The best free photo editor 2018: premium quality software for amazing results

GIMP running on a Windows laptop

Like most of us, you likely have dozens, if not hundreds of pictures stored on your phone or your camera's SD card. But are you making the most of them? Most of them probably look okay, but with a free photo editor and a little time you can transform them into something amazing that you won’t be able to wait to share online, or even frame on your wall.

Whether you're looking for a total Photoshop alternative that gives you fine control over every minuscule detail of your photos, or a basic Instagram-style free photo editor that offers a range of one-click filters, you’ll find something interesting here.

If you're already happy with the general look of your photos and just want to tweak them a little before sharing them, a simple free photo editor that allows you to resize, crop and apply filters will be ideal. Many of these have social media sharing built in, removing the hassle of uploading your snaps manually later. They also have the benefit of being easier to use.

If you're planning to print your work, you'll be better off considering a more nuanced free photo editor that will give you the fine control you need to make your photos look perfect, even at high resolutions.


GIMP screen grab

GIMP is an incredible free photo editor, and is getting better all the time thanks to its enthusiastic community of contributors


A free photo editor that's a worthy rival to premium software

Packed with advanced options
Photoshop-like interface
No ads or limitations
Learning curve is a little steep

GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is the most powerful free photo editor around. It's packed with the kind of image-enhancing tools you'd find in premium software, and more are being added every day.

Editor s choice award GIMP

GIMP’s interface will be instantly familiar if you have ever used Photoshop – especially if you select the single-window mode, which lays out all its toolbars and canvases in an Adobe-style layout.

The photo editing toolkit is breathtaking, and features layers, masks, curves, and levels. You can eliminate flaws easily with the excellent clone stamp and healing tools, create custom brushes, apply perspective changes, and apply changes to isolated areas with smart selection tools.

GIMP is an open source free photo editor, and its community of users and developers have created a huge collection of plugins to extend its utility even further. Many of these come pre-installed, and you can download more from the official glossary. If that's not enough, you can even install Photoshop plugins.

This combination of power and flexibility make GIMP the best free photo editor you can download – whether you're using Windows, macOS or Linux.


Paint NET screen grab

Free photo editor Paint.NET is a little less intimidating than GIMP, and still has all the essential editing tools you need to make your pictures look great

2. Paint.NET

Fine manual controls packaged in an accessible interface

Layers and filters
Plugin support
Less powerful than GIMP

More is not, believe it or not, always better. Paint.NET's simplicity is one of its main selling points; it's a quick, easy to operate free photo editor that's ideal for trivial tasks that don't necessarily justify the sheer power of GIMP.

Don't let the name fool  you, though. This isn't just a cheap copy of Microsoft's ultra-basic Paint – even if it was originally meant to replace it. It's a proper photo editor, just one that lands on the basic side of the curve.

Paint.NET’s interface will remind you of its namesake, but over the years, they’ve added advanced editing tools like layers, an undo history, a ton of filters, myriad community-created plugins, and a brilliant 3D rotate/zoom function that's handy for recomposing images.

It might not have every feature you can dream of, but if your machine is a little underpowered we can't think of a better free photo editor.


Photo Pos Pro screen grab

Photo Pos Pro has a few limitations, but it's very accessible, with a choice of two layouts - one for new users and another for those with a little experience

3. Photo Pos Pro

A superb photo editor that takes many of its cues from Photoshop

Smart interface
Beginner and advanced modes
Limited file export resolution

Photo Pos Pro isn't as well known as and GIMP, but it's another top-quality free photo editor that's packed with advanced image-enhancing tools. 

This free photo editor's interface is smarter and more accessible than GIMP's array of menus and toolbars, with everything arranged in a logical and consistent way. If it's still too intimidating, there's also an optional 'novice' layout that resembles Fotor's filter-based approach. The choice is yours.

The 'expert' layout offers both layers and layer masks for sophisticated editing, as well as tools for adjusting curves and levels manually. You can still access the one-click filters via the main menu, but the focus is much more on fine editing.

Photo Pos Pro also includes a clone brush for erasing unwanted blemishes, and there's extra support for batch-editing and scripts to help you save time when refining a whole folder of photos.

The free edition of Photo Pos Pro only has one drawback: files can only be saved at a maximum resolution of 1,024 x 2,014 pixels, which might be too small if you're planning to have them printed professionally. If you want to remove this restriction, Photo Pos Pro Premium is available for a license free of £24.50/US$24.90/AU$41.89.


PhotoScape screen grab

PhotoScape is a free photo editor packed with premium-level tools, including raw file processing

4. PhotoScape

Advanced tools and filters that are easy for beginners to master

Raw file conversion
Great selection of filters
Unusual interface

PhotoScape might look like a rather simple free photo editor, but take a look at its main menu and you'll find a wealth of features: raw conversion, photo splitting and merging, animated GIF creation, and even a rather odd (but useful) function with which you can print lined, graph or sheet music paper.

The meat, of course, is in the photo editing. PhotoScape's interface is among the most esoteric of all the apps we've looked at here, with tools grouped into pages in odd configurations. It certainly doesn't attempt to ape Photoshop, and includes fewer features.

We'd definitely point this towards the beginner, but that doesn't mean you can't get some solid results. PhotoScape's filters are functional and not at all beginner-like, so it's if good choice if you need to quickly level, sharpen or add mild filtering to pictures in a snap.


Fotor screen grab

Fotor's free toolkit includes batch-processing, so you can tackle a folder full of photos at once

5. Fotor

One-click photo enhancement tools and advanced manual controls

Premium-level filters
Batch image processing
No plugin support

Fotor is more a photo enhancer than a full-fat manual editing tool. If there's specific area of retouching you need doing with, say, the clone brush or healing tool, you're out of luck. However, if your needs are simple, its stack of high-end filters that really do shine.

There's a foolproof tilt-shift tool, for example, and a raft of vintage and vibrant colour tweaks, all easily accessed through Fotor's clever menu system. You can manually alter your own curves and levels, too, but without the complexity of high-end tools.

Fotor's most brilliant function, and one that's sorely lacking in many free photo editors, is its batch processing tool – feed it a pile of pics and it'll filter the lot of them in one go, perfect if you have a memory card full of holiday snaps and need to cover up the results of a dodgy camera or shaky hand.

Google Nik Collection screen grab

Google Nik Collection is an impressive set of seven premium photo editing tools – all highly customizable and yours to download completely free

6. Google Nik Collection

Professional-grade filters that work alone, or as plugins

Work as plugins or standalone apps
Highly customizable
No longer in active development

Google's unending determination to corner just about every market sometimes pays dividends for the pincher of pennies. Take its purchase of German developer Nik in 2012, for example – its Nik Collection photo editor plugin range retailed for US$500 at the time, and in early 2016 Google decided to do away with the price tag and release the powerful collection for free.

We suspect support and updates might be somewhat limited going forward, but this does enable you to bag seven quality photo-editing tools as-is: lens and film emulator Analog Efex; colour corrector Color Efex; monochrome converter Silver Efex; noise reducer Dfine; selective colour tweaker Viveza; and Sharpener and HDR Efex, which speak for themselves.

These are perfect free plugins if you're already using Photoshop, and you can add them to compatible host applications when you install them, but they can also be run as standalone free photo editors if you hunt down their executable files. They won't appear in your list of Windows apps – you need to look in C:\Program Files\Google\Nik Collection. To edit a photo, drag it onto the EXE file of your chosen editor. It's a strange system, but it works!

On1 Effects 10 5 Free screen grab

On1 Effects is the perfect free photo editor for making selected parts of your images really pop with customizable color-enhancing filters

7. On1 Effects 10.5 Free

Apply special filters to selected areas for stunning results

Non-destructive editing
Also works as a Photoshop plugin
Can be a little slow

The 'free' suffix offers some indication of what you're getting here: On1 Effects 10.5 Free is a cut-down version of On1 Effects 10.5 proper, pulling out just a limited selection of its filters. But we're still happy to recommend it, mainly because of its methodology.

Instead of being forced to apply an effect to a full image, you can use On1's Perfect Brush tool to smear that effect on the areas you're interested in enhancing, which is a great way to create a unique look. Its quick mask and refine brush tools also make masking off areas of your image particularly easy, so you can make elements pop.

Essentially this is an taster for the full version, but its diminished filter range – HDR, vignette, vintage, glow etc – is still useful and worth trying if you're after vibrant effects; you'll have to try another program for sharpening, blurring and noise reduction, so On1 Effects Free isn't great if you want to preserve the honesty of your photos.


Adobe Photoshop Express screen grab

Adobe Photoshop Express is a great free photo editor if you have a touchscreen at your disposal

8. Adobe Photoshop Express

Simple, but with the high quality you'd expect from Adobe

Optimized for touch
Auto color optimization
Some filters are in-app purchases

Adobe Photoshop Express is a very different beast to the full version of Adobe’s mighty industry-standard image editor, but it’s useful for giving well-composed pictures the boost they need to become stunning.

There are no advanced editing tools here, so you won’t be able to paint out blemishes, adjust lighting, or even crop your images. Instead, you’re given a selection of good-looking Instagram-style filters and a quick link so you can send the results directly to Facebook, or save them to your PC.

Adobe Photoshop Express is simple, but the filters are excellent and more are available as in-app purchases if you want more choice.