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Adobe Photoshop – Are there any real alternatives?

Written by UKWDA on 11 September 2012

Smaller agencies and freelancers have long struggled to pay for the high end software product suites. The most effective design editing software is Adobe Photoshop, which is pricey at up to £600 per licence - even more for the full Adobe Creative Suite. So the Adobe team has created the ‘Adobe cloud subscription’. Rather than shelling out for the full cost upfront you can simply subscribe per user. But are there any viable alternatives on the market if you’re still not wooed by Adobe’s latest offer?

1. GIMP

GIMP is one of the oldest and best known alternatives to Photoshop. Although it doesn’t quite have all of the great features that Photoshop has, you’ll find most of them somewhere in GIMP - which is also cross platform and supported by a large community. Most user complaints tend to be about the interface; the toolbar, the main window, and layers window are all ‘floating’ and there are a lot of menus. So, the question is do you prefer to spend more to buy Photoshop, or do you want to take a little extra time learning the program? There are, after all, plug-ins that allow you to use Print shop brushes and other goodies. The program’s total flexibility and the fact you can install it on as many computers as you like make this a great Photoshop alternative. 

2. Krita

Krita has been praised for ease of use and won the Akademy Award for Best Application in 2006. Part of the Koffice suite for Linux, Krita is less powerful than both Photoshop and GIMP, but has some unique features. Krita’s vision statement is that it’s a program for sketching and painting, and offers an end–to–end solution for creating digital painting files from scratch. Krita supports creative working with a snappy response, and is modelled on existing real-world painting materials and workflows. Krita has advanced features: 16-bit image support, High dynamic resolution images, CMYK and colour management. Krita is good for either serious use or just to play around with. Navigating the UI can be painful and buggy at times, and you can still get the occasional crash doing basic things. Krita’s brush interface is wonderful though. Right Click is a palette for both your favourite brushes and colours. You can also use an image as your colour palette. It has several great features that Photoshop still lacks despite its price tag of £300. It’s also quite technical in nature; whereas in Photoshop, brushes have a limited function, Krita gives advanced pattern control, animated colour variation, and stroke bleeding.

3. Skencil

Skencil is an interactive vector drawing application. It is like a supplementary program and allows you to import files from Adobe. Some of its features are Bezier curves, transformed text and images, gradient fills, blend groups, etc. It can be used on Linux, Windows and Mac OSX. The best thing about this software is that it's well implemented with Python meaning it’s easy to use and allows users to create extensions for the software. It also has a proprietary format that is selected by default, but most users prefer to use either the most common one or the best format. Skencil is quite capable of decent graphics. However, if you want to create a banner or logo that has a professional look, this software can't be used because it hasn't got the support for anti-aliased drawings, TrueType fonts or for different encodings. The lack of these features limits its use quite a lot.

4. Serif Draw Plus

Serif Draw Plus is a 2D vector graphic editor. This tool is best for brilliant effects and impressive drawings. It is perfect for advanced artistic features and provides blend modes, realistic brush, pen and pencil tools. It also provides tools like curve smoothing, curve editing and quick shapes. This software works only on Windows platform but is free. With the help of a start-up wizard, Serif DrawPlus X5 offers a range of project types such as print document/drawing or animation in the form of stop motion or key frame, while export options include Flash for animation and professional PDF for printing. Serif DrawPlus X5 has quite a few features in common with the latest versions of CorelDraw and Adobe Creative Suite, though they are presented in one single fast and reasonably priced application. It won’t match everything these suites can do, but should provide the user with everything they need to produce decent quality graphic content that meets most requirements.

5. Pixia

Overall, Pixia is a very capable editor. There are tutorials available for it if you find some of the features difficult to master. Pixia works with Windows but has incomplete help files and lacks an online community. The software takes a bold approach to its user interface with buttons that are large and clear, although some users may feel that the design lacks sophistication. When viewing an image the zoom function can zoom-out further than necessary leaving too much empty screen surrounding the image, or zoom-in too closely leaving parts of the image invisible. Pixia is a free image-editing and drawing program, it offers Photoshop-like capabilities such as layers, multiple undos, and plug-ins; it will even accept Photoshop's plug-ins. There's a Tablet control for setting options for digitising tablets such as the popular Wacom pad. Pixia is one of the most capable and professional Photoshop alternatives.

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