Please forgive the open-ended title. My actual question, I think, is a bit more specific and suited for this site but it is rather difficult to articulate my need in one simple sentence.

Quick background-- I've recently had a minor shift in my career. I need to manage a website for a non-profit and since it will be rather graphical, I need to start learning how to extensively use image editing software. On a beginner-level, I've used PhotoShop in the past because that was what was available to me. I can use it but I'll be honest... I've always hated PhotoShop and reached for alternative editors when given the opportunity to use something else. To me, it's just not as intuitive as many other tools that I've used and, let's face it, it's expensive compared to many of the alternatives.

My specific question is, is PhotoShop such a massive, de-facto industry standard that should I not realistically consider using another tool if I ever want to find competent volunteers (or future employees) that will need to manage our image assets?

I know that their are a ton of PhotoShop alternative but, other than GIMP, most people have never heard of any of them.

If I prefer to steer clear of PhotoShop for our needs, is this going to cause a problem in the future regarding finding competent workers that could take over my work, or are the other top-used image editing tools in enough use that I should be able to find competent workers that are familiar with these tools?

I will choose to use PhotoShop if I have to in order to remain relevant. However, that will only be out of begrudged necessity. Any advisement would be appreciated.


Please note that this IS NOT a direct request for PhotoShop alternatives. Instead, I just want to know that if I do go with something else for my personal work, will I be causing a bigger problem in the future when I need to hand over my work to someone else who is hopefully more capable than myself.

  • Interesting. photoshop is - unfortunately - the industry standard for bitmaps. However, I would think that there are plenty of other alternatives that are reasonable. Gimp is of course one, as you say, but I have heard good things about photoshop elements and lightroom (I have never used either). Here is a list you might find interesting: techradar.com/news/software/applications/…
    – benteh
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 16:21
  • Thanks @boblet. I think I've read this (and numerous other) articles. The problem is that I can't really find any discussion on which tools are in most-common use other than the grand-master-of-image-editing PhotoShop. Sure, there are other tools. But how many other people out there hate it enough to want something different that's not going to pin them in a hole. I have my preferences but above those I am a professional. I want my cake and the ability to eat it too. ;)
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 16:29
  • Heheh - I applaud your search. I think the only two things on the tech side is which filetypes the programmes will support; and i cannot imagine any image manipulation without layers. That is my very personal opinion. Layers and .tiff file support, and I think all will be good. But someone else might come with more insight, I am no expert.
    – benteh
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 16:38
  • That's a good point. I recall that there are a few software packages out there that support PhotoShop files. So long as they can save in .psd format, I guess it doesn't matter what I use. And, I agree, layers are an absolute necessity. Shiver I can't imagine using any image editor without layers.
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 16:40
  • 3
    Should you? I'd say absolutely based on Adobe's lousy subscription model. Can you? That's an entirely different matter, unfortunately.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 17:44

4 Answers 4


The only things that matter are the images which come out of the process.

There is very little reason for the final art to be in a format which is not universally supported: you will use PNG, TIFF, Jpeg primarily. This is because for web and print, you are providing fixed content with 100% guarantee of interoperability.

If you are planning on sharing many working PSD files with people, you should be using Photoshop because interoperability is required. If you are sharing editable content with people who do not need to edit it, you are doing it wrong.

If you are concerned about archiving the working sets of files for use later, then there are ways to handle this. TIFF supports layers. One key problem will be text. However, from experience, even when using the same storage format, missing linked content such as font files are always going to be a problem when your whole workflow environment has changed. For archival purposes, it is probably a good idea to rasterize text (at least a duplicate of any text layers) so that you can easily re-align new text layers with the new fonts you will inevitably have to resort to using. If this is too much work, hen you probably don't need to worry too much about it. The final working art can be picked up and used as a template.

Most people do things differently and you might find that in the scenario you suggested (short term volunteers with various levels of experience) etc., the difference in working styles will probably hinder the usefulness of providing archived editable art, to say nothing of the mismatched versioning problems you will experience.

Focus on storing branded materials for use in their own original works and request the working file they used as well as a flattened version in a universal format.


I agree quite a bit with Scott's answer. The tool only matters with interoperability and I think that the one main place for someone in the OP's position where interoperability really matters is in print submission for a complex publication where you need to provide a printer with materials they can make a plate from. All the rest, including 2-sided single sheet printing, can be done with virtually any tool as long as the file format submitted is open enough.

The images are like cabinets, and Photoshop is like the set of jigs used to make it. If the recipient only needs a cabinet, then the jigs are meaningless.

If you have a volunteer doing a slide for the front page of your Wordpress, you provide the brand guide, the logo required in eps/svg/etc format and ask for the native file and the PNG. Archive the native file, which you will never touch, and then upload the PNG.

There is no reason why you can't run a png though photoshop, gimp, two imagemagick filters via command line, write a VB program to animate text on it creating an animation set, then import into windows movie maker (!) and export an mpeg, bring it into an editing suite add mask effects, and then take a screencap for your homepage (saved with paint.net).

If you use closed formats, the above workflow gets difficult.

  • Note that I share some of your feelings about Adobe's approach to intuitiveness (it isn't very). But it is a good suite of packages and you will probably be able to get some breaks because you are non-profit (e.g. techsoup.org etc etc).
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 17:07
  • Techsoup, apparently, no longer offers Adobe software. Many blog posts pointed to them but it looks that something behind-the-scene has caused them to pull Adobe software from their offerings. Yes, I think the biggest worry is that if I create logos, and standardized image templates, that my successor will have a tough time pulling these files into a different software tool. I'm the starting point. There is a fair chance that in a year or two I might be able to hand over this specific role. Until then, I want to be sure that all brand-related material that I create will be reusable.
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 17:35
  • My wife is in non-profits which is why I know about techsoup, but I don't have first-hand knowledge.
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 18:13
  • Adobe wants everyone to go to the monthly rental model. For better or worse.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 19:01

The hard reality is that Adobe has, what is in effect, a monopoly in many industries. They've been the leader for more than 20 years and have gobbled up any adequate, or even superior, competition. Personal opinion: the government should be looking into anti-trust regulations where Adobe is concerned.

I've searched and searched and searched for alternatives to Adobe applications since the subscription-only model was announced. And, in fact, I'm still using CS6, and it's perpetual license, 95% of the time even though CC versions sit on my hard drive. I can't find anything which is really adequate, let alone equal. The only close call would be QuarkXPress rather than InDesign, but the Quark corporate mentality is often the same or worse than Adobe's.

I do not have much concern myself about delivering files or passing them off to others, but as with any software development, using common tools is exceptionally helpful if you are not the last to work on something.

Imagine a web developer building everything in JSP. Sure it works and functions, but the likelihood of many others being well versed in JSP in order to edit/alter anything is slim. Whereas if PHP is used from the start, the pool of possible workers expands almost exponentially because PHP is a very common, popular language.

Schools aren't teaching GIMP or Graphics Converter or InkScape, et. al. They teach Adobe and Quark unfortunately. So, if you want the widest possible employee pool to pull a workforce from, you need to use common tools. This has been true for many things. And is even more true for temporary workforces. Even for text you can choose to use Pages or Open Office, but the learning curve, no matter how small, is still present for a user accustomed to Word. This ultimately means you pay for time (or must allow extra time) for the user to familiarize themselves with the application being used. And even the most proficient user in one application is going to take two, three, four, or more times longer to complete something in an application they are not familiar with.

Ultimately it's money that is the concern. Time it takes to complete a project costs money. Training employees on new software costs money. The faster something gets done the more money can be saved and/or made. If time is never a factor than using alternatives may be viable. If you have deadlines and a revolving workforce, common, universally known tools are almost a must.

I am 150% behind anyone abandoning Adobe for alternatives if it is feasible. However, based on the current market and the lack of any real competition it's doesn't seem like a realistic possibility at this time. I think the best you can do right now, is to find a perpetual license for Adobe Creative Suite 6 and stick to that.

I agree with Horatio that in the end it doesn't matter what app you use, the format(s) can be achieved by any number of applications, especially were web-dev is concerned. The issues with actual day to day working in applications is really where the pain point may lie.

  • +1, strictly for that small, well placed, second paragraph.
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 18:35
  • Yes, this is about what I had expected to here. One good alternative appears to be Pixelmator but, as you say, all design schools seem to strictly focus on Adobe products. Since I might possibly employ interns in the future I may need to focus on the tools that they are most focused on and motivated to use. It's looking more and more like PhotoShop is going to "win by default" which is a rather sad conclusion.
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 18:46
  • If your workforce is more sedentary, there's absolutely no harm in choosing an alternative. You merely have to allow some extra time for workers to get "up to speed" with the applications. And yes, it is sad... very sad.. I agree. I wish there were several viable alternatives to many of the Adobe applications.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 18:48
  • JSP is a hugely popular Java platform, so is perhaps a bad analogy.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 18:58
  • Possibly :) I read that JSP, Perl, ColdFusion, and Ruby tend to comprise roughly ~6% of development while PHP, ASP and .NET encompass the remaining ~90%. What I read could have been misleading, I wouldn't be smart enough to know. :)
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 19:01

Unless you need to work with large ad and design agencies, or companies that have decided to maintain everything as Adobe files, there's likely little reason that you would need to use PhotoShop.

I gave up Adobe products many years ago for my own work (more politically based than gripes about the software...though I will say I was tiring of their inability to squash bugs). The only real hassle is receiving files...lots of other people still do everything in PhotoShop so I sometimes have to ask them to save it out as a different format or older version.

(FWIW, on my Mac, Pixelmator is 'pretty good'. It can handle not-overly complex .psd files fairly well, and costs a fraction of what PhotoShop does)

  • Out of curiosity, what software do you prefer to use or is that what you are suggesting with Pixelmator?
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 19:31
  • For most of my web work, it's primarily InkScape (vector stuff) and Pixelmator (raster stuff). I've heard good things about Sketch (vector) as well.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:07
  • I have actually considered trying a magazine ad using Scribus and submitting as PDF. Have you ever used that or other open source imposing/compositing software?
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:49
  • I have used Scribus--though not for any commercial print work. It has potential, though.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 21:14

As per your question, I will avoid all discussion of whether or not Photoshop is the best bitmap image editor and focus on three key questions. Namely, will using a program other than Photoshop:

  1. Make it more difficult to hire talent?
  2. Create problems in a typical web development workflow?
  3. Affect my value in the job market?

Question 1: Hiring Talent

Absolutely. Most industries standardize around some canonical software and of course skillsets of people in those industries will follow. In some industries, it may shake down to 2-3 software packages. Sometimes, there will be one leading software but with string alternatives. After 20 years in the industry, I think I can confidently say that Photoshop is by far the dominant software package for image editing. I can't even think of any alternative even close. And by close I'm talking about objective measures of market share, not subjective opinions of what software is "just as good or better".

Question 2: Workflow problems

This is related in large part to Question 2. Sometimes, you need to hire designers to help out on contract. The typical workflow is: 1) UX designer designs interaction model and wireframes, 2) graphic designer creates designs in Photoshop, 3) either graphic designer delivers image assets or gives a PSD file to a front-end developer to do a "cut up" to generate image assets, then 4) developer integrates image assets with code, etc.

The deliverable in step 3 is almost always a PSD file. Most front-end developers know enough about Photoshop to be able to take a PSD file and cut it up into images. There are countless tutorials on the internet teaching this skill as well. If you suddenly disrupt that workflow and give developers some other format to work with, they may have to learn an entirely new process.

Question 3: Job Market Value

As with all other industries, HR people love to look for resumes with certain technical buzzwords. Having those buzzwords on your resume is undoubtedly an asset and not having them will hurt you. Do you really want to be in an interview and have to explain to someone why you're not an expert in one of the most widely used software packages in your profession?

My Rant

Ok, now that I've addressed your question, let me just digress and say that I think Photoshop is an amazing piece of software engineering. It's one of the only large software programs I know where every major release is always adding truly useful new features. Is it difficult to learn? Absolutely. But don't mistake difficult to learn with difficult to use. They are entirely different concepts.

Once you've invested the time to learn Photoshop, I'm confident that you'll see how easy it is to use. And even more so for the power user, because there are so many shortcuts and ways to automate things. And if you're serious about this new career, isn't your goal to ultimately become a power user? If you are still in this career in 5 years, then trust me, you will not regret any time you invested into learning Photoshop.

  • I'll disagree with #1. Talented designers can learn the UI of any design software just as talented developers can learn the syntax of any language. As long as the concepts are understood, the actual piece of software isn't as critical. #2, however, is really the big one. I agree totally with that.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 23:49
  • I never said that they can't, but it makes it harder. Why make obstacles for yourself when the employment market is hard enough? To use your analogy, a good programmer can learn any language but if you choose to use Tcl rather than Java, that will make it that much harder to find good talent and many people won't bother to even apply because they don't want to learn something new.
    – T Nguyen
    Commented Mar 8, 2014 at 1:17
  • I'd argue that if people don't want to learn something new, the aren't good talent, so no loss. :)
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 8, 2014 at 3:46

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