This post was last updated on January 14, 2021.
Back when I played tennis, the coach used to tell us that a game is not finished until you shake hands with the opponent. Meaning, every point is just as important as the one before and after, no matter the timing or score. This same concept is highly relevant when it comes to pictures. Whether they're meant to be showcased on a photography website or used as part of a PR campaign, you should not present images as complete before the process has truly been finished. Here is where this list of the best free photo editing software comes to play.
One of the most common mistakes people tend to make with photos is ignoring just how important post-processing is. In most cases, this last step is skipped due to the high entry bar of the most popular photo editor software. For beginners and non-photographers, tools like Photoshop and Lightroom can feel quite daunting - and that's not even considering their cost.
But what many ignore is the long list of free photo editing software available online and for desktop use. Regardless of your skills, needs, and goals - these tools will allow you to take your images to the next level and achieve a professional look with minimal effort. Especially due to their cost (or lack thereof), these free alternatives to Photoshop and Lightroom definitely give Adobe a run for its money.
Ready to start editing your images like a pro? Here are the best free photo editing software you can use in 2021:
Best for: Mobile photo editing
For the longest time, people tried to find a free version of Photoshop, preferably online. Until one day, Adobe finally heard their prayers and launched Adobe Photoshop Express, a trimmed-down online and mobile version of the industry’s leading software.
Unlike its paid counterpart, Adobe Photoshop Express is not aimed at professional photographers and media creators, but to beginners or those looking for high-quality software for quick edits. This can be easily noted on the features offered and their accessibility.
With Adobe Photoshop Express you’ll be able to access basic image editing actions, such as contrast, perspective, saturation, exposure, and spot removal, as well as selecting preset dynamic effects. While there are not nearly as many tools as in the professional version, they are polished to perfection and offer a great user experience. The Express version of Adobe’s photo editing software also includes a “decorate” category, which allows users to add text and easily create fully customizable collages.
You can edit images that are saved on your device or share them directly from Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, Facebook, or Google Photos. All edits made on Adobe Photoshop Express are non-destructive, meaning you can go back to the original photo at any time.
The + : Advanced filters, minimalist interface, professional results
The - : Only output format available is JPG, runs on Flash, limited tools
Paid version: Adobe Photography, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom, starts at $9.99/month
Best for: Advanced users
GIMP is widely considered the best free photo editor available on the market. The software includes a wide range of tools, ranging from basic actions to professional-quality features. Beginners will highly benefit from its selection and montage tools, cropping, color adjustment, and automatic image enhancement tools. On the other hand, advanced users will find a number of tools catered to them, such as content-aware resizing, face swap, animated GIFss, layer masks, curves, and personalizable brushes.
All of these features make GIMP an amazing free Photoshop alternative for those who already know Adobe’s flagship software. On top of that, its interface is fully customizable and there are numerous plugins that can be added for free.
GIMP is an open source software with a large active community behind it. This means the platform is constantly updated and improved, all while users can continue to use it for free.
This photo editing software can be installed on desktop devices running on any operating system, or downloaded as a portable version that can be added into a USB key for usage flexibility.
If you want to give this advanced photo editor a try, but are not familiar with the discipline's jargon, you might want to start by taking a look at this glossary of photography terms.
The + : Professional tools and features, open source program, developer support
The - : Steep learning curve, no mobile version, cluttered interface
Paid version: No
Best for: Beginners and limited devices
Paint.NET was initially created by a Washington State University student as a replacement for Microsoft Paint. But the original drawing program has developed into an intuitive free photo editing software aimed at those looking for an easy-to-use free image editing software that offers high-quality results.
The software has a clear and straightforward interface that supports hotkeys functions, making it a great option for inexperienced users who don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how the program works. Plus, this simplicity makes it possible to smoothly run Paint.NET on less powerful devices, such as notebooks.
Despite being targeted to novice users, Paint.NET offers a wide array of photo editing tools including brightness, contrast, hue, curves, levels, layers, gradients, and unlimited undos. On top of that, the software supports plugins created by the ever growing community of developers on the software’s forum. These plugins can be used to access more advanced features, such as the popular 3D rotate/zoom tool for image recomposition.
The + : Intuitive interface, great for slow devices, full history access
The - : Limited tools, not as powerful as other alternatives, no advanced features
Platforms: Desktop only (Windows)
Paid version: No, but you can support the project by purchasing Paint.NET for $6.99
04. Pixlr E
Best for: Professional-level online editing
Many see Pixlr E as the best free online photo editor, and consider it to be almost as powerful as the top desktop editing software. Its proficient capabilities start the very moment you open an image, as Pixlr E allows you to do so from your device, a URL, or even straight from Facebook. This is especially valuable for non-photographers who want to edit existing images for new purposes.
The program’s interface is notably similar to Adobe’s editor, which has led people to consider Pixlr E the best online version of Photoshop - yes, even better than Photoshop Express itself. The long list of professional features included in the program are unmatched by most of the other free photo editors in the market. Among these, we find exposure, levels, automatic enhancement tools, sophisticated color pickers, customizable brushes, layers, and masks. Additionally, Pixlr E allows users to browse and edit hundreds of royalty free stock images.
Pixlr E can also be used on mobile with its native apps for Android and iOS. Additionally, a more simple version of this free photo editor is also available online under the name Pixlr X, which we describe in detail below.
The + : Powerful features, doesn’t require any downloads, numerous uploading options
The - : No batch editing capabilities, displays ads, paid premium features
Paid version: Premium version of Pixlr E is available starting at $7.99/month
05. Pixlr X
Best for: Quick online edits.
While Pixlr E is seen as the best online photo editor like Photoshop, Pixlr X is considered the best photo editor for beginners. This software was initially developed as the HTML successor of Pixlr Express in hopes to avoid obsolescence of Flash (1996-2020). Unfortunately, moving from a Flash platform to an HTML one required a lot of trimming down on the original editor’s features.
Notwithstanding this feature minimization, Pixlr X has established itself among the best free photo editing software in the market. The program maintains the slick design of its predecessor while focusing on one-click tools that will cover all your basic editing needs, plus some. You’ll be able to edit your images’ colors and saturation, crop and resize, get rid of unwanted elements with the touchup tool, and adjust the white balance. Other more niche tools, such as red-eye removal and fill light will allow you to take your portrait photography to the next level.
Overall, Pixlr X is an outstanding online photo editor for beginners and non-professional photographers, who will see all their media needs covered. Those looking for more advanced tools, such as brushes or layers, can simply continue their editing process with Pixlr E.
The + : One-click edits, straightforward interface, doesn’t require any downloads
The - : Limited tools, no advanced features, less powerful than Pixlr E
Platforms: Web on desktop
Paid version: Premium version of Pixlr X is available starting at $7.99/month
06. PhotoScape X
Best for: Novice users looking for impressive features
PhotoScape X’s list of tools seems to be nearly infinite. The software, which is described as an “all-in-one photo editing software” is heavily focused on one-click enhancement features that allow beginners to easily bring their ideas to life.
The program includes thousands of filters, frames, brushes, shape crops, smart cut out tools, a color picker, and clone stamps. Photographers will be able to take full advantage of the RAW conversion feature, while those with a large collection of images to process will be happy to hear about the several batch editing tools the software includes, such as format change, resize, and rename.
PhotoScape X’s capabilities also include much more creative options, such as collage, merging, stickers, effects, text, and brushes. These tools are especially catered to users who want to create original content for their social media profiles or email marketing campaigns.
In order to make sure users make the most of the tens of thousands of creative options in PhotoScape X, the photo editor’s website includes a long list of video tutorials that show how to use each tool to achieve the desired effect. If you are interested in more advanced tools, check out the software’s paid version, which includes a wide selection of manual editing tools.
The + : Thousands of one-click filters and effects, supports many file formats, creative templates
The - : Interface might be confusing, lag problems, no advanced tools
Paid version: PhotoScape X Pro (only Windows) for $39.99
Best for: Straightforward image enhancement
Fotor offers a long list of basic tools and features, ranging from simple edits like brightness and saturation to more complex concepts such as wrinkle remover and teeth whitening. Fotor also boasts a large selection of effects, frames, stickers, and text options primarily aimed at social media sharing.
In addition to its photo editor, Fotor also includes collage and design sections. In these segments, users can choose from diverse premade templates to build their creations with. These templates are categorized by use, such as general collages, social media posts, marketing resources, documentation, and ads. This enables novice users to easily create high-quality content for all their needs, without having to worry about anything other than the visual appearance. Some of the templates and more high-end tools are only available on the paid version of the software.
Overall, Fotor might be best defined as an image enhancer rather than a photo editing software. Photographers and other media creators will most likely require more sophisticated capabilities than the ones available through Fotor. Yet, the program’s offerings comprise all a small business needs to make the most of their online presence.
The + : Creative composition tools, batch image processing, user-friendly creative templates
The - : No manual edition capabilities, no plugin support, displays ads
Paid version: Fotor Pro starts at $8.99 per month
08. Photos Pos Pro
Best for: Beginners aiming to expand their post-processing skills
Photos Pos Pro was developed with an ambitious goal in mind: creating the perfect photo editing software for beginners and experts alike. In order to do so, the program actually offers two different interfaces for users to pick from.
The advanced layout includes a broader range of tools for more sophisticated manual edits, including layers, brushes, masks, gradients, actions, textures, and RAW conversion. All edits can be made in image batches, potentially saving a lot of post-processing time.
On the novice interface, Photos Pos Pro’s layout is significantly decluttered and heavily focused on automatic edits that can rapidly provide beautiful results. These image enhancements are mainly distributed through filters and creative effects that users can pick and choose from.
Users can access Photos Pos Pro Premium’s more advanced features for free during a 21-day period, allowing them to get a full taste of the program before deciding which option best suits their needs.
The + : Novice and advanced interfaces, numerous filters, batch image processing
The - : Export resolution limited to 1,024 x 2,014 pixels, no advanced tools, steep learning curve
Platforms: Desktop only (Windows)
Paid version: Lifetime Photos Pos Pro premium license for $49.90
Best for: Quick, creative edits for online sharing
Essentially, InPixio offers a user-friendly program which allows those with minimal photo editing skills to create beautiful images to share on social media or with their close ones. The software’s most notable features include hundreds of filters, blur effects, creative frames, textures, tone sliders, preset creation, and automatic online sharing capabilities.
InPixio’s free photo editing software is only available for Windows and iOS mobile devices, however, the premium version of the software is also available for Mac computers. This pro version, known as inPixio Photo Studio 10, offers a wider range of manual editing features, as well as professional-level photo restoring tools and advanced photomontage capabilities.
The + : One-click social media sharing, easy to use, supports all image formats
The - : Limited manual editing, free version includes watermarks, not completely available on OS X
Paid version: InPixio Photo Editor PRO for $19.99
Best for: Creative image enhancement online
BeFunky offers easy-to-use photo editing tools that enable users of all levels to achieve professional results. Its interface is uncluttered and user-friendly, making it easy to find the right tools and see the effects on the image in real-time. All edits can be seen in the image’s history, and users can undo or redo the changes if necessary.
Much like Fotor, BeFunky’s program is also divided into three sections: photo editor, collage maker, and graphic designer. In fact, looking at them side by side, it's easy to see just how similar the two programs are. BeFunky seems to be the clear winner in terms of both number of photo editing features and design composition templates, yet most of them are only available for premium users.
The photo editor’s capabilities include a significantly wide range of tools, from basic editing like exposure and contrast, to portrait touch up capabilities, artsy effects, creative overlays, and textures. Each of these sections offers both free and premium features which users can test beforehand.
As for the collage and design sections, both display a long list of fully customizable templates for users to choose from. All three products are offered on BeFunky mobile, which is also available for free or with a premium subscription.
The + : Drag and drop composition features, stock image access, numerous creative templates
The - : Limited free editing tools, displays ads, most templates require premium subscription
Paid version: BeFunky Plus starts at $4.99 per month
11. Bonus: Wix Photo Studio
Best for: Basic edits with professional results
Wix’s media editor provides an in-house developed solution that redefines how users showcase their content. Wix Photo Studio allows you to perform small adjustments to your images straight on your website. This saves you the time it takes to select a free photo editor, upload the image, make the edits, export the image, upload it to your site, and do it all over again for every image you want to share. In short, that’s quite a lot of time.
The minimalist approach of Wix Photo Studio makes it incredibly useful for users of all levels, from those with zero photo editing skills looking to improve their images, to professional photographers in need of a last-minute fix. On top of basic tools such as cropping, mirroring, brightness, saturation, and sharpness, this free online photo editor offers a long list of filters that will enhance any picture with a single click. And, best of all - any edits you make will be saved as a new image, making sure your originals are always safe.
Furthermore, Wix Photo Studio uses face detection to power a cutout feature that will enable you to easily change the background of any portrait. You can use it on team pages, to enhance your about page picture, to touch up the product photography that will be displayed on your eCommerce site, or even as a nice addition to your list of family portrait ideas.
If you're not in need of thorough photo editing but simply looking to get your images ready for social media or other formats, you can use Wix's free image resizer to easily resize and crop your images without any quality loss.
The + : Professionally-curated filters, no downloads required, straightforward interface
The - : Only for Wix users - but then again, why wouldn’t you be?
Paid version: No