The best free and cheap photo editing software for 2021

Like most software, you can get a great photo editor for free. Many will fix your images with a few clicks or taps, but if you want Photoshop-style control so you don’t adjust the entire image, there are still options among old-school classics like GIMP and Paint.NET for apps. online and even Photoshop Elements from Adobe, which doesn’t require a subscription and is reasonably priced.

We are talking about Windows apps here, but there are plenty of photo editing apps for iPhone and Android. In fact, the built-in Photos app on iPhone is a pretty good option, while Camera + is even better if you don’t mind paying for an app. Google Photos includes decent editing capabilities on iPhone and Android, but Google-owned Snapseed is even better and, again, available on both platforms.

Going back to Windows, you’ll find our recommendations for free photo editors as well as a few paid options in case you’re looking for a Photoshop alternative with more advanced features.

If you prefer moving images, we also have a list of the best free video editing software.

Best free and cheap photo editors

  • Advantages
    • Free Photoshop Alternative
  • The inconvenients
    • Not the most user-friendly option

GIMP (aka GNU Image Manipulation Program, and nothing fishy remotely) has been around forever, at least in terms of the Internet. You can trace its origins back to 1995, when it was created as the open source equivalent of Photoshop.

Nowadays, you can get it for Windows, OS X, or Linux, and it’s completely free. While it lacks a bit of finishing compared to some of the others here, you can’t fault GIMP for its feature selection, which is about as comprehensive as it gets without spending the money.

It helps that the layout is quite close to that of Photoshop, which immediately makes it familiar to anyone who has dabbled in the Adobe program.

It doesn’t replicate all of the latest Photoshop features and some tools don’t perform at the same level of quality, but you can’t complain when it’s free.


  • Advantages
    • Supports layers, filters, levels and curves
  • The inconvenients
    • Not as many tools as Photoshop

The name may sound like MS Paint (which started out as a replacement), but Paint.NET does a lot of things Microsoft’s simplistic editor can’t, with support for layers, effects, and a variety of other tools.

Yet it hasn’t entirely lost the simplicity of Paint, which is one of Paint.NET’s greatest strengths. It’s fast and light, making it ideal for quick and easy modifications. It’s also great for users who want something with more oomph than Paint, but don’t need all of Photoshop’s intimidating bells and whistles.

It should be noted that if you have Windows 10 and it’s up to date, you have a brand new version of Paint that lets you create and play with 3D objects, but it’s not for editing. Pictures.

Pixlr Photo Editor

  • Advantages
    • Works in a web browser
    • Good range of tools
  • The inconvenients
    • Some features only available in the premium paid version

Pixlr has a huge advantage over most of the other apps on this list – it runs entirely in your browser, which means you can access it on any PC or Mac, without needing to install anything. that is.

There are two versions, Editor, a full-featured photo editor for “Pros” and Pixlr X which is the newer and faster HTML5 version of Express (which was discontinued due to its reliance on the. now defunct Flash).

Of course, you can’t quite get the full power of a photo editor in a browser, but Pixlr packs a lot of features and the full version of the editor is surprisingly complete – especially considering how fluid it is.

You can now download desktop apps for Windows and Mac, as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS, which can be found on the Google Play Store and App Store respectively.

There is a Premium version which offers more tools including AI Cutout and supports larger images up to 8196×8196 pixels.

Photo editor

  • Advantages
    • Can convert RAW files
    • Filter selection
  • The inconvenients

PhotoScape is a solid free photo editor that also offers a bit more – you can also use it to create animated GIFs, convert RAW images to JPG, create slideshows, and more.

When it comes to actual editing tools, PhotoScape can’t beat the more comprehensive entries on this list, but it does have all the basic features you are likely to need.

The default circular tool menu is a bit of a divisor, but you can opt for a more traditional grid if you prefer, and you have access to the usual range of editing and retouching tools, including a variety. effects and filters.

Fotor photo editor and design creator

  • Advantages
    • Ideal for quick repairs
    • Lots of filters
  • The inconvenients

Fotor doesn’t try to be a full-fledged photo editor, so if you’re looking for a full suite of features, you might be better off somewhere else.

What it does offer is a great selection of photo enhancement tools – directly through your browser like Pixlr – allowing you to quickly apply filters and do some basic editing. It also has an HDR option that lets you merge multiple photos with different exposures to create a single image that captures the ideal amount of color and detail.

You can install Fotor for Windows (or Mac) separately, again for free, if you prefer. The desktop app also offers a batch processing tool, so you can apply the same edits to a large number of images at once, a feature sadly missing in many equivalent apps.

There is also a paid version which allows more advanced features on the online version. The subscription fee is $ 8.99 per month (around £ 7) or $ 39.99 per year (around £ 30).

Krita painting tool

  • Advantages
    • Open source
    • Good range of brushes and filters
  • The inconvenients
    • Lack of tutorials and community support

Krita is as remarkable for its creators as it is for its functionality. Developed by artists for artists, the free cross-platform app is designed to give artists all the tools they need, with a focus on Concept Artists, Illustrators, Matte and Texture Artists, and the Texturist Industry. visual effects.

It’s not strictly a photo editor (although you can certainly use it for basic retouching), and the focus is more on digital painting and creating artwork from scratch. .

It has a variety of brush engines (as well as a handy brush stabilizer feature) and you can import brush and texture packs as well. The recently added support for HDR monitors in Windows is a welcome addition, and it even supports PSDs, so it’s fully compatible with anything you’ve worked on in Photoshop.


Adobe Photoshop Elements

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019

  • Advantages
    • Powerful set of tools
    • Guided Edit Mode
  • The inconvenients

As powerful as these free photo editors are, sometimes you just need something with a little more oomph.

Photoshop Elements is the most beginner-friendly version of Photoshop Complete, offering many of the same features for less than the price of a one-year subscription to the full application. And, to be clear, you don’t subscribe to Elements: you buy it directly. It is available for macOS and Windows.

In addition to all the photo editing options you would expect, Elements provides some powerful tools including content-based object deletion. This means that you can erase people or other unwanted items from photos very easily.

Better yet, many basic tools are “smart,” which means, for example, that the crop tool will offer you a selection of crops based on its analysis of your image. And unlike others here, you can resize (or crop) the images to a specific pixel size, making it much more suitable for power users who just don’t want to pay for Photoshop CC.

(But check out our Adobe Creative Cloud buying guide for full details on trials, pricing, plans, student discounts, and more.)


CyberLink PhotoDirector 12 Ultra

CyberLink PhotoDirector 12 Ultra

  • Advantages
    • Lots of powerful tools and effects
  • The inconvenients
    • Lack of support for RAW images from some cameras

PhotoDirector was once an Adobe Lightroom clone, but nowadays it also has Photoshop tools as well as Elements “Guided Edit” functionality.

It offers AI-based tools to replace the sky and you can remove people from photos as well. It will now also make animated GIFs.

There are also plenty of easy-to-use editing tools as well as handy extras including content-based object deletion that lets you erase that unwanted wood post or whatever ruins your otherwise perfect photo. .

There’s also support for layer masks, layer grouping and adjustment layers, non-destructive editing, and – new in version 12 Ultra – content-aware cloning and moving tools. You can see all the new features here.

If you’re willing to spend the money on a photo editor, PhotoDirector 12 Ultra is good value for money, especially since it’s almost always discounted from its total price tag.

Affinity photo

  • Advantages
    • Supports raster and vector images
  • The inconvenients
    • The interface can be confusing
    • No photo manager

Designed to offer professional features at an affordable price, Affinity Photo is a big improvement over the free editing software listed here, without coming close to the price of more expensive professional apps.

The layout will be mostly familiar to anyone who has used other full featured photo editors, although naturally Affinity has some of its own peculiarities and quirks, most obviously “Personas”, a selection of modes of operation. which you switch between depending on what you want to do, giving you access to different tools and options.

There’s a lot of features here, and it’s not the most beginner-friendly app out there, but it’s a great way to get professional quality at a hobbyist-friendly price.

It’s available for desktop (£ 48.99 / $ 49.99 – Windows and MacOS) and mobile (£ 19.99 / $ 19.99 – iOS only).

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