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Top free Photoshop alternatives

By Ryan Shaw

Photoshop is not the dominant force it used to be. With various free options available, we round up our pick of the best Photoshop alternatives

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Adobe Photoshop has been the industry standard for editing images for a quarter of a century. Now, ‘photoshop’ has become a verb – for example, photoshopping or photoshop contest.

Unfortunately, Photoshop is pricey, and not everyone can afford the upfront cost. But, as part of an annual plan with monthly payments, you can purchase Photoshop as a single app for around £20 a month. And if you’re looking for more photo-management tools, Adobe’s Photography bundle (Lightroom and Photoshop) is available for around £10 a month.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, it’s more expensive than most people can afford, especially if all you need to do is some basic editing stuff. If you’re not into advanced image editing, there’s plenty of free software available that can perform just like Photoshop. From GIMP to Pixlr, here are our top free Photoshop alternatives for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

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GIMP (Windows, Mac OS, Linux)

Weird name, excellent software. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a powerful piece of software. It includes many of the same features as Photoshop, and supports Windows, Mac OS and Linux computers.

It’s completely modular with a customisable interface, so you can keep your most used tools within easy reach. The interface is similar to that of Photoshop, especially if you switch on the single-window mode.

It’s still in active development, with new features and filters added all the time. You can also extend GIMP’s feature set by installing plug-ins or scripts.

Paint.NET (Windows)

Making simplicity one of its key features, Paint.NET is an easy-to-use free photo editor that packs in plenty of tools, effects and filters. Available only for Windows, it doesn’t include some of the high-level features seen in GIMP or Photoshop, but enough for quick and basic edits.

It started life as a replacement for Microsoft Paint, which is bundled with Windows, but has evolved into something much more than that. With essential editing tools such as layers, undo history and community-created plug-ins, this software is hard to beat.

IrfanView (Windows)

A compact image viewer, IrfanView is noteworthy for the small size of the program, speed, ease of use and support of a wide range of file formats. Only available on Windows, it includes many additional features, including slideshow, batch conversion, image adjustment, image editing, resizing, panorama stitching, auto EXIF rotation and more. Functionality can be further extended via widely available plug-ins.

It has a very minimal look and organised structure for its interface. While there may be more user-friendly and attractive image viewers available, few offer all the range and extendability of IrfanView.

Google Photos (Android, iOS, online)

A one-stop shop for all your images, Google Photos is not only a mobile app for Android and iOS, but also a desktop website where regular camera users can use the service to back up, share and edit photos. The suite of editing tools includes filters, light and colour adjustment, plus crop and rotate. If you accidentally delete a photo or video, it stays in Trash for 60 days and can be easily recovered (choose the item and select the rewind icon to do this).

It also offers free unlimited storage, and the ability to see, organise and edit your photos on any device, anywhere. However, there is an image and video-file-size limitation; the unlimited storage is only available if you allow Google to compress and resize your images (with the limit set at 16Mp), and videos must be Full-HD (1080p) resolution or lower. So, if you shoot in high-resolution format, you’ll need to archive your videos or Raw files elsewhere.

You should take into consideration that Google Photos falls under the Google terms of service. This means you’re trading privacy for convenience, and giving Google access to your data and photos. Google has said it doesn’t have plans to monetise the service and that it won’t use your photos for commercial or promotional purposes, but it’s up to individual users to decide whether the trade-off is worth it for a free service.

Pixlr (online, Android, iOS)

Pixlr is an ad-supported online photo editor that you can use in your browser. It’s available in two different flavours: Pixlr Express is for quick fixes, filters and overlays; and Pixlr Editor is best when you want full control over your images, including layers and effects. If you’re used to Photoshop, Pixlr’s interface is very simple to follow.

Overall, it’s not as streamlined as some of the other free alternatives, but it’s accessible when you’re away from your main computer. Furthermore, the free app is also available for both Android and iOS.

Photoscape (Windows, Mac OS)

Photoscape is primarily a powerful photo editor but, if you dig deeper into the set of features, you may be surprised at how much this free software can do. Essentially, there are seven main components to this program: batch editing, animated Gif editor, editor, page (useful for page sizing and multiple image layout), merge (panoramas or collages), print and viewer.

The interface is a little weird when you run it for the first time, but you can change the layout to a more familiar grid format of icons in the settings. All of the options are well labelled and self-explanatory, so you should hit the ground running quickly. One word of caution though – there are no layers or history available. So if you don’t like a particular edit or filter you’ve applied, you’ll have to use the undo function to revert, or undo all to wipe the slate clean.

XnView (Windows, Mac OS, Linux)

A formidable image editor, viewer and conversion tool, XnView supports more than 400 image types and is great for performing basic tasks such as rotating, cropping, resizing and applying filters to photos. It’s also capable of converting between different image formats and exporting to more than 70 different ones, too.

Some other notable features include a duplicate file finder, batch processing and renaming, metadata support and editing, Photoshop plug-in support, plus TWAIN support for capturing scans of photos.

The interface is very similar to Windows Explorer (so Windows users should acclimatise quickly) but with a tabbed interface, so you can easily work with multiple images and tools. Overall, this photo-management and editing software is simple to use and a great addition to any photographer’s toolkit.

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