The term “Photoshop” has become synonymous with editing images, and for good reason, as it’s a fantastic tool for everything from creating web graphics to making your personal photos look better. Unfortunately the full versions of the program have traditionally been quite expensive, sending people looking for alternatives. Now even more are seeking a substitution as Photoshop has officially moved away from a boxed product at all, and is instead part of a monthly subscription service called Creative Cloud.
If you need the ability to create or modify images and aren’t a fan of paying monthly for a cloud-based service, there are quite a few online and offline programs available to meet your needs. Before getting into the alternatives though, it’s worth mentioning that you can actually pick up a completely free (and completely legal) version of Photoshop CS2, so long as you don’t mind using older software that is no longer actively supported.
The program is available for free through Adobe here. You just need to sign up for an account if you don’t already have one, and then click “I Agree” at the warning screen letting you know this version of Photoshop isn’t still supported.
Scroll down to the “Photoshop CS2” heading and click the download link for either the Windows or Mac version. Double-click the installation file, follow the on-screen prompts, and you’ve got yourself a full working version of Photoshop that isn’t cloud-based.
If CS2 isn’t option you’d like to use however, whether you don’t want out-of-date software or just simply don’t care for Photoshop’s layout, there are a variety of free alternatives readily available, from the most basic to the incredibly complex.
If you are just touching up photos or only need to slightly modify an image, Fotor has essentially everything you’d need. You don’t even have to install anything, as this online service works by simply clicking the page to load an image from your computer and start editing, or you can instead upload pictures directly from Facebook or Flickr.
Fotor includes all the basics you’d need for photo manipulation, like resizing, cropping, rotating, and changing an image’s brightness and contrast. The site also includes a handy “1 tap enhance” button, the equivalent of Photoshop’s “Auto Levels” feature, and lets you compare the original file side by side with any changes you’ve made before saving and downloading the finished file.
Like Fotor, PIXLR is an online option, but it has both an “advanced” and “efficient” mode. While “efficient” is for basic photo touch ups, like removing red eye or changing brightness, “advanced” features a layout incredibly similar to Photoshop 7. The advanced tool even uses many of the same keyboard shortcuts, like tapping “Ctrl” and “Z” to undo a change. PIXLR gives you the ability to play with different layers in the same way as Photoshop, so users of older versions of that influential program will be right at home here.
One of the best and longest running free tools, GIMP has been around in one form or another for more than two decades. While it’s pretty feature-rich right off the bat, GIMP is open source, which means that there are dozens of plugins available to add additional features if the basic version doesn’t include everything you need.
Unfortunately it’s also less user-friendly and a bit harder to navigate than Photoshop, but if you take the time to learn GIMP, it can be just as useful as Adobe’s flagship product. Rather than blindly figuring out the tool through trial and error, you’ll find there are many online resources available to help you discover how to tackle specific image projects. You can read the tutorials directly from the program’s developers, or find a large listing of helpful forums and how-to guides at GIMP Magazine here.
If GIMP isn’t to your taste and you don’t want an online option, there are of course also non-free tools available that aren’t too difficult to learn. Unlike the new Photoshop, these tools aren’t subscription based and only require a single initial payment like any other software.
Photo Plus has many of the same features of Photoshop and covers the same ground, from repairing photos to creating your own images. So why go this route instead of picking any other program? Because this one includes a variety of video tutorials instead of just a text help file, which makes it easy to learn how to complete any task you might not be familiar with. If the price tag gives you pause, Serif offers a free “starter” edition that only lets you use a portion of the tools from the full version to try out the program before buying.
A tool that’s been evolving for many years, Paintshop has been competing in the photo editing ring just as long as Photoshop. Paintshop Pro X5 includes all the standard options you’d expect, but has a focus on fixing photographs, such as giving you the ability to simulate different lens filters and manipulate faces by removing blemishes, changing tan levels, etc. The layout is a good deal different from all the previous programs, however, so it’s one to strongly consider if the Photoshop interface doesn’t appeal to you.
~ Ty Arthur