Best free Photoshop alternatives

Get powerful photo-editing, drawing and web-design tools without paying a penny

Photoshop and the rest of Adobe’s superb creative software are no longer being sold. Instead they will be packaged as Adobe Creative Cloud ( and rented to users on a per-program basis. If you want to use Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe’s page- and web-design tools from now on, you need to buy a subscription.

However, there are some great free alternatives to Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design and Dreamweaver packed with the same brilliant features found in their expensive Adobe equivalents. Here we recommend the best no-cost alternatives to Adobe Photoshop and its Creative Cloud cousins and explain how to use them.


Swap Photoshop for Gimp

Adobe program: Photoshop Free alternative: Gimp 2.8

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Gimp has all the features Photoshop users love and there’s even a version of Gimp that’s been modified to look exactly like Photoshop ( Here, we’re using the brand-new Gimp 2.8, available from

Enhance your photos

To give your photos more impact open a photo and click Colors, Color Balance, then use Gimp’s Photoshop-like sliders to adjust the Shadows, Midtones and Highlights. The changes will be applied as soon as you click off the image.

Use the Levels tool to add depth and richness to your photos, particularly those dodgy pictures with washed-out colours. Click Colors. Levels, then drag the two triangles inwards to increase the amount of contrast.

Overlay text on an image

The latest version of Gimp, 2.8, lets you add text directly to an image. Click the A symbol, then click where you want to place text. Type the text into the box that appears. Highlight the text then change the font, text size, colour, spacing between characters as needed. Hold and drag the comers of the text box to position the text exactly where you want. Create montages using layers and brushes LTsing several layers within an image means

you can create montages and effects such as replacing an overcast sky with a sunnier one. To create a new layer, click the blank paper icon at the bottom of the Layers window on the right of Gimp’s screen. As with Photoshop you can turn a layer on or off by clicking its eye icon and send layers forwards and backwards within the image by dragging and dropping their thumbnails up and down the Layers menu. Change the opacity levels using the slider in the Layers menu to make the top image transparent and the one underneath show through. You can also use brushes of varying shape, style, hardness and opacity to add effects to your montage.

Drag and warp objects in a photo

Version 2.8 of Gimp introduces the Cage Transformation tool. Use this to distort objects in an image. Click the strange icon in the left toolbar with nodes on it. Now click around the object you want to distort. When you close up the path you’ve created Gimp will display a clock and the message ‘Computing Cage Coefficients’. Once it’s finished you can click on points in your ‘cage’ to pull the object in different directions. Click Enter to apply the effect.

Add a border to an image

Use Gimp’s QuickMask to add a border to a photo. Open the image and drag with your cursor to create a rectangular selection around its edge. Now click the QuickMask icon (the small dotted square). The border around your image will turn red. Right-click the image, select Filters and choose an effect. For example. Distorts, Waves will make the red border wavy. Click OK to apply the effect.

Now click the QuickMask icon, click Select, Invert, then click Edit and choose ‘Fill with BG Color’ or ‘Fill with FG Color’. By default the foreground is white and the background black. To change this, click the Foreground and Background switcher in the Toolbox. Alternatively, click Shift, Ctrl, P to bring up the Pattern toolbox, click to select a design, then click Edit, ‘Fill with Pattern’. Here, we selected ‘Warning’ to give our wildlife photo a threatening look.

Create mirror-in-mirror effects

Adobe program: Photoshop

Free alternative: Zoner Photo Studio 15

Zoner is an excellent photo manager with impressive editing tools. Click the Editor tab to open a photo. Menus to adjust colour balance, saturation and a tone map will appear alongside it. Hidden among its icons in Zoner’s left toolbar is a target. This is the Droste effect tool. Click this to create a swirling mirror-within-a-mirror effect from your photo. Change the radius and ring parameters in the options box that appears if you wish, then click OK.

Add selective colour to a photo

Adobe program: Photoshop Free alternative: Pixlr

Pixlr is a free web-based photo editor that comes in three versions (Express, Pixel-o- Matic – tor zany effects – and Advanced). Choose Advanced and either paste a URL into the File, ‘Open image URL’ box or use a photo on your computer.

To selectively replace colour, double dick the palette at the bottom of the left toolbox, then click OK to add it to your palette. Now click the Paint bucket icon, click your chosen colour in the palette and, click the area you want to recolour.


Adobe’s creative software is about more than just Photoshop. Illustrator, Acrobat and In Design serve, respectively, as its vector illustrator, PDF maker and document layout programs. Here are our favourite free alternatives and some tips to get you started.

Use Inkscape not Illustrator

Adobe program: Illustrator Free alternative: Inkscape

Replacing Illustrator is no easy task, but Inkscape covers the basics. As with Illustrator, Inkscape works best with a graphics tablet and digital pen.

Press Ctrl and F6 to select the Pen tool and use your mouse or digital pen to start drawing. You don’t have to get the drawing right first time – you can save and edit any element, and rotate or resize it as you wish. Draw a line or outline, then double-cliek it to bring up the editing tools. Use your mouse or pen to pull and manipulate the line if it’s too thick, thin, bendy or straight. There are tutorials available at www.snipea. com/9255.

Design magazines in Scribus

Adobe program: In Design Free alternative; Scribus Magazines depend on Adobe In Design’s brilliant but expensive combination of page layout and image-handling abilities. But you can create good-looking magazines without needing to fork out for such a high-end program. Edit Scribus’s templates to create your own magazines, newsletters, cards and posters. Scribus is also worth considering if you currently use Word or Publisher to create such documents and need something to create more professional publications. Find useful templates for making magazines and posters, plus an online manual at

Design stunning webpages

Adobe program: Dreamweaver Free alternative: Wix

Adobe Dreamweaver lets you create gorgeous interactive webpages without you needing to know HTML code. Wix lets you design beautiful webpages just as easily. Create a free Wix account and select a template based on the type of site you want to set up. Click a site design then Edit. Double-click any text box and overwrite the current text. Double-click an image on the site and upload one of your own to change the design.

Create PDF documents to share

Adobe program: Acrobat Pro Free alternative: PDFCreator Adobe’s Acrobat PDF-viewing software is free, but you have to pay for Acrobat Pro if you want to create and edit your own PDFs. Use the excellent free alternative PDFCreator and you can create digital pages by dragging and dropping the document onto its workspace. Use the built-in PDF Architect to edit PDFs.

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