Adobe Photoshop is the classic image manipulation program, and has become synonymous with the idea of editing pictures, to the point where the word “Photoshop” is used as a verb more often than not. It’s taken some time to earn and solidify this reputation, but what about the alternatives that are out there? Surely there’s no point looking for alternatives to a piece of software that can do anything you want it to, you might be thinking.
In fact, this isn’t really the case. What Photoshop lacks is the ability to inspire you if your photography work isn’t standing out the way you hoped. Once you’ve exhausted your creative juices, Photoshop isn’t going to start suggesting new ideas or opening up new possibilities, it’s just going to wait for you to decide what you need next. Some of its rivals are taking the next step and becoming truly creative and imaginative tools that you can use for stunning image editing. There are also better options out there for organising your photo library, and also for dealing with raw, unprocessed files.
Before we look to these potential alternatives, let’s consider the benefits of Adobe’s best offering. Now that the price of a Creative Cloud subscription has been lowered since its controversial launch, it costs less than £10 per month on an annual subscription to get the “Photography plan”, which includes an ongoing licence for both Photoshop and Lightroom. These programs complement each other perfectly, and between the two of them you have a range of powerful editing and organising tools to keep your growing photo library under control. It might not be obvious how to do everything if you don’t know already, but all the tools you could possible want are included in a single neat package.
It is worth mentioning that depending on your needs, Adobe’s own Photoshop Elements could be a viable option for you. It strips out a lot of the more complex features of Photoshop and focuses on making things simple and user-friendly, with added options for organisation so you don’t need a Lightroom alternative, everything is built in. For professionals, however, the tools aren’t powerful enough, and unless you really need the simplified interface it isn’t worth the small price reduction compared to the real thing.
The first alternative to Adobe’s main package is Serif Affinity Photo. It’s exclusive to Macs and doesn’t include the organisational features for your library, but it’s a close variation on Photoshop with a huge range of extremely similar capabilities at a fraction of the cost. It’s also being constantly updated and optimised for power users, but the main benefit here is that it’s much cheaper than any official method of getting Photoshop.
Phase One’s Capture One Pro 9, meanwhile, is a realistic substitute for Lightroom. It allows you to build a customised database for all your image files and treat them with preset effects for quick touch-ups, plus it’s key benefit is it’s noticeably better at raw file processing than Adobe’s software, giving sharper, higher quality end results. The down side for pro users is that third party plug-ins are not supported.
PaintShop Pro is a long-running rival to Photoshop. Corel’s latest version, X8, costs less than half the price of Adobe’s package and packs in the vast majority of the same features in a slightly different format. It doesn’t run as smoothly and can be a little tricky to get used to, but the most recent iteration does contain all the tools you could realistically want in a Photoshop substitute.
Ultimately for most professional users it’s going to come down to personal preference, as there are so many options out there in 2016 that offer all the necessary tools to edit images to your heart’s content. While Adobe remains the market leader, the alternatives are genuinely robust and powerful options that are definitely worth looking at in detail.