Photoshop is the industry standard for creatives, but it's not the only photo editing and drawing software out there. Plenty of other powerful options are available and most don't require a subscription. So if you're looking for a program that doesn't cost nearly as much or something that simply requires a one-time payment, there are plenty of choices to choose from.
Of course, it wouldn't be right to start this page off without a quick reminder that there's a reason that Photoshop is the photo editing software of choice among designers and the creative industry. For one thing, it has a wide range of powerful tools that can do anything from graphic design projects to photo editing and even digital drawing. In addition, you can do about anything with its tools and find tutorials online anywhere, including YouTube.
Photoshop is also the standard program for several big companies, so knowing how to use it is important if you plan on getting a job in the design industry. Moreover, Photoshop can be used on almost any major creating device, including Mac, iPad, PC, and Microsoft Surface tablets, making it a very convenient program.
Of all of the Photoshop competitors out there, Affinity Photo is by far the most similar. If you're already familiar with Photoshop, you'll take to Affinity Photo quickly. Due to its wide audience, there are plenty of tutorials online to help beginners. It's also a powerful program perfect for making photo edits, designing graphics, or drawing digitally.
In addition to Mac and PC versions, the program can be used on compatible iPad and Microsoft Surface devices. Create your work on the go or on the desktop. If you have both means of access, you can continue working on your files cross-platform between your devices.
You don't even need to leave the Adobe family to find a powerful alternative that doesn't cost a penny. As I stated in my Adobe Fresco review, this free software is one of the best iPad drawing apps. In addition to the iPad, it's also available on iPhone, Microsoft Surface Pro devices, and the Creative Cloud Desktop for Windows. In many ways, it feels like a simplified version of Photoshop, just with a heightened focus on drawing and painting.
You can pay a subscription to access more brushes and tools, but the base version gives you so many options that I feel a subscription isn't necessary. Perhaps the most exciting part of this software is that it can handle raster brushes, vector brushes, and live brushes from the same file. That gives you plenty of control to start and end a project from this software.
Procreate is a very popular graphics and design program that has won the Apple Design Award twice now. It features an intuitive interface, plenty of brushes, and several helpful tools. It also receives updates regularly, keeping it a competitive option on the market. You don't even have to spend much to get it.
One of the things artists love about it is that you can easily tweak brushes to give a unique look to your work. The only potential downside is that it is only available for iPad. But if you already have one, grab your Apple Pencil, and you can get drawing!
GIMP emerged as an unparalleled free image editor a few decades ago. It doesn't have the prettiest interface, but there's no denying that it's rather powerful considering you don't have to pay to use it. Moreover, despite being an older option, it continues to receive regular updates, so you know it will continue to get better over time.
Use it to manipulate images, create designs, and much more. If you need help learning how to use it, there are several tutorials on the GIMP website, or you can watch one of the many helpful videos on YouTube.
GIMP | Free at GIMP (opens in new tab)
Get your photos looking just the way you want them to or create brand new digital projects using the software's brushes. It's completely free.
Unlike some of the other options on this list, Pixlr X is a web-based program. This means you don't have to download anything; you access it from a browser. As a result, it's less of a photo editing software and more of a graphics builder. For instance, there are several templates and stock photos to use to create things like restaurant advertisements, pamphlets, or animated images optimized for specific social media sites.
Choose a template or start from scratch, and then you can customize things to your liking. This includes fonts, layer positioning, preset effects, drawing brushes, and filters. There is also a retouch tool to help remove blemishes or distracting elements from your images.
Pixlr X | Free at Pixlr (opens in new tab)
Get designing right from your web browser. There are a number of helpful templates and stock images to help you create your projects.
Luminar Neo is a simple editing software that allows you to quickly improve your photos using preset filters and adjustment sliders. It's a powerful tool that both beginners and veteran photographers find useful. Anyone looking to streamline the editing process with just a few clicks will appreciate having it at their disposal.
This is the only other software on this list that offers a subscription to access it. Though, technically there are three plans available: Explore, Pro, and Lifetime. If you would rather not deal with a subscription, you can choose the last option and pay a one-time payment for unlimited access.
Several digital painters and drawers love using Krita as their primary software. Although it's free to use, it doesn't skimp on the tools. There are plenty of brushes to choose from; you can work in layers and quickly make adjustments. Additionally, there are several tools that Photoshop users will be familiar with, including gradient, shapes, and text tools.
It also has several limitations compared to Photoshop, so don't expect to find any Content-Aware Fill abilities. But the Smart Patch tool will help remove blemishes and minor elements from your images if desired.
As with Pixlr X, Photopea is a web-based program that you access from your browser. It can handle PSD files, works in layers, and gives you access to a toolbar that looks similar to Photoshop's. But, of course, it also helps that it is yet another free option. With this program, you can edit photos or create just about anything you want.
The pre-made templates don't look very professional. However, the means to create beautiful designs are there. You just need to supply the right photos and place your text in the right places to make the most use of them.
Photo editing and drawing programs
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It's impossible not to compare drawing and photo editing software to Adobe Photoshop. It's the most widely used program in the creative industry due to its powerful abilities, healing tools, and text options. However, that ongoing subscription is not appealing to everyone. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options out there.
If you're looking for the best Photoshop alternative, you should check out Affinity Photo. It gives you both photo editing and digital painting tools, and it's yours with a one-time subscription. What's more, it's designed in such a way that anyone familiar with Photoshop will be able to learn it quickly. At the same time, newcomers can find plenty of helpful tutorials and videos to get started.
Of course, if you're looking for a digital drawing program, I cannot recommend Adobe Fresco enough. It's a free tool similar to Procreate, but unlike its competitor, it's available on several devices including iPad, iPhone, Microsoft Surface Pro devices, and Creative Cloud for Windows.