13 Free Alternatives to Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, & More
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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 Your Guide to Choosing the Right Adobe Product Your Guide to Choosing the Right Adobe Product When most people think of Adobe, they either think of Photoshop or Acrobat Reader. But the company has a plethora of other useful software packages that most people know nothing about. Read More .

Exclusive deal: MakeUseOf readers can enjoy up to 15% savings when signing up for Adobe Creative Cloud.

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 10 Easy-to-Use Photo Editing Programs for Newbie Photographers 10 Easy-to-Use Photo Editing Programs for Newbie Photographers Some photos only look their best after a bit of editing. If Photoshop and Lightroom seem too complex for you, check out these easy-to-use alternatives. Read More . 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 Better Than Photoshop? Make GIMP Even More Powerful With These Plugins Better Than Photoshop? Make GIMP Even More Powerful With These Plugins We all know that Photoshop is the premiere application for image and graphics manipulation. It simply does everything you could possibly want, which is the reason why most professionals choose it and why your wallet... Read More (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 Top 10 Beginner Video Tutorials to Learn GIMP Fast Top 10 Beginner Video Tutorials to Learn GIMP Fast Read More because it’s a pain in the neck to learn GIMP by trial and error.

Paint.NET (Windows)


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 Using Paint.NET? Make It Even Better With These Great Plugins Using Paint.NET? Make It Even Better With These Great Plugins Have you ever needed to do computer artwork that involved more than simple crops and resizes? For a long time, your only real options were Paintshop Pro and Adobe Photoshop, although the rise of GIMP... Read More , like layers, plugins, etc. Basically, if you like Microsoft Paint but wish it was more powerful, then you’ll love Paint.NET Paint.NET: The Best Image Editor Available That You Should Download Paint.NET: The Best Image Editor Available That You Should Download We all edit images to some degree. Whether it’s a simple crop or resize, or maybe just adding some text, it’s nice to have an image editor that is reliable, fast, easy to navigate and... Read More .

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 The Beginner's Guide To Adobe Illustrator The Beginner's Guide To Adobe Illustrator Want to get started learning Adobe Illustrator, but feel overwhelmed? With easy-to-follow instructions and plenty of annotated screenshots, this manual makes learning Illustrator simple. Read More 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 (Windows)

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 16 Incredible Gift Ideas for a Digital Artist (They'll Love You For It) 16 Incredible Gift Ideas for a Digital Artist (They'll Love You For It) Having trouble thinking of gifts for a digital artist? Here are several excellent ideas that they'll surely love. Read More , animate with keyframes, and have access to all kinds of brushes. It’s a bit limited otherwise, but worth giving a try.

SVG-Edit (Web)


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 Photoshop or Lightroom: Which One Should You Use? Photoshop or Lightroom: Which One Should You Use? If you can gain access to both of them, we highly recommend it. But what if you could only choose one? Read More . Indeed, with a bit of practice and knowledge How to Improve Your Photography Overnight with Lynda.com How to Improve Your Photography Overnight with Lynda.com Lynda.com is great for online learning. Of the 546 photography courses available, here are some of the best ones for sharpening your skills in just a few hours. Read More , 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 5 Money-Saving Tips You Should Know Before Buying a DSLR 5 Money-Saving Tips You Should Know Before Buying a DSLR Here are some helpful tips for making photography a more financially-manageable activity. Read More — 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 Darktable vs. Shotwell: Two Great Photo Editing Applications For Linux Darktable vs. Shotwell: Two Great Photo Editing Applications For Linux Until recently, Linux only had GIMP as an acceptable photo editing tool. That's changed, thanks to a couple new tools that provide impressive features: Darktable and Shotwell. Read More , 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 The 7 Best Sites to Find Free InDesign Templates: Books, Flyers, Magazines, and More The 7 Best Sites to Find Free InDesign Templates: Books, Flyers, Magazines, and More How about using a professional Adobe InDesign template instead of making your own? Here are the best free template sites. Read More .

If you’re thinking of doing anything related to desktop publishing, InDesign is well worth learning if you can afford it Teach Yourself Adobe InDesign for Free Teach Yourself Adobe InDesign for Free Adobe InDesign is an industry-level tool for professional graphic designers to create single or multiple page documents. Here are 7 places you can learn it for free. Read More . 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 Should You Download Adobe's Creative Cloud Android Apps? Should You Download Adobe's Creative Cloud Android Apps? Watch us put Adobe's four Creative Cloud Android apps -- Capture, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator -- to the test. Read More .

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!

Explore more about: Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, GIMP.

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  1. Zoe
    May 22, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Not even a mention for IPICCY

  2. ned
    October 7, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    How about Affinity Photo and Affinity Design, how do they compare to Photoshop (other than much less cost)?

  3. ayy
    September 10, 2017 at 12:36 am

    As a person from third-world country who can't afford expensive software and or who want to avoid pirated (paid) software (as possible), this article helped me a lot. Thank you!

  4. Keith
    April 11, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you very much for this article. Well written and very informative. I am glad I stumbled onto this site!

  5. IyzMyk
    February 21, 2017 at 12:01 am

    As far as digital drawing goes, I've found Medibang Paint to be loosely creative. I use GIMP for most photo edits though.

  6. mallory
    January 16, 2017 at 4:43 am

    It seems surprising, but Fotor is a free app for Mac that is a pretty good alternative to Lightroom, especially for someone who is just starting out. It isn't super powerful nor does it have a lot of features but you can do some pretty neat stuff once you get used to it. I started on Lightroom but downloaded Fotor as an alternative to paying for the Creative Cloud and it does the majority of what I need it to do.

  7. Q
    January 13, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks for putting this together. Great guide and clear links.

  8. Logan
    January 10, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    I use HitFilm 4 Express as my video editor it's more powerful and polished than Shotcut in my opinion.

  9. Panda
    November 22, 2016 at 8:07 am

    These are all okay alternatives, but they feel like one will eventually give up on them to go buy the adobe suite anyway. So without further ado. Here are some better alternatives:
    *Affinity Photo for Photoshop
    *Affinity Designer for illustrator
    *Davinci Resolve for Premier Pro
    The top two are not free but the price is so cheap that a hobbyist wouldn't mind. University lecturers and professionals have tried it and said it works well. I love both.
    Davinci resolve is free there are pro versions, but the free is not like those free software where features are limited and they make the "free" so infuriating with watermarks and error messsges when trying to use features.

    I'm still looking for a good light room alternative that's free or very cheap. Not found one yet sadly. Rawtherapee grates me with its unusual interface and workflow

  10. Laulerdi
    September 27, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Photoshop's not the only image editor on the market but it is the best in the market.
    While it is indeed powerful, from an artist's perspective it is difficult to use. And it is too expensive.
    Thanks for all the alternatives to Adobe’s software. They are also useful. But one one great alternative to photoshop is missing in your list - PixelStyle Photo Editor. It is also photoshop killer.

    • Joel Lee
      September 29, 2016 at 12:55 am

      Hey Laulerdi, thanks for mentioning PixelStyle. I haven't heard of that one before! Looks like it's Mac only, which is a bit of a bummer, but it looks interesting enough.

  11. Claudia Reveles
    August 4, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I just started as an entrepreneur and I need to update Facebook and instagram with some high quality images. I hope I can do it with some of this tools without the need to pay for an Adobe License now. It is not in my budget at this moment.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      No worries, Claudia. Free software is perfect for cases like yours. :)

  12. Paul Donovan
    April 26, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    I didn't see DaVinci's Resolve (currently v12.5) which is free for Mac Users as long as you don't the advanced features of the full studio.
    And the two new apps for Mac - Affinity Photo (low cost to purchase) and Affinity Design (low cost to purchase). I know your story was about "free" but these two apps are pretty close to free.
    Another Video editor which I haven't really tried is HitFilm 3 Express. Again its free, but I don't have any idea what it can and cannot do.

    • Anonymous
      May 9, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      I believe Affinity Photo together with Bloom app (https://thebloomapp.com/features/) could be photoshop competitors sooner then adobe would like. They are not free, but I do not expect the apps I use to be free, i expect them to continue developing. ;)

  13. Anonymous
    April 26, 2016 at 7:27 am

    There's also Pinta (https://pinta-project.com/pintaproject/pinta/) for Photoshop alternative that's cross platform for Mac, Windows, Linux. It's the cross-platform version of Paint .NET in a way.

    • Joel Lee
      April 29, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks David! Pinta was actually mentioned in the section on Paint.NET. :)

  14. tengisu
    April 25, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    How does kdenlive stack up in terms features and capabilities against the video editors mentioned above?

    • Joel Lee
      April 29, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Sorry tengisu, I've never used Kdenlive. Hopefully one of our readers can pitch in with their experience and recommendation of it.

  15. Anonymous
    April 25, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    It has been well established that Adobe products are must for professionals. However, how many home users NEED, as opposed to WANT, all the extra features provided by Adobe products?

    "The only reason why we have it listed after Raw Therapee is that Darktable doesn’t provide Windows binaries."
    That is a shortcoming only if one uses Windows. :-)

    • Joel Lee
      April 29, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      Ha, always quick to point out the "only if you use Windows" angle. You're right about Adobe though. A lot of people don't actually need all of that firepower.

      • Anonymous
        April 29, 2016 at 8:28 pm

        Somebody has to stick up for the non-Windows users. :P

  16. Anonymous
    April 25, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    No love for Serif PagePlus? or even Microsoft Publisher? No, I guess not. :)

    • Joel Lee
      April 29, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      Do you use Serif PagePlus? From what I saw, it wasn't too impressive. As for Publisher, it's good but I don't think it's free. If it is, please let me know. That'd be awesome if it was. :D

      • Anonymous
        April 29, 2016 at 8:42 pm

        No, I don't think either is free, although some versions of Office (which many already have) include Publisher.
        At this point, almost anything would be better than being stuck with an Adobe subscription, unless it's a necessity for your business (in which case it's a deductible expense).