The best free photo-editing software

Here are 10 free alternatives to Photoshop for all your photo-editing needs

There’s no argument about it — Adobe Photoshop remains the best photo-editing software on the market. But unless you’ve undergone formal training, it’s a difficult program to master, and it’s not the cheapest of options out there. That’s why we’re taking a look at the best free photo-editing software on the market, each of which provides much of the same functionality as Photoshop but without the associated fees.

Each of the programs below can perform basic and semi-advanced tasks, for instance, allowing you to resize, crop, and correct exposure with ease.

We’ve also compiled a comprehensive guide on how to remove a background image and tips for cropping a photo using Windows or MacOS. For those looking to splice some footage, we’ve also created an overview of the best free video editing software.

Desktop options

GIMP

photo editor

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 — 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. 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. It may seem like Photoshop, but GIMP has its own look and feel.

Download it now for:

Windows MacOS Linux

PhotoScape

Photoscape

Apart from basic 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.

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 it’s worth noting.

Download it now for:

Windows MacOS

The Nik Collection

Nik Collection

The Nik Collection is an image-editing suite that comes courtesy of Google — one that’s now entirely free. This is one of the most powerful online tools available, and Google providing it for free was pretty big news when it broke in 2016. The Collection includes seven plugins, each with a different focus. Analog Efex Pro focuses on effects that produce a vintage aesthetic or make digital photos appear more natural, while Color Efex Pro provides a ton of filters. Silver Efex Pro, on the other hand, is tailored toward black-and-white images, while Viveza allows you to alter specific colors in a photo without using filters. The last two plugins, Sharpener Pro and Dfine, allow you to improve clarity and reduce noise reduction, among other things.

Best of all, you can either download individual tools or the entire suite at once. The tools may take a little time to learn, but by separating out the different functions, the software makes it easier for people to pick and choose what they need at any given moment.

Although there was some sad news in early-2017 that Google would not be offering patches or updates to these tools, that all changed in October when it was announced the DxO had acquired them. A new version of the NiK Collection will be released in mid-2018 with full support from its new owners.

Download it now for:

Windows MacOS

Paint.NET

Paint.net

This is a case where the apprentice becomes the master. Paint.NET was created as a 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, an “unlimited undo” to back out of any mistake no matter how disastrous, various 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 to be limited to Photoshop and other paid programs. 

Download it now for:

Windows

HitFilm Express

HitFilm

HitFilm Express is a free video editing service that specializes in digital effects — which makes it ideal for creating more imaginative photo effects as well. With both 2D and 3D compositing, more than 180 visual effects from which to choose, and a community with plenty of ideas, you can make nearly any image that you can dream of. From putting a headshot into an Ironman-like HUD, to turning your best friend into a Jedi, this is the app to try if you’re aiming for the stars.

Download it now for:

Windows MacOS

Web options

Don’t want to download and install software on your computer? If you have a reliable connection, here are a few Web-based programs that will never see the inside of your solid-state drive (SSD).

Pixlr.com

editingsoftware_pixlr-640x640

Pixlr.com has a tiered offering that is entirely free. The site separates its photo editing into Pixlr Editor (advanced) and Pixlr Express (efficient). The site also offers a mobile suite so you can edit photos on a smartphone or tablet — both iOS and Android versions are available. 

The Pixlr Editor is more like Photoshop. It’s a straightforward photo-editing tool that lets you crop, size, and tweak the image. It has a red eye tool that eliminates those devil eyes that appear when the flash goes off. Express, on the other hand, lets you put creative overlays on your images — this is really for playing with your photos. You can put a stain on a picture to make it look like you rested a coffee mug on the photo, for example.

Note that Pixlr straddles the line between Web-based and desktop image editors: There are both mobile and desktop versions of the software that you can download. However, it’s usually easier to just pop open a browser tab and load up the online version.

Note. The download site does require Adobe Flash to run, so you will need to enable that before downloading.

Try it now, courtesy of:

Pixlr

Sumopaint

Sumopaint

Sumopaint is one of those “Photoshop lite” image editors that have sprung up in recent years — but it stands out by being truly good at what it does. This web-based software — there’s a download option as well — has a layout very familiar for Adobe users, a tool set that’s easy enough to understand and use, and a minimalistic feel that concentrates on getting the job done. This option is better suited to more serious photographers who don’t want to give up any editing options — and who also don’t want to pay for their editing software.

Try it now, courtesy of:

Sumopaint

iPiccy

iPiccy

If you use Microsoft Paint rather than Photoshop, iPiccy might be for you. The site lets you edit photos with an automated process. Rather than using wands and tools to actively edit photos, the effects are applied to the whole photo in most cases.

Click a button to fix images, resize, crop, rotate, flip, change the exposure, and other settings. While iPiccy may sound like a simplified app, there is complexity in its wide offering of editing options. Many settings have a slide rule that let you adjust brightness, contrast, and other functions. The one complaint might be that there is no undo button.

What we would like to see is a reset-to-zero button on the slide rule, because it’s difficult to get the bar back to the beginning if you decide you want to return to the starting point. Several tools, including a blemish and wrinkle remover, help clean up photos. Then you can do a few cosmetic fixes like apply a sun tan, blush, or mascara.

Try it now, courtesy of:

iPiccy

PicMonkey

Picmonkey

PicMonkey is a favorite editing tool for amateur photographers who want to quickly edit their images and turn them into mini-masterpieces. There are four primary tools in the PicMonkey holster: Editing, Touch Up, Design, and Collage. Editing probably provides the most functionality, allowing you to apply effects, advanced filters, spot correction, and so on. However, Touch Up is also a popular choice for selfies, profile pics, event photos, and so on. As you can see, this suite is designed more for the average person, or those who want the best picture possible for social media or sharing, and aren’t afraid to work on it with more advanced tools.

PicMonkey now operates with a “free trial” version of its full app that ramps up to a minimum of $4 a month after a seven-day trial, but you can still try out most photo editing options for free on the website by choosing “Edit a Photo.”

Try it now, courtesy of:

PicMonkey

Easel.ly

Easel.ly

Easel.ly is an info-graphic oriented web app with free registration and a plethora of templates to choose from. If you want to turn your photo into a chart or include it in a report, this one of the best free options you’ll find. The blank template allows you to add a number of objects and effects if you aren’t interested in an infographic but still want to spruce up your photo and have a little fun with it before posting online.

Try it now, courtesy of:

Easel.ly

Updated 12/06/2017 by Jon Martindale – Updated NiK Collection information.