How to Edit Photos without Photoshop

It seems like every day a new photo program pops up promising new effects, new frames, and new ways to add mustaches to your photos. What a time to be alive!

But if you want to get a little fancier, those options might fall short. Let’s say you want to remove the background from a product photo, or airbrush a few crows feet (not that we’ve ever done anything like that). In those cases, you’ll usually be directed to an advanced image editor like Photoshop.

Ah, Photoshop. The 25-year-old program is so ubiquitous that it’s even become a verb. It’s a powerful tool with a lot of loyal and happy users. Problem is, it’s got a high barrier to entry for beginners, and it’s expensive too.

Fortunately, there are lots of free (or low cost) photo editing programs out there that can help you out.

Option 1: The Free Photoshop Alternatives

Who are they for? Someone who knows a little bit about editing photos already, or is game to figure it out.

Photoshop is a great program, but it has more features than the average mortal would ever need. That’s where these Photoshop-ish type programs come in. Any expert in Photoshop would be able to spot the differences, and the limitations, but the average user will be pleasantly surprised. The downside? They are based very closely on Photoshop. So if you hate the Photoshop interface, you probably aren’t going to love these replacements either.

GIMP (Free)

GIMP is an open source and completely free image editor that could be Photoshop’s long lost sibling. You don’t get a fancy interface, but you do get free access to a very powerful program that can do just about anything you need. You also get lots of tutorials from the community and the warm and fuzzy feeling that you are supporting an open-source and volunteer-run project.

Pixlr (Free)

Pixlr is a pretty robust photo editor that’s actually a web app, so you don’t need to download any software. You just use it right in your browser. It’s also completely free to use. I like that they don’t require you to create an account or jump through any hoops to download your images.

One look at the Pixlr Editor and you’ll see how closely they’ve tried to match the Photoshop interface. 

Editing photos with pixlr

A Photoshop twin? Here’s a shot of the Pixlr image editor, which you can use for free right from your browser.

A common complaint about Pixlr is that it has the same steep learning curve as Photoshop, and not a lot of support to go with it (it is free, after all). However with a little digging you’ll see that their blog is actually full of good articles. Google “How do I ____ in Pixlr?” and a helpful tutorial will likely pop up in the results. Another plus is that the editor is available in almost 30 languages.

Option 2: The Anti-Photoshop

Who is it for? Someone who wants to edit photos, but also steer clear of the entire Photoshop way of doing things.

When you start looking at Photoshop alternatives, you’ll see that most programs try to copy the entire Photoshop experience, from layers to lasso tools. If you happen to hate that experience, you’ll want to find a powerful tool that has simplified the process even more. That’s where I recommend PicMonkey.

PicMonkey ($$)

If you find Photoshop about as welcoming as a bucket of ice water, PicMonkey will be your warm and inviting cup of tea. It’s an accessible image editor with a focus on the kinds of edits that people typically want to make, like fixing up someone’s complexion or adding fun effects for different holidays. Best of all, its buttons are labeled in plain English instead of with cryptic icons, and there are helpful popups that tell you exactly how to use each tool. Currently it’s available in English and Spanish, but the company says they have plans to expand in other languages this year.

That said, at $8/mo, ($4/mo if you pay annually), it’s a little expensive, so probably only worth it if you know you’re going to use it a lot. If you’re on the fence, consider a free trial to test it out or even just edit one sample photo to see what the tool is like.

Photo editing with PicMonkey

PicMonkey has advanced image editing features, plus the ability to add Santa hats. So basically, the full package.

The Targeted Tools – Remove an Image Background

Who are they for? People who don’t need a whole suite of tools, they really just want to remove the background from an image.

For many people, Photoshop or anything like it is overkill because they just want to do a few specific things with their photos. In this case we’ll look at removing the background of an image. This is something that’s really handy for product photos or icons but surprisingly tricky without advanced image editing.

Removing background from photo

Who among us hasn’t wanted to create an icon out of our dog’s head? By removing the background of an image and uploading it into a Photo Element, now you can!

Most of these tools work the same way. You upload your image and then mark the part you want in green and the background in red. Then the software takes over and cuts the image out for you—with varying levels of success depending on how clear the boundaries are between your object and your background. Then you get a chance to touch it up yourself.

PS: Before going into this list, keep in mind that all of the tools above can do the same thing. Here are tutorials in GIMP, Pixlr, and PicMonkey.

Background Burner (Free)

Background Burner is the only background removal software I found that worked and was legitimately free. The caveat being that you have to create an account with Bonanza, an online retailer, in order to download your images. 

With a tool like Background Burner, you can roughly mark the background in red, and the software takes care of the rest. It may take a little patience to get it right, but the results are pretty good. 

Photo editing with Background Burner

With Background Burner, you mark the background of your photo in red and the software takes care of the rest. Then you have a chance to touch it up yourself.

I didn’t have any trouble with the free version of Background Burner, but there are other paid options too. They all work the same way but have different pricing schemes.

  • Autoclipping: You can pay as you go or get a monthly subscription, depending on how many images you plan on downloading. There’s also a free version for non-commercial use.
  • ClippingMagic: ClippingMagic works really well The lowest package is $3.99/mo for 15 (downloaded) images. The nice thing is you can re-edit and re-download an image without it counting as another image.
  • Malabi: A cheaper option ($2/mo for 20 images) with a nice interface, but Malabi actually had much more trouble with my dog photo above than the free Background Burner did.

The Do-it-for-me Options – Use a Pro

Who are they for? Someone who prefers to outsource the photo editing to pros instead of attempting a DIY.

Hey, not all of us are into editing photos. That’s totally cool. Maybe you’re trying to outsource more tasks so you can focus on your top priorities. Or maybe you want the confidence that comes from having a pro do it. If that’s the case, there are a services that will edit your photos for you—from simple edits to more complex effects. Here are some options:

Pixelz Solo ($$)

Pixelz is a nice professional option that specializes in ecommerce photos. They’ll help you with backgrounds, make sure everything is cropped consistently, and even provide “invisible mannequins.” Best of all, with their Solo option you don’t need a subscription. You can edit as many or as few images as you need without being locked into a plan.

Tucia ($$)

Tucia is one of many online photo retouching services, though it’s one of the largest. At $8/image for basic fixes and $40/image for advanced effects, this could be worth it if you want to turn a photo into a high-impact website background image or if you have a headshot that needs some retouching.

So don’t be discouraged by Photoshop’s tricky interface or high price. There are still lots of ways that you can edit your photos for your website. Give some of these options a try, and see what you think! Also check out our tips for optimizing your photos for both your design and your SEO.