We know our clients often need to create images for their sites, and that this can be tricky using the ubiquitous MS Paint, so we’ve put together a quick roundup of what we think are the best free or very cheap image editors out there. 

Each of these have their own quirks and specialisms, so it’s about finding what works best for you. For the purposes of this article, we’re assuming that you don’t have access to Adobe’s range of industry-standard design tools like Photoshop and Illustrator. And to be honest, you don’t really need them.

The contenders

Apps that work in your web browser

Pixlr – a very well known browser-based tool.

Figma – more of a design tool than a true image editor, but great for creating banner images.

Fotor – with social media image presets, this tool knows its market.

Apps to download (“Desktop” apps)

GIMP – a very powerful free tool that works on Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Pixelmator (£29.99) – for Mac only, and not free, but very powerful for little outlay.

Affinity Photo (£48.99) – the most expensive software in the list, but a rock-solid contender.

More about each app

Pixlr

Pixlr screenshot

Pixlr really is as close to Photoshop as you can get in a web browser. From retouching to preparation of your banner images, this tool will do the job. It’ll be easier to use if you do have some Photoshop experience since it’s designed to use the same interface conceits as does Adobe’s flagship app. That means layers, a navigator and a vertical tool palette.

Pixlr requires Adobe’s Flash plugin.

Figma

Figma screenshot

Used by some of the designers here at Raising IT, Figma is an amazing tool that is powerful enough to be used to design full websites. It’s best suited to production of graphics, rather than photo retouching, so you won’t find filters or brightness and contrast controls here. For creating banner images from pre-existing photography though, this should be one to check out. You can also collaborate on files with colleagues, which is very cool.

Fotor

Fotor screenshot

Fotor is a great tool for producing images to a certain size, so good for making banner images for your site. It also has a nifty range of preset social media sizes to allow you to easily create artwork for twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. I found the interface to be a little bewildering, but after playing for a few minutes I was able to make colour corrections and export images to exact sizes.

Fotor requires Adobe Flash, and you can get rid of the annoying ads for around $40 (USD) a year.

Tip: Use the edit section for colour correction and the design section for creating artwork to a particular size.

GIMP

GIMP screenshot

Not a Pulp Fiction reference, GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”. As you might be able to guess from that, this is a geek favourite. It’s very powerful, runs on any operating system (Windows, MacOS, Linux) and will perform just about any task you want to throw at it.

The downside though is that the interface can be somewhat impenetrable, so it’s definitely one for the brave souls who feel at home with software that pushes you to learn how it works, rather than serving things up on a plate.

Pixelmator (£29.99)

Pixelmator screenshot

It’s not free, and it’s Mac-only, but Pixelmator is a worthy alternative to Photoshop. It’s faster and simpler than Adobe’s flagship, but packs in useful features that will have you creating great graphics in no time. For the money, you can’t beat it. Highly recommended for Mac users.

Affinity Photo (£48.99)

Affinity screenshot

This tool is a serious bit of kit for a seriously small amount of money. Affinity Photo has all the features you’ll ever need to create great imagery for your site including great typographic control, layers to stack up adjustments, and the all-important ability to output specific file sizes. Like Pixelmator, this is a desktop app to rival Photoshop, but the good news is that it also runs on Windows. Personally I’d say this is the best image editor you can buy for Windows without using the Adobe tools.

Wrapping up

Roundups are all very well, but what do we recommend? From the perspective of preparing images for the web, I’m taking into account:

  • Ease of interface
  • Ability to output to a specific size
  • Flexibility 

So, in the “runs in the web browser” class of apps, and despite the slightly odd interface, I think Fotor takes it. On the desktop, if you can stretch to it, it’s Affinity Photo all the way.