Design & UX
By Simone Sala

The Best Free (or Inexpensive) Graphics Editor for Windows

By Simone Sala
An eye looking through a tiny window

Photo: moudezoreil

There’s no arguing that Adobe Photoshop isn’t still the industry-standard graphics editor for windows, whether it be to create new images from scratch or to edit existing photos.

However, Photoshop is certainly not your only option. Many people who use this software for simple purposes, don’t really need all the features that are provided. Moreover, Photoshop is a significant outlay for most of us: if you are just approaching the design world, committing so much of your budget to a single application may not be wise.

Happily, there are some effective and cheap (if not free) Windows alternatives to Photoshop that may well satisfy your needs.

So, let’s have a look at three of the best candidates.

PhotoPlus Starter Edition

Photo Plus Starter Edition is a free design tool created by Serif. It is characterized by a great intuitiveness that makes the program very easy to use. Also, it has a user interface that reminds the one of Photoshop, in this way you won’t have any problems of adaptation if you need to go from one editor to the other.

PhotoPlus interface

Photoplus tools

PhotoPlus SE supports different image formats, thus you are granted to import and work on a wide variety of images. Thanks to some special tools you can fix common problems, such as the detested red eyes, or you can add effects to your pictures transforming them into artworks.

Since this is a free version of the program, some functions are disabled. For example, you can’t use the Dodge and Burn tools, which are quite fundamental in photo editing.

In case you are more interested in web design rather that photo manipulation, you should know that PhotoPlus SE is chosen by some designers to create graphic elements.

Indeed, logos, banners or pieces of user interfaces can all be realized with this program even if you won’t get results comparable with Photoshop ones.

The point is that PhotoPlus SE was primary thought as a photography editor, so you don’t have the possibility to act on several important graphic parameters such as text leading or word formatting.

Despite PhotoPlus SE doesn’t have all the features of Photoshop, considering that this software can be downloaded free of charge, I think it is a great alternative to Photoshop.

PaintShop Pro X6

PaintShopPro interface

Another popular alternative to Photoshop is represented by PaintShop Pro X6 by Corel. It is a program which helps you to edit your photos rather than to create new graphic projects.

PaintShopPro menu

PaintShopPro tools

PaintShop Pro X6 has some useful features which give you the possibility to improve the quality of your photos in short time: actually, you can crop pictures, work on shadows and balance colors or lights with just few clicks. The software also provides some “Instant Effects” – which consist in ready-made artistic filters – as well as more complex functionalities to create high quality photos.

The user interface of PaintShop Pro X6 has been completely redesigned, so you won’t face the disorder of the previous versions. Now the program conveys a clearer look and a more modern feel. Instead of messy menus and buttons, you will find only three main tabs through which you can access to all the tools.

A negative aspect of the program is the slowness. Corel built the software with a 64 bits architecture that makes the X6 version faster than the previous ones but, opening heavy images, still requires too much time.

All things considered, PaintShop Pro X6 is not as accomplished as Photoshop. However, if you are looking for a less expensive option, or if you are new to the photo manipulation world, this software may be just what you’re looking for.

PaintShop Pro X6 can be downloaded for 69.99€ or $99.95 from the official Corel website.


Paint.NET interface is an editing software created by Microsoft. The program is free and it has a high level of versatility since it can be used to edit photos as well as to design graphics. tools

From the very beginning you will notice that doesn’t overpower you with too much editing tools that may even result useless to some occasional designers. Indeed the Microsoft developers paid attention to create a friendly working environment that could be suitable both for advanced users and for the less skilled ones.

After opening, you have access to the most standard instruments such as brushes, shapes and curves, text tool or clone stamps.

As you would expect, the program also has some great special effects that you can apply to your images in order to give them a touch of magic. Differently from some free Photoshop alternatives, layers are present in, thus you can keep your projects in order

One of the greatest positive aspect of, it’s its own community from which you can download many plugins or additional brushes. In this way, you improve the power of the software and you adapt it to your needs.

Which should you choose?

Of course none of PhotoPlus SE, Paint-Shop Pro X6 or are completely on the same level of Adobe Photoshop, but they can certainly replace it for not too much demanding works. They’re also useful for those of you who don’t have a state of the art computer which can run a heavy program like the Adobe one. Indeed, all these alternatives are a bit lighter.

Personally I would recommend you use PhotoPlus SE for your photo manipulations because it is fast, intuitive and can be used even for professional photos editing.

On the other hand, if you are more interested in graphic design, the best choice is It provides you with the means to transform your ideas into concrete projects and it is supported by an active community where you can find tutorials and helpful tips.

  • HW

    Erhm, is not a Microsoft product. Get your facts straight

  • No love for GIMP?

    • GIMP is bad, very bad

    • Frog

      gimp is big but not well designed, so it’s not easy to use.
      I use Paint.NET as a PS replacement to do some simple design works.
      And use PT Photo Editor(free edition) as a free alternative of Lightroom to quickly edit photos.

    • Hom Tom

      gimp is the closest thing to software abomination that I know of.
      they should break it up and rebuild it
      infact someone did that, but it died.

  • matt

    Why does it say Free in the title? E.g. PaintShop Pro is 80 bucks. But I guess compared to PS prices, it’s free, lol.

  • ElDerecho

    Paint.Net wasn’t created by Microsoft (wikipedia says it was created by MS employees, though). It is very good. I used it for a while as a PS replacement. But text handling needs a lot of improvement.

  • Barney

    Uhm Gimp should be the obvious number one here…you’d be better off writing why anyone should consider a free alternative other than GIMP as I’m pretty sure it has no competition.

  • vee

    The title said “The Best Free Graphics Editor for Windows”

    but PaintShop Pro X6 is 69.99€.
    Why you say Free? you should not.

  • Kate Perry

    Google is paying 80$ per>>CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND

  • gazugafan isn’t made by Microsoft. Maybe you’re thinking of Paint that comes bundled with Windows? Also, PaintShop Pro isn’t free… though, GIMP is, and seemingly absent from the article for some reason.

  • Alex Walker

    On Gimp: We’ve certainly covered it quite over the past six months and I think most are aware of by now. This was a chance to focus on some lesser known options.

  • app

    You are wrong about Paintshop Pro. It can do a whole lot more than just edit photos. I have been using it for years to create vector graphics, from scratch. You can pretty much use it as a replacement for both Photoshop and Illustrator. And it’s Python scriptable, for repetitive actions & batch processing. ;)

  • is quite good too

  • Things I wanted to say are already covered by other comments. Wher’s gimp? isn’t made by MS and something thats 80 bucks can’t be listed on an article titled free stuff. But I guess the last one is covered since the title now includes Inexpensive.

  • It clearly says “inexpensive” in the topic title too. Compared to an Adobe license for a home installation of Photoshop, 70€ isn’t too shabby (although I haven’t tried it, so PS could be light-years ahead of PSP).

  • Rafael Ulloa

    came here for this

  • Rafael Ulloa is also a great web-based app for basic image editing

  • Great article, but here’s a serious game changer: Photoshop is $9.99 per month. Yes, ten dollars per month. No joke (check adobe’s website). Not a reduced version, not Photoshop Elements, it’s the REAL Photoshop. It’s impressing how Adobe has changed their price policy to make even non-hardcore-users start using Photoshop.

  • Where is GIMP?

  • Дмитрий Тимофеев

    Where is PaintCAD 4Windows? Photoshops are boring!

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