David Airey is an independent graphic designer working with companies of all sizes since 2005.

A few Adobe alternatives

I doubt any of these can do as much as the Adobe option (except Quark), but they might do as much as you need, and it’s something I’m asked about now and again.

Adobe CC Photoshop
Image via Fstoppers

Photoshop alternatives

Acorn (OS X, $49.99)
Pixelmator (OS X, £20.99)
GIMP (OS X, Windows, Linux, free)

Illustrator alternatives

Sketch (OS X, £54.99)
Inkscape (OS X, Windows, Linux, free)
iDraw (OS X, £17.49)

InDesign alternatives

Quark (OS X, Windows, £799)
Scribus (OS X, Windows, Linux, free)
Lucidpress (browser-based, free while in beta, subscription to follow)

These and a few others mentioned elsewhere:
Anthony Colangelo of Happy Cog reviews Sketch, on A List Apart
Jon Hicks uses Acorn and Sketch
Khoi Vinh on Sketch
Alternative apps to everything in Adobe Creative Cloud, on Mac.Appstorm
15+ alternatives to Adobe Creative Cloud, on Web Designer Depot

If you’ve used any alternatives it’d be great to know what you think.

My second book on Amazon

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16 appreciated comments about “A few Adobe alternatives”

  1. Hi David,

    Would you not ever consider Serif PagePlus, PhotoPlus or DrawPlus as viable options?

  2. I’ve been using iDraw for the last few months and find it really good.
    Not quite the feature set of Illustrator but the interface is a lot less bloated – and most of the tools are supplied.

  3. Thanks for sharing these! On the webdesign spectrum, Brackets, by Adobe, is a MARVELOUS open-source Dreamweaver alternative!


  4. Great list!

    In a pinch (when I didn’t have my computer on me) I’ve used Pixlr Editor as a Photoshop alternative and found it to be great for simple edits. (The only real downside is I don’t believe you can edit images over 96 DPI so it’s not good for print work). Also you need a live internet connection as it’s browser based.


  5. I’m not sure, Shrimati. Any good?

    Thanks for the tips, Ashley, Eric, and the feedback, PA.

  6. Hi David,

    For the money, it is. It cannot do everything as the Adobe CS, but it delivers quite a lot, suitable for a freelance designer. I don’t think it should be the software of choice though for a design agency or someone whose portfolio includes full scale magazines and the like. Since, at the moment, that’s all I can afford anyway, it works for me!

  7. Hey, I have tried DrawPlus and Inkscape. I think these two are better choices. DrawPlus is even much more optimized for resources than Inkscape, but both of them are perfecto. I liked them. As Adobe is increasing its price, I think for freelancers like me, it’s time to search for alternatives. BTW nice sharing and thanks for your lists.

  8. Thanks for sharing these! But I am still a die hard fan of Adobe. I am using CS for the last 6 years & I won’t move to any other software just because Adobe CS is expensive.

  9. GIMP may be sufficient for those that only occasionally need simple images, but for someone working with web graphics full time – especially if you have experience with Adobe CS – it is a nightmare to use. Photoshop surely isn’t the answer for everyone, but for creative professionals it’s absolutely worth spending some money to not have to use GIMP.

  10. Hi David

    I use Adobe InDesign, DPS, Muse & Lightroom, so in my case there’s no alternative.

  11. For those unable to stand GIMP’s UI there is also a Photoshop “clone” based on GIMP called Gimpshop that is available for free at http://www.gimpshop.com/

    I’m not claiming it’s better than Photoshop in any way (other than price). However for students, small business owners, nonprofits and others on tight budgets open source software can be really helpful…

    That being said if you can make the investment Adobe clearly makes the best design software (which is why they are pretty much the industry standard).

  12. We used Fireworks to design our website, although I’ve been frustrated with the lack of ongoing support for this program from Adobe. I prefer the Fireworks UI to Photoshop or Illustrator. Any recommendations for a free program that resembles Fireworks?

  13. Thanks for the post. I think Adobe needs some real competition now that they are forcing everyone onto Creative Cloud with really exorbitant subscription pricing. I have always been a supportive user of Adobe products* and kept my licensing up to date.

    However, they are now making it impossible to buy licenses for CS6. I’d buy those licenses for new hires if I could. Instead, they are creating a situation where you are basically forced to steal the software if you don’t want to use the subscription model.

    I’m definitely going to try some of these solutions and see if my company can use them as alternatives.

    *I actually learned digital layout on Aldus Pagemaker back in the 1980′s. I have almost every version of Adobe in CD format, boxes and all, from the 1980′s through present time!

  14. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. Susan, I remember those Pagemaker days. It was the first layout software I used, going from it to Quark to InDesign.

  15. And the best professional alternative is once again left out: Photoline. Although it misses the 3d and video fluff of Photoshop, its image editing is on par with Photoshop, and Photoline’s layer system arguably much of an improvement over its counterpart.

    - Full 8/16/32bpc Lab, RGB, CMYK per layer(!) is supported. Full adjustment layers and layer effects (and the most common ones are even imported correctly from a psd file).

    - layers’ opacity can be set from -200(!) to +200(!) for increased flexibility over Photoshop’s limited 0-200% opacity setting.

    - full (true) vector layers, with pixel snapping

    - multipage documents, with pdf import and export

    - non-destructive RAW editing

    - as many layer masks as you want/need per layer. Layer masks can consist of any number of other layers, both vector and bitmap based.

    - layers and layer groups (including layer masks!) can be cloned and be edited in place. When edited, the cloned layers update in realtime. Again arguably much of an improvement over Photoshop’s awkward “smart” objects.

    - curves can be edited for Lab, HSV, and HIS without having to switch image mode!

    - external file layers are available in the latest betas

    Most of the workflow in photoline is non-destructive. For example, the liquify tool is applied to any layer without the need for that layer to be converted to a “smart” object. This also holds true for the many other adjustments. Vector objects remember their parameters as well.

    Photoline runs rock-solid, is available for Mac and Windows, and amazingly the download is less than 30mb. You get a full perpetual license for 59 euros, and a full version update is a mere 29 euros. And it can be run off a usb stick, if required.

    Please add Photoline to your list of image editors, since it outperforms every single other image editor, and is mostly on par with Photoshop (some things better, some things not as good).

  16. I intend to be a freelancer (I’ve picked up some small gigs) and I’m currently taking the VisCom Graphic Design curriculum at Ivy Tech Community College and purchased CS 5.5 Web & Design Premium (student discount) a couple of years ago. I’ve also been exploring CC alternatives and have been very pleased with iDraw to replace Illustrator for many small, quick projects; it imports/exports to .PSD, .SVG, .PDF, and other photo formats. I’ve also been impressed with Pixelmator and the prices for these can’t be beat! $25.00 and $30.00 (USD) respectively from the Mac App Store. Since both use Apple’s native color picker, you can chose RGB, CMYK, or other colorspaces. For an InDesign alt app, I’m looking at Swift Publisher but haven’t had a lot of time to get into it. If someone can suggest apps for web design / website creation that would be terrific! I think we Mac users are fortunate to have a wide choice of native apps as alternatives to Adobe CC.

    Most of my schoolwork is presently focused on print media. I began doing Art & Design with rulers, compasses and french curves; I went back to school to learn the software. I’m about to be 60, and school projects can sometimes be a beast.

Anything to add?

Comments may be edited or deleted if I don't like the cut of your jib, but that's quite unlikely.