GIMP is a powerful and capable image editor, and one of the best free options available. But creative people often have very specific needs for their workflow, so today we’re going to look at some of the most popular GIMP alternatives in case you need something a bit different.
While GIMP is powerful, it’s not exactly easy to learn. Despite the recent interface improvements, it still has a long way to go before it can be accurately described as ‘user-friendly’. Sure, you can customize the UI to make things a little smoother, but that can be difficult for many new users.
If you’re willing to spend a tiny bit, the best alternative to GIMP is Adobe Photoshop – no question about it. Just $9.99 a month gets you the best of the best, along with Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop for iPad, and 20GB of cloud storage space – plus there’s a free 30-day trial!
It almost doesn’t seem fair to include Photoshop, but it’s the best image editor out there for a reason. It’s far more powerful than GIMP with responsive retouching tools and AI-powered adjustments, and it’s also easier to learn with tons of help content available right inside the app.
If you need the best free alternative to GIMP, look no further than Photo Pos Pro. It’s got a familiar GIMP/Photoshop-style interface and all the editing tools you’ll need. There are Pro and Beginner versions of the UI for ease of use, and in-app access to Pixabay for stock photos.
As you may know from my other bio blurbs around the site, I’m Thomas Boldt, and I’ve been working with a wide range of digital image editing apps since long before anyone was even calling them apps. Yes, there really was such a time…a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…STAR W[stop this please, or we’ll get a C&D from Disney -Ed.].
Anyways, as I was saying, I’ve worked with just about every major image editor available today, both free and paid versions, and I can save you the time of testing them all out for yourself. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best GIMP alternatives!
Paid GIMP Alternatives
It’s unfortunate, but the best GIMP alternatives usually require spending a bit of your hard-earned cash. While the free software movement produces some truly excellent programs, it’s hard for even the best volunteer developers to keep up with a dedicated software company.
Photoshop is the great grandfather of digital image editing, getting its start in the late 1980s when the very idea of personal computing was still brand new. With the exception of Google, I can’t think of any other software so iconic that its name has been turned into a verb.
Photoshop will let you do just about anything you can imagine to an image. Its editing tools are perfect for everything from basic photo resizing to morphing your images into photorealistic paintings. Every tool works smoothly and responsively, even when working on high-res images.
The manual tools are excellent, but some of the automatic tools need to be seen to be believed. Content-aware background fills that can automatically recreate parts of your image background are very cool, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
The latest version of Photoshop introduces Neural Filters, an AI-powered set of automatic adjustments which can do everything from smoothing your subject’s skin to literally putting a smile on their face or even changing the lighting direction, all with just a few clicks.
Photoshop can be a bit intimidating the first time you use it, but you’ll get up to speed in no time thanks to the built-in tutorials and help content that’s available from inside the app itself. You can download tutorial files and learn by following along without ever leaving Photoshop!
Adobe Photoshop is available on Windows/Mac for just $9.99 a month and comes bundled with Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop for iPad, and 20 GB of cloud storage space. With a huge feature release at least once a year, it’s hard to beat that value.
If you’re not quite sure if you need the full professional version, Photoshop Elements is a great option that still provides the most important image editing tools in a user-friendly package. It’s much easier to learn than Photoshop, even though it doesn’t quite have as many features.
For most home users editing vacation pics and holiday snaps, Photoshop Elements is a great ‘middle of the road’ choice. It offers simple yet powerful guided edits for new users who are in a rush, and an Expert mode once you feel ready to take full control over your editing process.
Photoshop Elements does have a higher initial cost than the other GIMP alternatives in this list, but you get a perpetual license instead of a monthly subscription, which is a system that many people find more appealing. There’s a free trial available here so you can see it for yourself.
Serif Labs has made quite a name for itself, and Affinity Photo is arguably the program that set off the recent Photoshop Clone Wars. It’s built from the ground up with new technologies and streamlined to focus on photo editing, which the developers argue Photoshop has lost sight of.
AP has a slightly unusual way of distributing editing tools, dividing them into task-based sections. Develop lets you work with RAW photos, while Photo lets you do most of your editing, and there are modules for HDR tone mapping, exporting, and – inexplicably, to me – one for the Liquify tool.
Serif’s unconventional approach to interface design does have some advantages, such as their helpful ‘Assistant’ feature that lets you easily customize how AP responds to certain actions. This lets you really customize your workflow, although I think it could be expanded even further.
The only issues that I’ve run into during my time with Affinity Photo are about responsiveness, especially when editing RAW photos. Since it’s comparatively new, I assume that the developers haven’t quite optimized everything they can yet, and I hope that this is resolved in future versions.
Available for Mac and recently released for Windows as well, Affinity Photo is a great value at just $49.99 for a lifetime license and a year of free updates. It also plays well with Affinity Designer for vector drawing and Affinity Publisher for page layout.
Zoner Photo Studio is one of the best editors you’ve probably never heard of before. It’s actually been available for some time, but I remember being completely surprised a couple of years ago that such a polished editing program managed to stay fairly quiet in the image editing world.
ZPS uses a module system sort of like Affinity Photo but applied a bit more logically. Manager gives you a library management system, Develop provides non-destructive RAW editing, Editor handles layer-based pixel editing, and Create lets you plug your images into various layouts.
It manages to do all of these essential workflow tasks quite well and has time to spare for a few extra tricks like color-based noise reduction. Camera and lens profiles could be handled more smoothly, but overall it’s a well-optimized editor that is definitely worth your attention.
Zoner Photo Studio is only available for Windows, which seems like a missed opportunity to appeal to the large creative demographic who dearly love their Macs. It’s available as a monthly subscription, but at just $5 a month, it won’t exactly break the bank.
Free GIMP Alternatives
There are still a few decent GIMP alternatives for those of you working on a tight budget. Most of them are browser-based, but a few are downloadable programs you can use offline as well.
Photo Pos Pro may have a bit of an odd name, but it’s a great photo editor for anyone who needs a free alternative to GIMP. It has responsive and capable editing tools, as well as a surprising number of extra features for a free program, including some handy on-screen tutorials.
Photo Pos Pro is the only non-Adobe program that I’ve ever seen integrate stock photo searching, and it’s a very nice touch. It uses the free image search engine Pixabay, but be sure to read those free content license requirements if you’re using them for anything commercial.
Like Photoshop Elements, Photo Pos Pro has multiple versions of its interface to match your skill level. New users can use the Novice version of the interface filled with extra help, and then you can switch to the Pro interface once you get comfortable with how things work.
Photo Pos Pro does have a ‘Premium Edition’, but for most users, the free version should be good enough for most tasks. If you’re going to spend money on an app, I’d recommend that you choose one of the paid programs I wrote about earlier to get the best value for your money.
Version 4 is in development and presumably, will be released soon, so be sure to keep an eye on the developer for news about the release date! You can try version 3 here if you don’t want to wait – although it’s only available for Windows, so Mac and Linux users will need a VM to run it.
While there’s a bit of a shortage of free desktop-based GIMP alternatives, a number of web-based editors have been popping up lately. While they weren’t good for much at first, the technology has ramped up and Photopea is the perfect example of how far they’ve come.
Billing itself as an advanced photo editor, the interface is almost an exact clone of Photoshop. It can open PSD files, Photoshop’s native document format, as well as Illustrator, XD, Sketch, and even GIMP’s own XCF files, making this the first time I’ve ever seen the option in another app.
Unfortunately, because it’s browser-based, you do need to be online for everything to work properly, and you probably wouldn’t want to use it for editing high-resolution images. It also means that it has some serious response lag when doing cloning and healing.
But if you’re just trying to do some basic edits to a single image, this might be just what you need. It won’t replace a full-featured desktop app for serious productivity, but it’s a handy tool in case you need an occasional photo editor. Give it a try for yourself at photopea.com.
Pixlr was one of the first browser-based image editors, and it’s stayed at the forefront of the market thanks to its constantly evolving features. It’s divided now into Pixlr E for editing and Pixlr X for graphic design work, although there’s a lot of crossover between the two platforms.
The interface is similar enough to the classic editor layout that you’ll be able to pick it up quickly, although the tools do share some of the same response lag seen in other web-based photo editors. You also still need to be online to access it, which can be a problem for some users.
Unfortunately, visiting this site in Firefox has given me a warning that there was a data breach of more than 1 million Pixlr accounts in 2020. Always remember to use a unique password for each account you create – and if you can’t remember them all, use a password manager for safety!
The Best GIMP Alternative
Even after looking at all the great apps on this list, Adobe Photoshop is still the best GIMP alternative, hands down. It’s the gold standard for photo editing, and it’s one of the rare cases where it actually deserves that reputation. It’s not free like GIMP, but it’s worth the small cost.
Best-in-class editing tools, powerful automatic adjustments, and professional-level features like RGB/CMYK color management and expanded bit-depth handling in a responsive package? It just doesn’t get any better than that – I’ve checked. Quite a few times 😉
Bundle that in Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop for iPad, and 20 GB of cloud storage for just $9.99 a month, along with all the free tutorials you could want, and you’ll see why Photoshop has become synonymous with image editing.About Thomas Boldt