There’s no doubt Photoshop is a powerful tool. For the new designers out there, it’s also likely the only photo-editing software they know of. However, the application does not come cheap — nor can you ever officially own it. Photoshop only comes in subscription plans that cost either $20.99 a month or $239.88 a year. Recently established designers and those who would rather purchase software than keep paying for it annually balk at that hefty price tag. So, are there any open source Photoshop alternatives?
Luckily, the answer is yes. Others out there who tired of Adobe’s subscription-only model did the work and created free software for the cost-conscious designer. Note that these applications may not have the same capabilities or features as Photoshop. But — like the original software — if one takes the time to learn it, it can transform into an incredible asset for graphic design. Here are four open source Photoshop apps to download and learn today.
At first glance, Paint.NET looks highly similar to Microsoft Paint — in fact, that is where it got its name. Paint.NET was an undergrad senior design project that Microsoft actually mentored and was intended as a replacement for the application that comes with all Windows PCs. However, it has since blossomed into a nifty photo-editing tool that won the Microsoft Store App Award for Graphics and 3D in 2022. Others have also compared it to Photoshop, making it a strong consideration for graphic designers.
Like the original software, this Photoshop replacement features layers, blending, drawing, gradients, text, recolor, a Clone Stamp, and a Magic Wand. The site describes its application as hoping to be so user-friendly that a new downloader should be able to find their way around without help. However, tutorials are available, as well as a forum and plugins for extra power. Keep in mind that this application only works on Windows — for those editing on a Mac or other iOS device, Paint.NET will not be compatible.
One unique offering graphic designers may love is Paint.NET’s unlimited history. Instead of imposing limits on what a user can undo, this software features a History window to access every action someone has performed on an image. The only thing that limits this feature is the designer’s free disk space. Because of its ease of use and many plugin offerings, Paint.NET is a robust open source Photoshop alternative to try.
For those working exclusively with touching up photographs, darktable could be the perfect addition to their workflow. Its website describes it as a raw developer and photography workflow application, all available for free under the GNU General Public License. The development team is also constantly providing updates to the software, helping users achieve the best edits possible. darktable’s about page also promotes its processing speed and interface design, allowing designers to process many images daily.
This application acts as a digital darkroom and lighttable for editing raw images — as in, the ones so far unaltered by an editor. It also features non-destructive editing, so anyone who wishes to start over on their design can easily do so without worrying about the original capture. It supports a wide range of operating systems and picture formats for ease of use for any designer. For the tech-savvy out there, darktable also allows for automating simple tasks in Lua.
darktable offers simple edits like saturation, contrast, highlights, brightness, curves, crop, rotate, and exposure. However, it also provides professional color editing and effects. Just like how it supports many file uploads, designers can also save their work in a variety of exports. While darktable is primarily useful for crafting gorgeous photographs, it’s an excellent addition to a graphic designer’s wheelhouse for any photo-editing needs.
GIMP — or GNU Image Manipulation Program — is one of the most popular open source Photoshop replacements. In November of 2022, the software had its 27th birthday, so this application has been providing support to graphic designers for many years now. At the time of writing, the GIMP team has also been working on v3.0 of the software. This massive update should be a stark upgrade to the user interface toolkit. Graphic designers and all other users can look forward to this significant overhaul.
For starters, GIMP offers advanced photo editing, so graphic designers can find many helpful tools to alter any images they use for their projects. However, it also provides tools to create original artwork, meaning designers can truly tap into their creative side and wow their clients with this excellent tool. As is noted with the development team’s current plans for a large-scale update, they consistently listen to users’ requests and feedback. Doing so allows them to advance GIMP’s capabilities rapidly.
Beginners may find GIMP slightly overwhelming, while seasoned designers might think it less capable than Photoshop. Luckily, there is a way to satisfy both parties. GIMP offers many tutorials as well as multiple books on how to use the application for various projects. Those who want to increase GIMP’s abilities can turn to the community for scrips and plugins designed by other users. This software is one of the first graphic designers turn to when looking for a free Photoshop alternative for good reasons.
Graphic designers might initially be confused upon entering Krita’s website because it promotes itself as a painting tool. While that is its primary purpose, this application also has plenty of fantastic offerings for photo editing. The app did indeed start out looking to provide image manipulation services in the style of Photoshop, but the development team started to focus on painting instead. However, it continues to offer many powerful features for the graphic designer looking for open source Photoshop replacements.
Krita offers 12 unique kinds of layers for designers, such as vector, group, filter mask, transparency selection, and more. It also has a wonderful set of selection tools for various needs. Its photo editing capabilities are also broad — Krita includes the standard color adjustment features along with a plugin that has hundreds of effects and filters. It also allows for CMYK and RGB color modes, and photograph retouching. In addition to its incredible artistic capabilities, Krita has extreme potential as a Photoshop alternative.
On the painting side, this software includes professional brushes that come with the free download. Those with shakier hands can also stabilize their lines through Krita’s customization features. Comic artists and graphic designers alike will enjoy its built-in vector and text capabilities. It even has a vector library for quick convenience. Though it does market itself as a painting tool, Krita had its origins in graphic design and is still incredibly helpful for those purposes.
Utilize Open Source Photoshop Alternative for Incredible Designs
Those just starting out as freelance graphic designers and those established in the trade for many years may wonder if they can dodge the high price of Photoshop. While it is a professional tool, cutting costs where able can help increase profits, which is why these open source Photoshop replacements are so valuable.
While these applications are free, those who have the means should find ways to support the developers however they can. Most of these sites have a donation page, which helps the team continue offering their incredible services at no cost to those who need them. Graphic designers with the available funds can consider donating to the amazing people that crafted these powerful tools.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.
Leave a Comment