Best Free & Cheap Photo Editing Software for 2021
As with most programs, you can get a great photo editor for free. Many will fix your images with just a couple of clicks or taps, but if you want Photoshop-style control so you don’t tweak the entire image, there are still options from old school classics like GIMP and Paint.NET to an online app and even your own. Photoshop Elements from Adobe that does not require a subscription and is reasonably priced.
We’re talking about Windows apps here, but there are many great photo editing apps for iPhone and Android. In fact, the iPhone’s built-in Photos app is a very good option, and Camera + is even better if you don’t mind paying for the app. Google Photos includes decent editing capabilities on both iPhone and Android, but Google-owned Snapseed is even better and, again, is available on both platforms.
Back in Windows, you’ll find our recommendations for free photo editors, as well as a couple of paid options in case you’re looking for a Photoshop alternative with more advanced features.
If you prefer moving pictures, we also have a roundup of the best free video editing software.
Best free and cheap photo editors
- Alternative to Photoshop for free
- Not the most convenient option
The GIMP (also known as the GNU Image Manipulation Program and nothing remotely dodgy) has always existed, at least from the point of view of the Internet. You can trace its origins back to 1995 when it was created as the open source equivalent of Photoshop.
You can get it for Windows, OS X, or Linux these days and it’s completely free. While it lacks some refinement over some of the others here, you can’t blame GIMP for its feature set, which is about as complete as you can get without investing a little money.
It helps that the layout is pretty close to the Photoshop layout, making it immediately familiar to anyone who has tried Adobe.
It doesn’t reproduce all of Photoshop’s features, and some of the tools don’t perform at the same high level, but you can’t complain when it’s free.
- Supports layers, filters, levels and curves
- Not as many tools as Photoshop
The name might remind you of MS Paint (which started out as a replacement), but Paint.NET does an awful lot that Microsoft’s simplified editor can’t, with support for layers, effects, and a host of other tools.
However, it hasn’t completely lost the simplicity of Paint, which is one of Paint.NET’s greatest strengths. It’s fast and lightweight, making it ideal for quick and easy editing. It’s also great for users who want something more appealing than Paint, but don’t want all of the intimidating Photoshop bells and whistles.
It’s worth noting that if you have the latest version of Windows 10 installed, you have a newer version of Paint that lets you create and play with 3D objects, but not for photo editing.
- Works in a web browser
- Nice toolbox
- Some features are only available in the paid Premium version.
Pixlr has one huge advantage over most of the other apps on this list: it runs entirely in your browser, which means you can access it on any PC or Mac without having to install anything.
There are two versions: Editor, a full-featured photo editor aimed at the pros, and Pixlr X, which is a newer and faster version of HTML5 Express (which was delayed due to its dependence on the now defunct Flash).
Of course, you can’t fully take advantage of the in-browser photo editor’s capabilities, but Pixlr is packed with features, and the full editor is surprisingly comprehensive, especially considering how smoothly it works.
You can now download desktop apps for Windows and Mac, as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS, which can be found in the Google Play Store and App Store, respectively.
There is a Premium version that offers more tools, including AI Cutout, and supports larger images up to 8196×8196 pixels.
- Can convert RAW files
- Filter selection
PhotoScape is a robust free photo editor that also offers a little more – you can also use it to create animated GIFs, convert RAW images to JPG, create slideshows, and more.
When it comes to real editing tools, PhotoScape can’t beat the most fully featured recordings on this list, but it has all the basic features you could need.
The default circular toolbar is a bit splitting up, but you can choose a more traditional grid if you like, and you have access to the usual set of editing and re-tapping tools, including many effects and filters.
- Ideal for quick fixes
- Many filters
Fotor isn’t trying to be a full-fledged photo editor, so if you’re looking for a complete set of features, you might be better off elsewhere.
What it offers is a large selection of photo enhancement tools – right through your browser like Pixlr – allowing you to quickly apply filters and perform some basic repeated touches. It also has an HDR option that lets you combine multiple photos with different exposures to create a single image that captures the perfect amount of color and detail.
You can install Fotor for Windows (or Mac) separately, again for free if you like. The desktop app also offers a batch processing tool, so you can apply the same changes to a huge number of images at the same time, which is unfortunately lacking in many similar applications.
There is also a paid version that allows you to use more advanced features in the online version. The subscription price is $ 8.99 per month (about £ 7) or $ 39.99 per year (about £ 30).
- Open source
- Good selection of brushes and filters
- Lack of guidance and community support
Krita is notable not only for its functionality, but also for its creators. A free cross-platform application designed by artists for artists, provides artists with all the tools they need, with a focus on concept artists, illustrators, mat and texture artists, and the visual effects industry.
It’s not really a photo editor (although you can certainly use it for basic retouching) and focuses on digital painting and creating art from scratch.
It has many brush engines (along with a handy brush stabilization feature), and you can also import brush and texture packs. The newly added support for HDR monitors on Windows is a welcome addition, and it even supports PSD files, so it’s fully compatible with anything you’ve worked on in Photoshop.
Adobe Photoshop Elements
- Powerful toolbox
- Guided Edit Mode
As powerful as many of these free photo editors are, sometimes you just need something more powerful.
Photoshop Elements is a more beginner-friendly version of the full version of Photoshop, offering most of the same features for less than an annual full version of the app. And to be clear, you don’t subscribe to Elements: you buy them right away. It is available for both macOS and Windows.
In addition to all the expected photo editing options, Elements provides several powerful tools, including content-aware object deletion. This means you can very easily erase unwanted people or other objects from your photos.
What’s more, many of the basic tools are “smart,” which means, for example, that the crop tool will suggest crop choices based on your image analysis. And unlike others, you can resize (or even crop) images to a specific pixel size, making it more suitable for power users who just don’t want to pay for Photoshop CC.
(But for all the details on trials, pricing, plans, student discounts, and more, see our Adobe Creative Cloud buying guide.)
CyberLink PhotoDirector 12 Ultra
- Lots of powerful tools and effects
- There is no support for RAW images from certain cameras.
PhotoDirector used to be a clone of Adobe Lightroom, but nowadays it also has Photoshop tools as well as Guided Editing features from Elements.
It offers artificial intelligence tools to replace the sky, and you can also remove people from photos. Now it will also create animated GIFs.
There are plenty of easy-to-use retouching tools as well, as well as handy add-ons, including Content-Aware Object Removal, which allows you to erase that unwanted wooden pole or whatever spoils your perfect shot.
There is also support for layer masks, layer grouping and adjustment layers, non-destructive editing, and – new in version 12 Ultra – content-aware clone and move tools. You can see all the new features here…
If you’re willing to spend some money on a photo editor, PhotoDirector 12 Ultra is good value for money, especially since it is almost always discounted from its full price.
- Supports both raster and vector images
- The interface can be confusing
- No manager photo
Affinity Photo offers professional features at an affordable price. This is a clear step up from the free editing programs listed here, while the price does not come close to the most expensive professional applications.
The layout will be mostly familiar to anyone who has used other complex photo editors, although naturally Affinity has a few features and quirks of its own, most obviously Characters, a choice of modes of operation that you switch between depending on what you are. want to do. giving you access to various tools and options.
There’s a lot of functionality here, and it’s not the most beginner-friendly app, but it’s a great way to get professional quality at an affordable price for hobbyists.
It’s available for desktops (£ 48.99 / $ 49.99 – Windows and macOS) and mobile (£ 19.99 / $ 19.99 – iOS only).
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