No Photoshop? No Problem!

Anyone who knows anything about digital art knows Photoshop. Photoshop has long been an industry standard for designers. So much so, in fact, that it just about has a monopoly on the graphic artist market.

Art teachers are well aware of this application’s abilities. There isn’t an art teacher out there who doesn’t want his or her students utilizing this great tool. However, technical roadblocks, as well as budget issues, can hinder an art teacher’s ability to procure this coveted technology. Before you abandon the vision, consider the free alternative.

Pixlr Editor is a free, online Photoshop alternative that can stand up to its competition. From the first click, Pixlr is full of options. It offers the user the choice of creating a new image, opening an image from the computer, or even opening an image from a URL.



If you have used Photoshop before, Pixlr will look very familiar. The tool bar on the left offers all the standard capabilities you would expect from a graphics application. Pencil, brush, eraser, paint bucket and gradients are all available along with some of the heavy hitters like the smudge tool, the clone stamp, and the spot heal tool.


The right side menus are a little lighter but do include the Navigator, History and most importantly, Layers. The layers palette has all the functionality you’d receive from Photoshop including opacity, modes, layer styles and even masks.



If you are accustomed to adjustments in Photoshop, again, you will not be disappointed. Hue & Saturation, Brightness & Contrast and Color Vibrance are available as well as Curves, Levels and even Threshold for those of you that enjoy making stencils.

While Pixlr can’t brag about surpassing Photoshop’s filters, it does offer a decent selection of the top filters like Gaussian blur, Sharpen and, my personal favorite, Glamour Glow.



When you’re done, Pixlr offers several saving formats including JPEG, PNG, BMP, TIFF and PXD, the Pixlr image format that allows you to return to editing layers. Over all this is an outstanding application to work with and considering the price tag (free), it’s definitely within an art teacher’s budget.


Do you have Photoshop available at your school? Do you wish you did?

Are there other free graphics programs out there worth mentioning? Let us know! 


Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • TheBigZee

    Am not an art teacher but will have to check this out. Have you tried GIMP? As powerful as Photoshop maybe even more so and free.

    It can be had in multiple versions…… Windows, Linux and I believe Mac.

  • Jill

    We use a program called ‘Paint.NET’ in my art rooms. Our tech person was big in trying to find as many free Photoshop-like programs for me to try the first year I was teaching. I find Paint.NET offers many of the same features Photoshop has. We have used it for over 4 years. We also use ‘Scribus’ as a page layout program, most like InDesign. As well as, ‘Inkscape’ as a vector art program that resembles Illustrator. I was a graphic designer for 15 years prior to teaching, so trying to find programs that work as well as Adobe programs are always on my radar.

  • Matt Volesky

    Good Article. I’ve been using Pixlr as my photo editing program for the past couple years for my web design class. We have Photoshop installed on our computers but I prefer Pixlr because of the following reasons:

    1. It’s free
    2. It’s on every computer w/internet (students can access at home.)
    3. Easy to learn
    4. It loads faster than Photoshop.
    5. It has the extension Pixlr Grabber which allows screen shots straight to editing.

    There are some disadvantages to Pixlr-like the text tool is not very good, but overall it fits most everything we do in Web Design.

  • Denise

    Thank you so much, Ian….I’ve been struggling with the same issues you mention with Photoshop-cost, bit overwhelming for kids to learn, etc. Will check it out!

  • erica

    so cool! Someone just showed me a free program that was like photoshop. It is amazing how many different programs there are to teach photoshop skills with.

  • Beth Hazard Bachuss

    I have used GIMP for years in my classroom and have yet to find anything it can’t do that Photoshop can. The Transform tool isn’t nearly as good, but other than that, it’s a great alternative.

  • Michele Gorham

    We have been using for 5 years now and only our high school has photoshop! We used gimp for a year but it was so slow to open and not user friendly in my eyes. is free and has a similar interface to photoshop. My students love it and I use it for two projects each year (pop art and tessellations). I would highly recommend it and my tech dept. was quite pleased when I found this free program! They installed it in my building first but it’s now on all pcs!

  • I Heard You Can Draw

    I was just wondering about what to use at school! Thanks for the article.

  • deborahdq

    I am planning to use Pixlr Editor with middle school students. We will be editing original drawings and designs with color, pattern texture etc. Has anyone done this with original artwork? Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated. We are limited for time and I am looking for good tutorials for 5th and th grade students. Thanks!

  • Elizabeth Hurley

    Thank for great explanation i am looking for Vector Art tutorial. Can anyone please upload it.