Photoshop is expensive, so here’s the best free photo-editing software
Thursday 03 August 2017

Photoshop is expensive, so here’s the best free photo-editing software

There’s no argument about it — Adobe Photoshop remains the best photo-editing software on the market. But unless you’ve undergone formal training, it’s a difficult program to master, and an expensive one to use. That’s why we’re taking a look at the best free photo-editing software on the market, which provide much of the same functionality as Photoshop but without the associated fees. Each of the programs below can perform basic and semi-advanced tasks, for instance, allowing you to resize, crop, and correct exposure with ease. Read on for further details, whether you’re in the market for a desktop or mobile solution.

DESKTOP OPTIONS

GIMP

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Often heralded as the best free alternative to Photoshop, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open-source application that relies on a community of volunteer developers who maintain and improve the product. Available for Mac and PC, you get a lot of professional-level editing and retouching tools — perfect for designers who can’t or won’t shell out hundreds of dollars to Adobe.

Once you launch the program, you’ll find a dedicated window that displays the image, and separate windows to organize the toolbox and layers. When using a large display, or two displays, you have a nice, big workspace to play with your images. Icons in the toolbox represent actions such as the crop, lasso, paint and brush tools, and you can apply various effects to your photos. It may seem like Photoshop, but GIMP has its own look and feel.

PhotoScape

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Apart from basic image editing, PhotoScape also lets you create slideshows and animated GIFs, capture screenshots, and combine and split images. You can customize your toolbar, so you can organize the features you use most, and then revert to the default toolbar when you want to dig deeper into the software’s offerings.

PhotoScape software is free to download. But it’s part of the Open Candy network, and runs ads for other “recommended” software. This is isolated to PhotoScape, and won’t infiltrate the rest of your computer with adware, but it’s worth noting.

The Nik Collection

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The Nik Collection is an image-editing suite that comes courtesy of Google — one that’s now entirely free. This is one of the most powerful online tools available, and Google providing it for free was pretty big news when it broke last year. The Collection includes seven plugins, each with a different focus. Analog Efex Pro focuses on effects that produce a vintage aesthetic or make digital photos appear more natural, while Color Efex Pro provides a ton of filters. Silver Efex Pro, on the other hand, is tailored toward black-and-white images, while Viveza allows you to alter specific colors in a photo without using filters. The last two plugins, Sharpener Pro and Dfine, allow you to improve clarity and reduce noise reduction, among other things.

Best of all, you can either download individual tools or the entire suite at once. The tools may take a little time to learn, but by separating out the different functions, the software makes it easier for people to pick and choose what they need in any given moment. The only downside here is that Google won’t be offering patches or updates to these tools, so they won’t have much longevity. Get them while they still work!

Paint.NET

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This is a case where the apprentice becomes the master. Paint.NET was created as a college undergraduate senior design project mentored by Microsoft, and it continues to be maintained by alumni of the program. It was originally developed as a free replacement for Microsoft Paint, which comes as part of Windows. Paint.NET has surpassed Microsoft Paint in functionality and has some advanced features.

Paint.NET features an intuitive user interface that supports layers, an “unlimited undo” to back out of any mistake no matter how disastrous, various special effects, and other tools. Where Microsoft Paint was able to do little more than resize images, Paint.NET is able to handle more advanced photo editing that you’d expect from Photoshop and other paid programs.

HitFilm Express

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HitFilm Express is a free video editing service that specializes in digital effects — which makes it ideal for creating more imaginative photo effects as well. With both 2D and 3D compositing, more than 180 visual effects from which to choose, and a community with plenty of ideas, you can make nearly any image that you can dream of. From putting a headshot into an Ironman-like HUD, to turning your best friend into a Jedi, this is the app to try if you’re aiming for the stars.

ONLINE OPTIONS

Don’t want to download and install software on your computer? If you have a reliable connection, here are a few Web-based programs that will never see the inside of your solid-state drive (SSD).

Pixlr.com

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Pixlr.com has a tiered offering that is entirely free. The site separates its photo editing into Pixlr Editor (advanced) and Pixlr Express (efficient). The site also offers a mobile suite so you can edit photos on a smartphone or tablet — both iOS and Android versions are available.

The Pixlr Editor is more like Photoshop. It’s a straightforward photo-editing tool that lets you crop, size, and tweak the image. It has a red eye tool that eliminates those devil eyes that appear when the flash goes off. Express, on the other hand, lets you put creative overlays on your images — this is really for playing with your photos. You can put a stain on a picture to make it look like you rested a coffee mug on the photo, for example.

Note that Pixlr straddles the line between Web-based and desktop image editors: There are both mobile and desktop versions of the software that you can download. However, it’s usually easier to just pop open a browser tab and load up the online version

Sumopaint

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Sumopaint is one of those “Photoshop lite” image editors that have sprung up in recent years — but it stands out by being truly good at what it does. This web-based software — there’s a download option as well — has a layout very familiar for Adobe users, a tool set that’s easy enough to understand and use, and a minimalistic feel that concentrates on getting the job done. This option is better suited to more serious photographers who don’t want to give up any editing optionns — and who also don’t want to pay for their editing software.

MOBILE OPTIONS

PicSay

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If you’ve got an Android phone, don’t worry — we haven’t forgotten about you! Try out PicSay, a basic photo editing app that you can use to create a variety of effects before posting. There are simple distortion, spotlighting, and marker options, as well as more complex exposure, temperature, and sticker tools. All in all, it’s a far more expansive app than you would expect for a mobile device, and one of the best if you like to play with photos on your phone.

GoArt

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GoArt uses AI technology to transform photos using unique filters that apply a wide variety of effects, allowing you to quickly imitate the masters such as Monet and Van Gogh. Users can also use the app to upgrade their photo resolution, and touch up photos until they’re ready to be used as a profile pick or for print.

GoArt is a little limited outside of these advanced filters, and so if you want to make any manual changes then you may want to look for another app. Still, if you just want to imbue your photos with a little something extra without sweating the details, this is a solid pick and regular updates keep adding new effects. Note that some filter options are behind a paywall.

Bonfire Photo Editor Pro

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Bonfire is similar to GoArt, but boasts more individual effects. There are more than 110 filters, along with a host of useful tools for removing blemishes, applying tone filters, painting various effects, and zooming in. Other tools allow you to rotate images and adjust the temperature, brightness, contrast, and other important image facets. The app is specifically designed for turning a good picture into a great one while on the go, and it can serve as a professional app in a pinch.

When finished, you can even post your photo to your favorite social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The interface is also manageable, though not perfect, as some of the tools are a little small and hard to use on mobile devices. There are in-app ads and in-app purchases as well.