If you want to be a professional photographer, you’re probably going to need Adobe Photoshop. Despite the best efforts of rival platforms like Corel PaintShop Pro and Affinity Photo, Adobe’s iconic software package remains the default choice for image editing and processing. Its name has even become a proprietary eponym – you Photoshop a photo in the same way you Google a query, or apply a Band-Aid to a cut.
However, this market leader isn’t cheap. Even a single-app account through Adobe’s Creative Cloud interface will cost $20.99 per month, while the full CC app package is over $50 a month. And that’s an awful lot if your photography needs are sporadic, or if you simply need to process a single batch of images for a new website. Where’s the sense in taking out an annual contract for photo editing services if they’re only required for a few days?
Although no other package can match Photoshop’s depth of functionality, its advanced tools are designed for people who know their f-stops from their focal lengths. If you’re not concerned about split toning or selective contrast, there are plenty of other photo editing tools, from free apps to third-party cloud services…
1. Acorn 6 Image Editor. Platform: Mac
Available to buy for less than $30, Acorn 6 looks like a bargain compared to Photoshop. It has the usual filters and effects, enabling users to perform non-destructive image blends across unlimited layers. Levels and curves adjust shadows and mid-tones, while an enhanced clone tool is ideal for visual effects. It also apes Photoshop’s magic wand selection tool, before exporting files in ten different formats, from PNG to ICO.
2. MS Paint. Platform: Windows
Free to download for PC users (assuming it isn’t already installed), Paint seems shockingly basic compared to Photoshop’s innumerable menus and techniques. However, it handles essential functions quickly and effectively, including image cropping and percentage/pixel-measurement resizing. You can even perform rudimentary copy-and-paste functions, though the limitations of this soon become evident.
3. Paint.net. Platform: Windows
Designed in-house by Microsoft as an intended replacement to Paint, Paint.net evolved into a standalone photo editing package for Windows users. A thriving online community has developed tutorials and plugins for this smooth-running program, enhancing the standard package’s roster of features. These include special effects, color balancing, layers and – crucially – unlimited Undo functionality.
4. Pixlr. Platforms: Android, iOS, web browsers
With over 130 million downloads, Pixlr has firmly established itself as a leading photo editing platform. The basic version is limited, while upgrading to the Premium pack costs $5 per month. However, this supports file exports as PNGs and PSDs, as well as JPGs. Overlays and filters will appeal to the Instagram generation, while red-eye removal and selective cropping are handled through an interface strongly reminiscent of Photoshop.
5. GIMP. Platforms: Linux, Windows, OS X
Transcending its unfortunate name, GIMP is a free and open-source photo editing utility. Like Pixlr, its left-hand menu bar will be familiar to Photoshop aficionados, though the absence of up-front costs or subscriptions is highly refreshing. It’s compatible with all the main file types, while an extensive plugin directory replicates leading Photoshop tools. You can even conduct blending and morphing.
6. Photo Pos Pro. Platforms: PC, Mac
Now into its third generation, Photo Pos Pro adopts a twin-track approach. Separate interfaces have been developed for beginners and advanced users, making this an ideal platform to use for a one-time project, especially in tandem with a 21-day trial of premium features. The advanced interface supports RAW files and layers, while the magic eraser arguably betters Adobe.