Linux users are perpetually stuck in a dilemma. While the freedom of open source is great, Linux consistently sits between 1% and 2% market share, which means industry standard programs, like Photoshop, rarely give Linux users the time of day.
The great tragedy is that even after all this time, the open platform of Linux still has yet to produce competing software that can really match Photoshop head-to-head (if you’re thinking about GIMP, we’ll get to that later). Photoshop truly is the king of image editing.
But if you’re absolutely unwilling to boot into Windows or OS X, what are your options?
Photoshop on Wine
First things first: don’t give up on Photoshop just yet! With a little knowledge and elbow grease, it may be possible to run Photoshop as-is on your Linux distro. This is done by using an emulator called Wine (which stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator).
Long story short, Wine sets up an area on your system that’s used as a kind of sandbox for emulating Windows. To install a Windows program, you have to install it through Wine using the program’s relevant installer .EXE. Then, when the program is launched through Wine, it runs just like any other Linux program.
Do be warned, however, that not all Windows applications can be launched through Wine. Fortunately, Wine is constantly evolving and support for newer apps is always expanding.
If you have access to a copy, we have instructions you can follow to install Photoshop CS5 on Linux. The same steps might work for Photoshop CS6, but it’s hard to say if it will work with Photoshop CC.
If there’s any program that could be considered “the open-source version of Photoshop”, it would be have to be GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). GIMP has been around since 1995 — compared to Photoshop’s debut in 1988 — making it one of the oldest open source applications that still exists.
GIMP is pretty flexible out of the box and includes several core features that can replicate a lot of the same effects as Photoshop. GIMP is also built with extensibility in mind, meaning you can add new functionality by installing third-party plugins.
In short, GIMP is powerful enough to suffice in a professional capacity. The only downside is that GIMP specifically avoids copying Photoshop’s interface, so there’s very little overlap between keyboard shortcuts, menu organization, settings, etc.
Seeing as how Inkscape is a vector image editor, it’s actually more in line with Illustrator than Photoshop. However, some people do use Photoshop and GIMP for vector editing, and if that’s the case with you, then you should know that Inkscape would be a much better solution.
Features of Inkscape include basic vector shapes, advanced object grouping and management, gradient meshes, wide support for file formats, and extensibility through plugins (much like GIMP in this regard).
Unfortunately, as is the case with most open source programs, Inkscape’s interface leaves something to be desired. It’s certainly passable enough to work even in a semi-professional setting, but you can tell it’s not as clean or refined as Photoshop or Illustrator.
On Windows, one of the better alternatives to Photoshop is the free image editor, Paint.NET. It’s more lightweight than Photoshop (which is admittedly quite bulky) but not as barebones as MSPaint, making it a great compromise.
The Linux equivalent of Paint.NET is Pinta.
Pinta comes with all of the basic and core functions you’d need right out of the box, including unlimited layers, full edit history, and over 35 effects for quick image adjustments. It can also switch between a docked interface and a free-floating window interface.
It’s the ideal solution for quick image retouching and simple edits. For something more substantial, you’ll want to look at something like GIMP mentioned above.
Back in 1998, a fellow named Matthias Ettrich tinkered around with GIMP and built a Qt-based interface for it. It caused divisions within the GIMP community, ultimately leading to development of a competing image editor that would eventually be called Krita.
The main focus of Krita is to be a digital painting application. As such, it tries to hide away most of its interface elements in an effort to make it easier to learn for newbies and easier to paint for veterans.
What constitutes “digital painting”? Things like concept art, comics, textures, etc. These are all made easy by Krita’s default package of tools, including several default brushes, multiple brush engines, an advanced layering engine, and support for both raster and vector editing.
Hint: Want to learn how to paint digitally? Check out these awesome Lynda courses for digital artists and start learning today.
If you’re looking for a digital painting application with a truly minimal interface, MyPaint may be right for you. Like Krita, it’s made for people like concept artists, comic artists, and texture painters who hate the distraction of windows and toolbars.
MyPaint is certainly simpler than Krita, so don’t expect it to be as packed full of features. However, that doesn’t mean it’s lacking. It supports pressure-sensitive tablets, has an unlimited canvas size, and customizable brush options.
If Krita is too heavy for you, then MyPaint is probably what you want. But if you give MyPaint a try and it’s not enough, you’ll want to switch over to Krita.
Other Image Editors for Linux
The beauty of Linux’s open source community is that new projects are always under development, which means it’s possible that there are several hidden gems out there just waiting to be discovered. Do you know of any? Post a comment and let us know!
For additional help with your pictures, check out our guide on how to manage your photos on Linux.