Whether you’re correcting colors, replacing backgrounds, or removing blemishes, free photo editing software can be just as capable as the best photo editors - and popular premium products, like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
But while Adobe offers industry-standard photo editing apps, alongside upcoming deals for Black Friday that may tempt you to try out Photoshop, the tools may be too much for those who aren’t power users or professional photographers.
If you just need to touch up holiday snaps and crop and resize the occasional business asset, the best free photo editors will cater to your every need. You’ll find a variety of free software to match your skill level and needs. And there’s no ongoing Creative Cloud subscription or other fees.
To help you get your photos looking even better, we’ve tested the best free photo editors on PC, Mac, and Linux so you can get your photos looking just right.
The best photo editor overall is: Adobe Photoshop (opens in new tab)
(opens in new tab)If you're serious about photo editing, or are thinking about turning your hobby into a job, you can't beat industry standard software Adobe Photoshop. It's certainly not free like the photo editors below, but it's surprisingly good value with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
The best free photo editors
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GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is the best free photo editor around. It's packed with the kind of image-enhancing tools you'd find in premium software, and more are being added every day.
We found this photo editing toolkit to be breath-taking. It features layers, masks, curves, and levels. You can eliminate flaws easily with the excellent clone stamp and healing tools, create custom brushes, apply perspective changes, and apply changes to isolated areas with smart selection tools.
GIMP is an open-source free photo editor, and its community of users and developers have created a huge collection of plugins to extend its utility even further. Many of these come pre-installed, and you can download more from the official glossary. If that's not enough, you can even install Photoshop plugins.
Read our full GIMP review
If you've got a lot of photos that you need to edit in a hurry, Ashampoo Photo Optimizer could be the best free photo editor for you. Its interface is clean and uncluttered, and utterly devoid of ads (although you'll need to submit an email address before you can start using it).
Importing pictures is a breeze, and once they've been added to the pool, you can select several at once to rotate or mirror, saving you valuable time. You can also choose individual photos to enhance with the software's one-click optimization tool. In our tests this worked particularly well on landscapes, but wasn't always great for other subjects.
If you want to make manual color and exposure corrections, there are half a dozen sliders to let you do exactly that. It's a shame you can't also apply the same color changes to a whole set of pictures at once, but this is otherwise a brilliant free photo editor for making quick corrections.
For more advanced editing, check out Ashampoo Photo Optimizer 7 – the premium version of the software with enhanced optimization tools.
Read our full Ashampoo Photo Optimizer review
Canva is one of the best free photo editors online, ideal for turning your favorite snaps into cards, posters, invitations and social media posts. If you're interested in maintaining a polished online presence, it's the perfect tool for you.
Canva has two tiers, free and paid, but we think that the free level is perfect for home users. Just sign up with your email address and you'll get 1GB free cloud storage for your snaps and designs, 8,000 templates to use and edit, and two folders to keep your work organized.
You won't find advanced tools like clone brushes and smart selectors here. But there's a set of handy sliders for applying tints, vignette effects, sharpening, adjusting brightness, saturation and contrast, and much more.
The text editing tools are intuitive, and there's a great selection of backgrounds and other graphics to complete your designs. And it's so, so easy to use, too.
Read our full Canva review
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Fotor offers free photo editing software for beginners, ideal for giving your pictures a boost quickly. If there's specific area of retouching you need doing with, say, the clone brush or healing tool, you're out of luck. However, if your needs are simple, its stack of high-end filters really 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 standout function, in our humble opinion, is its batch processing tool, which is the one feature that's sorely lacking in many of the best free photo editors. 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.
Read our full Fotor review
Photo Pos Pro isn't as well-known as Paint.net and GIMP, but we found it to be one of the best free photo editors for those needing advanced image-enhancing tools.
This free photo editor's interface is smarter and more accessible than GIMP's array of menus and toolbars, with everything arranged in a logical and consistent way. If it's still too intimidating, there's also an optional 'novice' layout that resembles Fotor's filter-based approach. The choice is yours.
The 'expert' layout offers both layers and layer masks for sophisticated editing, as well as tools for adjusting curves and levels manually. You can still access the one-click filters via the main menu, but the focus is much more on fine editing.
It's a shame that the free version of Photo Pos Pro only allows you to export at a maximum of 1,024 x 1,024 pixels. If you're preparing images to share online this might not be a problem, but it limits the software's usefulness if you want to print you work.
Read our full Photo Pos Pro review
More is not, believe it or not, always better. Paint.NET's simplicity is one of its main selling points; it's a quick, easy to operate free photo editor that's ideal for trivial tasks that don't necessarily justify the sheer power of tools like GIMP.
Don't let the name fool you, though. This isn't just a cheap copy of Microsoft's ultra-basic Paint – even if it was originally meant to replace it. It's a proper photo editor, just one that lands on the basic side of the curve.
We found Paint.NET to be fully featured, even though it's in simplicity where it finds core strength. Its interface might remind you of its namesake, but over the years, they’ve added advanced editing tools like layers, an undo history, a ton of filters, myriad community-created plugins, and a brilliant 3D rotate/zoom function that's handy for recomposing images.
Read our full Paint.NET review
PhotoScape might look rather simple - but a glance at the menu of this top free photo editor reveals a wealth of features: 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 apps we've looked at here, with tools grouped into pages in odd configurations. It certainly doesn't attempt to ape Photoshop, and includes fewer features.
We'd definitely point this towards the beginner, but that doesn't mean you can't get some solid results. PhotoScape's filters are pretty advanced, so it's if good choice if you need to quickly level, sharpen or add mild filtering to pictures in a snap.
Read our full Photoscape review
Pixlr X is the successor to Pixlr Editor, which was easily one of our candidates for best free photo editor online.
Pixlr X makes several improvements on its predecessor. For starters, it's based on HTML5 rather than Flash, which means it can run in any modern browser. It's also slick and well designed, with an interface that's reminiscent of Photoshop Express, and a choice of dark or light color schemes.
With Pixlr X, you can make fine changes to colors and saturation, sharpen and blur images, apply vignette effects and frames, and combine multiple images.
There's also support for layers, an advanced feature that you won't find in many free online photo editors, as well as an array of tools for painting and drawing. We'd call this a great choice, whether you want a quick way to fine-tune your photos or have some advanced tasks to tackle.
Read our full Pixlr X review
As its name suggests, Adobe Photoshop Express Editor is a trimmed-down, browser-based version of the company's world-leading photo editing software. It only supports images in JPG format that are below 16MB and is a Flash-based tool. But Adobe provides handy mobile apps for all platforms so you won’t miss out if you’re using a smartphone or tablet.
More importantly, we think that it's well-designed and packed with customizable tools. Perhaps surprisingly, it comes a more extensive toolkit than the downloadable Photoshop Express app.
As you'd expect from Adobe, this is one of the best free photo editors online. And although it doesn’t boast quite as many tools as some of its rivals, everything that’s there is polished to perfection. Adobe Express is a pleasure to use. Its only drawbacks are the limits on uploaded file size and types, and lack of support for layers.
Read our full Adobe Express review
PiZap, the free photo editor online, is available in both HTML5 and Flash editions, making it suitable for any device. You can choose to work with a photo from your hard drive, Facebook, Google Photos, Google Drive, Google Search, or a catalog of stock images.
This is an impressive choice, though some of the stock images are only available to premium subscribers, and you'll need to watch out for copyright issues if you use a pic straight from Google Images.
We appreciate piZap’s editing interface, which has a dark, modern design that makes heavy use of sliders for quick adjustments – a system that works much better than tricky icons and drop-down menus if you’re using a touchscreen device.
When you’re done, you can share your creation on all the biggest social media networks, as well as piZap’s own servers, Dropbox and Google Drive. Alternatively, you can save it to your hard drive, send it via email, or grab an embed code.
You can only export your work in high quality if you’ve opened your wallet for the premium editor, but for silly social sharing that’s unlikely to be a problem.
Read our full PiZap review
How to choose the best free photo editor for you
When you're choosing which free photo editor is best, the first thing to consider is your level of confidence and experience. If you simply want to make a few adjustments (removing blemishes and improving colors, for example) then a simple online tool might be perfect, doing the job well without overwhelming you with options.
If, on the other hand, you're interested in more advanced editing then you'll want to focus on desktop software that offers tools such as layers and masks, giving you full control over the process.
Desktop software is also a good choice if you have several photos to edit, and some free photo editors can even edit photos in batches, which can save you an enormous amount of time.
It's also worth considering what you'll be using the exported photos for. Online photo editors can often only export images in JPG format, and only at relatively low resolutions. That might be fine for images you want to display online (and many such photo editors include tools for sending images directly to Facebook or Twitter). However, if you want to print your work then you'll be better off with a tool like GIMP or Paint.NET that will let you export in just about any format, in high resolutions.
How we test the best free photo editors
The best free photo editors are not always stripped down - many deliver the same robust tools and features found in their paid-for counterparts. So, we don't take testing free photo editing software lightly.
Instead, we make sure to dive as deep as we could possibly get, starting with the interface. Free photo editors are better suited for beginners, casual users and budding photo editors, which means that they should have a user interface that's approachable and use to navigate. We make sure to note if a particular photo editor's interface and user experience is more complicated or has a steep learning curve.
We then test out their basic, advanced and pro-level (if on hand) tools, seeing how they compare to other free photo editors as well as some of the top paid-for counterparts. After all, a photo editing software is nothing without its tools.
Free photo editors FAQ
What other free photo editors are there?
Ashampoo Photo Commander Free (opens in new tab) A free alternative to Adobe Lightroom, this free software allows you to edit and organize your photos, with one-click filters for correcting batches of images.
IrfanView Another potential replacement for Lightroom, IrfanView is a simple but effective tool for editing photos in batches, tagging and organizing them.