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Free image editor extravaganza!


Not long ago I was asked whether I knew of a good free application for doing basic photo editing. My research turned up a bevy of free tools and software, both web-based and native applications (non web-based.) The following is a brief description and comparison of the options.

First up is Picasa. It’s a free application from Google that does basic image editing and photo manipulation, and integrates with their free online photo sharing service. It is possible to use the application without using the web service. The service is just a value-add; an easy way to share photos and other images.

I use something called GIMP which is similar to Photoshop, but free and open source (the source code is available for anyone to read, change, fix, and improve.) Here’s a link in case you want to check it out. There are some good tutorials here. Comprehensive documentation is also available.

In the event that you feel like the GIMP is overkill for what you need to accomplish, there are a few interesting web applications that might fit the bill. They are free, and run in your browser; there is nothing to download or install. I haven’t used any of them extensively but they all seem to provide a useful set of features in a simple fashion. You’ll have to evaluate your needs to determine which, if any, is right for you.

  • Phoenix offers a rich set of features like layer based editing, drawing and text tools. It makes the top of the list for it’s ease of use, completeness, and performance. A quality application in my opinion.
  • Pixlr is also layer based. Two versions are available, a full-featured regular version, and a simpler express version with fewer features. Looks like a useful option for editing photos and basic graphic design work.
  • Pixenate provides basic image editing facilities like crop, resize, scaling, and red eye reduction.
  • Google Docs now offers a drawing tool which is simple but effective. So far, I’ve found it rather useful in composing basic mockups of web page layouts, or designing forms and user interfaces. It’s more like Visio or other diagramming tools, but it certainly fills a useful spot in the graphic design space.

Here’s a roundup that compares some of the web based tools along with a few other options. You may find it will inform your perspective in choosing the most appropriate tool for your particular need.

Sometimes web applications can have longer load times or slower performance (though this is becoming less true as time goes on.) If you would rather have an application that is installed and runs from your and Picasa doesn’t look like the one for you, check out this comparison of free options (for Windows users only.)

Chances are good that if you are doing graphics professionally, you will ultimately end up paying the Photoshop tax to get the latest and greatest industry standard tool. These applications can provide a good way to start, and explore your interest in digital image editing until you’re generating enough income with your graphics work to justify the cost. Who knows, by that time you may decide you’re getting along just fine with the free or open-source alternatives!

Please leave a comment and share your experiences with these tools. If your favorite application was left out and you think it should be represented here, use the comments section to post a link so everyone can benefit.

As always, enjoy, share the knowledge, and most importantly have fun!

One Comment
  1. Kevin Marsh permalink

    I do all kinds of stuff with ImageMagick (or Graphics Magick). If you’re into scripting command line stuff its pretty much the only game in town.

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