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Before you resort to MS Paint or piracy, give these free image-editing tools a shot

There’s no argument about it: Adobe Photoshop remains, hands down, the best photo-editing software on the market. But unless you’ve undergone formal training, Photoshop proves a difficult program to master, not to mention its cringe-worthy price tag. For the home user, Photoshop isn’t necessary for basic and semi-advanced tasks, such as resizing, cropping, and exposure correction. Downloadable photo editing tools have advanced way past MS Paint, and you really can do almost anything you could do in Photoshop–and sometimes more. The best part? Many of them are completely free.

Related: How to make animated GIFs with Photoshop

Knowing it’s no easy task to sift through the available image-editing programs, we tested a number of applications to find our absolute favorite. Some programs listed offer powerful editing tools, while others help you organize and upload photos to your preferred social network sites. Regardless of feature, each program listed below provides users a convenient and free way to edit images and photos.

GIMP

GIMP

Often heralded 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. Available for Mac and PC, you get a lot of professional-level editing and retouching tools, and it is the closest to Photoshop among the free apps mentioned here – perfect for designers who can’t or won’t shell out hundreds of dollars to Adobe.

Once you launch the program, you’ll find a dedicated window that displays the image, and separate windows to organize the toolbox and layers. It may seem like Photoshop, but GIMP has its own look and feel. When using a large display, or two displays, you have a nice, big workspace to play with your images. Icons in the toolbox represent actions such as the crop, lasso, paint and brush tools, and you can apply various effects to your photos.

PhotoScape

Photoscape

Besides image editing, PhotoScape also lets you create slideshows and animated GIFs, capture screenshots, and combine and split images. You can customize your toolbar, so you can organize the features you use most, and then revert to the default toolbar when you want to dig deeper into the software’s offerings.

Free comes with a price, however. PhotoScape software is free to download. But it’s part of the Open Candy network, and runs ads for other “recommended” software. This is isolated to PhotoScape, and won’t infiltrate the rest of your computer with adware, but worth noting.

Paint.NET

Paint.net

This is a case where the apprentice becomes the master. Paint.NET was originally developed as an college undergraduate senior design project mentored by Microsoft and it continues to be maintained by alumni of the program. It was originally developed as a free replacement for Microsoft Paint, which comes as part of Windows. Paint.NET has surpassed Microsoft Paint in functionality and has some advanced features.

Paint.NET features an intuitive user interface that supports layers, undo, special effects, and other tools. Where Microsoft Paint was able to do little more than resize images, Paint.NET is able to handle more advanced photo editing that you’d expect from Photoshop and other paid programs. 

Picasa

Picasa

Picasa is less of a photo editor and more of a slideshow creator and photo organizer, but has just enough basic editing tools for the layman designer. The Mac and PC program, which Google acquired in 2004, lets you share photos on your Google+ profile. Using Picasa you can easily scoop up all the photos on your computer or drive, and format them to share. You can select a standard upload size and the program will take care of prepping the photos. In addition to Google+, you can sync your albums from Picasa to web albums on other sites.

Serif PhotoPlus

PhotoPlus Starter Edition

Serif created Photo Plus Starter Edition as a free version of its paid software suite to give users elementary tools to edit photos. The software has the basics covered, with tools that let you resize, apply filters and effects, and reduce red eye, among other functions. Because it lacks certain features of the paid version (the goal is to entice you to pay to upgrade) and will only get you so far in your photo editing. It does however, provide tools in an easy-to-use format that lets you polish photos for your album.

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