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The best free video editor 2020: free video editing software for all your projects

The best free video editor
(Image credit: Future)

Finding a free video editor to use to finish your latest film project or home movie may seem like a daunting task. Wherever you look there are editors that, on the face of it, all seem to be perfect with advanced tools and awesome special effects. Normally, the only problem is the cost. It’s not unusual to see video editing big-name packages advertised for literally hundreds of dollars.

Fortunately, if you’re an enthusiastic amateur or simply trying to keep the costs of your project to a minimum, there are plenty of excellent free video editors out there. In this article, we’ve collated the best, and each of the software packages below will make it easy for you to perform important tasks like trimming clips, applying green screen filters, and adjusting the playback speed. 

If you’ve never edited a video before you’ll find these programs to be accessible and easy to get to grips with. They provide the ideal environment to play around with different settings and will help you develop an understanding of the basic principles of video post-production. 

The best free video editors at a glance

  1. Lightworks
  2. Hitfilm Express
  3. Shotcut
  4. Movie Maker Online
  5. VSDC Video Editor

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Lightworks

(Image credit: EditShare)

1. Lightworks

Simply the best free video editor you can download today

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

Powerful features and effects
Highly customizable interface 
Multi-track editing
Steeper learning curve than some 
Only exports in MPEG format

Lightworks is the best free video editor for anyone who wants to create professional-quality movies and videos without paying a penny. It supports multitrack video and is a non-linear editor, so the quality of your footage won’t be reduced while being processed. 

With Lightworks, you’ll find all sorts of high-end features that are normally only available with expensive packages such as Final Cut Pro. These include the ability to import and render footage in the background, and to preview video effects in real-time.

The one downside is that learning how to use Lightworks can take some time as the interface is fairly complex. You can drag various editing windows around to create an almost infinite number of layout variations and set custom keyboard shortcuts to speed up your editing jobs.

You can download and install Lightworks for free on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices. If at a later date, you decide you want to invest in an improved experience, you can upgrade to Lightworks Pro. With this upgraded version, you’ll be able to export your projects in different formats, create 3D masterpieces and upload straight to YoutTube. 

Read our full Lightworks review

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HitFilm Express

(Image credit: FXhome)

2. Hitfilm Express

A free video editor for amateurs and expert video creators alike

Operating system: Windows, macOS

Professional-grade tools
Extendable (for a fee)
Excellent online tutorials
High system requirements

Like Lightworks, Hitfilm Express is a free-to-use video editor that aims to make a professional editing experience available to everyone. With this software package, it’s easy to adjust color balance, trim clips, and export your projects in different video formats.

But the Hitfilm Express feature set goes way beyond that. You can also use this free video editor to set green screen chroma keys, create custom video masks, and take your footage to the next level with a range of 3D compositional tools. Although first-time users may find it a little confusing, the HitFilm Express user-interface will be familiar to anyone who’s worked with an advanced video editor before.

There are only two small downsides to this video editor. The first is that it’s technically demanding, so you’ll need a PC or Mac with a powerful processor to run it. And, secondly, the installation process is unnecessarily complex. To get access to the Hitfilm Express software, you’ll need to share a link to its developer, FXhome, on social media. 

Read our full Hitfilm Express review

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Shotcut

(Image credit: Meltytech LLC)

3. Shotcut

A refreshingly clean looking free video editor

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

Great selection of filters and effects 
Supports direct streaming
Makes it easy to import media
Can't preview filters

Shotcut started life as a free video editor on Linux and was ported over to Windows and Mac machines after it had already been around for a few years. This development journey has resulted in a slightly odd-looking user interface, but Shotcut is still one of the best free video editors you can download now.

Some aspects of the Shotcut system are easy and intuitive, such as the process of dragging media files to import them into your project. However, there’s no doubt that there’s a steeper learning curve with this video editor than most. For example, you’ll have to configure your display by adding the modules you need.

But once you get the hang of Shotcut, you’ll discover why this free video editor has amassed such a large following. The best Shotcut feature is a large selection of filters that can be applied to audio and video content. Once added, you can layer and customize filters to achieve the precise effect you’re looking for. 

Read our full Shotcut review

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Movie Maker Online

(Image credit: Movie Maker Online)

4. Movie Maker Online

An online video editing tool that you can use anywhere

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)

Works on any computer
Include royalty-free content
Intrusive advertising
Confusing layout

Movie Maker Online is a video editor that runs in your browser. To edit a video, you simply need to upload it to an unusual vertical project timeline where you can crop clips and add filters or transition effects. 

Other free video editors listed here are software packages that can be installed and run locally. However, these aren’t the only types of free video editor available. There are also many great browser-based tools too, and Movie Maker Online is one of these.

The big advantage of an online editor is that you can access it from any desktop device, and there’s no need to worry about content storage. Another big bonus is that your computer specs don’t matter as much, the age of your hardware doesn’t matter when using an online video editor as everything happens in the cloud.

If you want to enhance your video or movie with music or still images, Movie Maker Online gives you access to a large archive of royalty-free images that can be inserted into your project timeline with a single click.

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VSDC Free Video Editor

(Image credit: www.videosoftdev.com, Multilab LLC)

5. VSDC Video Editor

A free video editor with multi-monitor support

Operating system: Windows

Anti-shake technology
Multi-monitor support
No hardware acceleration
Resolution limits

VSDC Video Editor used to be known as one of the clunkier free video editing programs. Thankfully, the latest edition of the software has a dramatically improved interface with a fresh-looking dark theme and the ability to detach individual windows, ideal for editing with more than one monitor. 

Like Lightworks, VSDC is a non-linear video editor that’s able to compete with more expensive video editing packages. It comes in both free and premium editions, and there are pleasingly few prompts for free users to subscribe. The only serious annoyance is that the free variant lacks multiple color chroma key tools and can’t be used for resolutions above 1080p. 

VSDC supports plenty of useful video editing functions including animations, sprites, transitions, watermarking, blending, overlaying, and masking. Another awesome feature is a free video stabilization tool, which is excellent if you need to improve the quality of shaky clips captured on smartphones.

Read our full VSDC Video Editor review

Other free video editors to try

Adobe Spark
If you need to trim a video and don't mind the watermark, Adobe Spark can get the job done quickly and easily online. The basic version is free to use, but you'll need a premium account to remove the watermark and perform more advanced editing tasks.

EZGif
When you need to crop a video to a specific aspect ratio, this simple online tool could be just what you need. It's not suitable for very large files, but you can set the dimensions, select from a list of presets, and position the crop area yourself.

Free video editing software vs premium video editors

To state the blindingly obvious, premium video editors tend to have advantages that free ones don’t. Those advantages tend to come in the form of resources: resources to develop apps that squeeze the most performance out of high-end hardware, resources to develop better effects, resources to fix show-stopping bugs, resources to make sure the app works on the latest hardware, resources to polish the interface and create help files and how-tos and all the other things you’d expect from professional software. But of course, that comes at a price – $300ish for Final Cut Pro X, for example.

If you’re a pro, time is money so you spend money to save time, whether that’s the time it takes to render your footage or the time you can’t afford to spend shouting "WHY GOD, WHY?" when the app doesn’t do exactly what you want or crashes mid-edit.

Free apps are aimed at a more forgiving and less demanding kind of user. That’s not to say they can’t do great things. They can. But they often take a hand-holding approach that focuses on the basics and doesn’t give you access to the fine detail. They might take a good-enough approach to performance rather than a “Steven Spielberg needs this NOW!” no-compromise approach, and their effects may be simpler than the pro ones.

So is free video editing software worth getting?

It can be. Movies made in Apple’s iMovie have wowed crowds at film festivals over the years, and some people have made perfectly good movies using just it and an iPhone.

There are many decent free video apps out there, but there are a few things to consider. Performance, especially encoding and exporting, isn’t always up there with the big hitters, and you’ll often find that features are only available if you buy in-app purchases or just aren’t there at all. Some stick an enormous watermark over everything you output; few offer any kind of technical support. Pro-level features are rarely offered because these apps aren’t designed for video pros.

It’s worth being a bit pedantic here and differentiating between free commercial software and free open source software. The former is often a cut-down version of a full product offered for free in the hope you’ll buy its big brother. The latter is usually a full product made available by individuals or teams of volunteers with no expectation of any financial reward. While open source acts can sometimes lack the polish and/or user-friendliness of commercial software they may well deliver all the features you need without requiring you to spend any money.