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What’s the Best Image Editing Software for You?

Meet Kermit. He’s a simple frog who’s trying to get the word out about his business.

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

He knows that images make an impact, and he wants to take full advantage. He’s not sure which is the best image software for the job.

So he took his headshot (above) and ran it through some of the best image editing programs he could find. They range from free, to cheap, to pretty expensive. (The links to the paid products are affiliate links, because he’s adding to his fly collection).

Here are his results:


iPiccy

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

Pros

  • iPiccy is completely free: it’s supported by (sometimes annoying) ads.
  • The easy-to-use controls allow you to apply a variety of effects to your images.
  • The interface is intuitive and (dare we say it?) fun.

Cons

  • It’s not easy to layer one effect on top of another.
  • Fonts are limited to their in-application collections which are heavy on funky, unreadable fonts, and light on fonts that are good for business.

Try iPiccy here.


Pixlr.com/editor

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

Pros

  • Pixlr.com/editor has sophisticated image editing capabilities which are similar to Photoshop.
  • Users can access some of the fonts installed on the computer they’re using, which expands the number of available fonts.
  • This online tool is 100% free.

Cons

  • It’s not as sophisticated as Photoshop, and can be a little buggy.
  • Fonts are still somewhat limited because not all your installed fonts will work.

Try the Pixlr.com/editor tool here.


PicMonkey

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

Pros

  • Easily layer effects by applying one after another.
  • Better font selection than iPiccy.
  • Easy-to-use patterns, stickers and more.

Cons

  • Caution: some effects can’t be undone after you apply them!
  • The Pro version offers better tools, but does have a cost (it’s a few dollars/month).

Try PicMonkey here.


OpenOffice Draw

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

Pros

  • OpenOffice Draw is perfect for combining simple graphics with images.
  • Since this is free open source software, every font installed on your computer is available for your use.
  • A wide variety of shapes, rules and fonts can be applied.

Cons

  • Doesn’t apply image effects. Use one of the programs above and import the image to OpenOffice Draw to add graphics.
  • Doesn’t support transparent images — yet.

Download and try OpenOffice Draw.


Adobe Illustrator

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

Pros

  • Create vector images that can be enlarged to an infinite size (Kermit on a billboard, anyone?).
  • Industry-standard software for logo creation.
  • Robust tools that allow you to scale, skew and morph images using layers so they stay organized and flexible.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Steep learning curve.

Try Adobe Illustrator.


Adobe Photoshop

Discover the best image editing software for your next project at BigBrandSystem.com

Pros

  • State-of-the-art software for print and web graphics.
  • Sophisticated high-resolution effects with almost no limits: want to put Kermit on a soda can? Done.
  • Beautiful, believable results (once you know how to use it).

Cons

  • Very steep learning curve.
  • Pricy: if you’re not using it to directly produce income for your business, it’s probably not a good choice for you.

Try Adobe Photoshop.

How about you?

Do you have questions about which software to use for your image creation projects? Have other favorite websites or apps you want to share? Scroll on down to the comments section and let’s talk!

47 thoughts on “What’s the Best Image Editing Software for You?

  1. I use Acorn for Mac for all my image editing.
    Pros:
    Does almost everything I would want to do in Photoshop without having to learn Photoshop. For a non-designer like me, it meets my needs for both web and print. I’ve created website header graphics and business cards.
    Layers. Image effects. Text over graphics.
    Since it’s on my computer, I can use any of the fonts installed on my computer.
    Transparent images possible.
    Easy-to-follow online tutorials.
    Exports to a variety of formats, including .psd, .pdf, .tif, .jpeg, .gif, and .png.
    Well-supported by its developers.
    Cons:
    It’s not free. ($50, the last time I checked)
    It’s Mac-only.

      • Yes, I should have put low learning curve in the list of Pros for Acorn. I was able to jump right in and create the graphics I needed fairly quickly. I mean, it took me a couple of days to get my first attempt like I wanted it. But that was due more to the limitations of my design skills than to difficulties learning the application. It does help, though, to have a basic understanding of layers.

        With my background in book publishing, I picked up a lot of design tips and tricks from working with designers and artists. To put Acorn in context with other image editing apps, even Photoshop Elements is more complex than I have the patience to learn. If I’m not mistaken, I think Michael Hyatt also swears by Acorn as his image editing tool.

        There are capabilities within Acorn that I do not use–most of the filters, for example, and curves. The tool is meets all my needs without being overly complex. At $50 or so, it’s the non-designer’s design tool. And the biggest reason I own a Mac because there’s nothing like it for Windows or Linux that I’ve found. Gimp is up there with Photoshop in terms of learning curve. I used to use Irfanview on Windows for resizing and other very, very basic image editing, but not for creating original images, such as header graphics.

        If you care to see a header graphic that I created using Acorn, you can check out the website I created for my daughter, a therapist in the Atlanta area: http://sarahhightower.com

        (Aside: I used Genesis, Prose, a homepage hack to add those widgets, and Acorn. Using Acorn, I also created a matching business card design, converting the RGB colors to CMYK for printing. The site isn’t mobile responsive yet, due to the graphic header and the homepage widgets. My goal is to get around fixing that before the end of the year. Her email sign up form and creating her opt-in offer are our current priorities.)

        • The header looks nice! I’m glad you found a tool that works for you.

          One of the secrets of success when it comes to DIY graphics creation is simply putting in the time needed to become familiar with what the tools offer, and what their limitations are.

  2. Great list, I hadn’t heard of iPiccy before. PicMonkey is great for quick blog post + Pinterest images. I use Photoshop but that’s just a part of my job everyday so I have to have it, but you’re right, there is quite a steep learning curve and it’s expensive.

    What about Photoshop CC (web PS for $20/mo) or Photoshop Elements? More affordable and still pretty robust. And there is Gimp also, but I haven’t used that so can’t attest to it.

    • The subscription model Adobe is using now definitely makes it more accessible. And I haven’t used Elements: I’d love to hear about it from someone who has!

      I tried GIMP many years ago and found it, well … kind of gimpy! But maybe it’s better now. I’d love to hear from someone who uses it.

  3. I use PhotoShop Elements. It has enough of the features and capabilities of PhotoShop for what I need at a much lower price (under $100). I’ve found handbooks, forums, tutorials and blog posts to help with challenges since I have zero art background or design training and sometimes need a little help.

  4. I use SnagIt as a photo editor. It’s being marketing primarily as a screen capture tool but it is so much more than that. And the learning curve is pretty quick, too.
    But I have it in mind to start using PicMonkey. I like how it looks and the different images you can do with it.

    • I only reviewed software I have experience using, William. If you’ve used those two, I’d love to hear more about how they work for you. That’s what this comments section is for.

    • Irfanview was my go-to software for clipping, resizing, adjusting colour and changing format on Windows. On the Mac I use Preview for that. Irfanview is free.

      Gimp, incidentally, has versions for Mac and Windows, and, I think, Linux.

      • Of course, I have to add my 10p o’worth given what we do!
        It’s really good to see so many users of Inkscape & Gimp. I love Inkscape – use it every day as it’s just so flexible and I think it’s quite intuitive, but of course there is a learning curve. There are some irritating aspects to Gimp, but so there are with other programmes too.
        I really like ipiccy as well – it has excellent functionality, and it’s great because you can do some of the vector based stuff as well as the raster stuff – e.g. remove a background, cloning, create a graphic from scratch etc. Irfanview is also a neat little programme.

  5. I use Acorn as well and find it fairly easy to use. There is also Pixelmator which has a few extra features, but the interface is horrible – all black with tiny icons and white text and lots of pallets all over the place. I also like the free Seashore, which does layers and has a nice interface, but more limited in what it can do. For basics it is fine. Not too fussed about Gimp either. These are all for Mac. Unfortunately the interface of the latest Acorn version has split into more pallets like Pixelmator which are a nuisance when working on a small screen.

    On Windows I used to use Window’s own Paint, which is not that bad for some basic stuff, very easy to use. For more features, including layers, Paint.Net did a very good job. It is more or less what Acorn is on the Mac, but free.

    • I agree, Judy: simple is better. The trick is to know which software to use for a project, and have a few that you’re familiar enough with that you can produce something quickly and easily.

      Thanks for these additional resources. 🙂

  6. On the iPad my favorite paint app is Procreate and Sketch Club. They have some of the best brush creators and organisers. Both have layers and many other features you would expect in a full desktop paint app. They make you wish the iPad was ten times the size so you could ditch the computer for graphis.

  7. I’ve been using GIMP for years. It is a free program and so far, it’s been able to do everything that I need. There are lots of features (many of which I don’t know how to use yet), but seems a good fit for me. 🙂

  8. I just bought Sagelight and it seems to be a very easy program to use. It appears to be a Lightroom type program but about 1/3 the price. I tried the demo version of Lightroom and found it to be very hard to use, almost couldn’t get anything done with it. Exact opposite with Sagelight, hardly any learning curve at all which fits me perfectly and I’m kind of a beginner when it comes to photo editing.

  9. I use Inkscape, Gimp, and Paint.net.

    Inkscape is a great, powerful vector-based program similar to Illustrator, but it is open source. The cost, therefore, is much better ;-). It has quite a learning curve. I’d never used anything other than Gimp before which also has quite the learning curve. Gimp, though, is raster based, so you can’t scale images seamlessly like you can with Inkscape. (I do have to pull in .png images from Inkscape into Gimp in order to create favicons.)

    Inkscape has decent documentation, and it is pretty widely used in the open source community. I have been able to find tutorials, etc as needed. Definitely not at the same level as what you would find for Adobe, though.

    Paint.net is what I use for doing simple photo editing: cropping, making transparent backgrounds, etc.

  10. Hi Pamela,
    Just the other day, Adobe announced that by the end of this month (I THINK that’s the start date) they will offer the combination of Photoshop CC, Bridge CC and Lightroom 5 via the Creative Cloud for $9.95/month. That’s a bargain.
    I teach entry level tools to new photographers all thertime using Photoshop or Elements, and, unless you delve into arcane masking/layering, the learning curve is not so steep at all. In one afternoon, I have folks cropping, sizing, color balancing, correcting contrast issues, sharpening properly and saving properly as well. And that’s AFTER we teach them the mysteries of manual camera operation, including aperture, shutter speed, ISO, noise control and depth of field.
    It’s just not as complicated as it was a few short years ago, IMO.
    Back to you!….

    Thanks for all you and Wendy do, you are lifesavers!

    Wayne

    • I suspect the easy learning curve has more to do with your teaching ability than the software, Wayne. 😉

      I’m going to look into that Adobe offer. That price puts Photoshop in reach for a lot of people!

  11. Useful post, but nothing without Gimp. The learning curve is steep, but at zero cost, it’s worth the investment.

    In my business I ONLY use open source software. Libre Office, WordPress, Filezilla, Gimp, Scribus and so on.

    Agree absolutely with the comment about Photoshop. Steep learning curve, and it’s for paying jobs, an investment which needs to pay for itself.

    Which is why I never pay a graphic designer (no offense). They all tell me they couldn’t possibly work for less than XXX per hour, which is invariably much more than I make myself.

    • I’d love to hear more about what you like about GIMP, Daniel. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I tried it years ago and found it clunky. Does it do what you need it to do?

      And … welcome. You’re exactly the kind of self-starter DIY marketer this site is for. I’m glad you found it!

  12. I’ve tried GIMP a few times, and it’s wayyy beyond what I need.

    I manage most of my photos in Lightroom, which has some basic photo editing and some really nice presets, but for my marketing work I honestly don’t do much in there other than resize and use it as a visual browser.

    I use good ole’ Mac Preview for putting captions and quotes on photos. Free and dead-simple to use. I also use Preview when I need a precisely-sized image because when I crop it shows me real-time what the image size is in pixels (as opposed to an aspect ratio, which is all I can get in Lightroom).

    I use Omnigraffle to make all of my infographics. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Omnigraffle — I honestly can’t say enough good things about it.

    I also use Keynote, but primarily for its masking capabilities because I can throw a graphic in it and with one click give it a transparent background and then copy it back out and put it in Omnigraffle to build something bigger.

  13. Hey Pamela,

    First time on our blog (got here through Craig Mcbreen – Thanks to him :D)

    I have tried many of these tools – from Photoshop to Picmonkey. And my favorite still is Photoshop. No other software can match the flexibility and feature rich environment of Photoshop. But, like you mentioned, Photoshop does have a steep learning curve . Pixlr and Picmonkey are better for simple image editing options.

    I haven’t tried Illustrator. I have to got to try that some time.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing the list 🙂

  14. The image editing tools in PowerPoint 2010 are exceptional.

    There is a built in screen capture, a selection pane for working with layers and all the usual
    crop, cut, remove backgrounds, blend and subtract shapes and color/visual effects you would want to find in an image editor.

    An excellent source of tutorials for using the tools in practical, applied ways is Tom Kuhlman’s
    Rapid eLearning Blog. http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/

    Don’t be put off by the eLearning. Everything can be applied to SlideShare preparation too!

    • I’m glad you mentioned this, Mark. I have been a fan and reader of Tom’s blog for many years! It’s amazing to see the images and concepts he’s able to create within “slide” software.

  15. Like Daniel, I only use open source software.

    I find Irfanview is great if I have a video. It opens virtually every type of image file I need, I can grab video stills using it, and sort through the files quickly before cropping the best ones. I use Ribbet too, which is good for online editing and incredibly intuitive. I use it for adjusting exposure, cropping, adding filters, etc.

    I love Inkscape for graphics, because it can handle vectors. GIMP is amazing too. I believe it was always Linux based, and that’s why it feels clunky. There are excellent hp books and documentation online and in books, so if you are prepared to play and read, it can be very powerful. I don’t quite ‘grok The GIMP’ but I’m working on it!

    Scribus is good for setting out page layouts, designing handouts, etc using your fancy pants edited graphics and photos.

    It’s easy to write off the freebies without giving them a fair trial, but if your strapped for cash it doesn’t mean you can’t do a good job. I’m still learning about all these programs, but each time I use them I learn a little more.

    • Thanks for this thorough review, Caroline. I didn’t know about Irfanview’s video capabilities: very cool.

      And I agree 100%: you don’t have to invest in expensive software to create great-looking graphics!

  16. Hi Pamela,

    Great conversation starter!

    I agree that there are different tools for different jobs. And different skill levels.

    Photoshop: Quite powerful. I’m not an expert user, but am adept at doing what was needed for creating Web banners/images, basic editing/resizing and a few other image enhancements. Used PS in the corporate world, but as consultant, found license too expensive to justify for my basic abilities.

    Gimp: Became my go-to as an image resizing tool. As mentioned, free.

    Grab It: Frequent companion of Gimp. Use for screen captures. Also free.

    Acorn: Was going to try, but waited so long that now it’s going to be packaged in an upcoming Mac release. 😉

    SnagIt: From TechSmith. This is a great time-saver when requesting or explaining edits to an image or Web page. So easy to cut and paste images together, draw arrows and add comments. Another app I used in corporate world, but no longer have a license – though I do miss it! (At $50 not outrageous … may eventually invest in the bundle with Camtasia …)

    Omnigraffle: I am looking for a program for creating charts and infographics. It sounds interesting … there are other options also, so I would need to do some research.

    Mainly, I know my limitations. Tools are tools. I will be engaging a professional graphic designer to help me “rebrand.”

    • Great rundown Alison: thank you! Jen Waak, who also left a comment here, is a big fan of Omnigraffle and has used it to create everything from PDFs to infographics.

      And I agree: tools are tools! It’s important to know what each one is good for, and get comfortable with at least a few of them.

  17. For wireframing as well as charts and infographics, an excellent, reasonably-priced combination is Keynote (Mac) and Keynotopia. (I think this is also available for PowerPoint.)
    If you take the time to learn Photoshop, it will pay for itself many times over, and you will do much more with it as time goes on. It goes light years beyond any other image editing application. The saying ‘you get what you pay for is very applicable to image editing software. If you don’t pay for the software, you pay with your time and the quality of your results. My favorite cheap one is Graphic Converter from Lemke Software.

    The following are not image editing apps, strictly speaking, but can add some great capabilities to your repetoire: Snagit was mentioned by a few people on this thread, as well as Omnigraffle—both great apps, with different strengths. Snagit is a fine tool for demonstrating things in a very visual way with arrows, callouts and shapes. Omnigraffle takes that a couple steps further. It can used nicely for wireframing, creating infographics, mind mapping and more. With a free, online stencil library, there are hundreds of cool templates that can be downloaded with everything from personas to maps, to complex scientific symbols. Another application which is a bit different than anything else on the market is Curio, which is a kind of digital scrapbooking tool. It does way too many things to list here, but worth checking out.

  18. Great tips and comments. My wife uses Photoshop and I think she said it was being discontinued so these alternatives and discussions are great. I am forwarding to her this entire discussion. Thanks to everyone for their insights.

    • I don’t think it’s being discontinued, Steven. Adobe moved to a model where you can get access to the software for a monthly payment. Maybe that’s what she’s referring to?

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