Alternatives to Using the Adobe Creative Suite

There has been a lot of fire out there about Adobe changing their upgrade policy and some users feeling like Adobe is taking advantage of their monopoly on the design application market. So I thought I would go through and find a few alternatives to Adobe applications. I’m not saying that any of these are better than Adobe’s offerings I just wanted to put out a list of a few alternatives. I’m only going to focus on the major design (No web apps) applications like Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign. There are tons of alternatives out there but I decided to focus on a handful from each category. I did not have time to go through and write a description for each piece of software but I did grab their marketing description from their website to give you an idea of what the application is advertised to do. I personally work on a Mac, having that in mind I tried to find applications for all platforms not just focusing on my side of the computer world. I have not used all of the software, but I did go through and make sure that it was reviewed well and generally excepted to be a good product.

The price range on the software I’ve selected runs the gamut. Some are expensive, some are reasonable, some are free and most come with trial versions so the barrier to giving it a shot is only the time you have to invest.

So try these applications and decide whether any of this software will work in your creative process.

GIMP is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, and more.
Price: Free
Platforms: Mac, Windows and Linux
Pixelmator, the beautifully designed, easy-to-use, fast and powerful image editor for Mac OS X has everything you need to create, edit and enhance your images.
Price: $14.99
Platforms: Mac
Acorn is a photo editor built for the rest of us. With a simple interface and tools for adding everything from text, shapes, and effects, you can make the perfect picture in seconds and minutes, not hours and days.
Price: $49.99
Platforms: Mac
A simple but lovely natural media painting and sketching program. Art oriented, but capable of loading/saving photoshop files. A very cheap alternative to Painter, with a stripped down, elegant interface.
Price: $29.90 to $59.90
Platforms: Mac and Windows
Corel Painter
Corel Painter is a raster-based digital art application created to simulate as accurately as possible the appearance and behavior of traditional media associated with drawing, painting, and printmaking. It is intended to be used in real-time by professional digital artists as a functional creative tool.
Price: $429.00
Platforms: Mac and Windows
Autodesk Sketchbook Pro
Autodesk Sketchbook Pro drawing software features an artist-friendly, gesture-based user interface that is so fast and intuitive even new users can be productive within minutes.
 Price: $59.90

Platforms: Mac and Windows

An Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.) and great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. It is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more.
Price: Free
Platforms: Mac, Windows and Linux
With vector illustration, page layout, photo-editing and tracing software, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 is ideal for professional and occasional designers tackling any type of graphics project. Precision design tools, market-leading file compatibility and high-quality graphics content help you turn your creative ideas into professional results.
Price: $499.00
Platforms: Windows
The vector tools and basic shapes are a fantastic starting point for any drawing, whether you design for web, icons, and more. Sketch has more advanced layer style options than you can dream of: multiple shadows, multiple fills, gradients, noise, blending, blur, and more. To top it off, Sketch has boolean operations to combine multiple shapes into much more complex ones — all of this is non- destructive.
Price: $49.00
Platforms: Mac
Boost your productivity, drive automated design, and go digital with QuarkXPress — the most reliable print design and publishing tool that is now the easiest, most powerful tool for digital design and publishing.
Price: $849.00
Platforms: Mac and Windows
Scribus is a desktop publishing (DTP) application. Scribus is designed for flexible layout and typesetting, and the ability to prepare files for professional quality image setting equipment. It can also create animated and interactive PDF presentations and forms. Example uses include writing small newspapers, brochures, newsletters, posters and books.
Price: Free
Platforms: Mac, Windows and Linux
I’m sure there are plenty more applications that I missed and this is just a small sampling. So if I missed something major please leave it in the comments and I can go back and add in any major omissions.

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  1. Joanne

    Thank you so much for doing all this research and compilation for us! Bookmarking.

  2. ROSE

    Hey thank you for the information on software. It so happen that I am searching for a software to create animation. I designed many educational toys and material that are successful, but can do a lot better. I am now in the process of expanding my character in my first published children book titled ‘Daydreamer’. The character in most eyes may looks like our President. I am in need of supporters, investors or any individual, who would like to take a chance with a money making vision that will generated within moments successfully. I am trying to learn animation. I was looking into Autodesk 3-D Animation softwares products. You mentioned Autodesk Sketchbook Pro $59.90 and Scribus-Free. What do you think will be best and quick to transfer my character to animaton. I like the free part but I am thnking of Autodes 3D software for $199.99. Do you know of anyone who would like to support or invest in my vision? Pass it on! Thank you again for the information. Happy Holidays!

  3. Thomas A. Cat

    Nice post… As for digital painting there is a FREE alternative (Open-source project). Check out MyPaint. Its large library of brushes and infinite canvas make it really fun to paint in.

  4. BIll 5onic

    Really cool that you would do such a wonderful and selfless thing.
    I used to use Pshop and Illustrator but they just got away from me. My Drive crashed along with the programs and there is just nothing that can match the ability of these two programs.

    Pshpop 5 is where I stopped. Illustrator I never mastered. I draw far quicker than it would seem one can draw in AI.

    There is something beautiful about the feeling of working with actual media, the tactile vs the disconnect which is how I refer to the
    interaction between us and the happy little glow box.

    Anyhooo~ Everything is a teacher and as such we need to try to
    keep ourselves open in heart and mind.

    OK I’m out.
    Peace to all~

    Bill 5onic

  5. Dan Saint-Andre

    On the high end for 2D & 3D graphics there is Blender [see ]. I believe that it was used for several feature films.

    The project home page displays a “Blender Animation Toolkit” [see ] that might meet your needs.

    ~~~ 0;-Dan
    Austin, TX

  6. Lori Maxwell

    Thanks for the great post, Norm… as far as I’m concerned, you and Wilson are wonderful! Informative site. Saved all of us hours of research, with this post and the previous one. Good ideas from the comments, as well. Thanks all!

    • Norm

      Thanks. we certainly try to put out the most relevant content. This post was actually posted last year but we thought that given everything going on with Adobe now it was relevant again. Thank you for your readership and the kind comment.

  7. Elizabeth V Roach

    Thank you! What a great, generous service you have done.

  8. Arcadia Page

    Awesome list! I’m definitely going to link to this on my blog.

  9. theartofpuro

    Thanks for sharing:)

  10. little jo

    I just want to add one software that does a lot of what Photoshop//Illustrator/and Indesign does…as well as a bit of Poser.
    the best, fastest, most robust, and tablet friendly software Ihave ever used…oh, and the cheapest too. $79.99 for MangaStudio 5. I have the previous version, but it does painting, tones, FX, custom brushes, layers, 3D, perspective, multiple pages and book design, and now offers canvas textures, and more. It doesn’t handle typography or text that well, but it was made for doing word balloons for comics and graphic novels. I just LOVE it and highly recommend it. Just like drawing on paper. I do everything from sketch to final with it. It even has a sketch layer.
    All the work on my website was created using it. Some well known artists have switched to it…like Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame.

    • Norm

      Thanks for putting Manga studio in the comments. After I had posted this I had meant to go back and add it but never got the chance. I’ve heard it’s really good. I have version 4 and tried using it but the software install seemed a little buggy and it never seem like it worked right. Sadly, I’ve always had problems with Smith Micro’s Software. I never went back to playing with it.

      Glad somebody caught that I didn’t include it.

  11. Alfred Ingram

    Gimp and Inkscape just don’t do it for me. I like CorelDraw, but there’s no real saving. Painter 12.2 is my mainstay, I use it with Photoshop.I went from CS3 to the cloud and have no problems with it or the newest Illustrator and I used to dislike AI. I really don’t like Quark Xpress it was designed for printers not Designers. By the way, Painter 12 cost me $129.

    • taimdala

      Wow! You got Painter 12 for 129? I got it on sale at 199 but I wish I’d known about the price you’d purchased it for. Good job!

      I have been teaching myself Photoshop for about 6 years, with increasing facility as I learned more. I quite love it for graphics but was never satisfied with it for the traditional mediums of paint and pencil. I missed the ability to blend colors and have brush textures that real paint produce, and I missed the texture of pencil on paper. Painter 12 has an incredible range of brushes programmed to mimic those properties and though I’ve only just received my order in the mail, the textbook provided with it just dazzles. I will continue with Photoshop for my graphic art designs but will switch over to Painter for the traditional arts. It’s been what I’ve been fighting Photoshop for all these years.

  12. Randy Morrison

    The Serif software company out of Nottingham England has a whole series of design programs that are priced much lower than Adobe and promoted as much easier to learn. These include PagePlus (competitor to InDesign), Photoplus (competitor to Photoshop), DrawPlus (vector drawing). They are currently running a May Madness sale with several programs priced at $15 each. They do have a US facility for order fulfillment.

    • Norm

      Thanks for the comment Randy. I’ll have to check these pieces of software out. I hadn’t heard of them before.

      • Hans Maerker

        Hi Norm, I can only underline Randy’s comment about Serif’s complete design series. Here are a few more detailed information about it.

        That special sale they run right now is for the former versions (e.g. X5) while the current version is X6 now. However, this is still a good deal, as they enable you to upgrade later on at a price that is usually 40 to 45 percent off the full version.

        The average price per individual software is around 100 USD and highly recommendable. I use their products for years now parallel to Adobe and switch more and more to Serif’s products. With Adobe going to the cloud, I’m going to keep my (already) outdated tools and switch completely to Serif. No ‘Cloud’ for me :-).

        BTW, I use PagePlus since version 9 (now X6) and it substitutes perfectly for InDesign.

        DrawPlus can open AI files. They just need a few minor corrections and you go from there.

        BTW, the latest version (X6) of DrawPlus and PhotoPlus install now in native 64bit as well, and all others will follow.

        This -in the U.S.- not so much known suite is very common here in Europe. I started with it already while I still lived in WA state and continued to use it when I returned to Europe a few years ago.

        However, it’s for Windows only.
        NO Mac version available.

        – Hans

        • Norm

          Hans, Great in-depth comment about this software. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

          I guess I won’t get to try it if there’s only Windows versions.

  13. Edna

    This is great! Thank you for sharing these current alternatives with everyone. Adobe’s CS suite is, in reality, a culmination of products they’ve acquired over the years. I must admit that I am a fan of Photoshop having used it for a long time. However, I also have Corel Painter and other paint apps that I’m currently learning. IMHO, Quark is by far a better page layout program than InDesign which is really Pagemaker with more bells and whistles ;). And does anyone remember Aldus Freehand? It was a far superior vector drawing product than Illustrator. We don’t need to be tied to the yoke of Adobe in our creative and professional work and this article is timely and helpful. Thanks, again!

    • Norm

      Hopefully with this change that Adobe has made all the alternative software will just get better and Adobe will have to step up their game (and maybe even lower prices) to try to keep their consumers. Fingers crossed.

  14. JHD Designs

    I think there are few programs that are unique and robust applications. Though painter and few other programs are great but they all lack greatly in comparison to Adobe Creative suite. Adobe CS is a professional app hence the high price. I’ve said this before – if your not a working designer, artist, art student, or painter it’s not even worth the bother. Like all my quality art buys – I end up paying high prices. It’s true in the end – you really get what you pay for!

  15. Dayne

    Thank you so much for this list of alternatives. I think I will be looking for other software in the future. It’s a shame, because CS 6 really does a great job for me right now and I’m good for a few years. I love Corel Painter 12 for illustrating, but it certainly can’t replace Photoshop for everything.

    I used to use Quark Xpress many years ago, but they alienated me with their attitude and disregard for customers. That’s when InDesign took over. Don’t alienate your core customers, they will leave!

  16. janet

    Thank you- this is so helpful. Am passing on to my students, who cannot afford the CS suite. Fantastic research.

  17. Andrew Zar

    After years of being in the Adobe fold, the new pricing pushed me to do my own research too.

    Interestingly, I ended up with a product not on your list. This one replaces Adobe Illustrator and can do combine/subtract objects, multiple layers, and pretty much anything AI can do. It can also replace Photoshop, but I am still in the early stages of analyzing that.

    But at $90 one time cost per user, it is way cheaper than Adobe’s trying to get over $1,500 a year from my by forcing the cloud model.

    Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 9

    • Norm

      Thanks for the comment Andrew. It’s looking like I’m going to have to do another post with all the great suggestions people have submitted.

  18. Cheryl

    Great article, just a note that Corel Painter is usually reduced to $299.00 and the other Corel Products (Paint Shop Pro and Draw) are very comparable.

  19. Madzia

    Here’s great Photoshop alternative that is really cheap. You can get Illuststudio on Rakuten(japan e-bay) for ~60-70$ (plus delivery) I’m using it for 3 years. It’s mostly advertised with anime pictures but don’t be discourage 🙂 It have lot of Photoshop features plus few awesome tools and with wet paint like in painter. Sure it’s in Japanese but you can translate it using Majikkuwando to eng

  20. JM

    For an Indesign alternative, another free option is Lucidpress. What sets it apart from most of the options here is that it’s a web app so it has a lot of the same type of features as Google Docs like collaboration.


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