Best Free Digital Image Editor

toggle-button
  Read this article in Spanish (Español)
  Read this article in Chinese (中文)

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.

[show-hide toggle]

 

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.

 

Editor

This software category is in need of an editor. If you would like to give something back to the freeware community by taking it over, check out this page for more details. You can then contact us from that page or by clicking here.

Back to the top of the article

 

Please rate this article: 

Your rating: None
4.61616
Average: 4.6 (198 votes)
toggle-button

Comments

My favorite image software is actually MS Picture Manager that comes free with MS Office (including the free starter bundle shipped on most modern PCs) sure it's very basic, just a crop, resize and the usual brightness/contrast tools. But is is very easy to use and copes with almost all image formats. Not suitable if you;re looking for advanced editing features but probably good enough for 70% of the users out there.

I also use Irfanview, sure it looks like a piece of software from the days of Windows NT 4 and the menus are somewhat awkward to navigate but there are a lot of tools to play around with and it can even work with animated gif files.

Re: LightBox Image Editor I've got a bit of news for the software that Gizmo already thinks is the best in it's class. I was talking with the developer yesterday. He told me that there are some cool things ahead for this great Image Editing tool. I quote him from his email to me: "I am getting closer to getting a free version out. I just released a beta featuring advanced noise reduction, and will be working over the next 2 months on the next official release which, among other things, revamps the front UI. I am waiting for one more thing before I want to put out the free version, which is Flickr/Facebook uploading. I am looking at the end of the year or New Year for getting out a free version. Unlike the previous free version, which was a really stripped down version of Sagelight, the new free version will be Sagelight Standard, and the Sagelight Pro version would be the purchased version; so it would be a full editor, with the Pro functions basically extending the main functionality." So when the new free version of Sagelight is released, I will update the product immediately. I hope you are all looking forward to it. I know I am. :-)
Image View (Plus More) - "... This is the "emacs of image editors". It has a small footprint and a simple interface with a lot of neat shortcuts that leaves screen space for the important thing: The images! The interface is optimized for my typical work flow in editing photos, writing papers, powerpoints, and documents, and testing new image processing algorithms. Now in version 2 you can even develop RAW images from most cameras (tested with Canon and Nikon) - you can get even change the settings! It has a lot of other powerful features like blending, retouching, lens distortion, filtering, 3D reconstruction, etc. right at your fingertips ...": http://www.sequoiagrove.dk/tools.php#imgview Special approval obtained from MC due to lacking WOT rating. http://www.urlvoid.com/scan/sequoiagrove.dk/ http://zulu.zscaler.com/submission/show/c386bbb3fe7b1c2369d39cc5b9976724... http://www.webutation.net/go/review/sequoiagrove.dk?req=chrome https://www.virustotal.com/en/url/1e0cfdae7175fc12ebdee43c465382d5c2baca...

I need a tool to crop photos and make the file size smaller. Every image processing program I have tried increases the file size, I assume because they keep "undo" information.

I think someone who knows how to create software could easily make a cropping tool that does not keep "undo" information. Perhaps it could convert a JPG to a Bitmap then convert only the current image data remaining after the crop back to a JPG.

If anybody knows of the existence of a true filesize-reducing image cropper please let me know.

Since the above posting I have learned that GIMP does exactly what I want. It does its editing in what I guess is a kind of bitmap format then you can export the final product to a .jpg format with no extraneous information so crops are definitely smaller than originals.

"... Pholor Express is a free image editing software that is easy to operate. It could crop, rotate, resize, sharp, and adjust tone handily, help to get your photos ready quickly for Blog, Facebook and Twitter ..." (1/46 on Virus Total - possible false positive?) http://pholor.com/enu/express.html Features: - Compact User Interface - Real time results - Fast Operation - Dehaze
"... PhotoSun 14 gives you everything you need to fix your photos. Remove red-eye with a click. Adjust exposure, brightness, and contrast. Crop to frame your subject. If you don’t know where to begin, click the Enhance tool and watch PhotoSun 14 automatically fix underexposed or dull photos. From there, you can try a few more tricks ...": http://micranes.weebly.com/index.html
LazPaint - Image editor, like PaintBrush or Paint.Net, written in Lazarus (Free Pascal). Includes BGRABitmap, a set of drawing routines: Features: * antialiasing * multiple undo * alpha blending * BGRABitmap * selection of any shape * rotation * filters * update checker http://sourceforge.net/projects/lazpaint/

Pages