Free Open Source Image Editors

Professional-grade tools for Windows, Mac, and Linux

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 four open source image editors are fit for serious use.

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GIMP program with grocery store produce section
What We Like
  • Powerful software that doesn't crash.

  • Easily handles Photoshop-level image editing tasks.

  • Compatible with RAW images.

What We Don't Like
  • Not intuitive for beginners.

  • It is overkill for someone with simple editing needs.

  • User documentation is difficult to understand.

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 robust and comprehensive range of image-editing features in GIMP, including photo adjustment, painting and drawing tools, and built-in plug-ins that include blur, distortions, lens effects, and more options.

GIMP can be customized to 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 Perl or Tcl programming languages.

Operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux

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Paint.NET v3.36

Paint.Net 3.36 program, picture of grocery store produce dept

What We Like
  • Easy to learn and use.

  • Supports layers, transparency, and plug-ins.

  • Handles most graphics and image editing needs.

What We Don't Like
  • Not powerful enough to replace Photoshop.

  • Open source version is more than 10 years old.

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.

The version referred to 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

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Inkscape program, photo grocery store produce

What We Like
  • Generates pro-level vector graphics comparable to Adobe Illustrator.

  • Powerful text capabilities.

  • Compatible with many file formats.

What We Don't Like
  • Handles CMYK color awkwardly.

  • Processing is on the slow side.

Inkscape is an open source editor for vector graphic illustrations, comparable to Adobe Illustrator. Vector graphics are not based on 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

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Krita program, photo of grocery store produce
What We Like
  • Great tool for digital painting.

  • Outstanding brush collection.

  • Animation tool kit.

What We Don't Like
  • No support for pressure sensitivity.

  • Isn't as feature-packed as GIMP or Photoshop.

Swedish for the word "crayon," 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: Windows, macOS, Linux

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