Windows users have a few image editors to choose from, but as you probably expected Photoshop comes out as king. Here’s a look at why it’s the best, as well as a number of (much cheaper) alternatives you can try.
- Layer-based editing allows for flexible adjustments
- Several image adjustment tools for a variety of options
- Layer styles save time when creating common effects
- Includes a robust set of filters for image alteration and manipulation that can be expanded with third-party plug-ins
- Supports importing and exporting many image formats
- Built-in Camera RAW plug-in is like a specialized RAW image editor app inside of Photoshop
- Excellent image exporting tool for getting images ready for use on the web
- Excellent color management tools for images that will be printed
- Smart Objects make it possible to easily re-use common assets
- Healing brush and content-aware fill tools help you easily remove unwanted blemishes and even objects in photos
- Create animations with Photoshop’s frame-by-frame animation tools
- Several tools for quickly making complex selections and removing backgrounds
- HDR imaging tools
- Complex brush tool for great painting effects, including custom brushes you can create yourself
- A lot more!
Note: This doesn’t even begin to dive into the features in Photoshop, which are too long to name here. You can visit Adobe’s official Photoshop page to learn more, but even they don’t detail every single feature. Your best bet is to make use of their 30-day trial and explore for yourself.
Photoshop is absurdly powerful. Not only can you do a ton of things to your images, but it does them in a much simpler way than a lot of image editors—functions that would take a few clicks or keystroke in other programs take one in Photoshop, and you can even make your own macros to perform repetitive tasks instantly. It works equally well for photos as it does for web site layout and illustration, and supports a ton of different file formats. It also has a great exporting tool for the web, great color management, and tons more. It’s been the go-to program for image editors everywhere, and there’s a good reason why: it’s amazing.
Photoshop’s biggest downside is, obviously, it’s $699 price tag. Most people can’t afford software that expensive, and while you can get some student discounts, it’s still way out of most people’s price range, which is a big deterrent. If you want to buy it, though, and want to get the best price possible, you can buy into the Adobe product family as a student and get a Creative Suite bundle for around $600 (and sometimes less). You can also upgrade to a retail version for about the same price later on, without ever paying full price for the bundle. If you aren’t a student, there are always ways to get that student discount anyway.
Apart from that, Photoshop is made by Adobe—which means it’s full of bloat. As its grown over the years to include things like 3D modeling, it’s only gotten more chances to be big and slow, which is very annoying when you just want to hop in and tweak a photo. It does so much that, frankly, you probably won’t use most of its features all the time, which makes that big price tag seem all the more annoying. Still, the time it’ll save you on the features you do use is awesome enough to keep it in the top spot among image editors for Windows.
GIMP is a free, open-source image editor that aims to do a lot of what Photoshop does. In fact, there are quite a few Photoshop tricks it can do just fine, though sometimes it can be a bit more tedious and quirky than Photoshop. If you prefer Photoshop’s interface, however, you might want to check out GIMPshop instead, as it is basically the same program made to emulate the style of Photoshop.
Paint.NET is our other favorite image editor. It isn’t quite as advanced as Photoshop or the GIMP, but it will work for the majority of people. It still has a layer-based interface, lots of effects, and easy access to your recent actions, it just can’t do quite as much as the other two. If you’re looking for an image editor, we recommend starting here, then moving to the GIMP if you aren’t happy.
Any other Photoshop alternatives you love? Share ’em in the comments!