. Also, in addition to the desktop version, you can use it online or download the program as a mobile app. It supports most image file formats, including RAW formats.
One drawback is the advertising. Fotor isn’t freeware or open-source. It’s a company that generates profit through ads. To get rid of the ads, you can subscribe to Fotor Pro, the more advanced version of Fotor. Fotor Pro isn’t free, but it offers more features and effects than Fotor, and it’s still cheaper and easier to learn than Photoshop.
One problem with free software like GIMP is that it’s typically hard to learn or confusing at first. If you want something simpler, consider trying an online editor. They’re often easy enough to learn in a day. Of course, you’ll need a good internet connection to use an online editor. If your connection is slow, your image editing will be slow. But if that’s not a problem for you, here are a few to try out.
Pixlr is a great option for simple to moderate photo editing. It’s offers many of the same features as Photoshop, and it’s faster to learn. The tutorials are easy to understand, and if you’re still overwhelmed, you can switch from Pixlr Pro to Pixlr Express for straightforward, one-click edits. Pixlr also allows you to upload photos directly from a URL, a nice time-saver if you’re working with online content and social media.
So what’s the downside? Advertisements. Also, for expert image manipulation, you might miss some of the advanced features of GIMP or Photoshop. But for the majority of photographers, Pixlr is fantastic if you don’t mind the ads.
Like Krita, SumoPaint is a drawing-oriented online editor that’s also great for creative photo effects and editing. You get a lot of editing tools that are easy to understand, and if you’re confused, the tutorials are clear and detailed. You don’t even need to create an account. You can edit and save images to your computer straight from the website. If you love the program, you can download an offline version of SumoPaint which is ad-free, starting from $2/month.
Adobe Spark Post (previously Aviary)
When we first published this post in 2018, we mentioned Aviary as a fantastic option for basic editing, especially for social media. Since then, Adobe has acquired Aviary and rebranded it as Adobe Spark Post. Still free, simple, and focused on social media, Spark Post is an online editor and mobile app that lives up to its predecessor, Aviary. You can create cool graphics in just a few steps, using the thousands of available templates, images, and symbols.
If you’re editing photos on a tablet or smartphone, you have even more nice photo editors to check out for free. Some are designed to be quick and easy for social media, but others are great for in-depth editing, too.
For this list, we’re focusing on in-depth editors that can be used on both Android and iPhone devices. If you have an iPhone and want more options, also take a look at these 30 popular iPhone photography apps.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Although Photoshop requires a subscription, you can get the Photoshop Express app for free. As the word “Express” implies, it’s a limited version of Photoshop that’s fast and easy to use. An experienced photoshop user might want more, but for the average amateur photographer, this app could be enough.
Snapseed from Google isn’t a casual photo editing app. Aimed at serious (mobile) photographers, the app provides a professional level of quality and control over the editing process. It’s a fierce contender with Photoshop, even on mobile. You can play with a wide array of tools, like dodge & burn or white balance adjustment. The app includes some filters, too, but they’re nothing special. The real strength of Snapseed is its editing tools.
VSCO (short for Visual Supply Company) offers top-notch filters and editing tools that are subtle and beautiful. You get the usual adjustments like contrast and brightness, but also more advanced tools like split-toning. In addition, VSCO is unique because it has a built-in social network like Instagram, only more artistic and professional. Unlike most social media, VSCO avoids “vanity metrics,” such as follower counts or likes. Eliminating this noise allows users to focus on what really matters: good photography.
If you love VSCO, you can consider upgrading to VSCO X for $20/year. This premium version gives you educational content, more photo-editing tools, and over 130 filters, including authentic-looking Fujifilm and Kodak filters. The fast-growing popularity of this upgraded version, especially among Generation Z, proves it’s a high-quality app that’s worth paying attention to.
Not sure which photo editor to choose? Why not download them all? That’s the beauty of these editors. You can try them all out for free, then discard or keep them, no strings attached.