The 8 best free photo editors

Don't want to pay for Photoshop? There are free photo editors that can perform more tasks than you think - here are the best around.

We've selected the very best free photo editors that are a cut above the basic functionality you'll find in native software.

Professional-grade photo editing software can be expensive - very expensive. Go-to photo editor Photoshop has a hefty subscription and most of its key rivals will hit you in the pocket for their software.

However, there are free photo editors that can peform more tasks than you think. Most are in the form of apps for mobile or tablet, but there are also desktop and web-based applications which will perform very capably. Here goes...

01. GIMP

GIMP free photo editors

GIMP is a popular open-source photo editing software
  • Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac

An open-source photo editor that debuted on Unix-based platforms, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Today it's available in versions for Linux, Windows, and Mac. GIMP offers a wide toolset - everything you're accustomed to is within easy reach, including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement.

The team that oversees development has worked hard to ensure compatibility too, so you'll be able to work with all the popular file formats without any trouble at all. You'll also find a very capable file manager built in, along similar lines to Adobe's Bridge.

02. Chasys Draw IES

Chasys free photo editors

  • Platform: Windows

Chasys Draw IES is not so much a photo editor but a full suite of editing applications. The very capable layer-based image editor has a stack of essential features, including several paint and drawing tools, special effects, extensive colour and lighting adjustments, Photoshop plugin support, and much more.

Throw the rest of the suite into the mix and you can create animations, CD or DVD labels, icons and cursors, or capture videos of desktop activity. With a RAW file processor, image viewer and converter also included, Chasys Draw IES is UAC aware and is designed to take advantage of multi-core processors, touch-screens and pen-input devices, which all adds up to an impressive free package.

03. Photo Editor by Aviary

Aviary free photo editors

Aviary strikes a balance between serious photo editor and playful app
  • Platform: Windows 8, iOS, Android

Aviary is a very pleasantly designed app that strikes the perfect balance between serious photo-editing and playful photo-decoration functions without looking bland or childish. Perhaps because it's quite new, the selection of filters and stickers are fairly small, so any future updates would give this app great room for play.

04. Paint.net

Paint.net free photo editors

For photo editing, free Windows tool Paint.net is an excellent option
  • Platform: Windows

Paint.net is a surprisingly capable and useful tool, available completely free of charge. The focus is on ease of use, and there's a definite tendancy towards photo editing rather than artistic creation. That said, there are a range of special effects available, allowing you to easily create fake perspective, blend and push pixels around the canvas, tile and repeat selections, and so on.

A good range of selection tools, support for layers, and adjustments such as curves and brightness/contrast mean that Paint.net is a great alternative to Photoshop for photo editing, especially if you can do without some of the more recent additions to Photoshop's toolset.

05. Sumopaint

Sumopaint free photo editors

Sumopaint works in the browser, and requires Adobe Flash to use
  • Platform: Web browser (requires Adobe Flash Player)

Sumopaint is a highly capable browser-based image editor. All the standard features you'd expect from a desktop tool are present and correct, although you need the Adobe Flash Player to use this tool, so you're not going be using Sumopaint on your iPad.

The standard range of tools and adjustments you'd expect are all included. Brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning, gradients, etc are all quickly accessed from the Photoshop-esque floating toolbar. It can also open saved documents from your hard drive, making Sumopaint a perfectly viable option for editing and reediting.

There are, however, limitations that will put off some users. The most important of these is that the editor appears to be RGB only, limiting its use to screen-destined artwork only. No CMYK, Lab or other colour models to be found here.

06. Pixlr

Pixlr free photo editors

Pixlr's mobile photo editing software comes with more than 600 effects
  • Platform: iOS, Android, web browser

Pixlr claims to be "the most popular online photo editor in the world", which may have something to do with the fact that it's free. But it also boasts more than 600 effects, overlays, and borders and lets you do all the main things you'd expect from a photo editor, from cropping and re-sizing to removing red-eye and whitening teeth.

And if you're used to using Photoshop, then you'll find Pixlr's user interface easy to pick up quickly, as it's very similar.

07. PhoXo

PhoXo free photo editors

  • Platform: Windows

PhoXo is described as a 'mini-Photoshop', and with good reason: features include layers, undo, over 50 special effects, batch processing, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools for selecting, crop, painting, retouching, measuring and navigation.

Particularly useful for creative pros is the ability to add a custom watermark to an entire folder of images, but the whole family will enjoy the thousands of free clip-art, frames, patterns, textures and shapes, image transformations, effects and more.

08. Pixbuilder Studio

Pixbuilder free photo editors

  • Platform: Windows

PixBuilder Studio eschews novelty features for what it likes to describe as "professional quality features". So you get the likes of layer support, crop, resize and rotate options, cloning, colour management tools, sharpness and blur filters and more.

The application also includes customisable keyboard shortcuts to improve your productivity and the instantly familiar interface is a pleasure to use.

Have we missed out your favourite free photo editor? Tell us in the comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Stewart is managing editor of Creative Bloq. Craig has written about everything from cars and design to football and tech for numerous national newspapers, websites and magazines, including Classic Ford, The Scotsman and T3.