We've picked five of the best Photoshop alternatives that could save you time, save you money and restore your enjoyment of photography.
So what have we got against Photoshop? Don't get us wrong – it's a great program for designers, publishers, illustrators and a certain kind of photographic manipulation – but it's not necessarily the ultimate photographic tool everyone thinks it is. Here are five reasons to change:
1. You don't like subscriptions? Fair enough. We happen to think the Adobe Photography Plan is a really good deal, but if you're dead set on paying a one-off licence fee then we have the answer – Affinity Photo, Photoshop Elements, Luminar Neo, Capture One and DxO Nik Collection can all be licensed this way.
2. Photoshop costs too much? Well, if $120/£120 per year for the Photography Plan is too steep, get Affinity Photo! It's less than half that, and Affinity has never charged for an upgrade since the software was launched. It can also go toe-to-toe with Photoshop at every level.
3. Photoshop is boring? That's right enough. With Photoshop you have to bring your own inspiration – it's not going to give you any creative ideas, that's for sure. If your creativity needs a kick now and again, Luminar Neo's reality-enhancing AI is a great way to do it, while DxO's Nik Collection is a near-inexhaustible mine of image treatment ideas.
4. Photoshop doesn't suit your busy workflow? That's because it's a one-by-one image editor, not a bulk browser and processor. For that you need Lightroom or, better still, Capture One, with its powerful tethered shooting, Sessions or Catalog-based workflow and higher-quality raw processing.
5. Photoshop is too daunting? That's easy. Photoshop Elements will offer you a lot of Photoshop features in an interface that's falling over itself to be friendly and helpful. And then there's Luminar Neo's quirky but often inspired approach to editing that's designed specifically for people who don't like editing.
So it sounds like we've given you a bunch of answers already, right? But keep reading to find out more about each of these best Photoshop alternatives. We've ordered them 1-5, but really each one is designed for a different audience and, in their own way, they're all equal.
If all you want is a regular in-depth photo editor with all the power of Photoshop but without the subscription, Affinity Photo is it! Don’t let the budget price fool you, because this is a seriously powerful professional image-editing tool that does everything Photoshop can, and more. If you’ve come straight from Photoshop you’ll need to spend a bit of time learning some new tools and a different interface, and Affinity Photo can get technical pretty quickly, but it’s a real powerhouse program that really can replace Photoshop.
If you like the idea of Lightroom, but you aren’t so keen on the software itself, Capture One could be just what you’re looking for. It’s a great Photoshop alternative for photographers because it offers non-destructive editing and image organizing, just like Lightroom, but with superior raw processing and really good local adjustment tools based around adjustment layers and masks – you can even name your adjustment layers to remind you of the work you’ve done on each image. Capture One Pro 22 is expensive, but it’s available both on subscription and as a standalone purchase. If you redesigned Photoshop solely for busy professional photographers, you might get something like this.
Nik Collection 5 is perhaps the most comprehensive and inspiring collection of one-click effects, presets and 'looks' you'll ever see. It consists of eight separate plug-ins which can also be used as standalone programs. Analog Efex Pro is brilliant at analog/darkroom effects, while Color Efex Pro is a hugely powerful suite of filters for individual use or combined into 'recipes'. Silver Efex Pro remains the best digital black and white plug-in ever and is updated in this version with a fresh, modern interface, a new ClearView option and more powerful selective control points. Viveza gets the same treatment and is elevated from a relatively simple local adjustment tool into a much more powerful plug-in. HDR Efex Pro is pretty handy as an HDR merging/effects tool, and while Sharpener Pro and Dfine feel pretty dated now, they can still be useful for output sharpening and noise reduction respectively. And then there's Perspective Efex, DxO's most recent addition, which offers powerful lens and perspective corrections, tilt-shift effects and advanced wide-angle distortion correction. You can use the Nik Collection 4 plug-ins with Photoshop, Lightroom and from within DxO PhotoLab – or use them as external editors with other programs like Capture One.
Read more: DxO Nik Collection 4 review (version 6 is now out with enhancements to Analog Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro)
We are slowly warming to Luminar Neo, and it's not everyone's cup of tea. But it is affordable, exciting and constantly inventive. Photoshop can do the most amazing things… if you know how. But it often requires a great deal of experience, skill and time, and for many creators today it’s more important to invest time elsewhere – like taking pictures, for example! Luminar Neo is a mix of the good, the disappointing and the sometimes glitchy. Its AI tools – the good ones – are truly spectacular. Skylum has always wanted to produce a simple, effective photo editor that skips tedious technicalities. Luminar Neo succeeds in part, though Skylum has brought another kind of confusion with its constant re-invention and re-marketing of Luminar itself. However, with a constant stream of updates, it's definitely moving in the right direction.
Dear old Photoshop Elements is showing its age a little, but it's still a brilliant buy for anyone put off by Photoshop's professional austerity – and its subscription fee. The Elements editor, which has an eLive mode for inspiration and tutorials, a Quick mode for fast and simple effects, a Guided mode with an ever-expanding list of effects walkthroughs (three more added in the 2022 version), and an Expert mode with the full range of tools. You can get Photoshop Elements on its own, or with Adobe Premiere Elements as a bundle – Premiere Elements does for video what Photoshop Elements does for photography.