Best Free Photo Editing Software
Photo editing software is used by beginners and experts alike to transform lackluster images into professional grade prints. Many computers come with basic photo editing software to make minor corrections like cropping, resizing and red eye but it doesn't come close to the level of precision you get with a high-end program. This leaves many users asking exactly what is the best photo editing software?
While it may take some time to learn the full suite of features, the end result of learning any good photo editing software is well worth the effort.
Photo Editing Software: What to Consider
With all the software programs on the market, it can be difficult to differentiate one photo editing program from the other. It's true that many of them share the same standard features but there are those which stand out among the rest. Keep the following considerations in mind:
Free Trials- Who doesn't love getting something for nothing? Photo editing programs can easily run you a couple hundred dollars. Before dishing out that kind of dough, wouldn't it be smart to test it out first? Most of the providers on our top 5 offer a limited free trial which allows you to try out the different editing features and see if it's something that would suit you. So take advantage of these trials while they're still offered!
Suite of Features-There are thousands of editing tools and features that these programs are designed to do. Depending on your skill level you may be satisfied with the standard functions like cropping, scaling, resizing, removing red eye and color management. If you're using it for professional work, however, you may want a program specifically designed for your business. Check out the program's full suite of features and weigh it against your needs.
Videos and Tutorials-Guided tutorials, videos, and beginner modes are incredibly helpful if you're using a program for the first time. Even expert editors can get bogged down though so don't be afraid to ask for help if you're stuck.
Compatible Operating System-By far one of the most significant considerations is the software's compatibility with your operating system. Are you running on Windows 8, Windows 7, XP or Vista? Or maybe you're a Mac user. It's important to check the compatibility before purchasing a program. The last thing you want to do is purchase a program only to realize it doesn't work on your computer.
Photoshop Elements Review
- Quick, Guided, and Expert modes
- Access photos via web or on mobile device
- Upgrade pricing for existing members
- Works on Mac and Windows
- Easy-to-use interface
- Can't save recordable actions
Adobe is one of the leaders in the world of photo editing. It's not hard to guess why they've been so successful with their product offerings adopted by editing experts and novices alike. Their software is not by any means difficult to learn, and there are hundreds of resources online to pick up tips and tricks.
The newest release, Photoshop Elements 13, has all the features you'd expect in a professional grade software program and more. Some of its advanced tools include:
- Photo remixes/ mash-ups
- Enhanced slideshow creator
- Create panoramas
- Create blur effects
- Retouch skin
- Add text to photos
This program differs from the other two popular Adobe offerings (Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom) in the sense that it appeals to a range of skill levels. Someone proficient in editing can get just as much out of this program as the everyday consumer.
The quick mode feature is ideal for fast touch-ups like cropping, adjusting the brightness or contrast, and resizing while the expert mode is best for total photo transformations. What's more, you have full access to your photos online or through your mobile device so you can easily show friends, family, or colleagues.
So what if you're the person who purchased an older version but is now looking to upgrade? Adobe recognizes that once you purchase an Adobe product you'll likely be back so they offer special upgrade pricing for existing members!
Verdict - Superb
The sole disadvantage about Photoshop Elements 13 is that it doesn't have a 'recordable actions' tool which allows you to save routine tasks. Instead it offers the three modes (quick, guided, and expert) for different editing functions. This program really goes above and beyond as far as photo editing is concerned. One more selling point we forgot to mention is its compatibility with Macs!
Corel PaintShop Pro Review
- For all skill levels
- Instructional lessons and tutorials
- User-friendly interface
- Recordable actions
- Range of sharing options
- Only compatible with Windows
Corel PaintShop Pro X7 is the latest release from the Canadian software company. This newer version has 30 percent faster brushes, a larger color selection, and more advanced editing features to fit a range of skill levels.
Plus, it has all of the standard editing tools like red eye remove, resizing, cropping, color management, background removal and layering effects.
Are you a first time user? Sophisticated editing programs can be intimidating if you're not familiar with the features, but Corel PaintShop is simple to navigate and even offers tutorials to ease the learning curve. On the contrary, individuals with a bit more experience will be quite impressed with its suite of advanced features including:
- Auto straightening
- Touch up tools
- Close to 200 filters
- Object removal
- Color replacement
- Create high dynamic range images
- Vector graphic tools
What's really interesting about this program is something known as 'recordable actions.' Basically what this does is it allows you to program routine tasks like removing red eye, cropping, or resizing. This is one of the few software programs that allow the user to do this so it's a major pro.
In terms of importing files, PaintShop Pro X7 is compatible with over 80 file formats including JPG, PNG, GIF, TIF, RAW, and external devices (CDs, flash drives, media cards). On the same note, it supports a diverse array of output formats including JPG, PNG, GIF, and TIF.
Verdict - Great
Corel PaintShop Pro X7 offers a full suite of powerful editing tools that's sure to please a range of skill sets. The one drawback is that it's only compatible with Windows so Mac users will have to search elsewhere.
Serif PhotoPlus Review
- Live tutorial feed and instruction
- Photo organizer
- Excellent editing functions
- Upload directly to social media
- Range of graphic and photo file formats
- Only compatible with Windows
Serif PhotoPlus is your comprehensive editing tool to turn ordinary photos into spectacular prints. Whether you're interested in performing minor touchups for your family portraits or using it as a professional-grade tool for your business, this software can suit a range of needs.
The newest version, PhotoPlus X7, has a ton of color enhancing features included in the Lab Color Mode. What the designers have done is offer a broader spectrum of colors to mimic what our eyes see. With that said, you can adjust layers, add effects, and search through the filter gallery. Since we can't cover every single thing this program does, we'll highlight some functions that will stand out to pro users:
- Professional Channel RGB Mode
- Non-destructive adjustment layers
- Before/after split screen editing
- Freeform curve editing (RGB and Lab-modes)
- Clarity adjustment
If at any point you become overwhelmed by the program and need assistance, you can consult the live tutorial feed for instruction or switch into guided editing for step-by-step help.
In addition to the host of excellent editing features, you also get the PhotoPlus Organizer. This takes the headache out of managing your photo gallery by allowing you to create albums, add tags, ratings, and a few other search categories.
Verdict - Very Good
PhotoPlus X7 is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8. It does not support Mac users. Overall, this program has an extensive selection of editing tools, masks, and filters. You have the ability to upload your photos directly to social media sites like Facebook and Flickr and can organize your files for greater convenience.
Xara Photo and Graphic Designer Review
- 3-D design
- Create illustrations for websites, flyers, brochures
- Videos and tutorials available
- Over a thousand fonts to choose from
- More challenging to learn
- Greater emphasis on graphic design functions
- Only compatible with Windows
If you've never heard of Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 10 then prepare to meet a diamond in the rough. Many graphic designers and professionals turn to this program for its variety of applications and the sheer possibilities you have at your fingertips.
You'll be pleased to know that Xara Graphic Designer 10 has updated and improved elements from the last version. With this program you can create:
- Freehand drawing and painting
- Logos and illustrations
- 3-dimmensional designs
- Photo effects/montages
- Scale and edit
- Contour mode
- Shape builder and eraser tools
That's just a glimpse of the many things you can do with this program. If you want to experiment with making brochures and flyers, you have over a thousand fonts to choose from and built in templates to spark some inspiration.
It's necessary for us to note that this software does have a greater emphasis on the graphic design functions. What we mean by that is it may take you some more time to sift through the functions to find those specifically suited for photo editing. In addition, users have reported that this is a bit more challenging to navigate than some of the other providers on our list.
On the photo-editing end, you'll be able to manage colors, adjust brightness, saturation, play around with resizing and adding filters.
Verdict - Good
Like Serif PhotoPlus, this program is also only compatible on Windows operating systems. Although it's primarily focused on graphic design features, this is still a very good program to use for editing photos.
Corel PhotoImpact Review
- Easy to learn
- How-to help available
- Accommodates range of skill levels
- Very affordable price
- Customizable options for digital art and slideshows
- Fewer advanced editing tools
- Only compatible with Windows
Corel has introduced yet another powerful image editing software onto the market. The PhotoImpact is not only easy to use but it combines photo editing with new digital art tools to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
The ExpressFix panel helps you quickly narrow in on the areas needing corrections. Features in this mode include:
- Reduce Noise
- Ratio Crop
- White Balance Control
This is a great mode when you need to enhance photos in a jiffy. Otherwise you also have advanced tools like object removal, auto straightening, conversion to black & white, panoramas, and a number of border / frame designs.
Since this program is also adept at digital art and design, you'll be able to create photo projects (greeting cards, comic strips, labels, collages) and choose from 60+ templates. If you're more interested in the video production side, you can make your photos really stand out with slideshows that allow you to customize backgrounds, add text, and more.
Verdict - Fair
This isn't the most sophisticated software for photo editing but it does have a nice selection of features for those who are new to photo editing or want to dabble in graphic design. The good part is that it's much less costly than some of the more advanced programs. It's ideal for someone who doesn't want to invest a ton of money into a program until they refine their skills and decide if it's really something they want to pursue to a higher degree.
Whether you are a novice or a professional photographer, the right photo editing software can expand your experience with photography. Be sure to consider all of your options so that you choose the right software for your needs.
Photo Editing Software FAQs
What does photo editing software do?
Photo editing software is used to manipulate or alter an image. While many computers already come with some form of editing program, these are often very basic and don't offer the range of features as more advanced programs. These advanced programs will offer features like:
- Color adjustment
- Text tool
- Background removal
- Red eye removal
- Adding layers, borders, effects
In all, there are hundreds of little tricks and adjustments photo editing software can perform. When attempting to determine which program is best suited for your needs, it is also necessary to evaluate your personal skill level. Some companies tailor their programs to the needs of beginners and novices in the form of additional (in-program) instructions while others may be more accommodating to expert levels.
Browse the site's review section and other forums online to get a better idea of which level it caters to as well as the functions it can perform.
Should I try a photo editing software trial?
Photo editing software can be quite expensive for the average person. For someone who has never purchased a photo editing software package and is hesitant to make such an elaborate purchase, it can be helpful to download a free trial. Many developers, like Adobe offer a 30-day free trial to test out the software before you purchase it. We recommend taking this approach, especially if it's your first time getting acquainted with photo editing altogether. First though, check to make sure you're operating system is compatible with the software. Newer computers shouldn't experience any compatibility issues, but older operating systems may not be able to run the program.
During your free trial, it may also be helpful to review the tutorials for further instruction. There's an abundance of information available about Adobe and Corel programs since they dominate so much of the market. You can also find videos on sites like YouTube for step-by-step instructions.