The 5 Best Alternatives to Adobe Photoshop in 2021

Many lament Adobe’s expensive subscription model. It doesn’t feel good to pay monthly for software that gets superfluous, minimal updates once or twice a year with features that add nothing but bloat or some seldom needed cloud-based feature that hardly anyone uses. We all dream of the day where the industry might dare to move away from Adobe. Luckily, there exist several alternatives which are well worth attention. Some are free and some are paid, but none in this list require a monthly subscription to use the software.

1. Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo's user interface, showing a complex composition with many graphical elements around a woman's portrait.
Affinity Photo User Interace
(Image credit: Affinity)

Affinity has put themselves in the position of Adobe’s single greatest competitor and their equivalent of Photoshop is called Affinity Photo.

It’s probably the only program out there that can really give Photoshop a run for it’s money in terms of polish, and the best thing about it is that it’s not subscription-based. It costs a one time price of $55.

So what do you get for your $55? Well, it’s got just about everything Photoshop has, including some of the best bells and whistles. Layers and masks are a given, but it also supports RAW image editing, includes an HDR merge feature and built-in panorama stitching, focus stacking, batch processing, and 360 image editing. All of these features make Affinity Photo a really attractive alternative to Photoshop. As a photographer myself, I can’t think of something I use in Photoshop on a regular basis that I wouldn’t be able to do in Affinity photo.

As for non-photography work, Affinity is capable in that regard as well. It supports plugins (and in some cases, even supports plugins that are made for Photoshop).

Maybe something like Photoshop’s new sky replacement feature is lacking in Affinity Photo, but niche features like that are outweighed by the recurring cost that Adobe charges for them.

Affinity Photo also is compatible with Photoshop files. Since Photoshop is the industry standard, any serious contender would have to make their software compatible, and Affinity Photo checks that box. Combined with Affinity’s other software (Designer & Publisher – their equivalent to Illustrator and InDesign), Affinity is quickly becoming a real competitor to Adobe and some design firms and creative companies have adopted Affinity software as their standard.

PlatformMac, Windows, iPad
Pricing$55.99 One-time payment
Pros• Robust, professional feature set with full file format compatibility across all platforms.
• 32-bit workflow support.
• Compatible with Photoshop files (both .PSD and .PSB)
• Plugin support.
• Photoshop smart object support.
• Affinity’s other software mimics Adobe’s own ecosystem.
Cons• Not quite as feature rich.


GIMP is perhaps the number one free image editing software.
GIMP User Interface Screenshot
(Image credit: The Gimp Team – CC BY-SA 4.0)

GIMP (short for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”) is a cross-platform image editor that goes back a long way. It’s completely free and open source, meaning that if you have the will and capability, you can edit and extend the program in any way you wish. It’s the gold standard for free image editors.

Realistically, the vast majority of users will simply use whatever GIMP comes with out of the box. However, its open-source nature has given it the benefit of a ton of user-made extensions, scripts, and plug-ins. Savvy users can install whatever extensions they need to get functionality that may not come standard with GIMP.

GIMP features many of Photoshop’s most essential tools, including unlimited layers, layer masks, filters, color adjustment tools, transform capabilities, and more.

Some of the most popular plugins include Darktable & RawTherapee (RAW image compatibility), G’MIC (a one-click filter collection), Resynthesizer (a copy of Photoshop’s content-aware fill tool), Hugin (panorama stitcher), BIMP (a plugin for batch editing large groups of images), and more.

GIMP has a large library of tutorials that new users can reference for help. There is also an extensive user manual. Coupled with available plugins, GIMP can truly be a formidable contender when it comes to competing with Photoshop.

PlatformMac, Windows, Linux
Open Source
Pros• High degree of extensibility through integration with various programming languages.
• Many community scripts and plug-ins.
Cons• The user interface can take some getting used to, as it’s quite different from Photoshop.
• Some advanced features from Photoshop are missing.

3. Photopea

A scene from the outskirts of Seattle open in Photopea's web interface. Photopea is a web-based, independently developed photo editor based on looking and working like Photoshop.
A RAW photo I took to try out the editing capabilities of Photopea. The free version has an ad on the right hand side of the UI.

Now this is one truly remarkable piece of software. It’s a free, web-based photo editor that mimics Photoshop’s interface with great success. It’s basically Photoshop in a web browser, for free.

There is a premium tier, but all it enables is 2x more steps in history, and an ad-free interface. The free version has a vertical ad on the right side of the screen.

It runs on your device, not on the cloud. It doesn’t upload any of your files anywhere. You can use it offline. It looks and works like Photoshop. It supports files made in Photoshop. You don’t need to make an account. It loads fast. There’s a lot to love about it.

Surely it has some draw backs? Yes, naturally, there are some caveats to it. Working with enormous files would likely be more difficult due to memory management and the fact that it runs within a browser. It currently only supports 8 bit color depth which could be a deal breaker for some photo editors out there. Additionally, only the sRGB color space is supported. However, other than those few hindrances, I struggled to find any other significant ways that make Photopea an untenable professional tool.

Remarkably, Photopea is partially open source. You can check out the Github repository for discussions, bug reports, feature requests, etc.

Photopea offers a premium version for an ad-free experience.
The free version has a sidebar ad on the right side of the screen.
Pros• Multiple advanced features ported from Photoshop.
• Compatible with .PSD files and tons of other professional formats.
• Mimics Photoshop’s interface and user experience.
Cons• Limited in image depth and color space compatibility. Only supports 8-bit, sRGB files.
• Need an internet connection to use.

4. Paint.NET

Video tutorial showcasing Paint.NET’s general capabilities.

Paint.NET is one of the more popular Photoshop alternatives out there. It’s completely free, has a consistent and easy-to-use interface, and is also open-source. It supports layers, batch editing, adjustment tools, and is very lightweight compared to Photoshop. Unfortunately, it only runs on Windows machines.

Paint.NET can kind of be viewed as a stripped down, bare-bones Photoshop. It’s a step above something like Microsoft Paint, but definitely not quite as advanced as GIMP. Many of the advanced tools are missing, but all of the essentials are there. If you need to spin up some software for quick, basic edits, Paint.NET is a good choice.

Open Source
Pros• Lightweight. Works well on low-powered PC’s
• Easy to learn.
• Many community scripts and plug-ins.
Cons• Many advanced features from Photoshop are missing.
• Relatively simple tool set.

5. Pixlr

Pixlr's web interface. A fairly polished web-based alternative to Adobe Photoshop.
A screenshot of Pixlr’s web interface, cropped to just the UI. The free version has an ad on the right side of the screen.

Like Photopea, Pixlr is another free, web-based editor. However, it’s more focused on being it’s own image-editing platform as opposed to directly mimicking Photoshop. Depending on your point of view, this could be either good or bad.

It features all the essential features you’d come to expect from a modern image editor. There are layers, adjustment tools, robust selection tools, transform tools, blend modes, filters & effects, and more. It has a nice user interface as well, with helpful tool tips that can quickly tell you what each tool does. If you’re used to Photoshop, you’ll have no trouble picking up Pixlr.

Pixlr also offers a decent level of file format compatibility. It works with PSD, PXD, JPEG, PNG (including transparency), WebP (something not even Photoshop has by default), and SVG files.

Pixlr also offers some more advanced tools that many may find useful. There’s an AI-powered automatic background removal tool, a free, built-in template library, and a wide variety of instagram-like filters & effects that you can apply to images in one click.

All of these features and accessibility combined have made Pixlr a very successful photo editor, apparently being used by over 500 million total people (no way that’s true, but that’s what it says on their website).

Pixlr offers a premium version for an ad-free experience.
The free version has a thin sidebar ad on the right side of the screen.
Pros• Web based, accessible from any desktop platform.
• Relatively robust feature set.
• Built-in stock image search engine.
• Built-in template library.
Cons• Limited in image depth and color space compatibility.
• Some advanced features from Photoshop are missing.
• Need an internet connection to use.


Photoshop is deeply entrenched within the creative industry. It’s the industry standard, and has great cross-compatibility with other Adobe apps that cover most visual creative workflows and pipelines. If you’re a professional, there’s basically no alternative.

That being said, if you’re a hobbyist, or just need a quick image edit done, any of the above will serve you well. Affinity Photo and GIMP are definitely the most capable. Even some more serious design jobs can be adequately done given the above choices.

With time, Affinity even has a chance at bringing their software suite up to a level where some small design firms or independent freelancers may opt to use them over Adobe.

The bottom line is that if you’re doing serious design work that requires collaboration or cross-app workflows, you’re still trapped in Adobe’s clutches. If you’re a hobbyist or maybe a freelancer, you can get away with Affinity or GIMP. If you’re just tinkering with images, any of the above would be able to get the job done.