When MS Paint won't cut it...
February 20, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

I can't justify the cost of photoshop. What freeware/shareware/open-source image editor for Windows comes closest in terms of capabilities and/or interface?

Would Gimp-Win be the best thing? I'm willing to sacrifice more advanced capabilities (prepress stuff, etc.) for a more intuitive interface.
posted by werkzeuger to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I've used GIMP quite a lot, and like it. There is a lot of noise on the internet about the interface being weird or bad, but it seems fine to me. I haven't used photoshop, so maybe if you're used to that, then GIMP will be hard to use.
posted by richb at 7:44 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there any possibility you (or an acquaintance/friend/relative) can qualify for an educational discount on Photoshop? Of course, the larger the college or university, the better the discount. At most ginormous state schools, the discount can be mind-blowingly substantial.

If not, then the GIMP probably is about as close as you can come. Unfortunately.
I've tried to like GIMP, but really can't muster much love for it. It's really more of a software dev's idea of an image-editor, rather than an image-editor's idea of an image-editor. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:49 AM on February 20, 2012

Best answer: If you're familiar with former versions of photoshop, you can try out gimpshop which is a free re-skinning of GIMP as photoshop.

Depending on the type of tasks you want to perform, paint.net (free) is not good to, and has many plugins
posted by motdiem2 at 7:50 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

What kind of functionality do you actually need out of photoshop? Could you do the same thing with photoshop elements?
posted by TrinsicWS at 7:55 AM on February 20, 2012

I have had good luck with GIMP as well, keeping in mind that I haven't used it for anything too advanced. There was a bit of a learning curve after using Photoshop, but nothing a quick Googling couldn't help me with.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:56 AM on February 20, 2012

I agree that it would be really helpful to know what you use Photoshop for, because the answers will vary greatly depending.

I'm a heavy Photoshop user, but I love to use Picasa (the desktop software) for basic photo editing (color / levels adjustment, exporting at different sizes, retouching imperfections, fixing red eye). I'd say it covers 90% of my photo editing needs and I love it for tagging / organization as well.
posted by beyond_pink at 8:03 AM on February 20, 2012

Paint.net is not a bad alternative on Windows.
posted by COD at 8:11 AM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: It's a long story, but basically I've been stuck using Photoshop 6 on a Mac G4/OS9 box as my dedicated image editing system and I'm finally fed up with the absurdity of that. I'm not a designer or anything; I'm editing my photos, stitching panoramas and making the occasional homemade card or web graphics. I am pretty computer-literate and have a background in art to boot, so I definitely appreciate the professional features of photoshop and would be pretty unsatisfied with a cutesy "paint" program.

I'd like layer support, comprehensive image resizing, clone tool, good levels support, and text-as-object support. That's what comes to mind.

I really don't what to spend any money on this. There was a time I could justify it, but not now.

I'll probably download gimp and check out gimpshop.

Thanks for all your answers (and keep 'em coming, if you like...)
posted by werkzeuger at 8:12 AM on February 20, 2012

I've won/placed highly in "Photoshop" competitions on Worth1000.com, and have only ever used GIMP. So it's a pretty good program in that regard. Professionally, I couldn't say, but I've found it easy to use.
posted by Petrot at 8:46 AM on February 20, 2012

Don't stitch panoramas by hand; use Hugin. It will do a better job than you.
posted by scruss at 8:57 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

GIMP is, IMO, utterly unusable. Horrid interface, ridiculous learning curve.

If you're willing to give an online tool a try, consider Aviary Phoenix. It's really good. And it's free.
posted by jbickers at 9:30 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Paint.net has a pretty decent layer system that works similar to Photoshop, which I find to be the bare minimum for any image editing software. But it's still only including features from Photoshop 2.0 or so...
posted by smackfu at 9:35 AM on February 20, 2012

Oh, I love Pixlr. It has 95% of the functionality of Photoshop and doesn't require installing, just an internet connection.
posted by arnicae at 9:43 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not freeware, but I would personally recommend you download the trial of Photoshop Elements 10 and see if that'll meet your needs. It's fairly robust for the non-professional and I think it'll fit your needs just fine. You can buy it off Amazon for around $70, which is a far cry from the cost of the full Photoshop. I'm a CS5 user, but I recently got a Bamboo Tablet that came with Elements 8, and it's a great little program for running on my older laptop that isn't beefy enough to handle straight up photoshop.
posted by danielle the bee at 9:45 AM on February 20, 2012

Costo just had Photoshop Elements 10 on sale for $49.99.
It is certainly far more powerful than I need for the photo work that I do. I like it for the most part.
posted by JayRwv at 9:47 AM on February 20, 2012

FWIW, if you or anyone you know is a student...Photoshop CS5 was $850+ online at Adobe's site; with my student discount at college it was $120.
Elements is great, and I know a lot of people who like Lightroom, however LR is not usually deep enough for most people's needs.
posted by PeppahCat at 9:49 AM on February 20, 2012

Paint.NET is all I use.
posted by deezil at 9:55 AM on February 20, 2012

You say you can't justify the cost of photoshop, and ask for free alternatives. In between these two price-points, however, is Corel PaintShop Pro. About $60, and probably has all the functionality you used in Photoshop, considering your specific needs. If you were a professional designer you'd probably find it slightly lacking, but it's still head-and-shoulders above Paint.NET (which I also use from time to time, 'cause it's free).

Another free option (at least it was free the last time I checked) is Aviary Pheonix. It is a web-based app and requires flash, but performs well considering. I haven't used it much myself but I've seen some pretty amazing results from people who have.
posted by Vorteks at 10:19 AM on February 20, 2012

Piggyback question: Does GIMP (or any of these suggestions) now have support for pressure sensitivity from a Wacom tablet?
posted by cmoj at 10:34 AM on February 20, 2012

Does GIMP (or any of these suggestions) now have support for pressure sensitivity from a Wacom tablet?

Yes, this has been around for many years.
posted by anaelith at 11:02 AM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: Free is ideal, but I could swing 50-75 USD if the alternatives are as unpalatable as so many have said. I did try GIMP many years ago and found the interface ridiculous. I was hoping it had improved, so GimpShop is interesting. I don't think I have any academic connections for the discount. For get-off-my-lawn reasons, I'm unlikely to use a web-based app, but I appreciate you taking the time to tell me about them.

Thanks again everybody!
posted by werkzeuger at 11:12 AM on February 20, 2012

GIMP supports pressure sensitivity. I used Photoshop for sketching and illustration using a Wacom. When I couldn't load the copy I had on to a new machine I needed to decide whether to purchase a copy of Photoshop (of which I only used a small percentage of its capabilities) or look for an inexpensive alternative. Downloaded GIMP and an add-on called GIMP Paint Studio that was supposed to make the interface easier to use for artists. Found another open-source program called MyPaint that I really like for sketching. It is a very small program, dedicated only to drawing and painting on the computer using a tablet. Using Photoshop for drawing was always hacking a program designed for photo manipulation. MyPaint has the feel of using real pencils and brushes. Great for doodling ideas. Needs to be used in concert with GIMP for more finished work. I haven't used GIMP much. Some simple actions, like making a selection, are difficult to adapt to for someone accustomed to working in Photoshop. But GIMP should be able to do everything Photoshop 6 did, plus.
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:17 AM on February 20, 2012

Was just going to recommend not-free-but-cheap PaintShop Pro, but Vorteks beat me to it. PSP is what I've used for years, and I only recently upgraded from PSP8 (like 8? 9? years old?) The interface is not the same as Photoshop, and they do call things by different names, but I actually prefer PSP's interface to Photoshop's. Despite having Creative Suite CS4 at home, I still use PaintShop Pro for most of my quick to moderate jobs, only using Photoshop for Serious Business.

(And I love the idea of GIMP, I just can't wrap my brain around the interface. I'll grant that it's getting better, but it still feels like beating your head against a brick wall.)
posted by xedrik at 11:58 AM on February 20, 2012

So let me tell you a secret...

I love photoshop, but I was in a pinch once and, well, I have been amazed by how much easier it is sometimes to just set something up on a powerpoint slide and save it as an image. Obviously the feature set is lacking...

Also have you checked out pixlr?
posted by jander03 at 10:56 PM on February 20, 2012

GIMP, Paint.net on the desktop side and picnik , zoho editor on the online side.
Also muro if you are doing basic drawing .

If you are a student/teacher or know of someone to mooch off from, theres a slickdeal thread today about 80% off photoshop
posted by radsqd at 10:30 PM on February 21, 2012

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