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Updated: 1 Mar 2022

Best Photoshop free alternatives and free photo editing apps

Looking for a free alternative to Photoshop? There is a glut of free photo editing software and apps available for you to use. We've looked at the most popular to help you pick the right one. 
Jake Massey
Laptop with photoshop

Adobe Photoshop has been the industry standard for editing images for a quarter of a century. Unfortunately, Photoshop is pricey. But there are viable free Photoshop alternatives.

You don't necessarily even need a computer to edit your images any more. Not only are a huge number of images taken on phone cameras, they are now edited on the same device. 

This has accelerated the take-up of photo editing software, as anybody can touch up their pics in seconds.

You could buy Photoshop on a yearly plan for around £20 a month but that's still a lot of money, especially if all you need to do is some basic editing. 

If you're not into advanced image editing (or even if you are), there’s plenty of free software that can perform just like Photoshop. From Gimp to Pixlr, here are our best free Photoshop alternatives for Windows, Mac OS and Linux and, for quick edits, our best free photo apps for Android and iOS.


If you're serious about your photography, then you need a good digital camera. Read our expert digital camera reviews to find the perfect model for your budget.


What makes a free Photoshop alternative?

Not every piece of software that lets you edit photos is a 'Photoshop alternative'. And they don't need to be. Photoshop serves a specific, rather limited purpose when it comes to image editing. 

Photoshop is best used for making composite images (where multiple different images are merged into one image) and for complex image manipulation. Think about when you need to airbrush something out of a photo, or when you need to completely change the appearance of, for example, shapes, colours and shadows. 

People who require collaboration also make use of Photoshop (and the Adobe Suite more widely) because they need to be working on the same platform. 

Computer software such as Gimp, Pixlr, and others we've shared in this article are comparable Photoshop alternatives because they set out, in the features they provide and in their user interface, to replicate Photoshop's key features. But most phone apps aren't cut out for this level of image editing.

Free Photoshop alternatives for computers

Here's a quick round-up of the free photo editing software we've looked at. We've ordered them from the most versatile to the most niche. 

Free photo editing softwareBest for...
GimpIf you're really into image editing and want lots of features and tools. But it's not compatible with native Photoshop PSD files.
Google PhotosIf you want basic editing tools, unlimited storage and to be able to edit online from any device.
Paint.netBeginners or those who want an easy life. You get good, essential tools, including layers.
PixlrCan edit from any device and is easy to use. Has ads.
PhotopeaLike a light version of Photoshop, it's compatible with PSD files and you access it online. Has ads.
IrfanViewThose who have images in less well-known file formats. You need to know your way around image editing software, though.

Keep reading for more information about these free alternatives to Photoshop.

Gimp (Windows, Mac OS, Linux)

  • We like: Well-supported with third-party plugins, Photoshop-like appearance, no subscription-only features
  • We don't like: No compatibility with Photoshop (PSD) files

Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a powerful piece of software. It includes many of the same features as Photoshop and bears a resemblance too, especially if you switch on the single-window mode.

It’s completely modular with a customisable interface, so you can splice and reposition your most-used tools to keep them within easy reach. It’s still in active development, with new features and filters being added all the time. 

You can also extend Gimp’s features by installing plug-ins or scripts. For example, you can introduce RAW photo compatibility with third party plug-in RawTherapee - this lets you edit photos that haven't been processed by your camera yet.

Download it from the Gimp website.

Google Photos (Android, iOS, online)

  • We like: Expansive image storage, easy asset management 
  • We don't like: File size limits prevent you from using the highest-quality formats 

A one-stop shop for all your images, Google Photos is not only a mobile app for Android and iOS, but also a 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 (1,080p) 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.

You can access it via the Google Photos website.

Paint.net (Windows)

  • We like: Familiar to MS Paint users, clean interface, over a decade of plug-in support
  • We don't like: Too basic to be a true Photoshop alternative

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 has 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. With essential editing tools such as layers, undo history and community-created plug-ins, this software is hard to beat.

Download it from the Paint website.


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Pixlr E (online, Android, iOS)

  • We like: Pixlr E and X offers two levels of control, doesn't require a download, similar interface to Photoshop
  • We don't like: Has ads

Pixlr is an ad-supported online photo editor you can use in your browser. It’s available in two versions: Pixlr X is for quick fixes, filters and overlays; and Pixlr E 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. Plus the free app is available for both Android and iOS.

You can access the Pixlr E website here.

Photopea (online)

  • We like: Compatible with Photoshop files (PSD), doesn't require a download (browser-based), allows work in layers
  • We don't like: Intrusive ads 

This site is easily accessed via your web browser. Former Photoshop users (or aspiring future ones) will enjoy its compatibility with native Photoshop PSD files, and you can export to more universal formats, like PNG. 

It's Photoshop-like in design, but more feature-light. Although it does allow you to work in layers, which is vital for non-destructive, more complex edits. 

Although it's browser based, Photopea claims not to hold your data in its own servers - your files are stored locally, on your own computer. 

Access the Photopea website here.

IrfanView (Windows)

  • We like: Great for browsing your image library, compatible with lesser-used file types, designed for quick loading
  • We don't like: Occasionally frustrating to use

A compact image viewer, IrfanView is noteworthy for the small size of the program (it's only 5MB), speed, ease of use and support of a wide range of file formats. 

It's renowned for its compatibility with lesser-used file types and a converter tool. If you happen to have a library of digital images that aren't such JPGs and PNGs, you might be able to edit them with IrfanView.

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.

You can download it from the IrfanView website.

What are free photo editing apps best used for?

Smartphone photo editing apps are designed with accessibility, speed and automation in mind. The fact that you can access an app seconds after snapping your photo makes image editing more immediate than ever.

Different apps do different things, but we've found there are a few things app consistently provide:

  • Quick post-processing tasks to correct exposure, colour, brightness, contrast, and other visual elements of digital photographs
  • The ability to apply filters or, on some apps, edit levels and curves to create certain tones
  • The ability to crop photos, sometimes with a large degree of precision, and overlay other images.  

Apps aren't made to offer the degree of control and complexity that computer-based editors provide, but they do offer quicker, more painless editing suitable for most users. 


We'll help you make the most of your images - see our expert guide on how to take and edit good photos.


Free photo editing apps

Here's a quick round-up of the free photo editing apps we've looked at. We've ordered them from the most versatile to the ones with the most niche features. 

Free photo editing softwareBest for...
SnapseedMultiple, separate edits and colour correction. No ads or paywall.
VSCOVintage filters and social sharing features for inspiration. 
PicsartComposite images, collages and flexible cropping tools. But awash with paid-for features too, which is has ads for. 
FaceappPortrait editing and reality-bending features, but lots of paid-for features to sift through. 

Keep reading for more information about these free photo apps. All of these apps can be downloaded from the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android). 

Snapseed

  • We like: No paid-for features, easy-to-use tools, clean interface, easy to undo edits
  • We don't like: Lacks some more advanced features

This app doesn't have any paid-for features, so your experience is ad-free and paywall-free - which makes for a good user experience. 

It offers a lot of control through its sliders. Most notably, you can change the levels of your image, which changes the colours for a specific colour channel (one of RGB; red, green and blue) to help correct the colour balance. 

It also has a healing brush for blemish correction and the ability to overlay other images. 

Snapseed lets you view all your edits in sequential order and change any edit without affecting the others, which is great for backtracking editors. 

VSCO

  • We like: Good filter library, lots of colour correction options
  • We don't like: Some premium features, lack of controls for cropping and airbrushing

Free of charge, VSCO users have access to a small number of preset filters, as well as options for photo editing.

 It allows you to edit: white balance, highlight/shadow colours, exposure, plus contrast and saturation effects - such as vignettes, grain and fade. 

It has presets that emulate old film stock if you want a vintage look, although many of the best require a subscription. 

As a social platform, you can share your photos to your profile after editing, if you enjoy the social side of image editing. This lets you view the photos of others, share presets, and have others look at your images too. This is all all hosted on your VSCO profile but you don't have to upload your pictures, you can simply edit them and save them to your phone and have a blank profile. 

Picsart

  • We like: Superior cropping tools, good for making collages
  • We don't like: Advertises paid-for features aggressively, watermarks photos

Picsart has some impressive functionalities: the most notable ones that set it apart from the competition are its smart cropping tool, that cuts around an object to separate it from the background, and its capacity for creating composite images made out of many different photos. These make the app good for image manipulation and creating collages.

But these are buried under a fairly cluttered list of features, many of which are subscription-only, and it watermarks your photo if you use the smart cropping tool. It's best used as a complement to another app, if you need these features.

Faceapp

Faceapp
  • We like: Some tools are good for portraits
  • We don't like: Full of gimmicky features 

FaceApp has some very unusual features. You can turn frowns into smiles, cover bald heads and completely change the dimensions of your face.

Buried in the absurdity is a decent photo editor that offers smart retouching tools, as well as filters that create artistic effects, such as background blur, and clever automated cropping. 

Looking for a decent, affordable camera? See our expert pick of the best cheap cameras.