Last year, Adobe raised the price of its Creative Cloud suite in countries including the UK, Brazil, and Sweden to reflect changes in foreign exchange rates. That’s bad news for photographers, filmmakers and artists – particularly amateurs who might struggle to justify the extra expense.
Thankfully for cash-strapped creatives, there are some brilliant free alternatives to Creative Cloud’s key apps – some so similar to their Adobe counterparts there’s virtually no learning curve.
These free programs can’t replace premium software for professional creatives, but for hobbyists they’re ideal. Use them together with a cloud storage service like DropBox or OneDrive, and you’ll have access to your creations wherever and wherever you need it.
The best free InDesign alternative: Scribus
Create great-looking, print-ready posters, newsletters and magazines
If you’ve ever used Adobe InDesign, you’ll have no trouble at all with Scribus; the two programs are extremely similar, using a system of grids, frames and layers to create great-looking PDFs. The two programs’ interfaces and workflows are almost identical (members of the TechRadar team with a background in print media can attest to this), and Scribus has all the tools you need to get your documents ready for professional printing, including font management and color profiles.
Scribus comes with a small selection of templates designed for single-page or folded documents (including business cards, brochures and newsletters) and more are available to download free. These are mostly for single-page documents; for multi-page newletters and magazines, it’s better to create your own layouts and save them as master pages.
Our only real complaint is that pagination – despite being very important for publishing – is tucked away in the document settings rather than the Arrange Pages dialog, where it is in InDesign. That aside, Scribus is a top-notch replacement for InDesign.
The best free Photoshop alternative: GIMP
Refine your photos or create your own artwork from scratch, with support for Photoshop plugins
GIMP is a totally free, open source photo editor that’s as close to Photoshop as you can get without a credit card. It’s in constant development, with frequent updates to add new features and squish bugs (take a look at the release notes for more details), and despite its power, it’s surprisingly easy to use – especially if you’re used to Adobe’s system of menus and toolbars. There are drawing tools, layers, filters and a host of plugins that give you granular control over your images. It even supports Photoshop extensions.
GIMP’s main drawback as a Photoshop substitute is portability; there’s no mobile version, and although there’s a portable app, it’s too large to fit on an ordinary USB stick (and that’s before you’ve started installing extra plugins and fonts).
If you’d prefer a photo editor that you can use anywhere, try Pixlr Editor. It’s not quite as flexible as GIMP, with no support for third-party extensions, but it’s otherwise very similar.
The best free Lightroom alternative: LightZone
A digital darkroom for converting, editing and managing photos in batches
Free, convenient and powerful, LightZone is the best free alternative to Adobe Lightroom. It provides layer-based, non-destructive editing so you can arrange and readjust filters as you see fit, and save the resulting stack for re-use. There’s vector-based selective editing for refining localized areas, plus a clone brush and spot-healing tool for correcting blemishes, re-lighting, and full manual color adjustment. Best of all, LightZone can process RAW images, including those from Canon, Nikon, Kodak, Panasonic, and Olympus cameras.
You need to sign up for an account before you can download LightZone (its developers want to monitor the number of downloads to see how the project is doing), but the process only takes a minute.
The best free Illustrator alternative: Inkscape
A versatile open source vector editor ideal for illustrators and web designers
Inkscape is another free tool that does a great job of emulating its Adobe equivalent. Its toolkit makes creating and editing scalable vector graphics (SVG) files a breeze, with advanced manipulation options and a great assortment of filters – both functional and artistic.
Inkscape’s drawing tools are easy to get to grips with and fully customizable. New additions this year include extra path effects, mesh gradients, and interactive smoothing of pencil lines to help you create more realistic drawings.
Some users find Inkscape a little slow, but in all other respects it’s a fine substitute for Illustrator.
The best free Adobe Stock alternative: Unsplash
Professional-quality stock photos in the public domain – totally free to use
Stock is a relatively new addition to Adobe’s CC suite, providing subscribers with a library of high-quality images and other assets for use in design projects. For creatives on a budget, Unsplash is an excellent substitute. This collection of high-quality stock images is free in every sense of the word; each photo has been released into the public domain, so you can use it in any way you like – for profit or not – without worrying about copyright infringement.
Pixabay is another good source of public domain images (including illustrations, which Unsplash doesn’t offer), but the quality isn’t as consistent.