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Alternative to photoshop?

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I spend a lot of time working in Adobe creative suite at work, and if you’ve ever looked into pricing you know how cost prohibitive it can be for the average user.  If you’re looking for a free alternative, you’re in luck.  Sure there aren’t always as many features, but let’s be honest – most of the time you’re not going to use them.  The MOST important feature that anyone is going to need in everyday graphics work is LAYERS.  Layers allow you to composite multiple elements into a single image – for example text, accents, gradients on top of a background image.

Now sure you can go through and do this in MS Paint, but what makes layers useful is you can edit them individually.  Trust me, the handy undo button is not enough when you start to get into it.  So you need layers, maybe some filters and a few more bells and wistles and you want to avoid selling off your first born to get it.  What are your options?

Of all the alternatives worth exploring for the PC it really boils down to 2:

Ease of Use:

Paint.NETThis is quite simply the easiest to use and best alternative for the weekend warrior type graphics projects.  The interface is straight forward and the variety of features are easily enough to get you through your project.  If you’re looking to get started working with the concepts of advanced graphics work, this is the way to go.  You will need to install Microsoft’s .NET to get up an running (you will be prompted during install process).  In the education & office environment this is going to be your go to software.  Quick, easy to learn and has a large support base.  The only real gripe I have with the website is finding the download link (top right)  there are usually a couple of advertisements that look like download buttons, just a heads up.

Advanced Use:

GIMP (GNU image manipulation program):  Available for multiple platforms, gimp offers a wide variety of features and will be immediately familiar to folks used to working with design tools.    Additionally there is a variant of the software called gimpshop that has been restructured to look and feel a little more like photoshop.  For home computers it’s great, from experience I can say that the name itself will raise a few eyebrows in the office environment.  Because of the name of the software I advise EXTREME caution before using in an office or education setting, you never know what kind of reaction you’re going to get.