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.



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.



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.


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 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.

Next Page: Online alternatives

Online alternatives

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 spinning the disc of your hard drive.

Pixlr has a tiered offering that is entirely free. The site separates its photo editing into Pixlr Editor (advanced); Pixlr Express (efficient); and Pixlr-o-matic (playful). 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 most 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 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.

Pixlr-o-matic is well-described as “playful.” This is where you create the Instagram-like, old-looking photos. You can apply borders on your images or give edges a faded or torn look. You can go old-school darkroom: While you’re playing with your photos they have the appearance that they’re in a solution or water bath during the development process.

Photoshop online

While many consider Adobe Photoshop the cream of the image-editing crop, its cousin — — features a slightly different experience than the gold standard. The site provides users the ability to re-size any image, touch up photos by reducing red-eye and adjusting saturation, and applying a wide range of image effects.

Moreover, the good folks at Adobe allow everyone access to up to 2 GB of free cloud storage, capable of holding a bevy of uploaded photos and images. So even though the interface provides a slight deviation to seasoned Adobe Photoshop users, remains a worthy photo-editing solution for those with tight budgets.

Related: A free (and legal) version of Photoshop? Here’s how to get it



If you use Microsoft Paint rather than Photoshop, iPiccy might be up to your speed. 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. Though it has some practical purposes, some fun can be had with iPiccy.



Fotor simplifies the photo-editing process. The home screen has three options: make a collage, edit a photo, or design a card. Choose one and upload the photo you want to edit immediately. Click through a few menus to crop, brighten, and tweak your photos. Once you’re done, you can add effects like borders, the look of the paper, or a scratchy pencil on the photo, for example. You can even customize the interface by changing the theme. It is incredibly easy and fast to use, especially for those who don’t have a lot of photo editing experience.

Updated 4-16-15 by Emily Schiola: Changed links, descriptions, and photos for relevancy.

via Digital Trends


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