Digital design offers more career opportunities with each passing decade and more software is being created to meet the demand. For over 25 years Photoshop has been the industry standard for compositing, photo editing, and UI design.
But recent years have shown a number of Photoshop alternatives that hit the ground running.
While Adobe is still a major contender in the design software marketplace, these alternate programs may be cheaper and better-suited for your needs.
Web designers and mobile app designers both share laudatory remarks about the incredible Sketch App for OS X. This program is exclusive to OS X users but it’s a whole lot cheaper than Photoshop, and it’s more direct for UI/UX design.
Everything in Sketch can be manipulated as a vector element which makes resizing super easy. Buttons, icons, anything you need to create is like child’s play with Sketch.
Plus the community has grown rapidly featuring hundreds of extensions and online tutorials. If you design any type of digital interface I must recommend Sketch as the best possible software for the job.
Windows users will not have this option and the Sketch team has no intentions of porting to Windows at this time. But anyone who prefers OS X should at least try the 14-day free trial and see how it goes. Sketch is only $99 for a lifetime license and it makes UI design astoundingly simple.
For free tutorials and Sketch-related resources check out these great websites:
Almost everyone in the design community knows about GIMP and many hold their own opinions toward the program. Although some people criticize the interface for being vastly different than Photoshop, it really is the best 100% free alternative to Photoshop.
GIMP runs on all platforms for Windows, OS X, and Linux computers. It can support PSD files for importing content delivered from clients or agencies. It’s basically the open source alternative to Photoshop and although it’s not perfect, it’s certainly usable with practice.
The history of GIMP dates back to 1998 when version 1.0 was released. Although the version number hasn’t incremented very far since then, major updates have been applied to the program to keep it relevant to today’s industry.
It’s fair to say that GIMP isn’t for everyone. Transitioning from Photoshop to GIMP requires tenacity and patience.
But if you have the time and effort it’s a free alternative that will always be free forever.
Here are some GIMP learning resources and communities to get you started:
The open source program Krita is primarily aimed at digital painters, comic artists and illustrators. It’s not great for UI design but it is a better painting program than GIMP and even Photoshop(for some people) since it’s completely free and targeted towards artists.
Krita can open PSD files and it also supports all Linux platforms. Being open source means it won’t cost you a penny.
It has a smaller community compared to GIMP, but Krita can be a great choice if you’re looking for a free digital arts program.
These handy resources should get you on the right track:
Purely vector-based design work can be done in Inkscape if you have the willingness to learn.
This is very similar to GIMP in the fact that it’s free to use and runs on all major operating systems(Windows/Mac/Linux). Technically the program can be used for illustrations, logos, web graphics, and anything similar.
Some designers also complain about the learning curve of Inkscape. While there is an active community it takes time and practice to switch over from Photoshop. However if you’re brand new to design software then Inkscape may be an easier choice.
To get started download a free copy of Inkscape and check out these great online resources:
Corel Draw & Painter
All of Corel’s software is fantastic and they’re a worthwhile competitor to Adobe. Corel has been around since 1989 making it almost thirty years old.
Draw is made for vector editing which can be perfect for icon design, logos, app interfaces or website mockups. Painter along with PaintShop Pro are better for photo editing and digital painting.
The company offers many other programs like CAD software and video editors, but designers would be most interested in the Corel Draw program.
If you’re curious to learn more visit Corel’s website or check out these resources:
Affinity Designer is another high-quality graphics design program for Mac users. This app is a little cheaper than sketch at only $49 per license. The interface also mirrors Photoshop’s interface in many ways, so it can offer a quicker learning curve.
Affinity Designer is perfect for every digital design or digital art project. Interfaces, icons, logos, digital painting, web comics, anything visual made for a digital screen can be designed in Affinity.
Plus Affinity also offers Affinity Photo for photo editing which is a big part of Photoshop’s monopoly. Again this is an OS X exclusive program so Windows users are out of luck.
But Affinity can pair nicely with Sketch if you’re looking for a workflow that covers everything from UI design to illustration and photo editing.
These websites should get you on the right track with Affinity Designer.
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