Best Free Digital Image Editor

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Introduction

Digital image editors mix painting and drawing tools with some features specific to digital imaging, which creates images from the physical environment using normally cameras or scanners, and have two additional features you should know about:

  • Process raw images: Digital imaging systems produce a raw image file which is the image detected by the sensors. This raw image is processed to produce an image file, most commonly the JPEG image format, which we then view and edit in our digital image editor. The Raw files are often described as "digital negatives" because they have a similar role to the negatives produced by film photography. For this article, you just need to know that some digital image editors are able to decode Raw files and provide further options for editing those images.
  • View or edit Exif/DCF data: When a raw image is created the camera or scanner also stores information about the state of the imaging device and the physical conditions. This data is called meta-data because it is "data about data". You just need to know that there are standard formats for storing this meta-data. The two most common standards being Exif (Exchangeable Image File) and DCF (Design rule for Camera File system).

I have deliberately looked for application programs that allow you to examine and edit the above two features. There are many good products which is why there are so many options in this category. Just remember that very few are general-purpose so most users will benefit from mixing products from this category and the image viewer and photo organizer categories.

Read also Classifying Digital Image Editors and Important Features at the end of this article.

 

Basic Editors

Pixlr  

Easy to use but powerful image editors with many special effects


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
High marks for being easy to use; A good selection of special effects; Consistent and simple interface; EXIF data; Share to email, Facebook, and Twitter.
No control over individual elements as transformations generally work on the whole image; Can't edit objects after they are inserted; A membership account - the user name is your email account - is required to unlock many free transformations; Tracks what you do by default until you turn it off by becoming a member.
Read full review...

PhotoPad Photo Editor  

A very good photo editor with a consistent interface for basic users


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
Consistent interface; Excellent history of changes that you can review, undo, delete, or modify at any step; Wide range of features; Raw file support.
Only free for "non-commercial home use"; Lacks drawing tools.
Read full review...

Visions  

An image editor with the most modern look and a 3D viewing gallery


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Unique interface for viewing images and other tasks; Consistent approach to editing; Easy to use; 3D image viewing gallery is very popular; Print greeting cards, postcards, and photo frames; Preview changes; Flickr and Facebook integration.
Can be slow.
Read full review...

Lightbox  

An excellent editor with features for basic users


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Last free version)
Very attractive, simple and straight-forward to use; Excellent help specific to adjustments; Before and after view; Presets for adjustments Opens Raw files.
Could do with more easy presets adjustments e.g. to improve focus; Free version has some features of the paid version grayed out; No PNG support; Bug in Windows 64-bit; No longer updated.
Read full review...

Photo! Editor  

The easiest photo editor with basic enhancement tools


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
Extremely easy to use with some very nice professional quality makeup tools; All options are clearly visible with preset buttons; The best straightening tool I've seen; Options to adjust settings too; File folder tree view.
Has not been updated since 2008, forum inactive since 2009; A number of bugs such as distorted thumbnails;
Read full review...

Mid-level Editors

PhotoFiltre  

An excellent mid-level image editor with a comprehensive feature set


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
Many features including some that not many editors have; Now has layers which also means that transformations can apply to the image or just a layer; Photoshop 8bf filters; GIF animation; Scanner interface; Batch automation.
Not for basic users as there is not a lot of help to determine what some settings do; No HDR or Raw processing.
Read full review...

Paint.NET  

A very good mid-level photo retouching choice with a modern interface


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Donationware)
Very well designed and attractive interface; Looks like some paid editors; Has the best "3D" rotation tool; Many tools clearly separated into Adjustments and Effects.
No local help only online; Not really suitable for basic users; Effects and transformations can be slow.
Read full review...

Artweaver  

Primarily a paint program but equipped with a curves-and-levels tool that works better than Paint.NET


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Limited features)
Comprehensive help with tutorial instructions; Interface is sparse and some features are not intuitive; Extensible with four types of plug-ins; Creates PDF files.
Really a paint program at the moment; Visual interface supports paint rather than image adjustment.
Read full review...

Advanced Editors

GIMP  

The most advanced image editor for drawing and painting


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Has lots of advanced features and can do almost everything the Photoshop can do; Extensible with many add-ons; Now allows all tool windows to dock within the main window.
Has a steep learning curve but will not be too hard if you have used any of the image editors in the mid-level or suites classes.
Read full review...

Imagina - Virtual Lightbox  

An excellent photo viewer and editor


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Focuses on digital photography particularly whole images; Excellent Raw processing; Has basic and advanced options; Assistance from descriptive tooltips, inline help; HDR support from the start; Color management is excellent.
No painting/drawing tools and no layers because Imagina focuses on digital photography; Online help links are broken; Online feature descriptions are for an older version.
Read full review...

digiKam  

A photo management application complete with an editor module


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Photo management suite - viewer, organizer, editor, slideshow, calendar; Has a separate editor, ShowFoto; Very good manual and Wiki; Raw support including Exif and Makernotes; Batch processing; Sharing of images.
Very large download and program because it installs a suite of KDE programs without asking permission! Windows version is less stable (Linux version is more stable) - sometimes it won't even install correctly; Raw processing previews can't be split screen.
Read full review...

Image Analyzer  

A small image editor aimed at photographers


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free
The most advanced free image editor for photographic processing; Transforms not found in other free software; Exif data; Plug-ins; Scripts; Multi-language.
Not easy to understand - basic users should avoid it; Far from the best for general image editing.
Read full review...

Digital Imaging Suites

Chasys Draw IES  

An excellent suite of programs including Artist, Viewer, Converter and raw-Photo, each runs individually


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Three useful programs: Artist, Converter, Raw processor; Modern user interface; Many features; Excellent help; HDR; sRGB model; Independent layers mean you can have multiple workspaces in the same file! Raw file processing; Batch processing and scripting; Many file formats for import and export; Plug-ins including Photoshop b8f filters; Portable version.
Some unusual (but innovative) features; Viewer is limited.
Read full review...

Photoscape  

A suite of modules containing image editor, file management, presentation and capture


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Very robust suite type program that can be fun to use. Includes everything from enhancing your photos and adding shapes and clip-art, to creating collages and printing.
Lacks a few of the usual retouching tools and has a slightly unusual menu system and user interface; Bundled with OpenCandy.
Read full review...

Other Free Digital Image Editors

Most of the other Free Digital Image Editors we have reviewed are listed below. Let us know if you have any good suggestions. Either contact the editor or leave a comment below at the end of this article.

For added security we advise you to run virus scans on the websites and any downloads from those websites as they are not checked as regularly as the recommended products above.

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Related Products and Links

Several articles review programs with similar functions:

 

Classifying Digital Image Editors

In this article, digital image editors are classified in four sub-categories below:

  1. Basic Editors are programs that only allow you to edit an existing image: "those little gems that help you quickly and easily make small adjustments to the overall lighting, colors, and tones of your images without the clutter of a lot of advanced tool sets. These also offer such tools as cropping, sharpening, and red eye correction." Ease of use is the key.
  2. Mid-level Editors offer more advanced tools like layers, adding captions and shapes, the ability to select portions of the image and make adjustments to just those portions, etc. These will also offer filters for applying textures, artistic effects, edge enhancements, borders and frames. The breadth of image enhancements and drawing tools are the most important considerations.
  3. Advanced Editors have advanced photographic features that work with the features of specific cameras and the files that they generate. They usually compete with professional programs like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro in some aspects if not all. The primary criterion is the ability to work with imaging from many devices.
  4. Digital Imaging Suites that bundle related modules or programs to extend the functionality of the core image editor. The extra features can be both basic and advanced so the suites generally cover all three levels of capability. There is no primary criterion for this group because they cover aspects of the other three classes.

This article does not include on-line or web-based digital image editors which are reviewed in their own category Best Free Web-Based Image Editor.

 

Important Features

The following are key features that will help you to decide which digital image editor is best for you.

General features

  • Context-sensitive help and other assistance. Tutorials are particularly important.
  • Preview or comparison view. The example on the right is from Visions ⟹.
  • Undo/Redo to multiple levels as shown in the far-right image of the undo list in PhotoPad ⟹⟹.
  • Batch processing and scripting allows the same editing steps to be applied to multiple images in a consistent manner.
  • Support for sharing of images through email, web uploads and social media.

Basic photo features

  • Straightening in the two-dimensional sense usually means rotating the entire image. The easiest method is to draw a line to indicate where the horizon should be and let the program rotate the photo for you as Imagina does in the example image on the right ⟹.
  • Cropping images to cut out unneeded elements. The best cropping tools allow the aspect ratio to fit a specific output format such as a standard photo print size.
  • Scaling, resizing and re-sampling to fit your output requirement.
  • Photo correction tools including lighten/darken, sharpen/blur, and red-eye reduction.
  • Captions, timestamps, and borders.

Drawing and painting features

  • Layers allow objects and effefts to be separated from the original image and from each other. Layers also allow drawn objects to retain their properties when an image file is saved.
  • Vector graphic and font support so that drawn objects are scale independent while you are working with them.
  • Drawing tools including lines, brushes, shapes/polygons, clip art, fonts, accompanied by transformations that alter the drawn objects.
  • Complex selections including silhouettes, tracing, and clipping paths. This allows areas to be selected by the outline, based on a colour, or by any shape that you want. The example to the right shows the Chasys IES Artist's magic wand selecting a shade of black anywhere in the image  ⟹.
  • Drawing file format support e.g. EPS, SVG, DDS (for games).

Advanced photo features

  • View metadata provided from the source camera or scanner. EXIF/DCF and Raw metadata have been mentioned in the introduction.
  • Advanced straightening consists of several similar features that even allow 3D-like manipulation. Perspective correction and vertical straightening are often used to provide square faces to buildings as shown in the example ⟹. Warping using a grid or mesh allows lens distortions (pincushion, barrel, fish-eye, moustache) to be.
  • Image enhancement tools like cloning, blending, and combining images.
  • Plug-ins to provide additional features: tools, filters, and file import & export formats.
  • Raw file support. Raw images are direct from the camera or scanner sensors before any pre-processing attempts to correct the image to match the human eye. This feature can be provided by plug-ins.

Professional color support

  • HDR (High-Dynamic Range) support. Normally, 255 levels (8 bits) are used for each color of Red, Green & Blue (RGB) and the alpha channel to make up 32-bit color. 255 levels is not very much if are performing complex transformations and the rounding errors can become significant. So if you want to retain as much detail as possible then you should consider using 16-bits per channel to retain highlights and ensure smooth transitions in colors without any banding. That is why the HDR file formats are important. Some programs are limited to 8-bits per channel and others require plug-ins.
    Suitable file formats for HDR also provide for metadata, transparency, color management, and some handle layers (L) too. A couple are vector-based (V). The main difference between them all is the maximum bits for greater color depth.
    • Device dependent but normally 32-bit: Adobe EPSVL
    • 32-bit: IMA, TIFF (floating), SVGVL.
    • 64-bit: freedesktop.org's ORAL, Photoline's PLDL, Photoshop's PSDL, XAMLVL
    • 128-bit: EXR (used for video rendering), Microsoft's HD Photo/JPEG XR and DDSV (used for gaming)
  • Color management to reproduce colors accurately on various devices, for example, displayed on your screen and printed on paper. The Windows Color System (WCS) is not enabled by default. The following two features are part of color management ⟹.
  • Color space conversion (gamut mapping between different color spaces) allows the best representation of colours. sRGB is usually the default.
  • Rendering intent which indicates the priority for color representation. The International Color Consortium (ICC) has four profiles that are used to match the image color space to the output device color space. Two factors determine the colors you will see. What happens to colors that fall outside the output device gamut and what happens to the white point.
    • absolute maintains the original white point which may not match the output device so it often looks wrong to us because it produces a color cast.
    • saturation is best for graphics where exact colors don't matter.
    • relative is good for photographers: it fits colors within the boundaries but does not adjust any other colors within the boundaries.
    • perceptual is also good for photographers: it fits colors within the boundaries and adjusts the other colors to preserve relative differences between them.

 

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Comments

The issue applies to Lightbox and Photo! Editor because they are not being updated. I have changed the sentence to make that clearer.

This is the first time I've seen a list of the best photo editors where IrfanView was not included. Been using it for years and it's at least in the top five.

Thanks for the suggestion. It's already on my list so I will be reviewing IrfanView soon. I used to use it so it will be interesting to see how it has changed. It generally gets high marks for its features but it has always been hindered by its idiosyncratic interface.

Wonderful review, hours of programs to try out. Thanks for the excellent job.

Imagina Virtual Lightbox is worth a look. It looks like the sort of editor that I have been searching for. Having said that, I haven't tried it yet - I am nonplussed why I didn't find it my web searches - but I will be reviewing it soon because it looks great. Thanks to Marc Darkin, editor of Best Free Digital Image Viewer, who suggested it. :) Remah - Editor

It's understood that no image editor can beat adobe Photoshop because its a giant program of 3 to 4gb, but here: [link removed as you clearly did not read the article here] i have found some image editing software which i have found useful for beginners and these editors can edit photos easily and almost all are user-friendly and free. Also you can use these software here [reference to paid products removed] too but i can't confirm there compatibility with Windows 8/8.1 in link 1, but the image editors are compatible with Win 8/8.1 which are in link 2.

Makro, You clearly did not read the article. Your links add nothing to this topic. Our moderators would have dealt with this but I got in first because I want people to know that spamming, like trolling, is not tolerated here. You are welcome to post a more useful comment. Remah - editor of Best Free Digital Image Editors
Added reviews of: Basic editor: NCH Photopad and Visions Advanced Editor: Image Analyzer and Digikam Remah - Editor of this category
This article is being updated over the next few days. The first new product has been added: Chasys Draw IES (Image Editing Suite) is worth a look. Remah - new Editor

In addition to PhotoFiltre the same developer also has PhotoFiltre 7 which is available at:

http://www.photofiltre-studio.com/pf7-en.htm

The latter supports layers whereas the former does not.

The Pro standard thats very useful to learn is PhotoShop. However, it's very pricey - not free. I've discovered they're now offering PhotoShop CS2 for free as a legacy program. It runs fine in current OS's and is rich with features - everything from web graphics to photo processing to batch scan processing, image repair, and so much more. Get yourself a decent reference book and you can learn the details over time. Worth it.

http://www.techspot.com/downloads/3689-adobe-photoshop-cs2.html

Adobe have not offered the program for free although is available on download sites. They have provided the keys for legal users only. This was done because they have decommissioned the server that used to automatically validate the license keys.

Thanks, Remah. I logged into Adobe and you're right. They're offering downloads and serial numbers for CS2 and Acrobat 7 products for Adobe Customers due to the validation server going down. But not for free.

That's not how it's being presented on legitimate download sites, which is a little surprising.

The serial number listed on the techspot download page for this CS2 Windows FAILS as invalid.

I would check carefully that you're entering it correctly. It's easy to make a mistake. It was fine when I tried it a short while ago. And the feedback I've gotten from others has all been positive.

SN put in was correctly done. I did it several times, used copy/paste to be sure it was right, and one time pasted it into notepad and copied out of there to be sure there were no extraneous characters in it. No go.

Abobe tracks the number of installs. If you've previously installed the product more than twice and didn't deactivate an install, it will block further installs unless you talk to them. That's all I can suggest.

It is the serial number on Adobe as well.

Here's another one I came across with:

PixBuilder Studio.

http://www.wnsoft.com/pixbuilder/

hello
i got tired of Gimp [and it's look-alikes] and I run into Deep Paint 2.0!
I love it! the effects of the brushes are extremely realistic, the texture brushes are easy to use and everythjng is straight forward and medium learning curve. Not alot of photo editing features but you can find and download all kinds of adobe pluggins to customize it doesn't accept adobe actions or do .ico.gifs but it's great.
high memory filter and cloning are not redoable so back the files up before using. brush creation a breeze it's just taking black and white pictures and inverting them[white on black backgrounds] doesn't accept adobe abr brushes but you can convert those to png invert tweak with the contrast and add those to the resource/brush folder user manual built in

For photo editng i use VirtualStudio which also uses adobe pluggins some are more compatible with here than deep paint vice versa. some pluggins do collaging as well try em out!!! edits most formats.still testing out.might take photoshop actions.

deep paint 2.0 is downloadable from http://download.chip.eu/en/Deep-Paint-2.0_132831.html as Right Hemisphere has a new paid version 3d don't bother registering it.

http://www.optikvervelabs.com/virtualStudio.asp virtualStudio

Together they make a great team.

Deep Paint is very cool but is not an image editor - it's an amazing Paint program.

Apologies if anyone has already mentioned this, but there are two free version of PhotoFiltre.

The one reviewed here is the "lesser" version, PhotoFiltre 6.

The other, PhotoFiltre 7, additionally supports layers, though saving them only in its own ".pfi" format. It is available from the commercial "PhotoFiltre Studio X" website.

You enter the site on the news page, which has the following info at the top:

"The 3 versions of PhotoFiltre

PhotoFiltre Studio X : The most complete with layers, animated gif, 8BF, vectorial path

PhotoFiltre 7 : Version (freeware) with layers but more limited than the Studio X version

PhotoFiltre 6 : Basic version (freeware) without layers"

Hope this is of interest to PhotoFiltre fans - I was glad when I discovered it.

Happy 2014.

This category does not have any editor at present, that's why the review and version have not been updated.

I have used this site for a couple years and have been very pleased with it.

Finally registered today with an FYI and a question.

I have used Photoscape for awhile for a couple of its features.
Today it prompted me to download a new version 3.6.5 which I did.
After downloading I scanned the file with my anti-virus and Malwarebytes.
Malwarebytes gave a warning that it contains OpenCandy.

I re-scanned the last version I had downloaded v3.6.2 and it does not contain it, so it appears it has been added recently.
I know there are different views on OpenCandy and I understand that.
(My opinion is I don't look for trouble.)

My question is has anyone installed the newer version and does it give an option to opt-out?
Thanks...

Hi
This is my first post and I would like to say thanks to everyone for sharing their knowledge, it's a great boon to the uninitiated like me.
I have a new laptop with windows 8 and don't like the photo imaging "apps" that came with it, I was quite happy with Picture Manager (vista) as it did most of the things I needed, crop, brightness/contrast fix, file compression etc.
So I went looking for a suitable replacement....Photo! Editor looked like it may suit my needs although I was unsure if was compatible with Win8, I checked a few other reviews which suggested it was All Win compatible so I downloaded it. It has loaded OK and I can view the images but won't actually make any changes. I hope someone can put me on the right path to fixing this as it looks like a great program for me.
once again thanks for all your assistance, to especially to the newbies :)

Hello tassieted and welcome to Gizmo's! :)

Not long ago I myself was looking for an image editor. If you read the user comments below, you'll see where I posted my findings. My experience with Photo! Editor was the same as yours. Apparently it's been abandoned. What's more, the forums were full of spam when I checked last. It's a shame since it looked so promising but I just had to uninstall it in the end.

Nevertheless, I tried PhotoFiltre and found it fulfilled most of my needs. I'd recommend you try it. For that matter you should try the portable version since you could just delete it's folder if you don't like it - it's much less messy than having to uninstall. ;)

If your needs are a bit more, I'd recommend Chasys Draw IES. Again, you will find my comment and a link lower down. In fact, I've kept both these programs and use either one depending on what I need to do.

Hi Joe A.TT thanks for your welcoming response. I suspected that it may no longer be an active program after I saw the last post dates on the forum. You're right it is a shame that it seems abandoned and unusable at least as far as win8 is concerned. I will have a look at the ones you suggested and see if they suit.
I read quite a few of the posts but must have missed yours,sorry.Perhaps a note needs to be made in the review to save others from experiencing this problem.
thanks again TT

Hi Joe A.TT
Just thought I would thank you for recommending Photo Filtre, I have d/l and had a bit of a play and it looks like it will be perfect for my needs.
I can certainly recommend it to other new users as a fairly easy program to get the hang of so you can start quickly and as you gain more experience there are lots of other advanced functions.

I personally like Hornil Stylepix. You can give it a try. http://hornil.com/en/products/stylepix/

thanks Anupam will have to check it out

NPS Image Editor is a free, unique image editing program that is perfect for pixel art, drawing, and photo editing (Virus Total results - 2/45. False positives?): http://nps.nookkin.com/

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