The 9 Best Free Image Editing Programs

Nils Martens 7/3/2024

Here you can find out which image editing programs are the best free alternatives to Photoshop.

Table of contents
  1. What is important when selecting a photo editing program?
  2. What are the areas of application?
  3. The top 9 free photo editing programs
  4. 1. Adobe Express
  5. 2. GIMP
  6. 3. Paint.NET
  7. 4. Krita
  8. 5. Pixlr
  9. 6. RawTherapee
  10. 7. PhotoScape
  11. 8. Snapseed
  12. 9. Photopea
  13. More free image editing tools
  14. Two insider tips at the end
  15. Conclusion: Free photo editing programs can do a lot

Everyone probably knows it well: The holiday photos do not visually prove the actual beauty of the photographed beach. On social media platforms, where most people like to share these moments, can be a unsatisfactory situation. Usually a photo editing app on the phone is enough to apply the power of filters. However, if product photos or images for website and LinkedIn profile are due, such apps are definitely not sufficient - at least not if you take your online shop and your web appearances seriously. For most, at this point, “Adobe Photoshop” will ring a bell. Excellent tool, but quite expensive. Especially for beginners or occasional users, the subscription costs of Adobe are often too high in relation to the benefits. In such cases, the free alternatives come into play. Free photo editing programs are often very extensive and useful.

Since not just a few photo editing programs can be obtained for free, we have filtered out the nine best ones for you. Important: Free doesn't automatically mean good or that the software is easy to handle. All nine free photo editing programs are suitable for both beginners and advanced users. At the end of the article, there are two insider tips waiting for you!

Recommended Image editing programs

You can find recommended image editing programs on our software comparison platform OMR Reviews. There we have listed over 30 image and photo editing programs that offer comprehensive support in all aspects of editing and optimizing photos, images or graphics. So take a look and compare the software with the help of authentic and verified user reviews:

What is important when selecting a photo editing program?

Before we introduce you to the Hall of Fame of free image editing programs, we first look at the question of what you should pay attention to when choosing the right tool. In principle, the choice first depends on what you want to achieve with the image editing and for what purpose the images are intended. Once you have clarified this, you can roughly estimate which features you need. Does the free photo program need to retouch, remove elements, or just lay effects over the image?

Just because we are talking about free photo editing software here, it doesn't mean that the range of functions is manageable. Of course, most free examples cannot be equated with Adobe Photoshop but one or the other program can compete with the industry leader. But no matter what a free photo editing program has to offer, each should at least provide the following range of functions:

  • Correction of sharpness, exposure, brightness, contrast and color
  • Working on multiple levels
  • Compatibility with many different image formats
  • Scaling
  • Cropping and removing objects
  • Create photo montages
  • Filter and effect selection
  • Clear user interface
  • Free accessible tutorials from the community (e.g. on YouTube)

Image editing programs - whether free or paid - have a reputation for being complex and therefore complicated in terms of usability. It requires a certain art on the part of the developers to harmonize functionality with an intuitively usable user interface. While the use of Photoshop generally requires tutorials, the same applies to some free counterparts.

The free photo editing programs, where this is not the case, usually do not have too many features on board - which does not mean that they are no good. Our comparison of the nine best tools will give you a more precise idea of what we mean.

What are the areas of application?

Free image editing is in demand in many places. But especially when it comes to creating professional and good-looking images for online shops. In this context, image editing represents the finishing touch.

In addition, photo editing programs are used in other areas of application. For example, when it comes to the appearance of a company or person on the internet. Anyone who wants to appear professional should not neglect image editing. Stock photos or unedited raw images are the death of any website and any social media account - actually for everything that should help generate sales.

Last but not least, hobby photographers also have a need to optimize their images. The term “hobby” implies that Adobe is usually too expensive and free image editing programs should be used. Free photo editing tools are generally used wherever the highest quality doesn't matter, professional images and photos are still wanted.

The top 9 free photo editing programs

Now we want to show you the nine best photo editing programs. We have assumed the criteria mentioned above and found out what the respective free features are. In addition, we will tell you whether the image editing software still has paid siblings and what advantages and disadvantages they bring with them. The top 9 free photo editing programs are:

An overview of all photo editing programs can be found on OMR Reviews.

1. Adobe Express

As a consolation for starting the comparison of photo editing programs directly with the best, but also the most complex tool, we would now like to introduce Adobe Express to you. The photo editing program is the little cousin of Photoshop. It's a greatly pared-down version of it, but it's very beginner-friendly. Nevertheless, Adobe Express uses the Photoshop algorithms.

The photo editing software doesn't even need to be installed, but works directly in your browser. You can also use the Adobe app of the same name, which runs on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Basically, Adobe Express is only aimed at little demanding image editing projects, for example for social media profiles. Unlike with Photoshop, most of the photo editing doesn't happen manually, but automatically. After clicking on the desired retouch, color correction or other editing function, the program suggests a series of results, from which you choose the appropriate version. With some functions, the extent of the editing can be manually fine-tuned using a slider. If you are looking for a free software for photo editing that is quick and easy to use, Adobe Express is definitely worth a closer look.

Free features in Adobe Express

  • Correction of red eyes and retouching
  • Exposure
  • Sharp and blur tool
  • Auto correction
  • Template library for graphics, designs and stock photos
  • Various effects and filters can be used
  • Cartoon drawing

Advantages and disadvantages of Adobe Express

The disadvantages of the photo editing program show up directly in the limited range of functions; same as in being able to edit only JPG files. In addition, you cannot work on several levels, which is the basic rule of extensive image editing.

But apart from that, Adobe Express is beginner-friendly and also uses the Photoshop algorithms that are appreciated worldwide. In addition, the user interface of the free photo editing program is extremely intuitive. All of this makes Adobe Express a top tool for social media fans.

Paid versions of Adobe Express

Adobe Express is free. If you have higher requirements for a photo editing program and the necessary budget, Adobe, of course, offers you the paradise of image editing. Whether Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or Lightroom - Adobe plays in the top league. The most renowned freelancers, artists and photographers work with the developer's tools.

In the past, you could get Adobe software at a retail price, now you can only get the Creative Cloud by subscription. The price depends on which tools you need. It starts at 12 euros per month. However, Photoshop is only available from 24 euros per month.

More information about the prices of Adobe Express, as well as some user reviews with price reference can be found on OMR Reviews.

2. GIMP

GIMP is one of the best free alternatives to Photoshop. The basic equipment of the photo editing program alone has a level of its own. Here there are countless functions for retouching, batch processing and color corrections. In fact, GIMP is so extensive that it can be used for graphic design to a certain extent. In addition, GIMP can be expanded with numerous plugins to make it the perfect tool for photo editing. In addition, the source code can be adjusted, since GIMP is a free software (not to be confused with open source).

GIMP - abbreviation for GNU Image Manipulation Program - can be played on Linux, macOS and Windows. But let all beginners be told: Getting used to GIMP is a bit tricky due to the user interface, which is why you should definitely take three to four hours to get used to it. The time is worth it!

Free features in GIMP

  • Standard equipment for professional photo editing
  • Can be expanded with plugins
  • Personalization of the user interface
  • Numerous effects and filters available
  • Supports very many file formats
  • Almost as extensive range of features as Photoshop

More information about the prices of GIMP or the user reviews with price reference can be found on OMR Reviews.

Advantages and disadvantages of GIMP

Of course, there are also drawbacks to GIMP. While the advantages are now obvious, the biggest disadvantage is that GIMP requires a more complex start than other free photo editing programs. In addition, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in a ratio of 9:1. By the way, there are informative tutorials on the GIMP website.

3. Paint.NET

Paint.NET is already a bit older and therefore shines with a lot of development experience. First released in 2004, the software for free photo editing has made a name for itself over the years. However, the condition is that you are using Windows, as Paint.NET is based on the .NET framework from Microsoft. Linux and macOS users therefore look into the tube.

Just like GIMP, the photo editing program Paint.NET offers you the option of installing numerous plugins. With these, for example, you can edit Photoshop files or create graphic designs. You can find the collection on the official Paint.NET website. But even from the basic structure, the photo editing program is quite extensive and is, in our opinion, a bit easier to use than GIMP, with similarly good skills.

Free features in Paint.NET

  • Gradation curve for tonal correction
  • Clipping of objects (semi-automatic)
  • 3D rotation and zoom effect
  • Standard filters
  • Blur and sharpness
  • Layer work and several projects can be handled at the same time

More information about the prices of Paint.Net and some user reviews with price reference can be found on OMR Reviews.

Advantages and disadvantages of Paint.NET

The fact that Paint.NET runs exclusively on Windows is in itself a disadvantage, but it quickly becomes secondary due to the numerous features. For macOS and Linux users, there are many good and free alternatives anyway. The territory of the advantages, however, fills up rapidly when you take a closer look at Paint.NET.

It can be individually expanded with plugins, you have functions that are often only found in paid editing programs, and the user interface can also be adapted to your wishes.

4. Krita

After we have introduced the big players of the free photo editing programs, we now come to the not to be underestimated underdogs. Let's start with Krita. The free photo editing program is an open source application, which you can use on Windows and Linux computers as well as on Apple devices. Krita was created as an alternative to the top dog GIMP.

But even if it does make a good figure as photo editing software, Krita's development path at some point went more towards drawing and illustrating. Krita is therefore an excellent, free address for artists and cartoonists. For your product photos for your online shop the editing functions of Krita, however, are always sufficient.

What is particularly pleasing is the comparatively low entry barrier: Thanks to various presets, Krita is easy to use, so you do not need to bring any special editing knowledge. Krita is therefore optimal for rookies.

Free features in Krita

  • Numerous tools for drawing and illustrating
  • Post-processing functions for color corrections and Co.
  • Correction of brightness, exposure and sharpening
  • Edge smoothing
  • Adjustable user interface
  • Several effects to choose from
  • German version available, but no German online manual

More information about the prices of Krita and some user reviews with reference to the price can be found on OMR Reviews.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Krita

Krita runs like GIMP under the GNU GPL license, giving you the opportunity to customize the source code. That alone is already a big advantage. The list is still significantly longer, as you have already read. The only drawback: Guides, tutorials and the interface are mostly only available in English - but that's life!

5. Pixlr

The 2000s were certainly a highlight decade for free photo editing programs. After all, Pixlr was also developed and released in this time frame - as well as Krita, Paint.NET and some others. Pixlr is special in that it works directly in your browser and is also available as an app for Android and iOS.

The full version houses all kinds of features that allow you to edit images at a high level. Photoshop experts will feel at home right away thanks to the similar user interface. Pixlr also borrowed and well implemented the AI-driven editing from the celebrities.

The photo editing software is available in two variants: the stripped-down version for quick editing called Pixlr X and the full edition Pixlr E. Both are free of charge in the basic version - which is sufficient for many projects.

Free features in Pixlr

  • AI-supported photo editing
  • Numerous graphics, designs and templates
  • User-friendly interface
  • Red-eye removal
  • Graduation curve for tonal correction
  • Some effects and filters
  • Blow up and sharpen

Advantages and disadvantages of Pixlr

The disadvantage is noticeable in the restricted, free version. Sure, it's enough for many types of image editing, but advanced users will at some point be asked to pay for certain features. But especially for beginners and simple projects, Pixlr is an excellent choice. You have access to some tools that are usually only found in paid programs.

Paid versions of Pixlr

As mentioned, Pixlr also offers paid versions. These allow you to use even more professional tools and edit higher resolution images. Video tutorials are also included. Pixlr Premium is available for 5 euros and Pixlr Creative Pack for 10 euros. Prices are per month and are billed annually. However, both editions can first be tested for free for 30 days.

More information about the prices of Pixlr and some user reviews with price reference can be found on OMR Reviews.

6. RawTherapee

What makes RawTherapee special at first glance is the option to edit RAW files. These are images that are particularly rich in detail and come directly from the camera. As a result, RawTherapee enables you to improve your photographs in detail - a powerful computer is required. For this you then do not have to fear any quality losses during the editing.

For simpler editing, RawTherapee otherwise also mastered JPEG, PNG and other known formats. In terms of user interface, the tool is relatively complex: When you open the photo editing program for the first time, it can definitely „overwhelm“ you. Numerous features are housed in the various menus.

For example, you can save editing profiles in order to adjust several images with the same settings - similar to batch processing in Photoshop. Due to the high complexity, RawTherapee is aimed more at photographers, as there are few beautification options for e.g. social media purposes.

Product photos can be edited efficiently with the tool. Especially since these are usually taken from the same angles and under the same lighting conditions, allowing you to use the same profiles again and again.

Free features in RawTherapee

  • Extensive number of features for detailed photo editing
  • Supports the RAW format
  • For Windows, Linux and macOS
  • Saving editing profiles
  • Correction of saturation, contrast and brightness
  • Color filter and various color corrections

More information about the prices of RawTherapee and some user reviews with reference to the price can be found on OMR Reviews.

Advantages and disadvantages of RawTherapee

The advantages lie particularly in lossless photo editing. With a conversion tool, RawTherapee gives you the opportunity to directly improve the raw data from the camera in detail. In addition, it have extensive editing functions for color corrections, brightness or retouching. The disadvantage is that RawTherapee is less suitable for creative projects.

7. PhotoScape

Photoscape X is more of a collection of tools rather than just a photo editing program. However, it is free. Photoscape includes a RAW converter, an image viewer, an editor, a print tool, a GIF animator and many other software which you would normally have to install separate versions for.

However, the free photo editing with Photoscape is restricted, but still more than enough for many simple projects. Several filters and effects are available as well. Just don't be discouraged by the primitive-looking interface - Photoscape offers a whole range of possibilities for quickly and simply editing images.

Free features in PhotoScape

  • Suitable for laypeople thanks to a simple user interface
  • Color adjustments and color corrections
  • White balance
  • Clone stamp
  • Red-eye removal
  • Drawing tools

More information about the prices of Photoscape X and some user reviews with price reference can be found on OMR Reviews.

Advantages and disadvantages of Photoscape

A big advantage is certainly the collection of several software with a single installation of Photoscape X. In addition, photo editing is very easy, which makes it ideal for beginners. Photoscape can be used on Windows and macOS devices. The only thing that is less nice is the adware in the installer. But you will get over that once the installation is done!

8. Snapseed

Snapseed App is a powerful mobile photo editing software that is suitable for both beginners and advanced users. With a user-friendly interface, the tool offers numerous functions and tools to professionally optimize and change images.

One of the key abilities of Snapseed is the precise adjustment of brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness. With just a few finger taps, these parameters can be fine-tuned to achieve the desired result. In addition, Snapseed offers a wide range of creative filters - making the tool particularly interesting for social media purposes.

Another highlight of Snapseed is the selective adjustments. With this function, users can edit certain areas of the image specifically, for example to brighten a sky or to focus on a certain color.

In addition, the software also enables the removal of unwanted objects or people from a photo. Thanks to the intelligent retouching function, disturbing elements can be removed seamlessly without leaving any traces. Most editing functions can be manually readjusted using a slider.

As a mobile app, Snapseed is available for both iOS and Android and offers an impressive range of editing tools, making it a popular choice for amateur photographers and semi-professionals.

Free features in Snapseed

  • Adjustment of brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness
  • Wide range of creative filters for individual design of the photos
  • Selective adjustments for targeted editing of certain areas
  • Intelligent retouching function for removing unwanted objects or persons
  • Direct editing and optimization of photos on mobile devices (iOS and Android)
  • Automatic optimization functions for quick results
  • Extensive tools for fine-tuning details and image quality

Advantages and disadvantages of Snapseed

As a mobile app, Snapseed is certainly one of the most interesting solutions if you are looking for a free photo editing program. The advantages are clear: intuitive operation, numerous functions and creative filters and templates make the app a wonder weapon. The only drawback: The app is not (any longer) available as a desktop version. As a result, editing in Snapseed remains limited to comparatively small displays.

9. Photopea

Last but not least: Photopea is a powerful online image editing software that offers functions similar to Adobe Photoshop. It enables users to open images directly in the web browser and carry out professional editing.

The main functions of Photopea include advanced tools for adjusting brightness, contrast, color balance and sharpness. In addition, the program offers a wide range of filters, layer masks, selection tools and retouching functions to optimize and modify photos. Special highlight: It supports the editing of vector graphics.

Photopea is primarily aimed at advanced users. Photostop veterans should feel at home quickly thanks to the similar user interface. However, the large number of tools and options requires a certain amount of familiarization, which is why it can be overwhelming for beginners.

Despite these small hurdles, Photopea offers a worthwhile alternative to paid photo editing programs. With its versatility and range of functions, the online tool is an interesting choice for professional users who are looking for a powerful image editing software.

Free features in Photopea

  • Advanced tools for adjusting brightness, contrast, color balance and sharpness
  • Wide range of filters and effects for creative editing
  • Support of layer masks and selection tools for precise image manipulations
  • Retouching functions for removing unwanted elements or for skin smoothing
  • Editing of vector graphics and creation of shapes and paths
  • Cropping images, creating collages and adding text
  • Export and save the edited images in various file formats
  • Online access via the web browser without the need to install software
  • Accessible alternative to paid photo editing programs

Advantages and Disadvantages of Photopea

The strengths include versatility and the extensive functions that are similar to Adobe Photoshop. It allows users to carry out high-quality editing directly in the web browser without having to download software. The advanced tools for adjusting images, the support of layer masks and selection tools as well as the editing of vector graphics are particularly useful for professional designers.

A potential disadvantage of Photopea is that the large number of functions and options can be overwhelming for beginners. In addition, the performance of Photopea due to online editing may not be as fast as desktop software, especially with complex or large files.

More free image editing tools

Two insider tips at the end

canva-screenshot

We don't want to finish this article until we've revealed two little secrets about free photo editing programs. In addition to the nine mentioned editions, there are still Canva and Photoshop CS2.

Canva is actually a graphical design platform and probably no longer a secret tip, but it does have some features of a photo editing software in the Pro version. These include automatic cutting out of an object and the correction of saturation, light, and contrast. Meanwhile, Canva even offers AI functions to extend your subjects using AI image generators. Information about the prices of Canva Pro and user reviews with price reference can be found on OMR Reviews.

On the other hand, Photoshop CS2 is simply an older version of the Adobe classic. Because of this fact, the software company founded in 1982 offers the CS2 version for free download. Photoshop CS2 includes a decent number of features, so the tool is often considered a sufficient solution for many editing cases. You just need a tolerance for the outdated look of the software - after all, Photoshop CS2 was launched in 2005.

While Canva is aimed more at beginners, you should allow a certain amount of time to get in when it comes to Adobe’s CS2.

Conclusion: Free photo editing programs can do a lot

With free photo editing tools, you can not only save a lot of money, but also edit photos and images and achieve great results in the process. We particularly recommend beginners to use a free photo editing software. This is because the user interfaces of the free software are often based on the well-known editing programs from Adobe and offer a free entry into the world of image editing. Anyone who still likes to test the popular Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, can do this using the free trial versions.

Nils Martens
Author
Nils Martens

Nils ist Gründer der Personal Branding Rebels und bereits einige Jahre im LinkedIn-Game unterwegs. Zusammen mit seinem Team unterstützt er Menschen und Unternehmen dabei, auf der Business-Plattform sowie darüber hinaus sichtbar zu werden. Die Rebels bilden dafür Mitarbeitende zu Corporate Influencern aus, übernehmen den Aufbau kompletter Personal Brands und educaten in Workshops.

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