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Posted by Dorian on March 31, 2020
Top 5 free alternatives to Photoshop - Our favourite free image processing and editing applications for drone operators

There's no denying it, Adobe Photoshop is the market leader in professional image editing. However, since Adobe moved to a subscription-based business model, it's become a relatively expensive proposition - currently £9.98/mo for the Photography package - especially if you're just starting out as a commercial drone operator.

So what are the best free alternatives to Photoshop? Well, here's a list of five that I think are worth considering.

#1 GIMP

GIMP Screenshot

Despite the dubious connotations of its name, Gimp (which is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program) is my number one choice. It's what I use and, to be perfectly honest, is so feature-packed, leaves me no reason to even consider the other four options on this list!

Don't get me wrong, GIMP does have its quirks and there is a bit of a learning curve but, with its wealth of plugins, it's very powerful and adaptable.

It has layers, masks, advanced filters, colour adjustment and transformations – all of which are fully customisable. One of GIMP's best features is the user-created plugins and scripts – many of which come pre-installed and ready to use. Some of them replicate popular Photoshop tools (you can apparently also use actual Photoshop plugins but I've not tried this) and there's even a package of animation tools for bringing your photos to life.

GIMP has a pretty good user manual which includes step-by-step tutorials and troubleshooting guides to get you started. The latest version of GIMP offers a a much more cohesive interface than previous versions and gives it a smart, Photoshop-like appearance.

GIMP is 100% free.

You can download GIMP here.

#2 darktable

darktable Screenshot

Darktable is a powerful open source RAW image editor. It offers many of the same features as Adobe's Lightroom, and is designed for organizing images and processing raw files. All edits are non-destructive, so you can revert to the original file at any time, and GPU-acceleration means your images are processed quickly.

It's got 61 modules (and counting) for different tasks, including; tone (levels, curves, lightness and tone mapping), color (saturation, selective color modification and color profile management), correction (dithering, sharpening, liquify and spot removal) and artistic effects (watermaking, split processing and graduated density)

Darktable is divided into 5 modules: Lighttable, Darkroom, Map, Slideshow, and Tethering. This is done in order to conveniently group the functions. And darktable and Lightroom's interfaces are almost identical, so you should have no problems if you're switching apps.

Darktable is 100% free and there are no premium subscriptions or pro-versions.

You can download darktable here.

#3 Photopea

Photopea Screenshot

Photopea is different to GIMP and darktable in that it's a web based image editing app. Don't let that put you off though; it's incredibly well equipped and a great option if you're caught short and need to do some editing on a computer or tablet that isn't yours.

Photopea's array of features - including layer masks, blend modes, brushes, selections and more - is very impressive given that it's entirely web-based. It loads instantly in the browser and it looks – besides the ever-present ads bar on the right – very familiar. The interface is intuitive and well laid out and the menus are very clean.

What's even more impressive is that this app was created and continues to be developed by a single person: Ivan Kutskir, a 28-year-old programmer based in Prague, Czech Republic. Kutskir spent 7,000 hours developing the app while studying computer science in college. Around 1.5 million people used the app every month.

Photopea is 100% free and is supported by ads. There is a paid version available for $9/mo which removes ads and increases the number of history steps from 30 to 60.

You can access Photopea for free here.

#4 Photo Pos Pro

Photo Pos Pro Screenshot

With +10,000,000 Downloads, Photo Pos Pro has become became one of the most popular photo editors around the world!

Although Photo Pos Pro photo editor is a powerful program, it has an very user-friendly interface enabling you to work intuitively. If you're a newbie the app offers a Help system which they can follow step by step to get used to using the extensive features.

Photo Pos Pro has both layers and great clone and healing brushes. All the expected colour-refining tools are here too and there's support for RAW files and batch-editing and scripts to save time on routine tasks. It also offers plugins in the form of extra frames and templates, and you can create and save your own filters for future use.

Photo Pos Pro is 100% free but there are costs for some add-ons. There is a premium version avaiable for £25 at time of writing.

You can download Photo Pos Pro for free here.

#5 Pixlr X

Pixlr X Screenshot

Pixlr X is the latest incarnation of the Pixlr browser-based image editors. It's a new HTML5 version of their previous Flash-based Pixlr Editor tool. And it's fair to say it's not as full-featured as its predecessor. Neither is it anywhere near as full-featured as Photopea.

You can begin by hitting the "create new" link on the left which provides presets for popular social media sites as well as a range of standard image sizes. You can upload an image from your desktop, open a picture from an URL or, use one of a number of stock photos they make available.

Once your picture is loaded, you're presented with a full Photoshop-style editing interface. There's a generous selection of filters to experiment with – both fun and practical – plus support for layers and masks for advanced editing. All the brushes and other tools are customisable, and there are quick keyboard shortcuts for commonly used options like levels and curves.

Pixlr X is 100% free. There is a Pro version, currently at $5/mo, which is still web-based and provides support for PSD, Sketch and XCF formats.

You can access Pixlr X for free here.

Summary

So there you have it, five of the very best free drone photo editing software packages available today. Each of them offer slightly different feature sets and some are more powerful than others. Some have optional premium upgrades or add-ons but only one, GIMP is my recommendation; it's genuinely 100% full featured and 100% free. Although I'm increasingly tempted to give darktable another go given the rave reviews I've seen recently.

The best recommendation I can make is to spend an afternoon trying each of the apps here. From there you can shortlist maybe a couple and use them over an extended period of time until you decide on your preferred option - after all you've got nothing to lose, they're free!

Here's the list for you once more:

  1. GIMP
  2. darktable
  3. Photopea
  4. Photo Pos Pro
  5. Pixlr X

Good luck and happy editing!

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