The Best Open-Source (or Freeware) Alternatives to Photoshop


Economy got you down? No longer able to make those day-long trips to your local computer store of choice for all the latest and greatest software tools? Tired of paying top-dollar for programs that don't quite have the functionality you want? Well get ready. It's freeware and open-source week at Maximum PC. We're going to spend the next week showing you the best (and cheapest) software we've been able to find across different themes: graphics design, system optimization, games, and office/productivity.

Just because it doesn't come in a box doesn't mean that these titles are any less powerful than their retail counterparts. The graphics category exemplifies that fact, offering programs that are every bit as good as their hundred-dollar Adobe counterparts.  But just for good measure, we threw in our favorite free Adobe graphics program too. Without further ado, here's our list of the top 5 open-source graphical applications!


Gimp is often mentioned as one of the top open-source photo editing applications and it's easy to see why.  The program offers Photoshop-like functionality at the low-low price of zero.  You can accomplish a number of the graphical tricks you're normally used to, as the program includes support for layers and masking, channel coloration adjustments, and a bevy of preset filters. Gimpshop is a variant of Gimp that ups the ante one step further by blending Photoshop's look and feel directly into the program's. It's the perfect tool if you just can't bear the thought of losing "that same ol' interface" you've grown accustomed to. It's a great program for middle-of-the-road users that just need a graphics editing application with more oomph .


Consummate Vs! For the artist that focuses solely on the basics--the careful transformation of sketched pencil lines into a finished comic product--Pencil is the perfect application. What it lacks in graphical gusto, it makes up for in its ability to integrate Macromedia Flash-like keyframe functionality into the drawing board. Taking an illustration from the sketching, to the inking, to the coloration phase is as simple as adding in additional layers. When designing an animation, you can even select alternate camera frames and integrate sound directly into the mix. Don't let our crude attempts at art fool you: Pencil is the digital equivalent of an animator's storyboard that's as easy to use as, well, a pencil!


Feh to Windows Photo Gallery. We would gladly trade the ability to crop photos and correct red eyeballs for what XnView offers: comprehensive access to your photos' behind-the-scenes data and a wide assortment of tools for managing your growing gallery. Not only can you view your photo folders just like a common Windows Explorer thumbnail interface, but XnView lets you tag, rate, and create slideshows (even Web pages) for the photos you select. We love the ability to get tweak our photos by getting elbow-deep into their EXIF data. And like Photoshop, XnView lets you perform batch editing commands using a number of different filters. You can even zoom right to a photo's embedded GPS location via a direct link to Google Maps--way cool.

Picasa 3

Whereas XnView is more for digging deep into folders you specify, Google's Picasa 3 is an all-in-one monitoring service for your photo folders.  It offers less overall editing functionality than XnView, but comes packaged in a more elegant interface with additional options for Internet-related tasks.  For example, you can add geotags to your photos via Google Earth and then have Picasa 3 automatically upload your shots to a Web album, FTP site, or straight to your Blogger blog. Picasa 3 also interfaces with online shops for easy photo printing, and can turn a batch of your images into collages, movies, and screensavers. Included backup functionality helps keep your precious photographic memories safe from an errant hard drive failure, provided you select an appropriate backup locale. But our favorite feature, by far, is Picasa's ability to search through your photographs by dominant color.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Ok, we couldn't resist Adobe's lure. For the company's Web-based Photoshop (conveniently called Photoshop Express) is a phenomenal tool for touching up your art when you're on the go.  Or anywhere, for that matter: the program's comprehensive-yet-simple suite of editing tools offers a wide range of basic functionality.  If you want more, you can drill a little bit deeper to unlock tools like color isolation, distortions, and image enhancements.  But that's not all.  The online application can interface directly with your Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa galleries.  Make your edits, and Photoshop Express saves your new work directly back to its original location.  The time this saves versus downloading the picture, uploading it to Photoshop Express, making the edits, saving it, and re-uploading it to a new content hose is, in a word, epic.

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