If you can't afford to purchase software, you can still find good, free software to create and edit images. Some of this software is developed by individuals, and some is feature limited or an earlier version of a more advanced program. In some instances, there are no strings attached, but most often you will need to provide information to the company by registering, or endure ads or "nag" screens.
On first glance, I thought Photoscape was going to be a dud, but I dug in deeper and realized why so many readers of this site have recommended it as a favorite free photo editor. It is jam-packed with features, while remaining very easy to use. Photoscape provides several modules including a viewer, editor, batch processor, Raw converter, file renamer, print layout tool, screen capture tool, color picker, and more. I'm very impressed overall at what has been packed into this free photo editor without sacrificing ease of use.
GIMP is a popular open-source image editor originally developed for Unix/Linux. Often lauded as the "free Photoshop," it does have an interface and features similar to Photoshop, but with a steep learning curve to match. Because it's volunteer-developed beta software, stability and frequency of updates could be an issue; however, many happy users report using GIMP for Windows without significant problems. GIMP User Reviews
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Paint.NET is a free image and photo manipulation software for Windows 2000, XP, Vista, or Server 2003. Paint.NET started development at Washington State University with additional help from Microsoft, and continues to be updated and maintained by some of the alumni that originally worked on it. Paint.NET features layers, painting and drawing tools, special effects, unlimited undo history, and levels adjustments. Paint.NET is completely free, and the source code is also available for free.
LazPaint is an open source and free to download raster image editor aimed at users who are looking for an application that is more easily accessible than GIMP. LazPaint presents its users with a pretty clear and easily understood user interface that is similar to Paint.NET. For image editor newbies who aren't looking for an overly powerful package or to enhance their photos, LazPaint is worth looking at.
For a long time, Serif has given away previous versions of their software to entice users to purchase the current version. Recently, the company has changed that tactic, and now offer a free limited version of the photo-editing software PhotoPlus SE. PhotoPlus SE features an export optimizer, editable text, layer effects, layer masks, a red-eye removal tool, special effects, versatile brushes, and photo enhancement tools. PhotoPlus SE can be upgraded to the full version of PhotoPlus, with many more features, for a modest price.
Photo Pos Pro is a free photo editor with advanced features and a well-designed interface. From the developer: "Though the Photo Pos Pro software is a powerful program, it contains an extremely user-friendly interface enabling you to work intuitively. If you are a beginner you can easily begin to use the program in an intuitive fashion. With the Help system, you can turn from a beginner to a professional user." I've read a lot of good comments about this photo editor.
© Ian Pullen
Pixia is the English version of a popular free painting and retouching software that originated in Japan. It features custom brush tips, multiple layers, masking, vector- and bitmap-based drawing tools, color, tone, and lighting adjustments, and multiple undo/redo. Like many freeware editors, there is no support for saving GIF format. Pixia is also available for many other languages. Pixia works with Windows 2000, XP, Vista and 7.
This award-winning graphic editor offers a variety of painting and editing tools and features including a text tool, gradients, selections by color or region, color replacement, editing in any scale, special effects and so on. The free version used to be an enticement to upgrade to the Pro version, but as of December 2006, the Pro version is free. While it hasn't been updated since 2007, it's still a worthwhile option for those looking for a simple free editor.
PhotoFiltre offers a simple, but elegant user interface and a lot of one-click image adjustments, filters, and effects. There is a built in image explorer panel for visually navigating your file system, basic drawing, painting, retouching and selection tools, and batch processing capabilities. PhotoFiltre is free for private, non commercial or educational use (including non-profit organizations).
Ultimate Paint is available in both shareware and freeware versions for image creation, viewing, and manipulation. It has been designed to be fast and compact, and if you're familiar with the old Deluxe Paint program from Electronic Arts, Ultimate Paint is said to be very similar. The free version is an older release of the full-featured shareware product.
Technically, Picasa does not meet my criteria for a photo editor because it does not allow you to do pixel-level editing. However, I have received so many reader suggestions for Picasa, that I am including it here as an honorary mention. Although it does have some basic editing functions, it is primarily photo organizing software, and as such it is listed in my Top Digital Photo Software for Family Photos