How To Make Awesome Images (No Photoshop Required)

Images are an important component of content marketing. They give readers a visual representation or reinforcement of the text and increase the shareability on any social platform. To make a memorable image is part creative (creating or choosing a high-resolution image, manipulating it) and part operational (choosing image size and reducing the file size with a tool like compressor.io so that it will load quickly).

For this post, I want to focus on the creative process of editing images. Photoshop and its Adobe companion, Lightroom have always been the ideal software to edit images, but they are cost-prohibitive for some people and require a bit of experience to use well. There are some pretty powerful, user-friendly, and inexpensive alternatives that may allow you to be creative without the costs of time and resource. What I want to do in this post is share some of the most popular Photoshop alternatives and how they can help make your creative process a bit easier.

Note that while there are a lot of very cool mobile apps for photo manipulation, the ability to process high-resolution images is the key criteria for these tools (though I do throw one in at the end for good measure).

Canva



Canva is a web-based image creation platform that is intuitive and user-friendly. It shares very few of the technical tools of Photoshop, opting instead for a straightforward, accessible UX.

Creating or manipulating an image consists of choosing a canvas from pre-selected or user-defined sizes, importing an image (or images), and then manipulating the image (resizing, filtering, adding text). Final images can be saved in JPG, PNG, or PDF formats.

Pros: Ease of use is off-the-charts. No software to run. Has a mobile app optimized for tablets. Ideal for users who don’t want to get too in-depth into image manipulation and prefer a “drag-and-drop” tool. It is free to use, with pay options only for stock photos.

Drawbacks: Creative tools are limited. Image manipulation is done by filtering. No tools for doing fine manipulations to images. Perhaps dissatisfying for some users as a true Photoshop alternative.

GIMP



GIMP is an open-source image editor which has a similar look and functionality to Photoshop. Images can be uploaded or drawn to blank canvas and images are created using layers. Functionally, image manipulation is done with layers similar to Photoshop.

Pros: Operation similar to Photoshop. Free. Open-source. Plenty of tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.

Drawbacks: Features are not as powerful as Photoshop. Not as intuitive to use as Canva.

Paint.net



Paint.net is an open-source image editor which has a similar look and functionality to Photoshop. Images can be uploaded or drawn to blank canvas and images are created using layers. Functionally, image manipulation is done with layers similar to Photoshop.

Pros: Operation similar to Photoshop. Free. Open-source. Plenty of tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.

Drawbacks: Features are not as powerful as Photoshop. Not as intuitive to use as Canva.

Pixlr



Pixlr is a freemium desktop and web-based image editor which has the closest UX to of Photoshop of all of the software discussed. Images can be uploaded or drawn to blank canvas and images are created using layers. Functionally, image manipulation is done with layers similar to Photoshop. Created by Autodesk, this is probably the best-looking alternative to Photoshop from a visual and UX standpoint.

Pros: Operation similar to Photoshop. Plenty of tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.

Drawbacks: Some advanced editing features are only available for paid users. Learning curve similar to Photoshop.

Krita



Krita is an open-source image editor which is quite similar to Photoshop. Images can be uploaded or drawn to blank canvas and images are created using layers. Functionally, image manipulation is done with layers similar to Photoshop. Despite that Krita is described for its image creation features, it is a very capable image editor as well (here is a tutorial to demonstrate this).

Pros: Operation similar to Photoshop. Free. Open-source. Plenty of tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.

Drawbacks: Learning curve similar to Photoshop.

Pablo



Pablo is a free-to-use image social image editor from Buffer. The functionality is comparable to a Canva-lite, the UX is very straightforward and options (relative to Photoshop and other editors) are rather limited. Users can create on provided images or can upload photos and edit using text and a limited choice of filters.

Pros: Great UX / easy to use. Free.

Drawbacks: Limited function.

Darktable



Darktable is a free-to-use photo editor which is quite similar to Lightroom. Images are uploaded and edited in the program. Photoshop-type embellishments (text / drawing) are not features of this software.

Pros: Operation similar to Lightroom. Easy UX. Free. Plenty of tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.

Drawbacks: Slight learning curve. For uploaded images only.

Seashore



Seashore is a Mac-exclusive open-source image editor. It was designed to have basic functionality without the complicated UX of Photoshop. Images are edited using layers, similar to most tools.

Pros: Easier to use than Photoshop. Free. For Mac users.

Drawbacks: Features are not as powerful as Photoshop. Despite the easier UX, there appears to be a slight learning curve to this software as well.

Instagram

Instagram is a social platform of course, but in a pinch could do some minor photo editing. The primary means of editing an image would be using Instagram filters, making it a pretty restrictive way to edit photos. The highest resolution for IG is 1080 x 1080 which isn’t ideal but probably wouldn’t look too bad on the web (and would of course be fine for mobile).

It’s a bit blasphemous to compare Instagram filters to Photoshop or Lightroom, but in a pinch it could help make an image a bit more compelling.

Conclusion

If you’re intimidated by image editors, it’s good to know that there are options like Canva and GIMP that you can use to make cool images. If you’re intimidated by the cost of Photoshop, or collaborating in a setting where that cost could scale and sail, it’s good to know that there are a lot of other similar options that can help you to make you images compelling to readers (and a lot of video tutorials on sites like YouTube to help).

In any event, there are plenty of ways to make your images stand-out, no matter how much time or resource that you have to devote to it.



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