The best free photo editor 2017

Free photo editing software puts professional level tools in the reach of anyone – no matter the budget – and there's something for everyone.

Whether you're looking for a full Photoshop substitute that gives you complete manual control over every aspect of your photos, or a basic Instagram-style editor that offers an assortment of one-click filters, there a free editor that fits the bill.

The vast number of free photo editors available to download can be staggering, so we've rounded up the very best free photo editors to help you find the one that's right for you.

If you have a collection of photos collecting dust on a smartphone or SD card, this is the perfect time to get them looking great before uploading them to Facebook, Instagram or having them printed professionally.

All the photo editors we've reviewed here are great, but different tasks call for different tools. If you're already content with the general look of your pictures and just want to enhance them a little before sharing them online, a simple editor that enables you to resize, crop and apply filters should be perfect. Many of these have social media sharing built in, saving you the hassle of saving, then uploading them afterwards.

If you're planning to print your work, you'll be better off looking at more advanced photo editors that will give you the precise control you need to make your photos look perfect at high resolutions. You'll also need to make sure your free photo editor allows you to work with large files.

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Download GIMP free

GIMP is an incredible free photo editor, and is getting better all the time thanks to its enthusiastic community of contributors

1. GIMP

An exceptional photo editor, GIMP is the most powerful and flexible free tool for tweaking every pixel of your photos

Packed with advanced options
Photoshop-like interface
Learning curve is a little steep

If you've ever worked with Photoshop, GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) should be immediately recognizable – especially if you select the single-window mode, which organizes all its toolbars and canvases in an Adobe-style interface.

GIMP is stuffed with wonderful tools that perfectly match those you might find in premium software, and more are being added all the time.

GIMP's photo editing tool kit is fantastic, and includes layers, masks, curves, and levels. You can eliminate flaws with the excellent clone stamp and healing tools, create custom brushes, apply perspective changes, and apply changes to specific areas with intelligent selection tools.

Plus, GIMP is open source software, so its community of users and developers have created a huge variety of top-quality plugins to extend its capabilities even further. Many of these come pre-installed, and you can download more from the official glossary. And if you want even more, you can even download and install Photoshop plugins.

Its power and flexibility make GIMP the best free photo editor for Windows. Give it a try – we think you'll be impressed, even if you're used to editing your pictures with premium software.

Review and where to download: GIMP

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Download Paint NET free

Paint.NET is a little less intimidating than GIMP, and still has all the essential editing tools you need to make your photos look great

2. Paint.NET

With layers, filters and plugins, Paint.NET will make your photos shine with a minimum of fuss

Layers and filters
Plugin support
Less powerful than GIMP

Sometimes, it's best if your photo editor isn't oversaturated with bells and whistles. Paint.NET's simplicity is one of its major selling points; it's a quick, easy-to-operate free photo editor that's ideal for those simple tasks that don't justify the sheer power of GIMP.

Don't be fooled by the name, though. This isn't just a clone of Microsoft's ultra-simple Paint – even if it was originally intended to replace it. It's a legitimate photo editor, just one that lands on the more basic side of the spectrum.

Where the interface is concerned, it's reminiscent of its namesake, but as it's evolved, Paint.NET has added fundamental editing tools, like layers, an undo history, a raft of filters, many community-created plugins and an amazing 3D rotate/zoom function that's handy for recomposing images.

Yes, it's lacking in some areas, but if your PC is lacking in power or RAM we can't think of a better choice.

Review and where to download: Paint.NET

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Photo Pos Pro has a few limitations, but it's very accessible, with a choice of two layouts - one for new users and another for those with a little experience

3. Photo Pos Pro

Well designed and easy to use, Photo POS Pro is a superb photo editor that takes many of its cues from Photoshop

Smart interface
Beginner and advanced modes
Limited file export resolution

Photo POS Pro might not be as prominent as Paint.net and GIMP, but it's another high quality photo editor filled with excellent image-enhancing tools. 

Its UI is smarter and more accessible than GIMP's array of menus and toolbars, with everything organized in a sensible and consistent way. If it's still too overwhelming, there's also an optional 'novice' interface that resembles Fotor's filter-based approach. The choice is yours.

The expert layout offers both layers and layer masks for advanced editing, in addition to tools for adjusting curves and levels manually. You can still access the one-click filters via the main menu, but the focus is primarily on precise editing.

Photo POS Pro also has a clone brush for erasing unwanted blemishes, and there's additional support for batch-editing and scripts to help you save time when refining an entire folder of photos.

The free version of Photo POS Pro only has one drawback: files can only be saved at a maximum resolution of 1,024 x 2,014 pixels, which might be too small if you're planning to have them printed professionally. If you want to remove this restriction, Photo POS Pro Premium is available for a license fee of £17.67, US$19.90 or AU$29.78. 

Review and where to download: Photo Pos Pro

Download Photoscape free

PhotoScape is a free photo editor packed with premium-level tools, including raw file processing

4. PhotoScape

PhotoScape's array of advanced editing tools and smart filters are easy for even complete beginners to master

Raw file conversion
Great selection of filters
Unusual interface

Take a look at PhotoScape's main menu and you'll find a wealth of photo editing features that wouldn't be amiss in a premium program: raw conversion, photo splitting and merging, animated GIF creation, and even a rather odd (but useful) function with which you can print lined, graph or sheet music paper.

The meat, of course, is in the photo editing. PhotoScape's interface is among the most esoteric of all the free image editors we've looked at here, with tools grouped into pages in odd configurations. It certainly doesn't attempt to imitate Photoshop, and includes fewer features.

PhotoScape is a particularly good choice for beginners, but is still capable of delivering amazing results. Its filters are particularly strong, making PhotoScape a good choice if you need to quickly level, sharpen or add subtle artistic effects.

Review and where to download: PhotoScape

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Fotor's free toolkit includes batch-processing, so you can tackle a folder full of photos at once

5. Fotor

Fotor offers and excellent selection of filters for one-click photo enhancement, as well as advanced manual controls

Premium-level filters
Batch image processing
No plugin support

Fotor is an excellent photo editor for making quick enhancements. If you want to do a quick spot of manual retouching with a clone brush or healing tool you'll need to opt for one of the more powerful tools above, but Fotor's high-end filters that really do shine.

There's a foolproof tilt-shift tool, for example, and a raft of vintage and vibrant colour tweaks, all easily accessed through Fotor's clever menu system. You can manually alter your own curves and levels, too, but without the complexity of high-end tools.

Fotor's most brilliant function, and one that's sorely lacking in many photo editing packages, is its batch processing tool – feed it a pile of pics and it'll filter the lot of them in one go, perfect if you have a memory card full of holiday snaps and need to cover up the results of a dodgy camera or shaky hand.

Review and where to download: Fotor