There are hundreds -- no, thousands -- of free image / graphic editors out there. As a seperate category, there are even more image viewers. Since every editor allows you to view the image, we have not yet found a compelling reason to list viewers only. Instead, we have concentrated on editors.
There are, of course, many, many commercial editors as well. Unless you are going to do heavy duty photo editing or free form, stylistic digital painting, we see little reason to spend money on an image editor. Two or three of the programs offered below will fullfill 95-98% of the average person's needs. Indeed, two of them have satisfied 98% of our needs for well over a decade.
As with other types of programs, we did not waste our time with commercial programs offering limited trial versions. There are just too many quality free products out there. There are also many that are what we call "programming projects" -- first attempts by new programmers to build an editor. The give-away is "version 1.0." The vast majority of these are clones of each other, varying only in interface design and features. You can bet the farm that less than 5% of such entry level programs will be bug-free enough to be enjoyable. There may be some gems among that 5%, but if so they will be recognized as such later on and we will notice them by their accolades.
A good many pograms are offered free as vehicles to slip spyware, key-loggers, trojans and other malware into your computer. Our computers are very well protected against these kinds of threats and we have caught quite a few nasties trying to sneak in with a free download. If your computer is not as well protected as ours, or if you do not keep your antivirus software updated, please pay a visit to our AntiVirus and AntiSpyware pages before you download free games. We want your computing experience to be fun and safe.
Finally, we believe the eitors we recommend here are safe. But you never know. What was safe last week could be infected or infested this week, so if you happen to download a program we recommend and it turns out to be infected with a virus, worm or trojan, or infested with adware or other malware, please let us know. You can report this on our Contact Us page.
We have been using IrfanView since 1996 and use it as our default viewer and first go-to choice for graphics editing. Why? Quite simply, because nothing else comes close to doing what IrfanView does as easily as it does it. At last count, IrfanView (with plug-ins) supported 135 file formats -- 135! Named for developer Irfan Skiljan, this program is simple for beginners and powerful for professionals. While it does most pedestrian tasks the average use may need to do, it does not do heavy photo editing.
Supported in 23 languages, IrfanView is the most widely used image viewer / editor worldwide. It's greatest utility for many is the ability to convert any file from one format to another effortlessly, either singularly or in batches. We use it regularly for screen captures, cropping, resizing, touch-ups, and painting. For all that it does, it is small, fast and efficient. We recommend it with the plug-ins for maximum performance.
Systems: Windows 95, 98 ,ME, NT, 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, 7
If you download IrfanView, you simply must downlod the plug-ins. There are 59 in all that extend IrfanView's capabilities to audio files, video formats, structured fax files, MP3 player, logo management, CD burning using NERO, Kodak digital camera files, Flash and Shockwave files, email tie-in, expanded effects, and dozens of additional file formats (including some rare ones from the past).
We conider this package to be essential to the IrfanView experience. It's that expansive.
Systems: Windows 98, 2000, ME, NT, ZP, 2003, Vista, 7
Tutorial: In-Depth with IrfanView
We wish we had found this tutorial years ago. We have been using IrfanView heavily for well over a dozen years and did not know a quarter of what this tutorial presented.
The tutorial consists of 10 lessons, or episodes. The cover such topics as batch file conversion (this capability has many, many uses), working with effects, screen capture (we use it a lot), using the built-in paint functions, altering images (in two parts), creating a slideshow, advanced options (in two parts), and joining images to make banners or panoramic views.
You can download just the episodes you want or all together as an in-depth package.
Systems: Any Windows OS
IrfanView Toolbar Skins
A collection of 54 (and growing) skins for the IrfanView Toolbar. Not at all essential, but some nice alternatives.
Systems: All Windows operating systems since 95
Gimp is a free image editing program with an impressive set of tools and capabilities. Gimp probably comes as close to PhotoShop quality as you can find in a free program. It can handle nearly any image editing task, but like PhotoShop, GIMP is a complex program with a steep learning curve. However, the program comes with detailed instructions and 44 online tutorials organized for beginner, intermediate, expert, photo editing, web, and script authoring. While Gimp may be too much for ome beginners, we are confident that anyone who applies themself can master this program.
We use Gimp for photo enhancements where our Kodak software and other programs are lacking. For example, you can correct both barrel and perspective distortion caused by lens tilt or curvature as well as vignetting light ray obstruction by the edge of the aperature. Digital retouching, image mapping, channel and layer manipilation, animation, photo conversion to sketch, watercolor and oil painting likenesses, and many other features make this the only advanced image manipulation program you will probably ever need.
At last count Gimp was supported in 54 lanuages and has spun off 13 variants. Also, there are many dozens of plug-ins for Gimp to extend its range of capabilities.
Systems: Windows XP, Vista, GNU/Linux (i386, PPC, Ubuntu), Mac OS X, Sun OpenSolaris, FreeBSD
PhotoPlus SE Image Editing
This is an entry-level photo editing program, ideal for beginners and average users. It combines the essential features needed to edit and manipulate photos, while not requiring weeks to learn how to use it. PhotoPlus SE is less endowed than the commercial version, but it handles most common photo editing needs.
PhotoPlus SE uses layers to deliver and mask effects without affecting the original image. You can remove blemishes, lighten shadows, adjust softness, correct color, contrast, saturation, and other elements. In text editing mode, you can add editiable, deformable text to photos, and embellish it with outlines, drop-shadows, bevela, glows and glint. It has an export optimizer, special effects, red eye removal tool, aart emulation filters, and many other features.
If you need a photo editor and don't have time for a steep learning curve, PhotoPlus SE may be the program for you. Easy to use "How to" guides simplify the learning process to make pixel-perfect editing anyone's forte.
Systems: Windows XP, Vista
Paint.net began as a replacement for Microsoft's Paint program bundled with Windows for over two decades. It grew into quite a bit more. The program is extremely fast, feature-rich and the user-friendly interface is relatively simple and intuitive.
The program uses layers to separate and stack edited elements into rich compositions. One thing we like about the program is that it compiles an unlimited editing history that allows you to undo an hour's worth of editing one step at a time all the way back to the original image. You can't imagine how often we've wanted such a feature.
The program features all the expected special effects plus a few unique ones. It automatically searches for updates and delivers them in two clicks. It is easier to learn than Gimp but not quite as feature rich.
Systems: Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista and 7.
PhotoScape is an impressive photo editing program, despite some shortcomings. But when we say shortcomings, we mean some very minor things that are okay but could have been better. Overall, this is an amazing little program in an unassuming package. Of course it has a viewer where you can view images and create a slideshow. Nothing exciting there. But open the Editor....
The Editor allows you to do everything you ought to be able to do in an editor. You can resize photos, adjust brightness, color, contrast, balance, backlighting, apply frames to photos, insert balloons of thought or speech,, create mosaics, insert text, draw, crop (square, rectangular and oval), use filters, remove red eyes, adjust blooming, use a clone stamp tool in a multitude of ways. But there is also a Batch Editor, and Animated GIF Editor and a Page Editor, where you can arrange multiplr photos into a page layout. A Combine tool allows you to combine photos vertically or horizontally while a Splitter tool allows you to slice a photo. The Color Picker allows you to zoom in on images and isolate and select a single color. It even allows you to isolate a face and find similar faces on the internet.
In all, this is a features packed little program that cqaught us by surprise. What it doesn't do, they are probably working on.
Systems: Windows NT, 2000, XP, Vista, 7
Ultimate Paint Image Editor
Ultimate Paint is a full-featured, 32-bit, Windows graphics program for image creation, retouching, viewing and manipulation. There are two free versions. There is a freeware version and a trial version of the commercial product. For reasons related to simplicity, we are only evaluating the freeware edition.
Ultimate Paint is reminiscent of the old program, Deluxe Paint. It supports most graphic formats. It has easy and flexible brush handling to facilitate your creativity; you can select stock brushes, load your own or create custom brushes from within the program. The icons for drawing and color selector are to the left of the main window, while a palette for quick color storage is to the right. Indeed, the controls and dialogs are right at your fingertips. While not totally intuitive, the program is easy to learn and very fast in execution.
Much could be said about the many plug-in filters and special effects, but their value is in their usefulness and we never found a use for them. We were much more impressed by some of the more pedestrial but useful features, none of which were extraordinary but some of which were unexpected and nicely executed. We specifically liked the navigation pane at normal (100%) view while working in high magnification, which allowed us to see our work up close and normally at trhe same time. We also liked the comprehensive color selection dialog that allowed both hue and saturation value selection at the same time, while also displaying the RGB and hexadecimal values. These meant more to us than filters that blur an image or create a negative.
The program is compact, fast and has been around long enough to have gained respect and a following. It probably does more than we required it to do.
Download: Here (select Freeware Edition)
Systems: Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP
Fotografix 2 is a very compact image editor that you can carry around on a thumb drive. It offers all the basic editing functions and rises head and shoulders above Microsoft Paint in that it allows you to create and edit layers and contains both gradient, clone tools and other expected tools, plus clipboard support. It contains many filters, but two stand out -- Sharpen and Find Edges.
Fotografix 2 has an all-new graphics engine that allows for fast and fluid previews of image adjustments. Fotografix 2 also sports a new, modern UI featuring sidebar panels instead of dialog boxes for an uninterrupted workflow. There are two downloads to complete the package -- the Installer and Archive.
This is not a replacement for Paint in your Notebook or Laptop, but it doesn't hog space or resources either. Because it contains the most important tools for photo editing, it is the best, tight little program you can get to add photo editing to your repertoire.
Systems: Windows XP, Vista, 7
Photo Pos Pro
Photo Pos Pro is a very powerful image editor, packed with features and with an interface that is neat, organizationally sound, and uncomplicated. Everything is laid out along the sides and top of the main editing pane. With all that said, this is a very nice program -- but not one you will master overnight. Luckily, the program comes with a tutorial to help with the learning curve.
The program offers the ability to work in layers, draw and paint, edit photos til the cows come home, and apply a respectable battery of auto editing tools. You can even create web pages with a built-in HTML Webpage Wizard.
In our book, there are certain nice-to-haves that make a difference. Layers, masks, gradients, textures, scripting tools, rich text tools, batch operations, softening or cooling an image -- these are features that matter. You know up front that any program worth mentioning here will rotate, resize, desaturate, etc., but not all have the nice-to-haves. Photo Pos Pro does, and so we are tackling the learning curve.
Systems: Windows XP, Vista and 7