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The best free video editing software 2020: free video editors for everyone

The best free video editing software
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Finding free video editing software to finish your latest project may seem like a daunting task, which is why we've rounded up the very best options for all skill levels, in one convenient place.

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's plenty of excellent free video editing software 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 editing software 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

The best free video editing software 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 editing software 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

Free video editing software for amateurs and experts alike

Operating system: Windows, macOS

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

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

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Shotcut

(Image credit: Meltytech LLC)

3. Shotcut

Refreshingly clean looking free video editing software

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 some of the best free video editing software 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.

Read our full Movie Maker Online review

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VSDC Free Video Editor

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

5. VSDC Video Editor

Free video editing software 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 non-linear video editing software 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 editing software 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.

How do I choose video editing software?

There are several key factors, and price isn’t necessarily the most important: if it were, every Hollywood movie would be made in Apple’s free iMovie!

Let’s start at the end. What kind of video do you intend to make, and where is it for? There’s a world of difference between quick editing of home videos you’ll watch on TV and editing something for Netflix or cinema distribution.

You’ll need to consider what formats the software needs to export in, what level of quality it needs to output (HD? 4K? 8K?) and whether it can deliver the kind of visual effects you want to use. If you’ll be collaborating, your app will need to be compatible with the other people’s apps too.

There’s also you to consider. Are you experienced, or would a simpler app that takes you step by step through the whole process be more helpful? Do you want to have complete control over every pixel, or would you rather let the computer do most of the work? How future-proof do you need your app to be?

And then there’s price. Most but not all cheap or free apps are very limited; most but not all high-end editors are frighteningly expensive. It’s possible to pay too much and end up with an app that’s overkill, or to pay too little and end up inventing new and colourful swears when the app refuses to do what you need it to do.

Remember too that the more you can do, the more you’ll want it to do. Can your chosen app grow with your imagination?

Why should I care about video editing 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.

What video editing software features should I look out for?

That depends on the kind of editing you’d like to do. For example, you might not need much in the way of visual effects if you’re just splicing together clips from Uncle George’s 90th birthday party. But there are some key things to consider.

First up, what formats and resolutions does the app support? Can it use the footage from your camera without converting? Can it export to the places you want to share your finished footage?

Do you need features such as green screen or picture in picture (if you’re a YouTuber, the answers to those to are probably yes)? Can you share directly with social media, if that’s your thing?

How many tracks can you use? Can you pull in footage and audio from multiple files, swapping between them as needed, or will you need to do some pre-production first because the app can only handle a couple of tracks at once?

Does the app have any smart features to make everyday editing easier, such as smart trimming of clips or simple editing modes? Is it easy to add titles, transitions between scenes or to adjust the colours?

If it’s a mobile app, can you transfer your project to continue editing in a desktop equivalent of the app?

What does 8K support mean for video editing?

8K is a screen resolution: that is, it tells you how many pixels (dots) make up the picture.

Here’s a list of the resolutions for TV and movies formats in recent years.

VHS 335 x 480

DVD 720 x 480

HD 1,280 x 720

Full HD 1,920 x 1,080

Then there was 4K. 4K can mean a few different things, but the version you’ll get on a 4K TV is called 4K Ultra HD and delivers 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. Take those numbers, double them and boom! 8K!

Do you need it? Almost certainly not. Chances are you don’t know a soul with an 8K TV or monitor, and that you don’t have and can’t afford a camera capable of recording in that quality.

What is 360 support for video editing?

Traditional cameras can only point in one direction, but 360 video uses clever cameras and/or clever processing combining the input from multiple lenses to get a full 360-degree video recording. You’ve probably seen it on Facebook or in a VR app: if you move up or down or left or right the video moves accordingly just as it would if you were actually there. 

In fact, editing 360 video isn’t significantly more difficult than editing 2D video, but exporting is more complicated and many apps just can’t cope with 360-degree video in the first place. The video sharing site Vimeo strongly recommends using Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC (yep, our number one recommended video editing software) our if you’re serious about 360-degree video editing.

iMovie remains massively popular among YouTubers because it’s really easy and it comes free on their MacBooks, iPhones or iPads. For straightforward face-to-camera videos you don’t really need anything more complicated: iMovie has all the cutting, titling and transition effects you’re likely to need, and it supports green/blue screens for when you want to put yourself over something such as footage of gameplay. On PC, Microsoft Photos is an underrated gem. Adobe Premiere Pro CC, the entry-level version of Premiere Pro, is very popular too.

What video editing software 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.

What video editing software 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.

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.