5 Free Online Alternatives to Photoshop

Today Photoshop still holds the leadership among the image processing tools for web designers and graphic editors, though many free alternative applications already follow the heels of the most successful Adobe’s product. Indeed, Photoshop is the award-winning application that regularly sets new standards in editing graphics, photo material, and digital illustrations. Photoshop also demonstrates significant progress as the tool for creating digital illustrations, website layouts, textures, and multiple visual and 3D effects. Its user-friendly interface has become a de-facto prototype for other image editing software solutions, and with multiple add-ons and configurable tool sets, it is pretty easy to customize the application to suit the specific needs of every practical application and graphic professional. However, this pot of honey, unfortunately, has one fly in it; and the name for this fly is price… With the price tag starting from US$699, Photoshop remains a desired, yet unachievable tool for many web designers.

On the other hand, the situation is not that hopeless. Today we live in the time, when the era of commercial applications hegemony comes to its end, giving way to rapidly-growing open-source applications, cloud computing, and software-as-service online solutions. Below we would like to present you 5 free online alternatives to Photoshop. All of them are available for free and offer web-powered image editing tools, absolving users from the necessity to download and install any applications to their computers.

Photoshop Express

It would be natural to start the conversation about online alternatives to Photoshop with the description of the free web-based solution from Adobe itself. Photoshop Express is the name of the world known Photoshop’s younger brother. Developed by Adobe, Photoshop Express resembles Photoshop only in terms of its name – here you won’t find tools, menus and panels, commonly associated with Photoshop interface. Everything is simplified: only a few basic tools are offered under “Edit” menu (crop, resize, red eye, exposure, saturation, sharpen, soft focus, etc.) and a dozen of tools are provided in the “Decorate” menu (adding text, bubbles, frames, etc.).

Photoshop Express Advantages:

  • Developed by Adobe
  • Neat interface
  • Simple to use
  • Photoshop Express Disadvantages:

  • Very limited set of tools (no selection tool, no layers, no filters)
  • Supports only JPEG images
  • Requires an image to be uploaded to the server first
  • Pixlr

    Modestly advertised as the most popular advanced online image editor in the world, Pixlr really has stuff to swagger about: impressive set of tools, layers and filter support, custom set of brushes, etc. Actually, there are two versions of this Flash-powered online application. Pixlr Express offers the basic set of tools for quick editing of the photographs. Along with the crop, resize, and rotate options, the editor offers a set of photo adjustments, such as red eye removal, teeth whitening, sharpen, blur, etc., and also a collection of tools to apply interesting visual effects: from vignette and halftone to tilt shift and kaleidoscope.

    Pixlr Editor is a full-featured photo editor, powered by Flash. Once your browser supports Flash, you can start editing your images right away. To tell the truth, working with Pixlr is very comfortable and pleasant. All the basic tools you would normally expect from an image editor are here: adjustments of brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and curves are available from the menu bar, just like manipulations with layers, and application of multiple visual filters. In general, the interface is pretty similar to that of Photoshop with the tool bar on the left and navigator, layers, and history boxes on the right. The performance of the editor is very smooth – the program reacts immediately on every click and mouse move, just as if you were working with the locally installed application.

    Pixlr Advantages:

  • Neat Photoshop-like interface
  • Great performance, start-up, and response time
  • Impressive set of tools
  • Express version for quick editing of a photograph
  • Firefox and Chrome add-ons offered for screenshot grabbing
  • Full screen mode available
  • Pixlr Disadvantages:

  • Does not support TIFF and BMP images
  • Lacks integration with online photo storages
  • Picnik

    Picnik was created to make photo editing fun. That’s why it has more tools to turn your photo into a funny picture then professional image editing instruments. The application offers only basic editing tools, such as auto-fix, rotate, crop, resize, exposure, colors, sharpen and red-eye. However, those, who like playing with multiple frames, stickers, texts, and visual effects, will definitely like Picnik for its impressive collection of simple-to-use fun-making options. All in all, Picnik looks like a nice online game to play with your photographs rather than the image-editing application web designers will vote for. Picnik is hardly an alternative to Photoshop in terms of its functionality, but if you need just to crop a photo and add a few greeting words – that’s definitely your choice.

    Picnik Advantages:

  • Integrated with Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, and more
  • Many visual effects and shapes
  • Good for creating postcards or customizing photos
  • Many fonts included
  • Picnik Disadvantages:

  • Start-up takes some time
  • Very limited image editing tools
  • Some features are limited to promote the paid Picnik Premium
  • Aviary Phoenix

    Aviary is a set of online tools for working with images: the one, used for image editing, is called Phoenix. Others are Raven for vector images creating, Peacock – for creating visual effects, and Toucan – for working with colors. As an alternative to Photoshop, we will try Phoenix. Again, as with Picnik, Phoenix will take a few seconds to start up and it loads into a new browser window, which is a bit strange. Also, you have to upload your photo to the server before it is available for online editing. Though, the application does offer a few tools, similar to Photoshop: move and transformation, paint bucket, text and shapes inserting, even wand tool – they are all here. Layer functionality and several filters are also offered in Phoenix. Though, a zooming tool works in pretty rough way, which in conjunction with non-draggable and non-resizable tool panels makes editing less convenient sometimes.

    Phoenix Advantages:

  • Offers tools for image editing, including magic wand tool
  • Layers and filters are available
  • Phoenix Disadvantages:

  • Start-up takes time
  • Poor zooming tool
  • Non-customizable interface
  • Splashup

    Splashup is another really powerful online alternative to Photoshop. With menu bar, left-side tool panel, and right-side color selection, layers and info panels, Splashup will be very easy to work with for everyone with Photoshop experience. To start editing an image, the application offers to open one from a desktop, web destination, or import from online services, such as Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Photobucket, etc. The tool box contains many tools, including move, marquee, crop, lasso, marker, line, paint bucket, smudge and others. Though, some of them work not as you might expect it: for example, crop will immediately crop your image once you release the mouse button, and accurate zooming is also difficult with only 50%, 100%, 200%, 400%, and 800% presets available. Manipulations with layers are possible; you can even apply a limited amount of effects to your layers (blur, bevel, drop shadow, glow, and gradient). Besides, basic filters are available: sharpen/blur, hue/saturation, brightness/contrast, etc. An interesting feature is capturing an image from your webcam.

    Splashup Advantages:

  • Interface similar to Photoshop
  • Sufficient set of image editing tools
  • Layers and filters supported
  • Importing images from online storages
  • Splashup Disadvantages:

  • Poor crop tool
  • Zooming may be difficult
  • Conclusion

    In this article we have picked up only 5 free online alternatives to Photoshop. Even these 5 solutions are enough to create competition for commercial image editing applications. Of course, professional designers and artists will probably remain loyal to Photoshop, however, design amateurs and those, who need just basic and medium-level image-editing functionality, can definitely benefit from using these online editors. As the epilogue of our discussion, let us provide you with the Cruzine ranking on free online editors, described above.

    Pixlr * * * * *
    Splashup * * * *
    Aviary Phoenix * * *
    Picnik * * *
    Photoshop Express * *


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    After trying myself in multiple spheres, I have decided that the bigger part of my soul clearly votes for the humanitarian sciences and art. Thus, following the call of my soul and mind I received the University education and now I am fully involved in multiple web activities. I am deeply interested in the novel web technologies, design, content development and management, optimization and marketing.