5 Free Open Source Image Editors for Windows, Mac, and Linux

Professional-grade tools without the professional-grade costs

Whether you're attracted to open source software for its philosophy or its low price tag, you can find a capable and free image editor for doing everything from retouching digital photos to creating original sketches and vector illustrations.

These five mature open source image editors are fit for serious use.

of 05


screen shot of GIMP; grocery store produce section

 Aaron Weiss

GIMP is the most widely used of the full-featured image editors — sometimes referred to as Photoshop alternatives — available in the open source community. The GIMP interface may seem disorienting at first, especially if you’ve used Photoshop, because each tool palette floats independently on the desktop.

Look closely, and you'll find a powerful and comprehensive range of image-editing features in GIMP, including photo adjustment, painting and drawing tools, and built-in plugins that include blur, distortions, lens effects, and many more options.

GIMP can be customized to more closely resemble Photoshop in several ways:

  • Photoshop plug-ins can run in GIMP using another plug-in called PSPI. 
  • GIMP emulates Photoshop brushes and layer styles.
  • The Photoshop interface layout can be emulated by downloading a modified version of GIMP called Gimphoto, which is based on an older version of GIMP.

Advanced users can automate GIMP actions using its built-in Script-Fu macro language or by installing support for Perl or Tcl programming languages.

Operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux

of 05

Paint.NET v3.36

Paint.Net 3.36 screen shot; grocery store produce dept.

 Aaron Weiss

Remember MS Paint? Microsoft included its simple paint program with Windows all the way back to the original release of Windows 1.0. For many, the memories of using Paint are not good ones.

In 2004, the Paint.NET project aimed to create a better alternative to Paint. The software has evolved so much that it now stands alone as a feature-rich image editor.

Paint.NET supports some advanced image editing features, such as layers, color curves, and filter effects, plus the usual array of drawing tools and brushes.

Note that the version linked here, 3.36, is not the latest version of Paint.NET, but the last version of this software released primarily under an open source license. Although newer versions of Paint.NET are still free, the project is no longer open source.

Operating system: Windows

of 05


Pixen screenshot for Mac; grocery store produce

 Aaron Weiss

Pixen, unlike other image editors, is specifically designed to create pixel art graphics including icons and sprites, which are typically low-resolution images produced and edited at the per-pixel level.

You can load photos and other images into Pixen, but you'll find the editing tools most useful for close-up work rather than the type of macro editing you might do in Photoshop or GIMP.

Pixen supports layers and includes support for building animations using multiple cells.

Operating system: Mac OS X

of 05


Inkscape screenshot; grocery store produce

 Aaron Weiss

Inkscape is an open source editor for vector graphic illustrations, comparable to Adobe Illustrator. Vector graphics are not based on a grid of pixels like the bitmap graphics used in GIMP and Photoshop. Instead, vector graphics consist of lines and polygons arranged into shapes. 

Vector graphics are often used to design logos and models. They can be scaled and rendered at different resolutions with no loss of quality.

Inkscape supports the Scalable Vector Graphics standard as well as a comprehensive set of tools for transformations, complex paths, and high-resolution rendering.

Operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux

of 05


Krita screenshot; grocery store produce

Aaron Weiss

Swedish for the word "crayon," Krita is bundled with the KOffice productivity suite for most desktop Linux distributions. Krita can be used for basic photo editing, but its primary strength is creating and editing original artwork such as paintings and illustrations.

Supporting both bitmap and vector images, Krita sports an especially rich set of painting tools that simulate color blends and brush pressures particularly well-suited to illustrative artwork.

Operating system: Linux KDE 4