If you are a web designer, you probably are aware of the software paradox. The software paradox is a name I arbitrarily came up with to describe the absurdly high cost of photo editing software. It is a paradox because, unless your parents, godmother, or some other fairy tale creature bought you a copy of a professional photo editing suite (such as Adobe Photoshop), it is generally impossible to obtain a full version of the software without a job, even though you need experience to get a job, and you need Photoshop to get experience. How are we designers supposed to build a portfolio and get experience without money to buy the program we need to get experience?
It’s a paradox.
Luckily, open source programmers have a soft spot for designers, or a compulsion to create open source clones of everything good, and they have provided us with several free, open source alternatives to expensive editing programs.
GIMP, or GNU image manipulation program, is probably the oldest and the most popular of the open source alternatives to Photoshop and the like. Admittedly, with any free, open source program, you’re going to trade sophistication for price, but GIMP will do most everything that Photoshop can, and — best of all — it is compatible with almost any system, and is free. Let me just repeat that. It is free. And it still has the capability to perform the important image manipulation processes that Photoshop has. Furthermore, as it is open source, you can alter the code of the program to suit your preferences and purposes.
GIMPshop is very similar to GIMP (surprise!), but comes with a user interface that more closely resembles Photoshop, for those of us who have been cursed to fall in love with the great design and layout of Photoshop’s toolbox. Again, its features are not quite as extensive as Photoshop’s, but it is extremely powerful, and looks a lot like Photoshop, so you’ll feel pro without ever having paid the pro price.
I like Krita because it offers a pretty wide selection of tools (again, for free) , but is geared more for beginning designers. The interface is easy to use and intuitive so that anyone can download it and start exploring the world of image manipulation. It’s like the mini-keyboard your parents got you that you eventually outgrew, but that whetted your appetite for music and developed a lifelong passion for it that you continued to pursue for the duration of your life.
Once you get bored with Krita, you can upgrade to one of the other free programs here, and then start mastering the finer points of photo editing with them. Eventually, you will have mastered your technique and style and will be ready to start applying for jobs, with a portfolio and everything. And then you can finally afford Photoshop! Although at this point you’ve probably become comfortable with the open source versions and won’t ever use Photoshop again. Alas, paradox!