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The best free photo editing apps

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What functions should a photo editing program have?
6 programs to edit photos for free
Comparison table of the best photo editing applications (free)
Paint.NET (Windows)
Pixlr Editor (web app, iOS, Android)
GIMP (Windows, macOS, Linux)
Krita (Windows, macOS, Linux)
Adobe Photoshop Express Editor (web app, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
RawTherapee (Windows, macOS, Linux)


The best free photo editing apps

Graphics and images play an important role on the web: online service providers use visuals to make them look attractive, businesses use high-quality photos for outdoor advertising, and social media would be missing something essential if they lacked images . Product, holiday, and profile photos have one thing in common: Without corrections and retouching, they would rarely be published. The photo editing has thus become a national sport that is not only the scope of professional photographers and designers..

For this reason, many social networks have integrated their own programs to edit photos, which in most cases are oriented to mobile devices. Those who are not satisfied with the simple effects and filters can also turn to traditional desktop image editing programs, as they have more functionality. Such is the case of Photoshop from the house Adobe, which is used by both amateurs and photography professionals from all over the world and which has survived the passage of decades.

If the results do not have to meet the highest quality demands and due to the high price of Adobe software, some prefer more affordable alternatives. For them, the market offers free software with which they can obtain very satisfactory results..

  1. What functions should a photo editing program have?
  2. 6 programs to edit photos for free
    1. Paint.NET (Windows)
    2. Pixlr Editor (web app, iOS, Android)
    3. GIMP (Windows, macOS, Linux)
    4. Krita (Windows, macOS, Linux)
    5. Adobe Photoshop Express Editor (web app, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
    6. RawTherapee (Windows, macOS, Linux)
  3. Comparison table of the best photo editing applications (free)

What functions should a photo editing program have?

Functionality is the most important feature to differentiate between free and paid photo editing programs. The fact that freeware typically has fewer editing tools is not always a drawback. In this regard, photo enthusiasts often benefit from the simplicity of free tools, which does not hinder their ability. Free image editing applications must have some features in order to be versatile and have good usability. Thus, every application to edit free photos must include the following functions:

  • Sharpness, color and exposure correction
  • Crop and rotate
  • Lossless scaling
  • Delete and trim objects
  • Make photomontages
  • Filter and effect tools
  • Possibility of working in several layers
  • Import various image formats

With the exception of these basic functions, the design of the selected program (free or paid) plays an essential role. Thus, it is not only very important that it includes certain functions, but that they can also be used in a simple and intuitive way , which contributes to the application having a clear design (toolbar and menu, buttons, etc.).

6 programs to edit photos for free

In recent years, the most careful observers were able to verify two things in relation to digital image editing. On the one hand, the demand for image editing programs has increased (due to the crucial role of social media). On the other hand, users today have higher expectations about the ability of applications to edit images. Simultaneously, it is clear that the learning efforts are somewhat lower and that all the integrated tools can be used without prior knowledge. Thus, a glance at the market is enough to find free photo editing applications that meet today's high demands. 

In addition to classic desktop applications , more and more attention is being paid to high-performance web applications , which can be used in the browser and therefore without the need for installation. Therefore, it does not matter which operating system is used, although it is necessary to have an Internet connection. In some cases a registration is also required. In the following sections we offer you information about web and desktop applications and at the end of the article you will find a comparative table with the differences and similarities of all the programs.

Paint.NET (Windows)

Started as a small student project at Washington State University, Paint.NET is one of the best photo editing programs in the freeware arena. After being released in 2004 under the free MIT license, it is currently marketed under a proprietary license. The basic structure of the application is the Microsoft .NET framework , automatically included in the installation. Since the framework works with Windows, Paint.NET is not available for other platforms..

Paint.NET allows you to organize or hide all design tools and boxes (levels, colors, etc.)

What was an alternative to the simple standard Microsoft Paint program has been constantly developed in recent years, so it is also suitable for advanced tasks. Thus, it is not only possible to work with several layers, but also to process several projects in parallel that are opened in different tabs. Each of them shows a thumbnail image to be able to find them easily. Basic optimization tools for adjusting the brightness, saturation, contrast, or hue of colors are available in the form of a gradation curve to adjust the color or a tool to remove red-eye. Additionally, Paint.NET also offers the following tools:

  • Blur and focus
  • 3D rotation and zoom
  • Filters for black and white and sepia 
  • Color gradient generator
  • Object selection tool with similar color (? Magic wand?)

This already covers the standard version of this application to edit photos for free. Whoever is missing an effect or a filter, can find them in the official plugin directory. In addition to the many instruments in the tool palette, extensions are also provided for importing or exporting other file formats , such as the Photoshop .psd format. Paint.NET records all work stages, so all changes can be undone at any time.

Pros Cons
? Can be expanded with plugins ? Only available for Windows
? Function? Undo? unlimited (undo) to undo the changes made ? Works in a standard way with a less popular file format (.pdn)

Pixlr Editor (web app, iOS, Android)

After a year of development, the Swedish Schwede Ola Sevandersson published the cloud-based Pixlr Editor image editing program in 2008. Today he works with Autodesk and publishes there mobile versions of his program to edit photos for iOS and Android, among others. The web application can be used free of charge with all browsers without registration, provided, however, that Adobe Flash Player is installed, as the program has various Flash elements . Pixlr Express is a lightweight version for smaller image optimization.

The layout of Pixlr Editor is quite reminiscent of the layout of the desktop version of Photoshop

Pixlr Editor is the best proof that free photo editing software can compete with the biggest ones too. Its visual appearance and the typical design of the control elements allow the user to quickly forget that it is a web app that runs in the browser, especially when using the full screen. The menu bars and clear, intuitive and attractive pictures are well known by comparable programs, so that both more experienced and less experienced users can quickly become familiar with them. Saving Its excellent usability , the software also stands out for its many functions. Thus, this program to modify photos offers, among others, the following features to edit images:

  • Blur and focus
  • Burn tool
  • Correct red eyes
  • Gradation curve
  • Automatic correction of tonal values

In addition to the wide selection of correction tools, Pixlr Editor offers numerous filters for modifying photos and graphics. Thus, with these you can, for example, blur, pixelate or convert into relief, sepia or thermal images. To carry out the entire editing process, the user has as many layers as he or she needs. In some details, it is observed that Pixlr Editor is a free program to edit images that has been developed with a different budget than other more expensive alternatives. The application has advertising , but it can be removed.

Pros Cons
? Desktop appearance thanks to full screen mode ? Only works if Adobe Flash Player is installed
? Versions for iOS and Android  
? Available in Spanish  

GIMP (Windows, macOS, Linux)

In 1998, the first official edition of the GNU Image Manipulation Program, better known as GIMP, appeared with version 1.0 . Today it is indisputable that the software developed by Peter Mattis and Spencer Kimball is one of the best open source photo editing programs (GNU GPL license) worldwide. Based on the Generic Graphics Library (GEGL), GIMP has become in a Comprehensive competitive solution for image optimization and editing in the shadow of paid programs. Originally conceived for GNU / Linux, the program also works with all Windows and macOS systems.

Menus for layers, brushes, or color gradients can be added in GIMP at any time as a? Dockable dialog? in the menu? Windows?

Like most open source applications, GIMP has a modular structure , allowing it to be functionally expanded at all times. In addition, control elements are ordered, displayed, and deleted depending on the user. On the contrary, a standard configuration that anchors the most important modules in the general interface is missing, making access unnecessarily difficult. Anyone who is knowledgeable about the software and has found their preferred configuration can use it directly after startup. In terms of its functions, GIMP is not far removed from other applications for editing images. These include, for example, the following filters and effects in many unlimited layers:

  • Blur filters (eg, pixelize [sic], motion blur)
  • Enhance filters (eg anti-aliasing, removing red-eye)
  • Highlight and shadow filters (eg, speckle, lens flare)
  • Art filters (eg vignette, oil painting)
  • Decoration filters (eg, coffee stains, rounded corners)
  • Animation filters (eg, blend, waves)

Small improvements are also possible with GIMP. Thus, with a few clicks , color, saturation, contrast, or brightness can be corrected . To this are added tools to crop, scale or rotate the images or tools to edit each of the elements. It's hard to believe that this photo editing program is free because of its many export formats, ranging from typical image formats like . jpg, . gif or . bmp or file formats . gz or . bz2 to web formats like . html or . xhtml .

Pros Cons
? Extensible and customizable on a large scale ? Takes practice
? Suitable for all platforms ? It does not allow to edit several projects simultaneously

Krita (Windows, macOS, Linux)

The open source Krita application, suitable for all platforms, is the result of a year-long development process that began in 1998 with the desire to create an alternative to GIMP based on the Qt library. For various reasons, the original project was abandoned and instead a new and independent photo editing program was developed until the first version of Krita finally appeared on the market in 2004 as an essential part of the KOffice office software. In recent years, the developer KDE has focused on drawing tools and has transformed the program into one of the best open source solutions for cartoonists, illustrators and conceptual artists without losing sight of the look of classic image editing.

Krita allows you to customize both the design and the tools menu

To offer artists an unparalleled working platform, Krita not only attaches importance to such useful instruments as brush stabilizers or a wide variety of brush types, but also to modern design. Unlike GIMP, the KDE project offers standard preconfigured layouts for various projects, such as? Standard ?,? Animation? or? Big picture ?, which are also suitable for inexperienced users. Optionally, this arrangement of the tools can be adapted as desired in the corresponding configuration menu. The fact that Krita is a great free photo editing program is made even more apparent with an amazing selection of retouching tools, filters and changes. Among other, the application includes the following editing functions:

  • Brightness and contrast curve
  • Underexpose
  • Color settings
  • Blur
  • Focus
  • Edge detection
  • Oil paintings

The masks allow you to apply effects on the different layers of the images . In addition, there are also options to crop or resize photos or to create reflections. In the stock history , which should be activated as a? Dockable dialog? in preconfigured designs, all the steps performed are archived. It is also possible to jump at any time to a previous stage for undo the changes. On installation, Krita automatically displays the instructions in English, but this can be easily changed from the main menu in the language window by selecting? Spanish? in the "Switch Application Language" window.

Pros Cons
? Extensive toolbox that offers more than just image editing ? Some of the instructions are in English on the website
? Suitable for all platforms ? Partially complex user interface

Adobe Photoshop Express Editor (web app, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)

Usually one associates Photoshop with first-class photo editing programs or applications whose performance level is only achieved in exceptional cases. The first choice for professionals, the veteran program is, however, very expensive, so many photography and graphic design enthusiasts prefer to turn to more affordable alternatives. With the Express Editor, Adobe has been offering a free photo editing program as a Flash-based web application for some years now, hence it can only be used if you have Flash Player installed. Meanwhile, this free photo editing application is suitable for iOS, Android and Windows Phone and can be downloaded from the corresponding app stores.

Photoshop Express Editor interface is only available in English

The Express Editor tools are based on proven Photoshop algorithms , so applying filters and effects provides excellent results. Compared to the original program, the functionality of the free counterpart is quite inferior. Those who want to get even the smallest detail in photos and graphics will be somewhat limited with this web tool, but when it comes to optimization and transformation , there is hardly any photo editing application that can be compared to Express Editor . This is done by the following functions, which can be called up immediately after uploading an image (and without registration):

  • Scale (fixed or custom size)
  • Auto correction mode
  • Retouch
  • Correct red eyes
  • Underexposure
  • Pixelate
  • Bullets
  • Focus and blur

The use of the tool is very intuitive, to which the good structure of the interface contributes . The tools are distributed in the categories? Edit? and? Decorate? and the first is divided into the three subcategories? Basic ?,? Adjustments? and? Effects ?. The intensity of the corresponding adjustment measures can be selected via the predefined levels or manually via the controller. Adobe only offers the application in English, but the biggest restriction of this application to edit photos for free is the fact that it only allows importing and exporting images in JPG format .

Pros Cons
? Suitable to start ? It only allows importing and exporting JPG files
? It uses powerful Photoshop algorithms ? Does not support layers

RawTherapee (Windows, macOS, Linux)

Since 2010, Gábor Horvàth's RawTherapee photo editing program has been licensed under the GNU GPL (version 3). This photo editing app is not only free, but also open source, so it can be used and modified without restrictions. The application includes a version of the dcraw conversion software , which enables import and edit images with raw data (so-called RAW data) from digital cameras. With this, the tool is mainly aimed at professional and amateur photographers who want to get the most out of their photographs. RawTherapee also supports JPEG, PNG, or TIFF, so your users can work with these image formats as well.

Before editing an image with RawTherapee it must be imported via file management

When you start the application to edit your images, it is already clear that there is a lot of development work behind it. Various menus and quick bars allow you to edit imported images down to the finest detail. Since RAW files are very large, the queue helps to regulate the conversion process so as not to hamper work on the current project. In addition, with this image editing program you can edit multiple photos simultaneously, but as it involves a relatively high use of the system, it is not recommended to use it with older computers. RawTherapee processes each stage of work non-destructively , so that the images retain their highest quality. In addition, all processes are stored so that you can jump to other previous stages at any time. Some of its functions are:

  • White balance
  • Saturation, contrast and brightness correction
  • Exposure correction
  • Focus
  • Color filters
  • RGB tone curve for maximum control of colors and exposure

RawTherapee is undoubtedly one of the best RAW file editing applications on the free and open source market. With it, users receive everything they need to retouch their photos . Thanks to the ability to save editing profiles, multiple images can be optimized with the same settings if necessary. For bigger and more creative changes, however, due to the small number of effects and the absence of a tool to develop detailed work (for example, the brush), this open source application is not so suitable.

Pros Cons
? Supports various types of RAW formats ? Unclear user interface
? Suitable for all platforms ? Does not allow importing images by drag and drop

Comparison table of the best photo editing applications (free)

  Developer Year of publication OS Language Special features
Express Editor Adobe 2008 Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Windows Phone English Photoshop algorithms
GIMP The GIMP Team 1998 Windows, macOS, Linux Spanish Modular design
Krita KDE 2004 Windows, macOS, Linux Spanish Various drawing tools
Paint.NET Microsoft 2004 Windows Spanish Extensive directory of plugins
Pixlr Editor Autodesk 2008 Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android Spanish Apps for iOS and Android
Raw Therapee Gábor Horvàth 2008 Windows, macOS, Linux Spanish RAW file editing