Adobe Photoshop is the first on any designer’s wish list, it’s generally the first piece of software we install. Photoshop as we all know comes with a host of features that allow for excellent and professional photo editing. But this comes at a cost, Photoshop is pricey, which can be off putting for anyone who wants to start off in Design. Luckily there are a number of open source programs out there that do much of what Photoshop can do.
GIMP stands for “GNU image manipulation program”, and it is one of the oldest and most well known alternatives to Photoshop in existence. Although it doesn’t quite have all of the features Photoshop has, but you’ll find most of the key features needed.
There is also another version of GIMP known as GIMPShop. It’s the same as GIMP, except the layout has been structured as close to Photoshop as possible, so anyone making the transition should still feel right at home.
Krita has been credited for its ease of use and won the Akademy Award for Best Application in 2006. Part of the Koffice suite for Linux, Krita is slightly less powerful than both Photoshop and GIMP, but does contain some unique features.
Paint.NET has grown out of a simple replacement for the well known MSPaint into a fully featured open source image editor with a wide support base. You’ll need Windows to run Paint.NET.
ChocoFlop is a design application designed exclusively for Mac. It’s quick and has a solid selection of key features. Unfortunately this software is in Beta so will liekly not stay free for very long. The program works pretty well as is, and if you’re the type who doesn’t mind an occasional bug it’s certainly worth a look.
Cinepaint is designed primarily for video often used to make animated feature films by major studios, but it is also a great image editor capable of high fidelity 32 bit color. Believe it or not, there is no version currently available for Windows.
Pixia was originally designed in Japanese but English versions now exist for this rich editor. Although the original focus was on anime/manga, it is a very capable editor in general. Some of the features are a little counter intuitive, but there are plenty of English tutorials available now if you want to give it a shot.
Pixen is designed as a pixel artist’s dream, but has expanded into a smooth and well featured overall editor. It’s definitely best at animation though, if that’s your style. Pixen is Mac only.
Picnik is a web based photo editor that has recently taken off due to a partnership with Flickr. It has all the basic features plus a few advanced ones like layers and special effects. It is cross platform which is handy, as all you need is a browser.
Another web based application, Splashup has a strong set of features (including those layers) and will remind you somewhat of Photoshop. It integrates easily with photo sharing websites and just like the above, is cross platform.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Adobe actually has a free web based photo editor of their own. It has all the basic functionality you’d expect as well as a few advanced features (sadly though, no layers), and interfaces well with a number of photo sharing websites. Again, completely cross platform.