Many designers consider Photoshop the go-to for their graphics needs. The popular program is an excellent tool, but it comes with a cost. Luckily, we’ve found 10 free photo editing tools that don’t require a subscription.
These tools may not precisely emulate Photoshop, but all the basics are there, such as cropping, layering, opacity, cutting, pasting, lasso selections and copying. So, while they have the basics, these programs may ultimately lack in very advanced features to some degree. However, that also makes these alternatives use less resources. This is ideal for designers and artists with lower-intensity operating machines.
Here are entirely free photo editing tools that offer a variety of tools and ease of use.
One of the more popular tools for photo editing is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). It accomplishes tasks like image composition, image authoring and photo retouching as well as any program.
GIMP is also entirely free and open source, so if you’re a developer, you can expand its capabilities as much as you’d like. Available for OS X, Windows, GNU/Linux and other operating systems, GIMP is one of the more reliable and trusted free platforms for photo editing.
Windows users can look to Paint.NET as an excellent free photo editing tool. With an interface as fluid and friendly as high-cost premium photo editing software, this free image and editing software began as an undergraduate college senior design project mentored by Microsoft.
Some of the alumni from the original design still work on the program today. They contribute to an easy-to-use yet very sophisticated software that compares with giants like Adobe and Paint Shop Pro in features offered and general appearance — yet it’s for free!
3. Sumo Paint
This highly responsive web-based tool Sumo Paint resembles a plugin-less version of Photoshop or GIMP, serving as a particularly useful tool for web graphics. The free version of Sumo Paint provides all the features many need, allowing for adjustments with color balance and temperature, hue/saturation, color and tone equalization and brightness/contrast. Sumo Paint is certainly a viable alternative for Photoshop and is great for common design needs.
iPiccy is a good alternative to FotoFlexer, which is no longer updated and its website is now defunct. A free web-based tool, iPiccy may not appeal to those familiar with Photoshop and the like, but it provides those new to the graphics realm with an easy-to-use interface. It has large buttons and options like auto-adjust, as well as one-click cropping and resizing. You do need to upgrade to the pro version for features such as facial retouching and frames.
While it may not be considered a go-to tool for professionals, iPiccy gets the job done as a free and accessible photo editing tool.
Though supported by ads, LunaPic is a free web-based photo editing tool that offers an extremely impressive array of features. Its interface resembles half web-based app and half Photoshop. There are the standard desktop graphics features regarding the usual drawing, adjusting, animation and effects, with additional tutorials available within the tool to help out. Also, Lunapic offers the very useful tool of being able to encrypt and decrypt your image. It also saves them to your computer, email, Tumblr, Imgur, Facebook, Picasa and other platforms.
For a free program, LunaPic also has some of the most features, particularly in regard to presets. With effects, some effects include fire-and-water effects, photo booth, 3D cube, kaleidoscope, pencil sketch and Comic Book Style. The animation side offers pouring rain, floating hearts, sunburst and frame timing, among many more. Also, it’s possible to adjust light levels and modify sharpness, brightness, soft/harsh lighting and HDR lighting very easily. If that isn’t enough, LunaPic can also edit videos. Clearly, it’s a great tool for all of your digital editing needs.
6. Photoshop Express
Available to try for free, the Photoshop Express Editor comes from Adobe, so there’s no doubting its effectiveness and reliability. Immediately, it prompts you for a photo to edit, limited to the JPEG format. This means you can’t create a photo from scratch, but for photo editing, this is fine. Upon uploading, they offer a familiar Adobe interface, with the usual adjustments and effects.
Compared to LunaPic, the features offered are bare, limited to basic adjustments and effects. The decorate tab is useful for adding nice visuals to images, like bubbles or a frame, though Photoshop Express gears toward small businesses that specialize more in photo editing and retouching. While this may not be a fully capable stand-in for Photoshop, GIMP or Paint.NET, it’s very effective at basic tasks for JPEGs.
PIXLR is both an online photo editor and software you can download to your desktop — your choice. This editor functions like PhotoShop, and the workspace will feel familiar to anyone who has used PhotoShop previously. If you just need a quick edit such as cropping or adjusting saturation, this tool works quickly without taking up a lot of your computer resources to function.
One neat feature of PIXLR is that you can pull up the drawing tool and add your own layer on top of any photo, making it edgy and interesting. Another technique similar to PhotoShop is adding a filter like mosaic, boom, glamor or clarity to your photo. There is no charge to use PIXLR
PhotoScape is a fun tool that is free to use and gives you a lot of options other software doesn’t easily accomplish. It is built to work on your mobile device and allows you to do things such as take two or more images and combine them into a single scene. You can also adjust brightness, add thought bubbles, create animations on top of photos and put frames around your images.
This software works particularly well for an individual or business that likes to post snapshots to social media but wants to take their images up a notch or two. It’s ideal for creating opportunities for real conversation.
If you’re looking for a tool that is easy enough for a beginner to use, Fotor has a great user interface that makes the entire experience simple to navigate. It’s similar to PicMonkey, where you upload a photo and make basic edits or can create a design or collage. Also, like PicMonkey’s old model, it allows you to upgrade to gain additional features for your photos. The basic account is free, while PicMonkey now charges for its basic accounts.
Some of the features you’ll find at Fotor include adding color splashes, straightening a photo, retouching images and removing wrinkles. There are several templates for creating collages, including funky ones and stitching for a vintage look. Fotor does just about anything other sites do that may charge a monthly subscription rate, but you’ll gain all these features without paying a fortune for them.
InPixio is a little simpler than some of the other photo editing options on this list, but it works just fine for basic edits. At the same time, you can take advantage of some advanced features, such as erasing things out of an image. Did you take a picture and someone photo-bombed you and ruined it? No problem. With InPixio, you just delete them out of the scene. You can also enhance colors, swap out backgrounds and even correct lighting with a single click.
The software is free to use, but if you want to add more power to it, you can upgrade with some add-ons at a later time. For such a simple option, InPixio has a lot to offer.
These tools may vary in the actual tools offered and target audience, but they are all very capable of photo edits that securely and easily get the job done. In addition, because they don’t require a subscription or sensitive personal information, there’s no harm to trying them out. Between the six above, there’s a free Photoshop alternative for everyone, from design businesses to someone who simply wants to remove red eyes from a family photo.
This article was originally published on 8/4/2016 and updated on 9/3/2019.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.