4 free photo editing tools worth checking out

When you're looking to equip yourself with a photo editing tool, it's tempting to opt for one of the industry standards. And that'll usually be a quick, safe and sensible choice. There's a reason why photo editing tools like Photoshop CS6, Lightroom and GIMP get so much attention: they're very, very good.

But there are also a number of free, open sources photo editors that offer a dazzling array of correction and optimisation tools. Using these lesser-known programs can sometimes involve a few compromises: the documentation may not be great, and support is likely to be limited. But if you're prepared to put the time in, there are some great tools that deserve a lot more attention. Here are four great examples to get you started. All are open source and run on both Windows and OS X.

01. CinePaint

Free photo editing tools: CinePaint

GIMP spin-off CinePaint has become a very capable painting tool

Initially a GIMP spin-off, CinePaint has grown to become a capable painting tool with a host of professional features.

Besides an array of brushes, colour and selection options, drawing tools and so on, CinePaint can work with many high-fidelity file types (DPX, OpenEXR, Cineon and more), and includes a powerful colour management system, quality printing and some animation support.

Hollywood favourite

CinePaint is so professional it's been used to help make some very big feature films, including Spider-Man, the Harry Potter series and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Read more about CinePaint's use in the film industry here.

Free photo editing tools: CinePaint

CinePaint includes a powerful colour management system and some animation support

Development has stalled in recent years and the Windows edition is somewhat out of date but the Mac version, for instance, is still a very capable program and is definitely worth a closer look.

02. Pixelitor

Free photo editing tools: Pixelitor

Pixelitor is tiny, yet comes with some powerful features

As photo editors go, Pixelitor seems a little basic at first. It only opens a few file types (BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG), and is a little short on selection tools (you only get Rectangle, Ellipse, and Freehand options), amongst other issues.

Take a closer look, though, and you'll find there's plenty to like about this tiny tool: good layer support, plenty of colour correction tools, lots of fun filters, and a whole lot more.

The really convenient feature, though, is that Pixelitor comes in the form of a single JAR file, barely more than a megabyte in size. This means it's perfect if you need to have the same photo editing power available wherever you go.

03. RawTherapee

Free photo editing tools: RawTherapee

RawTherapee provides more advanced options than those of conventional photo editors

RawTherapee is a superb package that can help you get the very most from your digital images, including many RAW formats. It provides powerful image editing tools to sharpen your photos, remove noise, optimise colours, contrast, and a whole lot more.

We're not talking about the basic options found in regular photo editors, either. Choose to enhance details in RawTherapee, say, and you'll be able to choose from seven advanced sharpening and noise-removal methods, each of which provides even more configuration settings to help ensure you get precisely the results you need.

Whatever you're doing, though, the program's multi-threading and batch processing support ensures the best possible performance. RawTherapee is equally at home on every platform - Linux, Mac, or Windows).

04. Photivo

Free photo editing tools: Photivo

Photivo is packed with options for correcting your images

If regular photo editors just don't offer the correction tools you need, take a look at Photivo - it's an impressive application which comes packed with options to fix colours, lighting, contrast, image geometry issues and a host of other problems.

How packed? Click the 'RGB' tab, say, and you'll find 16 potential corrections, including Channel Mixer, Highlights, Colour Intensity, Brightness, Exposure, Gamma adjustment and Sigmoidal contrast. Each of these offers plenty of further settings to inspect and tweak.

If you're just looking for a quick way to run a few basic photo corrections, Photivo probably isn't for you. But if you're a photo editing, expert and willing to invest a little time and effort in understanding its capabilities, you'll find it can do a great job of improving, enhancing and optimising your digital photos.

Have you used a photo editing tool others may not have heard of? Tell us about it in the Comments below.

Improve your skills with Photoshop CS6 skills with these tutorials:

Mike Williams is a regular contributor to .net magazine

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