6 Best Free Photoshop Alternatives For Authorpreneurs

A list of our favorite and totally free Photoshop alternatives that self-publish authors can use to knock out their graphic design needs on their own.

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Although it might make you groan, being a novice designer is yet another hat most self-published authors have to wear. 

We don’t mean you have to designing your book cover — in fact, you should probably leave that to the professionals.

But there are all sorts of graphic design assets you need as a self-published author: promotional graphics for social media and email newsletters, posters to promote your book and upcoming readings in book stores...the list goes on.

If you can afford to hire a professional designer to cover all your marketing materials, then great! But if you want to be able to whip up serviceable artwork on-demand, it’s handy to have the software to do it with.

Adobe Photoshop is a household name when it comes to graphic design, but it’s not exactly affordable. And if you can’t afford a professional designer, you’re likely not in a position to buy a Photoshop subscription.

The good news? There are tons of free alternatives out there. You just gotta know which are the easiest to use, and which will give you the most bang for your buck.

Here’s a list of our 6 favorite (and totally free) Photoshop alternatives that self-publish authors can use to knock out their graphic design needs on their own.

1. Photopea

Photopea is a browser-based photo editing software. That means you don’t have to download or install software to your computer. Just go to photopea.com to get started!

While this app isn’t as advanced as Photoshop, Photopea covers a lot of the basics found in Adobe’s powerhouse — but it’s free!

In Photopea, you can upload images, PDFs, even Photoshop design files, and get right to work. You can create layers, custom crop images, add filters and colors, overlay text, and much more. 

And if you need to use it offline, you can just load it up while connected to the internet and use it as needed, even after you disconnect.

The only real downside is that Photopea’s website shows you ads on the sidebar while you’re working. But for the most part, these are unobtrusive and won’t slow you down. 

If you love the tool, you can upgrade to an ads-free premium account for just $9 a month — less than half the cost of Photoshop. The premium account also allows you to undo more actions, which is a handy if you want to quickly revert to an older version of the design you’re working on.

2. Pixlr

Pixlr is photo editor that looks and feels a lot like Photoshop. You can upload photos directly from your desktop or external hard drive or choose an image online to get started on a new design. 

There are some fun filters to use, and layers and text-overlays are supported, too. You can also blur, clone, dodge and burn just like in Photoshop. Pixlr offers over 600 effects, overlays, and borders!

If you’re a bit more experienced in graphic design, you’ll love the ability to adjust the tool options to your preference.

One of the features that makes Pixlr stand out is the mobile app version. Imagine you’re on a book tour and you want to create up a new promotional image to post to Instagram. With the Pixlr app, you can do it in minutes while taking a Lyft to your next reading!

If you find yourself enjoying Pixlr and want more, you can upgrade to a premium account for just $3.99 a month (a fraction of the cost of Photoshop), or a professional account for $14.99 per month (still a notable savings compared to Photoshop). 

Those upgrades give you access to more editing tools, more graphic overlays, more fonts, and pretty much more everything. And just like Photopea, a paid subscription gets rid of ads.

This is a pretty amazing web-based application, and it’s our top choice when it comes to online photo editing software.

3. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

GIMP has long been the top free competitor for Photoshop, offering excellent open source features at none of the price. 

Unlike some of the other pieces of software discussed here, GIMP is ad-free. It also is a download that lives on your computer, not on the cloud.

It’s not quite as action-packed as the one-and-only, but it does have a wide array of features. Users beware though: This one has a bit of a learning curve. 

GIMP can feel overwhelming when you first get started. But if you take the time and effort to become familiar with the software, it’s not as hard to use as it may seem at first glance (for some of us!)

4. Paint.net

This open source software is for Windows users only, so if you’re a Mac user, move on.

Paint.net is really focused on photo editing rather than image creation, but it should be able to handle most of what you’ll need as an authorpreneur.

It’s syper easy to use, free, doesn’t have any ads, and is supported by former Microsoft employees.

5. SumoPaint

SumoPaint is a solid entry-level photo editor. Its interface is a bit different from Photoshop’s, so if you’re already familiar with that software, you may want to go with Pixlr or Photopea instead.

The free version of SumoPaint includes ads and limits the features you can access. But you can still use brushes and pencils, add text, shapes, and gradients, and more, all in the free cloud-based (or downloadable) application.

6. Photoshop Express

This is the free and extremely stripped-down basic version of Photoshop. It can be used within your browser, or you can download the app for your mobile device. 

You’ll get all the basic functions like image cropping, rotating, resizing and adjusting the brightness and contrast of your photos. 

They’ve also left some of the ‘make me pretty’ functions in, such as red eye removal (so you don’t look like an extra from Twilight), and the touch-up tool to remove any unsightliness from your author bio pictures.

Keep in mind that Photoshop Express isn’t near as powerful as Photoshop, and it’s not necessarily the best free option out there just because it bears the Photoshop name.

When it’s Time to Hire a Professional Designer

Any of the free design applications can help you take care of your day-to-day design needs without having to hire a graphic designer.

But there are a lot of good reasons you might want to go with a pro eventually. Maybe you want your promotional materials just looked a bit sharper, or maybe you prefer to invest your time into writing rather than designing posters. 

Then there are the times when a design is so important that nothing but the best will suffice, like your book cover design. 

For better or worse, we all judge books by their covers. If you want to break through the noise and find success with your next book, you’ll want to hire a professional book designer to help you out.

Steuben Press’ in-house book designers have created eye-catching covers for countless self-published titles. They don’t just concern themselves with the outside of your book — they’ll also make sure every single page on the inside of your book does your story the justice it deserves.

Learn more about our book cover design services >

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.


Since finding Steuben Press my book printing journey has been a success! The staff at Steuben Press have been absolutely fantastic. Whatever questions I have encountered along the way, I could always count on their team to be ready with the answer. Fast, affordable and efficient, you will never be disappointed in the fantastic service of this company.

– Christi Johnston, Arkansas

Support Christi and her book, “Love Language” on Amazon