The Best Free Photo-Editing & Graphic Design Apps

I love Photoshop. I’ve been using it for over 10 years now and obviously Adobe is doing something right over there because it’s now almost 30 years since the first version of Photoshop was made available. What I don’t like about Photoshop is the price. When Adobe was still selling the physical version of Photoshop (by physical I mean the actual CDs) it could run you anywhere from $700-$1500 if not more. Now that they’ve moved everything into the Creative Cloud, you’re looking at $10-80 a month for an individual license. There is only one version of Photoshop you can (legally) get for free, as long as you don’t mind you’re using software that’s now 10+ years old. Unfortunately, if you have an iMac or MacBook that’s 2015 or newer, you’re completely SOL. Apple stopped using the hardware that supports older software like CS2. Yay, structured obsolescence.

If you’re just starting a small business or just trying to work on your personal brand, $120-$960/year can take a huge chunk out of your budget. So until you strike it big on Dragon’s Den and are struggling to keep your product on the shelf, here are 4 apps that are completely free and will get you started on the road to becoming a pro designer or photographer.

Pixlr

 

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Pixlr is a web-based app (they also have desktop and mobile versions) that comes in 2 versions – Express and Editor. Express I pretty much consider to be a slightly better version of the Instagram photo editor. You have the option to add filters, overlays and stickers for quick editing. If you find yourself frequently without an internet connection, there are also Windows and Mac App for Pixlr Express that you can use offline.

Pixlr Editor This is quite possibly the closest thing to an actual version of Photoshop that I’ve found. Editor allows for quite complex photo editing tasks, and it should end up getting you pretty far. You have the option to use multiple and edit multiple layers, as well as use tools like the magic wand to clear out backgrounds. If you’re an experienced Photoshop user, you’ll notice some limitations like the inability to use keyboard shortcuts to transform a layer, but if you have zero or minimal Photoshop experience, or just need something for quick edits, Pixlr does a great job (plus, it’s free so can’t really complain!)

Platform: Windows/OSX (needs Flash to run, so Google Chrome is your only browser option)
Cost: FREE!*

* there are paid options for this platform, however it is not required to use the software.

Canva

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Canva is my favourite graphic design app. Also web-based, Canva is for the design-challenged or just for someone who needs something done quickly and doesn’t have the time to spend designing things in Photoshop or Illustrator. You do need an account to use their services, but the free options are amazing. There are a variety of layouts and templates for every possible thing you would need to make a digital image including real estate and all the up-to-date sizes for social media networks. There is a paid option if you want to use certain layouts or elements, but once you figure out your way around the app, you’ll find the free version is more than enough.

Platform: Windows/OSX
Cost: FREE!*

* there are paid options for this platform, however it is not required to use the software.

Preview/Photos for OSX

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These ones are only available if you have an iMac or MacBook, but they’re great tools. After I realized I couldn’t have a legal version of Photoshop on my computer without spending hundreds of dollars I started scouring the internet looking for acceptable solutions. It was actually by mistake that I noticed the editing options in Preview.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 6.15.14 PM

You can play with the levels, including saturation, contrast, highlights/shadows. In addition to the colour-editing options, you can also crop and resize photos, add text and much more. In Photos you can also crop, rotate, add filters and retouch. The retouch option removes red-eye as well as gives you the option to give that airbrushed look or to completely remove certain items from a photo.

Platform: OSX only
Cost: FREE!

Photos for iOS

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This is also Apple-only software, but the Photos app on iOS does pretty much the same thing as the desktop version. You can rotate, straighten, crop, change the aspect ratio, as well as play around with colour edits like filters, saturation and exposure.

Platform: iOS only
Cost: FREE!

Windows Photo Gallery

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If you’re a Windows user, then this is definitely the app for you. It’s definitely gotten better over the years, and now has options to send straight to your Facebook page, as well as geotagging photos and identifying faces, much like Facebook does these days. In this app you can crop, rotate, as well as colour correct and remove red-eye as well.

TL;DR

If you’re looking for cheap and/or free photo-editing software so you can get comfortable developing the skill or just don’t have the cash to spend on Photoshop, Pixlr, Canva, Photos/Preview for OSX, Photos for iOS and Windows Photo Gallery are your best bets.

 

 

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