There’s a lot to like about Adobe’s suite of creative software, but its chief selling point is the fact that Adobe is the industry standard for professionals. If you need the absolute best in terms of features and support, then you really have no choice: you need Adobe’s creative suite.
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But what if you don’t want to spend $50 per month on a subscription? Sure, you can opt for a single-app subscription at $20 per month, or a photographer’s subscription at $10 per month — but if you’re an amateur or hobbyist, that might still be a tough ask.
The good news is that there are free alternatives available. The bad news is that they’re mostly unremarkable. They’ll get the job done but we don’t recommend relying on these for professional work. If you’re okay with that, then here are the best free options to check out.
Alternatives to Photoshop
By now, everyone knows what Photoshop is and how amazingly useful it is even for those who have no real interest in serious image editing. In fact, it’s so popular that you probably know of all the free alternatives already. Still, here are the ones we think are best.
GIMP (Windows, Mac, Linux)
You can’t go wrong with GIMP. Next to Blender, it’s one of the most professional-quality open source programs out there, meaning it’s good enough to be used in a professional context (albeit slightly harder to use and not as flexible in terms of available features).
If you want to start using it, check out these free GIMP tutorial video series because it’s a pain in the neck to learn GIMP by trial and error.
Paint.NET is excellent if you’re tired of Photoshop’s bloat and you just want something that’ll load up quickly and only handle the most fundamental of features, like layers, plugins, etc. Basically, if you like Microsoft Paint but wish it was more powerful, then you’ll love Paint.NET.
The main downside is that it’s only available for Windows. If you’re on a different operating system, you may want to check out Pinta, which is an open source program that’s modeled after Paint.NET and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Pixlr (Windows, Mac, Web, Mobile)
Pixlr is an awesome cloud-based image editor brought to you by Autodesk, the same folks who maintain products like AutoCAD, Maya, and 3DS Max. Pixlr may not be “industry standard” quality, but it’s packed full of useful features and you can rest assured that it won’t go belly-up anytime soon.
The best thing about Pixlr is you can access it from your browser OR download it to your desktop OR use it in mobile app form. The web and mobile editions are completely free while the Windows and Mac editions have feature-limited free versions (full versions are $15 per year).
Alternatives to Illustrator
Vector graphics have one huge advantage over regular graphics: they don’t use pixels. This means you can draw once and export that image to any size and you won’t lose any pixels or gain unnecessary pixelation. It’s used heavily for things like comics, infographics, and logos.
If possible, we highly recommend learning Illustrator because it’s simply that good. But if you can’t, these free alternatives will work in a pinch.
Inkscape (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Inkscape is to Illustrator as GIMP is to Photoshop. It’s a high-quality bit of software that can pretty much do whatever Illustrator can, but you lose out on some of the polish and refinement that makes Illustrator so revered and beloved among professionals.
DrawPlus X8 is a paid solution costs $120 but comes in a Starter Edition that’s 100% free forever. With it you can import and export SVG, use touch-based drawing tablets, animate with keyframes, and have access to all kinds of brushes. It’s a bit limited otherwise, but worth giving a try.
SVG-Edit is an open source vector graphics editor that runs in your browser. If you think that automatically makes this worse than a desktop app, think again. SVG-Edit is packed with features that make it worthwhile and rivals all of its competitors except for maybe Illustrator.
Just download it here and run it in your browser. It works in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Edge.
Alternatives to Lightroom
A lot of people think Photoshop is meant for editing photos, and while you can use it for that, it turns out that most people would actually be better off using Lightroom instead of Photoshop. Indeed, with a bit of practice and knowledge, it can be quite amazing.
As you might expect, these alternatives are okay but they don’t live up to the full power and flexibility of Lightroom. But if you’re fine with something simple for standard edits, these will be more than enough.
Raw Therapee (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Despite its not-so-catchy name, Raw Therapee is surprisingly good and arguably the best alternative to Lightroom. The interface is a bit clunkier to use but it’s feature complete and receives regular updates (the latest version is only a week old at the time of this writing).
One downside is that it’s a bit slow to support newer camera models, but considering how infrequently new cameras are released — and how infrequently DSLRs are upgraded — this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for hobbyists.
Darktable (Mac, Linux)
Ask anyone about the best alternative to Lightroom and if they don’t say Raw Therapee then it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll say Darktable. This open source RAW developer not only has a ton of incredible features, but also has a clean and easy-to-navigate interface.
The only reason why we have it listed after Raw Therapee is that Darktable doesn’t provide Windows binaries. You can try building it from source yourself but that’s an advanced procedure so we don’t recommend it.
Photoscape (Windows, Mac)
If you don’t like either Raw Therapee or Darktable for some reason, then there aren’t many other options out there. Photoscape can fill the gap if you absolutely need something, but it’s more of a last resort than a viable alternative. The latest version was released in 2014.
Alternatives to Premiere Pro
Here’s yet another industry standard from Adobe Premiere Pro, a timeline-based video editor that has been used by networks like BBC and CNN and has also been used to cut feature films like Gone Girl. Here’s what you can use instead.
Shotcut (Windows, Mac, Linux)
For some reason, Shotcut is never really mentioned when open source video editors are discussed, which is strange because it’s phenomenal in terms of quality and functionality. Take a look at what it can do right out of the box and you’ll be just as impressed as I am.
The best part? It receives updates on a regular basis, typically once every one to three months. It’s constantly being improved, so if it isn’t the best alternative yet, it will be soon enough.
OpenShot (Windows, Mac, Linux)
OpenShot is more established than Shotcut, and it’s definitely an excellent bit of software, but development has slowed down considerably over the past few years so I think Shotcut is currently the better choice. Still, OpenShot is feature complete and works well if Shotcut doesn’t cut it.
Lightworks (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Lightworks is professional grade software, evidenced by the fact that it has been used in the editing of several high-profile films including Wolf of Wall Street, The King’s Speech, and Pulp Fiction. All told, it’s a formidable competitor to Premiere Pro.
So why did we rank it third? Because the free version is slightly crippled, limited to 720p and lacking in some of the more advanced features. It’s good if those limitations don’t affect you, but if you need the Pro version, it’ll cost $450 — a hefty sum, if you ask me.
Alternatives to InDesign
Not many people know about InDesign, but those who do know how useful the app can be for designing magazines, flyers, eBooks, brochures, PDFs, and more — especially with the abundant availability of ready-made templates.
If you’re thinking of doing anything related to desktop publishing, InDesign is well worth learning if you can afford it. Alternatives exist but they’re nowhere close to being equal in any sense. The only one worth mentioning is…
Scribus (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Scribus is an open source desktop publisher — and it’s okay. Neither amazing nor terrible. It’s been used to make all sorts of stuff, including infographics, magazine covers, posters, and even tabletop RPGs. What’s nice is that it has a fairly well-documented wiki to help you out.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in Scribus is that its formats aren’t interchangeable with other programs like InDesign, but if that doesn’t bother you, give it a shot.
Which Alternatives Are You Using?
If you’re planning to go professional at some point in the future — or even semi-professional — then we highly recommend getting a full Creative Cloud subscription, which not only comes with 20+ amazing apps to use but also a handful of very useful supplementary mobile apps.
If you’re just a hobbyist though, these free alternatives will probably be more than enough. Just try them all out and pick the one that feels most comfortable to use.
Are there any alternatives we missed? Let us know in the comments! Otherwise, tell us about which alternatives you prefer and why. We’d love to hear from you!