Photoshop entered the dictionary as a verb—to photoshop—in 1992, but the iconic photo editor from Adobe is far from being the only application of this kind available. In fact, there are many excellent alternatives to Photoshop, and some of the best ones don’t cost anything at all. In this article, we introduce top 7 best free photo editors to help you get started on your creative journey even if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a single application.
Are Free Photo Editors Worth My Time?
Online learning platforms, YouTube, and graphic design blogs are filled with Photoshop tutorials to such a point that it might seem that learning any other photo editor is a waste of time. But is it really?
Many free photo editors today have all the features most beginners and intermediate users will ever need. Some have a workflow similar to Photoshop, making it fairly easy to make the transition somewhere down the road.
GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program, is the most popular Photoshop alternative in the world. The first version of GIMP was released in 1996, and the photo editor hasn’t stopped evolving since then. Today, GIMP is available on every major desktop operating system, and it’s used by countless professional graphic designer, photographers, and illustrators to create stunning works of art. GIMP can be highly customized using third-party plugins, and it even features a framework for scripted image manipulation.
If there’s one thing about GIMP that deserves criticism, it has to be its user interface. GIMP is far from intuitive, and tasks that take just a few clicks in Photoshop often require far more effort in GIMP. The good news is that GIMP’s developers understand that the user interface could use some polishing, and they’re working hard trying to make it better.
GIMP is a raster graphics editor, which means that it allows users to create and edit images interactively on the computer screen and save them in one of many raster formats such as JPEG, PNG, GIF, and TIFF. Inkscape, on the other hand, is a vector graphics editor, allowing users to compose and edit vector graphics images interactively on a computer and save them in one of many popular vector graphics formats, such as EPS, PDF, WMF, SVG, or VML.
Vector graphics editors are typically used by illustrators, but they have their place in a photo editing workflow as well, especially when it comes to creating sophisticated visual effects and compositions.
Microsoft Paint is great at what it does, simple image manipulation and creation, but its functionality is far too limited for it to be truly useful for serious photo editing. If you’ve ever thought that it would be great if there were a real photo editor with a user interface similar to Microsoft Paint, we have great news for you: Paint.NET is that photo editor.
The only bad news is that Paint.NET runs only on Windows. You can either download it for free from its official website (see the instructions below) or purchase it on the Windows Store and support its developers.
Much like Darktable, RawTherapee a cross-platform raw image processing program that positions itself as an alternative to Adobe Lightroom and other non-destructive photo editors. RawTherapee is extremely versatile, offering support for almost all DSLRs and even some medium format bodies, and its multi-threaded algorithms make it extremely efficient even on relatively underpowered systems. Under the hood of RawTherapee is a 96-bit floating point processing engine that allows you to get the most details and least artifacts from your raw photos thanks to modern and traditional demosaicing algorithms and advanced color handling.