It’s pretty easy touching up your photos using a free photo editor, whether you just want to erase some unseemly blemishes or correct your picture’s color.
While Adobe Photoshop might be the go-to for anyone putting down money on a photo editing app, there are some great free ones out there. Currently, GIMP is the best free photo editor out there. It’s as close as you can get to Adobe’s offerings, is open source, and provides more features than even some other paid apps, including supporting layers, plugins, and masks, not to mention allows you to work on Photoshop’s own PSD documents.
That might be too much for many people though, especially if all you need to do is straighten or crop a picture. Whether you’re using your laptop for photography or just trying to fix a picture before posting online, we’ve gathered the perfect tools for your needs, no matter your expertise or task at hand.
However, if you need some additional pictures for your projects instead, check out our guide for the best free stock photos.
The best photo editor overall is: Adobe Photoshop
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.
What to look for in a free photo editor
When you're choosing a free photo editor, 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) but 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.
- Here's our pick of the best free stock photo sites
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.
The photo editing toolkit is breathtaking, and 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 review: GIMP
If you've got a lot of photos that you need to edit in a hurry, Ashampoo Photo Optimizer could be the tool 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 review: Ashampoo Photo Optimizer
Canva is a photo editor that runs in your web browser, and is 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 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.
Read our full review: Canva
Fotor is a free photo editor that's 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, and one that's sorely lacking in many free photo editors, 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.
Read our full review: Fotor
Photo Pos Pro isn't as well known as Paint.net and GIMP, but it's another top-quality free photo editor that's packed with 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 review: Photo Pos Pro
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.
Paint.NET’s interface will 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 review: Paint.NET
PhotoScape might look like a rather simple free photo editor, but take a look at its main menu and you'll find 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 review: Photoscape
Pixlr X is the successor to Pixlr Editor, which was one of our favorite free online photo editors for many years.
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, which you won't find in many free online photo editors, and an array of tools for painting and drawing. A great choice for even advanced tasks.
Read our full review: Pixlr X
As its name suggests, Adobe Photoshop Express Editor is a trimmed-down, browser-based version of the company's world-leading photo editing software. Perhaps surprisingly, it features a more extensive toolkit than the downloadable Photoshop Express app, but it only supports images in JPG format that are below 16MB.
Again, this 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.
This free online photo editor has all the panache you’d expect from Adobe, and although it doesn’t boast quite as many tools as some of its rivals, everything that’s there is polished to perfection. Adobe Photoshop Express Editor 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 review: Adobe Photoshop Express Editor
Free online photo editor PiZap 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.
piZap’s editing interface 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 review: PiZap
What other free photo editors are there?
Ashampoo Photo Commander Free 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.
- Get your videos YouTube-ready with the best video editing software.