Photoshop is the industry standard when it comes to photo editing and image manipulation. It's so well known that it became a verb, used in TV shows, movies and by people that don't even know what Photoshop is. Then Adobe said it was NOT a verb:
Trademarks are not verbs.Correct: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.Incorrect: The image was photoshopped.Trademarks are not nouns.Correct: The image pokes fun at the Senator.Incorrect: The photoshop pokes fun at the Senator.
Of course, Google said the same thing about using the word Google as a verb meaning "to search," but that's another story altogether.
Not only is Photoshop the industry standard, but it also costs a small fortune, and unless you're making good money with it (or just really love editing photos and have money to blow), there is no good reason to pay so much for photo editing abilities.
Here we're going to look at some alternative software to Photoshop that are either free or inexpensive that you can use to do light or complicated image editing.
Edit Your Photos Online (online - free)
Simple photo editing in your browser. All of the basics like cropping, resizing and rotating are there, as well as some filters and text overlays. Simple interface, free, no download required, but not fully featured like some others.
Pixelmator (OS X - $29.99)
This is the best alternative to Photoshop, because the interface is beautiful. If you use a Mac, this app blends right in to the native UI. It actually looks better than Photoshop, a 20 year old application with a huge team of developers and designers behind it, not to mention a huge cash pile. Adobe wants to put their own spin on the interface, and that's one place where I've had a beef with it for a long time. I like the OS X user interface, and I do't like that Adobe's products never seem to "fit in." I'm sure that's just personal preference, but I feel that PIxelmator gets the UI right on. I downloaded the trial to test it out, but I'm tempted not to go ahead and just buy it and see how much of my daily tasks can be done with it.
Photoshop has every option you can possibly think of, effects out the wazoo, and some amazing technology built into it. Pixelmator comes very close though, and for $30, compared to $999 for Photoshop, I think it's pretty clear that if you plan on working on photos and images daily, but maybe not at the very highest level, Pixelmator is your best option.
If you're using Windows or Linux, you're out of luck here, but if you're on a Mac, head over and download the trial or buy PIxelmator today.
GIMP (Windows, Linux, OS X - free)
GIMP is open source, and in typical open source fashion works really well, but looks a little off. I guess it's my design experience that makes me notice little details in the user interface that don't quite look right, but it's more than usable. I haven't spent a whole lot of time using GIMP honestly, as it's always been a "not quite photoshop, but I'm trying" and I've had issues opening PSD files a few times (though this was years ago, so maybe I should give it another go).
It's chock full of photo editing and image manipulation options, and for everyone except design/photography professional will do the job just fine. This is also cross platform, so unlike Pixelmator, everyone can use it (well except Google Chrome OS users obviously).
The interface is approaching Photoshop and the tools work very well. This is a full featured image editor and I would guess that most people can get by with it just fine.
It's also free, so no worries, but it's open source, so no support and just hope updates come in a timely manner. That said, there are a LOT of users online that can probably help you through any issues you may have, but you'll have to do the digging.
Pixlr (online - free)
Pixlr is a GREAT online photo editor. I've not spent a whole lot of time with it as I use Photoshop myself and don't really have a NEED for a browser based editor, the few times I have used it, I was very impressed. Autodesk has basically built their own Photoshop right in the browser. It does all of the important things Photoshop does, without installing a thing.
Just open up their page, open an image and voila, you're editing just like in a native app.
The downside, yes there is a downside, is that Pixlr is build in Flex, which uses Flash. If you've got Flash disabled for any reason or just don't have it running in your browser, you can't use it.
FotoFlexer (online - free)
FotoFlexer isn't terrible, but they could use some help in the UI department. This site works well enough, but it feels like it hasn't been touched in about 10 years. It looks like the OS X interface from 2002, when buttons had a glossy finish.
This one is free, and does what it is meant to do pretty well, so I guess there is nothing to complain about.
Pixenate (online - free)
Pixenate is... junk. If all you really need to do it crop and rotate something, this works, but really, you can do that with built in software on Windows and OS X. I really don't see any value in this, but if you need to adjust red eye and teeth whiteness in a few pictures, here's an option, and it's free, so...
Photoshop Elements (OS X and Windows - $99)
If you insist on using Adobe's products but don't want to spend a grand because you don't need all of those options, then they also offer Elements at only $99. Elements is stripped down, but it's still Photoshop. If you use Photoshop at work, but don't want to buy it for your home computer or for every computer in your office, then Elements will give you the look and feel of Photoshop, with most of the important options and tools, but at a fraction of the price. Most of what the average person does is available in Elements.
I'd recommend this ONLY if you want Photoshop and don't have a Mac. Otherwise, again, I'd recommend Pixelmator over this easily.
Photoshop Express (online - free)
Photoshop Express is Adobe's answer to all of the online editors out there, at this point mostly referring to Pixlr.com. Piknik was also a great editor but Google killed it after they bought it and rolled some of the features into their image editor in Google+.
If you need to do some real editing quickly on a computer thay doesn't have anything installed, Express can do a few this pretty well. If you need to rotate, crop, remove red eye, adjust white balance, add a couple decent effects, etc. then Express will do the job. Not quite as "Photoshop-like" as Pixlr, but still good at what it's made to do.