Photoshop has become so dominant that you can use its name as a verb, but if you want to get your hands on it you need to shell out at least $21 a month ($10 a month for their ‘photography’ plan). For those of you who’d rather spend that cash on a Netflix or Spotify subscription (or groceries), then there are a stack of free Photoshop-replacement apps to consider. However, you may no longer have to worry about the charge as Adobe Photoshop will soon be free for all users as a basic web-based version of the full photo editing app.
But you might still might be looking for alternatives since that version of Photoshop will be stripped down, but don’t worry, there are plenty of other completely free ones out there. We’ve cast our eye over the very best of what you can use without paying a penny.
The most basic of Photoshop features, free of charge. This may be replaced by Adobe Photoshops free web-based version. But you can use Photoshop Express in your browser, or pick up the app for Android or iOS. The app lets you crop, rotate and resize pictures, adjust the usual variables like brightness and contrast, and remove backgrounds with a couple of clicks. There’s also a useful heal spot tool on mobile that lets you correct minor blemishes in your pictures.
You’re not going to get the same pixel-by-pixel control as you do in the full Creative Cloud package but then this does cost an awful lot less—nothing at all, in fact. It’s worth giving it a test run and seeing if it’s capable enough to meet your image editing needs before committing to a monthly fee.
The available options in the Android and iOS apps don’t match up exactly with what you can do on the web, and the cut-down Photoshop spin-off app scene has only gotten more complicated over time—take a look at Adobe Photoshop Mix (iOS, Android) and Adobe Photoshop Fix (iOS, Android) for example, which are also free to use.
GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is usually the default go-to alternative for anyone looking for Photoshop-level capabilities in a freeware desktop program. Many of the higher-level tasks people look to Photoshop for—advanced image filtering, stitching multiple pictures together, and so on—can be achieved with aplomb in GIMP. Versions are available for Windows, macOS, and Linux, and you’ll find a ton of tutorials and resources on the Web to help you dig deeper into the software.
It’s not quite as feature-rich as Adobe’s powerhouse, but it comes with an impressive stack of tools nevertheless—and while it can be bewildering for first-timers, it shouldn’t take you too long to learn the ropes.
GIMP’s development history stretches back more than 20 years, and the more time you spend with the program the more it shows. From the wide selection of brushes available to the tweaks you can apply to the filters, there’s enough functionality here to take on almost any image editing task. You might also want to check out the recent GIMP fork Glimpse.
If you find desktop software all a little bit 2010, then Pixlr is here to meet your browser-based editing needs. It looks and feels a lot like Photoshop, but it’s free and runs online from anywhere—you can load in an image from your computer, or point it directly to a URL elsewhere on the web. You can use the software for free, but a monthly fee gets you more features, filters, effects, and other resources.
There are actually two versions to try: The simple, intuitive Pixlr X, or the more advanced and complex Pixlr E, which if you squint your eyes enough looks almost like Photoshop running inside a web browser. There is also now Photosmash Studio, a “one-click photo studio” that will help you create profile pictures and e-commerce product images.
With the likes of Dodge, Burn, Blur, and Clone stamps available, as well as numerous selection tools, the toolbox is a close match to the Adobe original. Text overlays and layers are supported, and if you open up the Filter menu you’ll find all kinds of weird and wonderful effects to play around with.
From the advanced color picker to the plethora of image adjustment options, there’s a lot to like about Pixlr E, Pixlr X, and Photosmash Studio, and the fact that you can tweak many of the tool options adds to the appeal for advanced users. Not just one of the best online image editors, but one of the best web-based applications period.
Like Pixlr, Polarr is freemium rather than free, but the free tier still gives you plenty of photo editing tools and effects to play around with. If you choose to pay a monthly subscription fee, then you can access advanced features such as image masks, as well as a load of extra filters and export options.
We’ve linked to the web version of the app above so you can start trying it out in your browser, but Polarr is also available for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android as well. While the software is best at general edits and corrections to brightness, contrast, color, and so on, you can get into some more detailed pixel-by-pixel edits if needed.
You can crop, sharpen, and distort your pictures, adjust curves and add borders, remove spots, and apply automatic enhancements too. Polarr doesn’t try and copy absolutely everything that Photoshop has on offer, but it’s a more slimmed down and polished product that might suit your photo-editing needs better.
Paint.NET was originally conceived as a more feature-rich version of the default Paint tool that shipped with the Windows operating system but has evolved over time to become a favorite of Windows users for several years now. It’s less powerful but easier to use than GIMP and comes with a more familiar interface.
You have full control over the translucent interface, so you can drag around windows and dialogs to suit your own preferences. As for its capabilities, Paint.NET takes care of all the basics and then some: it features layer support, and a small but useful list of effects, while plug-ins developed by the community extend its capabilities even further (adding support for extra file types, for example).
It’s certainly one of the most human-friendly Photoshop alternatives around, and though it doesn’t have too many top-end features, there are plenty of users who’ll be glad for a less cluttered toolbox and list of menu options. With text, shape, and brush tools available it’s a decent option for creating artwork too. If you find Paint.NET useful, you can buy it for $7 from the Microsoft Store, though it’s also available for free directly from Paint.NET.
This guide was originally posted on 6/11/14 and was updated 8/3/20 to reflect new, and better, alternatives to Photoshop.
(Updated 06/29/22 with new details)