Professional photo editing apps don’t come cheap and aren’t easy to master without formal training. That’s why we are reviewing the best free photo editing software on the market.
Our top pick is GIMP, an open source photo editing software available for all three major operating systems. It offers a large workspace and a wide variety of professional editing tools.
We have over 7,000 how-to articles and best of lists to help you develop your photography skills, choose the best gear for your photography needs, and get the most out of your camera gear. And if our top pick isn’t right for you, be sure to check out the other options on this list. There are great choices for both conventional office software and web solutions that don’t require software installation.
The best free photo editing software at a glance
Often touted as the best free alternative to Photoshop, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open source application that relies on a community of volunteer developers who maintain and improve the product. It’s available for MacOS, Windows, and Linux and provides plenty of professional-level editing and retouching tools – perfect for designers who can’t or don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for Adobe Photoshop.
Once you launch the program, you will find a dedicated window that displays the image. You will also see two floating docks: one with the toolbox and another to manage layers, paths, brushes, etc.
When using a large screen or two monitors, you have ample workspace to edit your images. Toolbox icons represent specific tools, such as scale, pencil, brush, bucket fill, airbrush, smudge, etc. You can also apply many filters, such as drop shadow, add neon glow, add glass tile, remove evil red eye, etc.
Overall, GIMP might seem like a free version of Photoshop, but it sports a unique look and experience. Switching from one to the other will take a bit of time, but you’ll save a monthly subscription fee if you do.
Paint.NET is a case where the apprentice becomes the master. Created as a graduate undergraduate design project mentored by Microsoft, Paint.NET continues to be maintained by program alumni. Initially, the software was developed as a free replacement for Microsoft Paint, which is part of Windows. Paint.NET has surpassed Microsoft Paint in terms of functionality and also provides more advanced functionality.
Paint.NET offers an intuitive user interface that supports layers, an “unlimited undo” tool to evade such disastrous errors, various special effects and other utilities. Where Microsoft Paint was able to do little more than resize images, Paint.NET can handle more advanced photo editing than you’d expect only Photoshop and other paid programs to do.
Paint.NET is available as a free traditional desktop program for Windows and as a $ 7 app from the Windows Store.
If the above options seem too derivative or you want more of the Adobe experience without the price tag, Photoshop Express is another option to consider. Although simplified compared to the premium Photoshop template, the Express variant has several great options for editing photos with a much more gradual learning curve.
With an interface that betrays its mobile roots, Photoshop Express offers quick and easy access to scroll bar adjustments and one-touch corrections for photos of all types. Prepackaged Effects make quick and dramatic changes to images to improve coloring and contrast; The crop and transform tools let you change the orientation and focus of a photo, and Details lets you control sharpness and noise.
Its file type support is limited to raw camera files, TIFF, JPG, and PNG files, but Photoshop Express is a free app available that you can use on your Windows, iOS, or Android device with no hassle.
Pixlr provides two tools that you can access for free: Pixlr X (express) and Pixlr E (advanced). Both provide essential editing tools, limited layers, and relatively few stickers. These tools are ad-supported, but you can upgrade to Advanced ($ 4 / month) or Professional ($ 15 / month) to remove ads and unlock additional features.
In a Pixlr vs Pixlr X showdown, Pixlr X offers faster editing and a simpler, more user-friendly design. This software comes with 12 essential tools, from drawing on layers to applying filters and cropping images. You can even add the “stain” effect, which makes your image look like a cup of coffee was placed on it recently.
Then there’s Pixlr E, a nude photo editing software that gives you access to 23 useful tools. Users can easily remove red eye, draw shapes, blur, soften, or clone a photo, and more.
Overall, Pixlr is a mix of desktop and web editing software. They have discontinued macOS and Windows desktop programs and are now focused on marketing its HTML5-based web applications. That being said, you can still find and download the Pixlr app on your smartphone or tablet.