No matter your skill level as a photographer or how good a shot is pre-editing, there are almost always things that can be improved or retouched in some way. That’s where photo editing apps come in—quality matters, and you shouldn’t need to break the bank in order to achieve the level of polish you want for your work.
When it comes to photo editing apps, Lightroom is undoubtedly the paid tool of choice thanks to its unrivaled power and accessibility Your success as a photographer hinges on great quality photographs, an eye-catching portfolio to showcase your work, and the right equipment to shoot with—and this can add up. When all is said and done, a tight budget might make it tough to spend more on paid photo editors, especially when there are great free programs out there.
Rather than focus on well-known, higher-priced editors such as Photoshop or Lightroom, we’re going to point you towards the best lesser-known options for free online photo editors. With the vast array of photo editing apps available on the market, making a choice can be difficult if you don’t know the benefits and features of each app.
Multi-Platform Photo Editors
When it comes to free photo editors, GIMP is king. Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP is the closest you can get to Photoshop without paying a dime. It comes equipped with an impressive number of professional-quality functions, a completely configurable interface, allows fine-tuning of images, and contains a fully-integrated toolset that allows the creation of professional quality original artwork.
If you can do it in Photoshop, you can almost certainly do it in GIMP. If you want even more options, you can also use Photoshop plugins, which provide you with unmatched flexibility compared to any other free photo editor. GIMP is also open-source, which means that if you have the know-how, you’ll be able to add your own filters and features should you desire.
If you are experienced in image editing software you should get the hang of GIMP relatively quickly, but those not well versed in image editing software may find the interface cluttered or non-intuitive. A fair compromise for the sheer editing power you get at no cost!
Best for: Experienced users and those wanting powerful processing and art tools for a zero dollar price tag.
For a free program, Photoscape is actually quite impressive—it’s fantastic for editing and managing your personal photo archive. While Photoscape is a bit lacking in the interface department (it can be somewhat confusing), it contains an image viewer, batch processing, a screen-capture tool, and a great selection of filters and effects to take your photographs to the next level.
The photo editing portion of this app is where it truly shines, and even new users will be able to produce exceptional, professional-looking shots in moments. Photoscape even has some handy little functions to make your photographs look like analog shots, a decent cut-out feature, image transformation capability; it also gives access to over 240 figures, frames and borders, and more than 1000 patterns to use in your creatives.
Best for: Batch processing and experimentation.
Online Photo Editors
Are you looking to apply quick changes to your photos with very few headaches? While you’re required to sign up before you can utilize Pixlr’s myriad features, the extra few minutes of setup are well worth the effort.
This online photo editor is available via your browser, the iPhone and Android platforms, and provides a number of simple one-click functions and a relatively robust toolset. Perhaps the best feature of this app is just how easy it is to use: it contains tutorials to guide you through the more complicated features and can be mastered very quickly once you get the hang of things. If you are familiar with photo editing apps, then this is a fantastic choice for you.
In addition to this great little program, the company also provides Vectr (a free vector graphics editor), some free graphics that you can use in your creatives, and a nice selection of free stock images should the need arise.
A tiny little caveat: While this app is free to use, the best features are locked behind a paywall. You’ll need to go Pro if you intend to take advantage of the more advanced functionality. Even so, it remains one of the most popular iPhone photo editors in the world.
Best for: Beginners; quick and simple image processing
Available on both iOS and Android, Instasize is built for mobile editing. Its sleek design is user-friendly and doesn’t cut corners on features and tools. Cropping and resizing are the app’s bread and butter, but when it comes to image editing, the app lets you get into the nitty-gritty: manipulating exposure and brightness, tint and warmth, shadows and highlights, contrast, sharpness and saturation. Not everyone has the time for that, so Instasize also has over 130 professional-grade, photographer-inspired filters for you to choose from. You’re bound to find a filter that fits the aesthetic you’re looking for.
Other useful features include robust beauty tools, unique borders, a collage creator and text editor. With Instasize, anyone at any skill level can add a personal and professional touch to the photos they post online. The only limit is your creativity!
Best for: Mobile editing and influencers.
Free photo editor Fotor (for Windows or web browsers) is an excellent tool with an extremely easy-to-understand UI that makes it simple to use. Considering how choppy some browser-based programs can be, Fotor’s performance is fantastic and won’t hog system resources—which can cause your computer to start chugging along like a broken locomotive and waste precious time.
Fotor provides a wonderful set of Smart Filters and effects, as well as an engaging photo collage tool, and can handle RAW files without much issue. Fotor also allows some limited design functionality in the form of business cards, social media images, posters, banners, documents, and invitations, which should be useful to bloggers and digital marketers.
While Fotor lacks any actual art features such as a paintbrush, and is not suitable for really high-end effects like other apps in this list, it does what it does very well and is good for general photo editing for those who don’t need advanced functions.
Best for: Hobbyists and beginners, social media influencers, and digital marketers.
Befunky is simple, intuitive, and one of the best options for performance on this list. It features a variety of awesome elements to boost your image quality as well as a nice and simple collage feature. Like Fotor above, Befunky also contains many design elements that allow you to create lovely postcards, brochures, posters, slides for Powerpoint presentations, and invitations with only a few simple steps.
If your goal is social networking posts, printable assets, or a presentation for a client, then Befunky is a good option for you. While it may lack features as wide-ranging as other options on this list you would be hard pressed to find a faster and more efficient option for cranking out simple creatives in a reasonable time frame.
Best for: Bloggers and people looking to create social media assets.
PicMonkey’s best feature is its ease-of-use compared to more advanced options on our list. It’s straightforward and the UI is friendly and intuitive (so much so that my eight-year-old can handle it in a few short moments), laid out logically and without clutter. Featuring a great collage maker that outshines most other simple photo editors, PicMonkey is accessible to everyone.
It also has all sorts of really useful templates that help speed up your workflow as well as facilitate the creation of headers and banners for blogs, websites, and marketing materials. While PicMonkey can only process one file at a time, it is still a great option for an online photo editor app.
As with several other entries on this list, PicMonkey has additional features hidden behind a paywall. You can still ride out a 7-day free trial to access the added functionality but are required to select a billing option to do so.
Best for: Web designers and bloggers.
A recent replacement for Picasa, Google Photos is extremely simple and intuitive and allows you to edit your photographs with very little fuss. You can easily browse your photo library and organize your work without headaches. It has a limited feature set for actual photo editing, but does provide the key functions you would expect (crop, redeye, auto contrast, color correction, etc.).
That isn’t to say it can’t do anything fancy—with Google Photos you’re able to make animations, photo booth-style photo arrangements, holiday-themed effects, interactive stories, and apply frames and filters to your photos.
Google Photos can be accessed via your Google account literally anywhere with internet. With one-click sharing options for Google+, Blogger, and YouTube, and integrated sharing with Facebook, Flickr, and other social networks, you’ve got a lot of flexibility at your fingertips.
Best for: Hobbyists.
An excellent browser-based online photo editor, Photoshop Express is extremely well-designed (which one should hope, coming from Adobe) and comes with all the features you would expect from image editing software.
Everything is immediately accessible regardless of your previous experience. Another bonus: no plugins are required so long as you have Flash installed, and you can simply drag and drop your images onto to start working.
The downside: Photoshop Express currently only supports JPG files and contains no social media sharing features. This might be a crippling limitation to some now that PNG is a much more commonly used extension.
Best for: On-the-fly editing via any browser; JPG fans.
Boasting one of the easiest-to-use interfaces of any editor on this list, iPiccy is a good choice for anyone looking for a free photo editor without learning a complicated interface. With many one-click tools and a fantastic zoom feature, you’ll certainly be able to create compelling final photographs with minimal time invested.
You’ll also have access to more advanced features; with curve adjustments, clone tools, background erasers, and other options, there is more than enough here to satisfy pros and novices alike. Note: you will require Flash to use iPiccy in-browser.
While iPiccy has limited options for saving your files (JPG and PNG only) and limits sharing only to Facebook (sorry Twitter and Tumblr users), the ability to upload multiple files simultaneously and the WYSIWYG interface will keep your productivity high.
Best for: Novices and intermediates looking for robust features.
Ribbet’s main strength is in how easy it is to use. Even the most unskilled novice can master Ribbet quickly thanks to the fantastic UI and attention to great user experience. Like other options on this list, it contains a collage feature as well as a variety of different tools allowing you to add over 70 different fonts, create stickers, and so much more.
Featuring great sharing options as well as free cloud storage to help save and sort your photographs so they are available at all times, you really can’t go wrong with Ribbet. It’s a solid package that is pleasant to look at and can only get better as time passes.
One thing that is important to note: using Ribbet’s more advanced features is going to require an upgrade to the Premium version. Despite this, you have access to the bulk of the program features with the free option and it’s a great platform for making the most out of your images. Available for iPhone and iPad and with an Android build launching soon, you can take it anywhere you go.
Best for: Casual and professional users.
iPhone Photo Editor
This free iPhone photo editor is widely lauded for its variety of photo editing tools and effects, clean interface, and wealth of sharing options that make posting your shots online a breeze. Photo Editor by Aviary contains more correction and enhancement tools than nearly any other mobile-based competitor on the market. Similar to Instagram, creative filters are available to improve more lacklustre images.
It is important to note that it’s only available on iOS, so you’ll have to look elsewhere if you want something on your PC, Linux box, or Android phone.
Best for: Mobile photographers using iPhones.
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Which Photo Editor is Right For You?
There are a multitude of options available to anyone with a camera, and you’re going to want to play with a few of them before you settle on the best photo editing app for your purposes. Whether you are a power user aiming to batch-process a thousand photos you have had on backlog for a year, or a total neophyte looking to cut their teeth in the blogosphere, there’s a tool on this list that will do exactly what you need.
More resources for photographers:
How to Make and Sell Your Own Lightroom Presets
How To Make More Money With Your Editorial Photography
How to Price Stock Photography