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

Are you attracted to open source software for its philosophy or its low price tag? Whichever it is, you can find a very capable and free image editor for doing everything from retouching digital photos to creating original sketches and vector illustrations.

Here are the five most mature open source image editors, fit for serious use.

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GIMP, the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, a free open source image editing application
GIMP, the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, a free open source image editing application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Operating System: Windows/Mac OS X/Linux
Open Source License: GPL2 License

GIMP is the most widely used of the full-featured image editors available in the open source community (sometimes referred to as “Photoshop alternatives”). 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 including blur, distortions, lens effects, and many more.

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

  • Photoshop plugins can be run using another plugin called PSPI. 
  • Photoshop brushes and layer styles can be emulated. 
  • Photoshop interface layout can also be emulated by downloading a modified version of GIMP called Gimphoto. (Note that Gimphoto is based on a slightly 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. More »

Paint.Net 3.36, a free open source image editor for Windows
Paint.Net 3.36, a free open source image editor for Windows.

Operating System: Windows
Open Source License: modified MIT License

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

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

Paint.NET supports some advanced image editing features like 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 it is the last version of this software that was released primarily under an open source license. Although newer versions of Paint.NET are still free, the project is no longer open source. More »

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Pixen, a free open source pixel editor for Mac OSX
Pixen, a free open source pixel editor for Mac OSX.

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.4+
Open Source License: MIT License

Pixen, unlike other image editors, is specifically designed to create “pixel art.” Pixel art graphics includes icons and sprites, which are typically low-resolution images created 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 very close-up work rather than the type of macro editing you might do in Photoshop or GIMP.

Pixen does support layers, and also includes support for building animations using multiple cells. More »

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Krita, a graphics and drawing editor for Linux included in the KOffice suite
Krita, a graphics and drawing editor for Linux included in the KOffice suite.

Operating System: Linux/KDE4
Open Source License: GPL2 License

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 like paintings and illustrations.

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

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Inkscape, a free open source vector graphics editor
Inkscape, a free open source vector graphics editor.

Operating System: Windows/Mac OS X 10.3+/Linux
Open Source License: GPL License

Inkscape is an open source editor for vector graphics 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 are composed 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 SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) standard and supports a comprehensive set of tools for transformations, complex paths, and high-resolution rendering. More »