Industry-standard. There’s a reason Adobe Photoshop is considered the best in the business. The world’s leading image editing software offers the absolute best set of features and performance, to go with a vibrant ecosystem of plugins and a very active community.
It is ahead of the pack — by some margin.
But not everyone needs its premium power or has to part with cash to buy or subscribe to this expensive software.
The good news is that a number of Photoshop alternatives exist, both free and paid, that offer functionality similar to Adobe Photoshop. Thing is, even though a ton of photo editors are available for Windows 10, few can be considered genuine alternatives to Photoshop.
Features like layers, masks and batch editing are an absolute necessity for a program to be called a Photoshop alternative, as is a collection of automatic editing tools and plugins to fill in any gaps in functionality.
In this group test, we have rounded up the best free Photoshop alternatives for Windows 10 and put them through their paces to determine how they compared with the best in class.
Photo manipulation, graphic design, animation
Powerful, feature rich, lively community
Cluttered interface, fairly steep learning curve
Painting and drawing
Streamlined UI, professional feature set, vibrant community
Not as adept at graphic design
All round image editing and graphic design work
Lightweight, friendly interface, excellent for beginners
Lacks a number of features that other apps
Photos Pos Pro
Photo editing, creative artwork, social images
Easy to pick up, balanced toolset, excellent tutorials
Some features only available in paid version
Creative image effects, photo filters
Available as both an app, and an online web tool
Focus on image creation for social media
Basic photo editing
Simple, easy to understand, powerful capabilities
Very limited feature set
Let’s look at detailed explanations of the features and specifications of these editors.
This powerful and expandable program will always be the first one on a list like this. It clearly stands out from the rest, both in its ease of use and the features it provides. Add in the lively community, and you get a whole array of plugins and scripts that users have created for GIMP over the years.
Many of these replicate Photoshop tools, like Liquify, for example.
GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. This free, open-source program started life as a university project back in 1995. The first publicly available release made its way out next year, and it did not take long for it to be adopted by a community of contributors that continues to develop new features and refine existing ones.
An impressive selection of tools allows users the ability to retouch their images or create new ones. Basic options range from cropping, color adjustment, noise reduction, gradients, and customizable brushes. While more advanced ones including everything from filters to layer masks. There’s even an animation package available, with tools for blending and morphing your artwork.
And if this remarkable feature set is not enough, you can make GIMP even more powerful by installing Photoshop plugins, many of which work perfectly fine. Speaking of which, the GIMP community has also produced a ton of excellent plugins — all of which are free to download, of course.
Now, all this may sound a little intimidating, and it frankly is rather overwhelming.
Luckily, GIMP comes with an excellent user manual that comes with tutorials to get you started, and troubleshooting guides for when you are stuck. And that’s not even talking about the helpful community that is always at hand to provide assistance.
Its user interface is perhaps not as streamlined as it could be, though, but the developers have tried to keep things smart and highly customizable. Plus, the fact that GIMP is in constant development, means that bugs are squished quickly, and the UI is refined regularly.
GIMP is a program that more than holds its own, as far as Photoshop alternatives are concerned. In fact, this remarkable free photo editor is superior in form and functionality to many commercial programs. If you’re in need of a program that can be used to professionally edit your images, look no further.
Although a vast majority of Adobe Photoshop users use the program to edit images and create graphics, a notable fraction also uses it to paint and create digital art. If you’re in for this ride, then it doesn’t get much better than Krita.
This is a program that packs features that make it easy to work with both bitmap and vector illustrations. Krita focuses primarily on drawing and painting, but there are tools and options here that can be put to use when editing photos and other images.
The flawless UI makes dealing with the various features a breeze, and the program works with Windows 10 PCs with both keyboard and mouse configurations and touchscreens. Speaking of which, Krita is also available as a paid version in the Windows Store, if you want to go that route.
In terms of what’s on offer in terms of design tools, you get a large set of brushes, complete with customizable presets, a capable layer engine that offers support for nested and group layers, filter effects, and a whole array of compatible file formats and color models.
Out in the wild since 2005, this open source application has seen regular updates that add new features, and improves existing ones like vector tools, brush systems, layers, filters and color and pattern generators. Plugin support only sweetens the deal with this highly capable solution.
Those of you with primary interest in art and graphic design, will do well checking Krita out, and taking a look at the power it offers.
If you have used the default Paint application in Windows, chances are you’ll be up and running with Paint.NET in no time. This familiar looking tool was originally developed to be a more advanced version of the Windows program, but since then has picked up a whole bunch of tricks of its own.
It is nowhere near as powerful as GIMP, or most of the other programs listed here.
Let alone Photoshop.
But Paint.NET offers almost all of the basic image editing toolset that you would expect from a modern program. And that’s without even talking about the small selection of plugins that the community has developed for this program, which further extend its functionality. Point being, if simple is your thing, then Painet.NET certainly has got you covered with its uncluttered interface and nifty tools.
This program may be light on features, but in some ways, that’s its strength.
You get a range of automatic filters, a wide selection of manual tools to make fine adjustments, batch editing, and support for layers, though a separate plugin need to be installed for masks. The toolset is quite comparable to commercial software. For example, the clone stamp tool can easily be used to erase blemishes in a photo.
Another plus point is that this is a very lightweight program, which means it runs fast even on less capable PCs. Its smaller feature set lands it in third place on this list, but on the flip side, it makes it effortless for new users to find their way through and master this neat little program.
One thing’s for sure — Paint.NET has come a long way from being a substitute for Microsoft Paint.
4. Photos Pos Pro
Too good to be true. Photos Pos Pro may have a funky name, but the extremely impressive piece of software stands tall as a feature-rich alternative to Photoshop. Very well designed, with a choice of interfaces for beginners and experts, this program hits a home run when it comes to the UI.
The interface for novices puts the focus on automatic adjustments and filters that require a single click, while the one designed for more experienced users draws inspiration from Photoshop when it comes to listing, menus and docks.
All with a sleek, colorful, and perfectly usable design
And just like Photoshop, Photos Pos Pro plays nicely with both layers and layer masks and includes scripts, effects, and brushes. All the major editing and refining tools are present and accounted for, with the excellent clone and healing brushes particular highlights that make editing photos a snap.
Speaking of snaps, this free program can also import images directly from a camera or a scanner, and support for batch editing and scripts help save time on routine tasks. Plugins are also supported, though these seem to be primarily limited to filters, frames, and templates, as opposed to new functionality.
This is where Photos Pos Pro slips up a little in functionality, as not all effects are available in the free version of the program.
However, its main drawback is in the limit on the size of the saved files. Users of the basic version are limited to files up to 1024 x 2014 pixels, which is fine for most web needs. But if you want to go beyond, then you will have to upgrade to the even funkier named Photos Pos Pro Premium.
If you like to live your life in the browser, then you will find Pixlr absolutely excellent. It’s a brilliant tool that is actually more robust than many a desktop software. Its user interface also hits rather close to the Photoshop interface, which is an added bonus.
All this comes as no surprise, considering who is behind it. Autodesk, the makers of AutoCAD, another industry standard program are the force behind Pixlr. In other words, this high level of quality is simply to be expected.
Since this is a web app running in your browser, it is perfect for those that don’t have the permission to, don’t want to, or don’t have the time or space to download a Photoshop alternative and install it on their system. Perfect for when you are on the go, and want to edit a quick image or two.
That being said, versions are also available for desktop computers, even mobile devices. Though interestingly, the web app is the only one that supports layers, for one reason or another. Which is an important consideration when we are talking about Photoshop alternatives.
Perhaps the only drawback of the Pixlr Editor is that it ever so often displays a large ad on the right side of the window. Although most of the time smaller banner ads are displayed, the big one quickly gets annoying as it limits the size of the working space. Then again, it’s not all that hard to excuse this, once you take a look at the excellent UI and impressive set of tools and features that this solution offers.
Save for batch editing, which can be said is a glaring omission, particularly for heavy users.
But all the usual suspects are here, including Photoshop style tools like blur, noise levels, sharpen, and support for layers, masks, and levels and curves. A range of artistic filters complete the deal, along with some very neat automatic optimization options. Pixlr Editor also offers a toolbox that houses the brushes, selections, fills, healing, and clone stamp tools. Some 600 effects, overlays and borders are also here to bring out the artist in you.
As it stands, the Pixlr Editor is a truly excellent Photoshop alternative, and has very well earned its position as one of the best ones around. Take it for a spin and see what it’s all about on its website.
6. Photoshop Express
Took Adobe a long time, but the graphics giant finally put together a neat little app that brought along the best Photoshop tools in a friendly and easy to pick up package. Photoshop Express is available for free on mobile devices, and as an app for Windows 10 on the Windows Store.
And, of course, as a web app for your browser.
For all intents and purposes, this is one of the simplest of tools out there. But Adobe is an expert in designing graphic design software, and it shows here. The photo editing capabilities of Photoshop Express are quite a bit superior to other image editors. Several useful tools have made the cut here, that can be used to easily enhance your photos and artwork.
You can adjust contrast, exposure and white balance of photos using simple sliders, and there are plenty of other options available for instant adjustments.
Now, while the main appeal of Photoshop Express is its simplicity, it is also what holds the app back, as there is no support for layers, plugins and brushes. It is not even possible to crop or resize pictures using this app, which clearly has been designed for quick and effortless automatic touchups.
Still, if you are dealing with photos on your Windows 10 device, and want some basic editing power, then the functionality this free app offers certainly warrants a look.
Shawn is a WindowsChimp Staff writer, who is a fan of making lists and does the same on this site. He has a Contemporary Writing degree and been in technology niche since last 3 years.