Here at How-To Geek, we’re big fans of Photoshop, but there are times when it’s not the right app for the job. Here’s how to tell when you should consider an alternative.
While Photoshop is the king of image editors for many good reasons, it’s not without its flaws. For example, it’s only available as a subscription service and has ten years of support and features. You might even consider its versatility and wide range of options as a disadvantage if you only need to complete a simple task. For these and other reasons, you may be better off using something else — at least in certain situations.
When Price Matters
I’m a firm believer that Photoshop — as part of Adobe’s $9.99 per month package — is worth the money, but not everyone feels the same way. If you’re not using Lightroom to sort and organize your photos, then Photoshop is definitely a more significant financial liability. Similarly, if you completely ignore mobile apps, you’re paying a lot for what you don’t use.
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The good news is that there has never been a better time to be in the Photoshop alternative market. There are some great, affordable apps out there. GIMP is still not a serious competitor, even if it’s free. Affinity Photo and Designer, on the other hand, are $50 each on Windows and Mac and cover most of Photoshop’s features in between. Pixelmator is Mac only, but a steal for $29.99. If the thought of an endless payout of $10 a month distracts you, other developers will give you support.
When you work with a lot of files (especially RAW files)
Photoshop has many strengths, but batch processing and applying the same edits to many files—unless you’re ready to learn how to use Photoshop’s incredible yet complex Actions feature—isn’t one of them. If you’re going to be working with a lot of files on a regular basis, then you need to look elsewhere.
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This is especially true if you’re working with RAW images because catalog apps with RAW processing tools like Lightroom and CaptureOne work much better. They give you all the tools you need to sort, rate, and edit your images, as well as sync all the edits you’ve made to dozens or hundreds of images.
When you want to use a simpler application
Photoshop isn’t as tricky and inaccessible as some people make it out to be, but because it’s so powerful and you generally have total control, you’ll have to spend some time learning the tools. If you want an editing app where you can play around with sliders or add a filter, Photoshop probably isn’t for you.
Honestly, if you’re looking for the easiest and most powerful editors, you might be better off sticking with smartphone apps. Apps like Photos (iOS only), Snapseed (iOS, Android), VSCO (iOS, Android) and even Instagram are all great and very intuitive.
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If you need a desktop app, DxO and Luminar’s Nik collection is great, easy to use and powerful.
When other apps do a better job
You can do just about anything in Photoshop, but you can’t do it perfectly or easily. For example, you can do things like HDR editing and focus blending, but Photoshop’s tools lag behind hyper-specialized application tools like AuroraHDR and Helicon Focus. If you want to do something by hand, you can recreate the same results with Photoshop, but it’s not the same.
Likewise, the Control Points feature in the Nik collection makes sweeping local adjustments easier than any tool in Photoshop. You can recreate the effect by combining some of the mask’s target functions, but you can’t do it with a single click.
Photoshop is the best general purpose image editor, but there are plenty of situations where it’s not the best specific image editor. If you’re constantly running into problems getting Photoshop to do what you want, see if there’s a better app you could use. They are often available as plugins for Photoshop too.
I love Photoshop — I’ve built my career on it — but even I don’t use it for every image editing situation. I’m just glad that there are so many great apps out there right now.