There’s a lot to like about Adobe’s suite of creative software, but its chief selling point is that Adobe is the industry standard for creative professionals. If you need the absolute best in terms of features and support, then you need Adobe’s creative suite!
(Exclusive deal: MakeUseOf readers can unlock up to 15% savings when signing up for Adobe Creative Cloud with this link.)
But what if you can’t afford a monthly subscription? For hobbyists and amateurs, even the cheapest Adobe subscription plan might be too much to swallow. The good news is, there are free alternatives available!
The bad news is, they’re mostly unremarkable. They’ll get the job done in a pinch, but have enough quirks and flaws such that we don’t recommend these for professional work. If you’re okay with that, then here are the best free alternatives to Adobe creative software.
The Best Free Adobe Photoshop Alternatives
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 including a few great online Photoshop alternatives. 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 our introductory tutorial on how to edit images using GIMP, because learning GIMP by trial and error is a pain in the neck.
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).
The Best Free Adobe Illustrator Alternatives
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 Illustrator).
Just download it here and run it in your browser. It works in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Edge.
If you’re willing to pay for extra features, but want a lower price tag than Illustrator, have a look at Affinity Designer for an affordable alternative.
The Best Free Adobe Lightroom Alternatives
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 Adobe Lightroom. But if you’re fine with something simple for standard edits, these Lightroom alternatives 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 (Windows, 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. Read our Darktable guide to get started with it.
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. Update: Windows binaries are now available for Darktable!
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.
The Best Free Adobe Premiere Pro Alternatives
Here’s yet another industry standard in 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.
Davinci Resolve (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Davinci Resolve is easily the best free alternative to Premiere Pro. While Davinci Resolve launched in 2004 as a professional color grading solution, it evolved over time into a full-featured non-liner editing solution for videos with a proper timeline system.
To be clear, Davinci Resolve’s best feature remains its advanced color grading tools, and the timeline editing isn’t as smooth as what you’d find in, say, Premiere Pro or even Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. The learning curve can be a bit steep, so be prepared to give it your all if you’re going to learn it.
However, considering Davinci Resolve can be used for free, it’s definitely worth checking out. Some advanced features (e.g. 3D tools, Resolve FX, multi-user collaboration, etc.) are only available in Davinci Resolve Studio, which costs $299.
Hitfilm Express (Windows, Mac)
Hitfilm Express isn’t as widely used in professional circles as Davinci Resolve, but it’s an excellent free alternative if you don’t like Davinci Resolve for whatever reason.
Hitfilm Express is a complete non-linear editing solution for videos with a proper timeline and plenty of useful video editing features: 2D and 3D compositing, hundreds of effects and presets, unlimited tracks and transitions, and more.
While Hitfilm Express is free to download and use, there are some advanced features that are only available in Hitfilm Pro, which is available for $299.
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.
Unfortunately, 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 a hefty $450.
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.
The Best Free Adobe InDesign Alternatives
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 free Adobe InDesign 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 Free Adobe Alternatives Are You Using?
If you’re just a hobbyist, these free alternatives will probably be more than enough. Try them all out and pick the one that feels most comfortable to use.
But if you’re planning to go professional at some point—or even semi-professional—then we highly recommend getting a full Creative Cloud subscription, which gives you access to amazing apps that are must-haves for illustration and graphic design.