When you think of graphic design programs, the first thing that comes to mind is Adobe Photoshop. The platform has well and truly earned its stripes as the industry leader. But Photoshop might be overkill for small businesses that only require everyday image editing functionality. There are several free photoshop alternatives available on the market for those who need something more simple.
We tested five of the best free photo editing programs available to Australian businesses. With these tools, you can make images look picture perfect without spending a penny on editing software.
Top free photo editing software
This list is for users who are looking for a full alternative to Photoshop that works well with masks and layers. There are also tools for those who are interested in a more simplistic tool that accommodates for fast image editing.
Here are our 5 top picks, listed in alphabetical order:
5 free photoshop alternatives
Photoshop alternative #1: Fotor
What is Fotor?
Fotor is available on a desktop (Windows and Mac). It combines the most frequently used functions of mobile picture editing programs and displays them in a simple editing process. You will go through the following steps to be able to export your finished image at the end.
- Scenes: Filter options (such as lightning and landscape).
- Crop: Correct the angle, rotation and size of your photo.
- Customise: Play with the tool and edit colours, curves and vignettes. The downside is that you can’t select a specific area to edit—every change you make applies to the entire photo. We therefore only recommend Fotor for basic processing of your pictures.
- Effects: Apply filter presets again (the step repeats itself).
- Margins: A practical tool for brochure and leaflet creations to ensure quality isn’t lost when the design goes to print.
- Textures: Image overlay options.
- Focusing effects: Focus your photo through blur effects.
- Text tool: The text tool is the highlight of Fotor because it stands out from the other programs in the list. You have full control over the font and the text field. For example, you can rotate it and control the vertical and even manipulate the spacing between characters
Since Fotor does not work with layers, every step processes directly in the image. As soon as you switch to another tab, you cannot undo the last action. If you do different edits in different tabs, you have to reset everything if you want to undo a step.
The software is not complex, and the user interface is simple and intuitive to use. Images can be saved as JPG, PNG, BMP and TIF. Note that Fotor only opens flattened photos.
Photoshop alternative #2: GIMP
What is GIMP?
GIMP is a desktop-based tool that you can download for free on both Windows and Mac. We tried the desktop version for MAC for our test. GIMP allows you to work with layers and there are several blending modes that you can play with. Users can also work with channels and paths like you can in Photoshop.
Users can adjust any parameter on the brushes you use. There are also many fine adjustments for colours, curves and exposure. The platform allows you to share the screen view when testing filters so that you can easily compare the version before and after. There are some vector shape creation and editing tools that make GIMP a good option for combining photos with drawn elements.
In addition to editing the basics, such as font, size, alignment and colour, the platform enables its users to adapt text fields. GIMP is, therefore, also suitable for working with text and images.
GIMP can be useful for editing images and creating layouts that combine graphics with photos and text. But, during the test, we experienced a few problems that could frustrate or limit GIMP users:
- Actions in GIMP take longer to process than other tools.
- Sometimes the cursor disappears and reappears somewhere else, which is likely because of the above issue.
- Most photo editing programs have a similar user interface with only minor variations in the menus, buttons and shortcuts. If you switch to another software, the transition is generally quick and easy. However, the functionalities appear elsewhere in GIMP. It isn’t a big disadvantage, but we found it made adjustment slower.
- GIMP offers its users numerous functions and options, which on the one hand is a great advantage of the tool. On the other hand, the multitude of options, unfortunately, complicates simple tasks. For example, if you click the “New Layer” button, not only a new layer will open. First, a window opens and then users have to name the layer, add tags, define opacity, set the blending mode, and so on.
PNG and JPG, as well as PSD files with flattened layers, work perfectly in GIMP. More complex PSD files with smart objects open, but may lose some properties.
Files export in many different formats, including JPG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, GIF and EPS. There is also the option to save the file as a GIMP Open File.
Photoshop alternative #3: PhotoScape X
What is PhotoScape X?
PhotoScape X is a powerful tool that is available on smartphones and desktop (both Windows and Mac). PhotoScape X combines all functions that you find in conventional mobile image processing programs such as VSCO Cam or PIXLR Express. The software enables users to create and optimise images for free. Advanced features are available in the PRO version of the software.
The “Editor” tab features include:
- Adjust depths, clarity and temperature.
- Add filters—just like when editing a photo on Instagram. Some of the filters are free, others are purchasable.
- Frames and lighting effects are available to edit in terms of size, opacity and colour.
- Graphics, stickers and other visual elements come with the free version. This gives users flexibility when editing their images, as they can create stickers or graphics elsewhere and then load them into PhotoScape X.
- Although users cannot use layers for image corrections, each inserted element is multi-layered so that you can play with blending modes, opacity and colours.
The Tools tab offers some interesting options to try out, such as the drawing brush, distortion tools, and softer skin and mosaic effects. However, the brush types of the free version are somewhat limited. Users can group images into a mood board, collage, or animated GIF with various options (defining transitions, setting the time for each slide, and adding text).
It’s easy to group photos in batches and add edits to all photos at the same time. If you want some of your pictures to have the same vignette effect, this is quickly and easily achievable.
One great advantage of PhotoScape X is that it can open PSD files. The PSD file flattens in PhotoScape X, but this function is still useful if you don’t have an exported image of the required file. Files are available to save in JPG, PNG, BMP, TIF and GIF.
Photoshop alternative #4: Pixlr Editor
What is Pixlr Editor?
Pixlr is a browser-based tool that combines the functions of a photo processing program and an image generator. You can edit a photo and create a graphic from scratch by combining different rendered effects, shapes and filters.
One advantage of Pixlr is that you can work with layers, like in Photoshop or GIMP, and you can use many blending modes. The masks are also easy to use so that you can play with image overlays. This is very helpful for creating graphics that combine a photo with brushes, text, shapes, rendered images and so on. The Pixlr user interface is similar to Photoshop, making it easy for Photoshop users to find the tools and tabs.
The brush tool also performed well in our trial. You can add custom brushes and brush sets in Pixlr and tweak those you already have. There are a large number of render filter presets. Pixlr also enables its users to adjust curves, levels, brightness, colour balance, and much more.
Pixlr wasn’t as strong as some of the other tools for creating graphics with text. It only offers standard functions, such as selecting the font, adjusting the font size, aligning text and changing colours. You also have no control over text fields and have to interrupt text manually.
If you zoom in and out, the text and your applied filters don’t scale proportionally. You’ll lose some steps if you want to view your image at a different size during the editing process.
You can open both flattened images (as PNG and JPG) and PSD files with flattened layers in Pixlr. Don’t expect Pixlr to import complex PSD files with smart objects. You can save your graphics in JPG, PNG, TIFF and also as PXD (Pixlr’s Open File)—but note that Photoshop doesn’t support this file format.
Extra note: Pixlr users receive a gift voucher for 25 GB of storage space on Dropbox.
Photoshop alternative #5: Polarr Photo Editor
What is Polarr Photo Editor?
Polarr is a tool that is available to download on Mac and Windows PC. Polarr combines the functions of Fotor and PhotoScape with some personal processing tools such as recognising faces and adjusting skin tones, as well as eyes, mouth, nose, height, width and brightness.
There are five different tabs in Polarr:
- Filters: Offers a wide range of free filter presets.
- Graphics: Includes text boxes, shapes, and partitions that you can use to lay a layout over your image.
- Retouching: Allows you to adjust faces and remove objects.
- Format: Crop, mirror, resize, and so on.
- Image overlays: Contains a wide range of options, including dust, scratches, textures, clouds, gradients and backgrounds. Drag one or several PNGs with a transparent background over your photo to use.
The advantage of the tool is that the effects apply to each tab in a new layer. This means you can edit everything individually, and change the order and transparency. The disadvantage of Polarr is that the free version only allows you to export one image per day.
Whether you are looking for a feature-rich Photoshop alternative or a free photo editor to quickly edit your pictures, this list has something for everyone.