As surprising as it sounds, the best free video editing software can get the job done. You don’t have to pay a small fortune or a monthly subscription to see through your video editing needs, however intensive your process might be. There are free video editors out there that not only come with the most basic yet necessary tools, but also boast powerful features and even a few bells and whistles.
The top video editing software out there all seem to be perfect with advanced tools and awesome special effects. But, then you look at the cost, and it’s not unusual to see big-name video editing packages advertised for literally hundreds of dollars. That’s fine if you’re a professional and have the funds to afford it. However, if you’re a novice, an enthusiastic amateur or simply pressed for cash, these aren’t the most cost-effective options.
Finding the best free options may seem like a daunting task, but we are here to help. We’ve collated the best of the best out there so you won’t have to test every single video editor yourself. Each of the software packages below will let you perform important post-production tasks like trimming clips, applying green screen filters, and adjusting the playback speed. And, if you’ve never edited a video before, you’ll find these programs to be accessible and easy to get to grips with.
The best free video editing programs at a glance
The free video editors listed here are ideal for anybody wanting something quick and easy for the eager amateur to get started with, and can even offer professional-quality results. But if you really want feature-filled software, with excellent always-available tech support and without any pesky watermarks, we'd always suggest upgrading to premium video editing software - it probably costs less than you had imagined:
Adobe Premiere Pro is the best video editing software
For around $20/£20 per month, Adobe Premiere Pro offers outstanding value for money. It's genuinely industry-standard quality that will pay dividends if you explore all of its features and frills. It supports all the filter and file formats imaginable and even offers the likes of 360-degree and VR video.
The best free software you can download today
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Lightworks is the best free voption 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
2. Hitfilm Express
Free software for amateurs and experts alike
Operating system: Windows, macOS
Like Lightworks, Hitfilm Express is free-to-use video editing sofware 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
Refreshingly clean looking free editing software
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
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
4. Movie Maker Online
An online video editing tool that you can use anywhere
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)
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.
Read our full Movie Maker Online review
5. VSDC Video Editor
Free software with multi-monitor support
Operating system: Windows
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 options to try:
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.
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.
Why should I care about free software?
Video is the new rock’n’roll: where children used to dream of being rock stars, now they dream of being YouTube vloggers. Meanwhile video has become the lingua franca of the internet, from viral clips and video responses to indie films and glossy corporate presentations.
The one thing they almost all have in common is editing. That could be simple trimming to cut a clip at the appropriate place, or it could involve mixing multiple clips together, changing the soundtrack and adding a whole bunch of special effects. To do these things you’ll need a video editing app.
Which programs do most YouTubers use?
Generally speaking YouTubers tend to go for simple, effective and affordable apps. One of the best free apps is Lightworks, which you can get for Windows, Mac and Linux devices. It has integrated YouTube exporting and a bunch of really impressive real-time effects. It looks absolutely terrifying compared to something like Microsoft Photos but it doesn’t take long to learn and it’s a really good editing app.
There are lots of other good options too. HitFilm Pro has a free version but also offers a powerful professional version. The free app DaVinci Resolve is very good, especially on colour correction, and while the VSDC Free Video Editor lacks the hardware acceleration of paid-for editing apps that’s not really an issue if you’re not in a busy working environment.
Which programs do professionals use?
That depends on your definition of 'professionals' and the industry or sector you’re thinking of. Go to Hollywood or a major TV studio and the editing’s almost certainly being done in Avid Media Composer Ultimate.
In ad agencies, indie film studios and businesses making YouTube films you’re more likely to see Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Apple Final Cut Pro X and associated apps such as Adobe’s After Effects, a motion graphics and visual effects app - see above for how well we rate those. These are very, very good tools designed to run on very, very good computers.
Should I pay for a premium option?
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.
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.