You could spend hundreds of dollars on image-editing software. But before you part with your hard-earned money, consider one of these free photo-editing programs. No matter what your level of expertise, one of these eight photo editors will fit your needs and personality--as well as your budget.
(For access to all of these downloads in one convenient place, see our "Photo Editors for Everyone" collection.)
Fun for Everyone
Task-based and simple to use, Kodak EasyShare guides you through common photo-editing processes. At-home creative tasks focus on 15-day trials of various ArcSoft Print Creations projects such as scrapbooks and calendars (ArcSoft's templates for 1/4-fold greeting cards and album pages are free). Although EasyShare is designed to support Kodak cameras and printers, it can work with pictures from any camera, and it outputs to whatever printer you have connected. The software also links to the free online Kodak Gallery for sharing or ordering prints and photo novelty items.
Download Kodak EasyShare | Price: Free
From the moment you launch Photoscape, the program is unusually appealing and approachable. Photo-editing tools are not extensive, but they work quickly and easily, with both auto commands and manual dialog boxes. Photoscape also includes batch processing, print package templates, RAW conversion (to JPEG), an animated-GIF maker, and other tools. Though the interface is quite nonstandard, becoming accustomed to it doesn't take long.
Download Photoscape | Price: Free
Picasa is primarily an entry-level photo organizer, but it also has editing tools. Upon launch, Picasa makes quick work of importing all your photos from wherever you've saved them, and it groups people pictures for easy naming (to establish face recognition). The Tuning, Fixes, and Effects edit tabs are simple to navigate and use. It exports photos to a nice range of sharing options, such as creating a CD, making a movie, uploading to Picasa Web Albums, or sending to your blog on Blogger.
Download Picasa | Price: Free
Windows Live Photo Gallery
Like Picasa, Photo Gallery is structured around a photo organizer, with face recognition, geotagging, tagging for descriptions, and the like. Though limited, the photo tools are highly intuitive, and work both quickly and easily. Output choices include printing, sending to a blog post (with Windows Live Writer), making a movie, and sharing via Windows Live SkyDrive, Facebook, YouTube, or other sites.
Download Windows Live Photo Gallery | Price: Free
Let Your Expertise Shine
One of the earliest open-source photo editors, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) has earned a loyal following. Primarily for the serious graphics specialist who likes getting involved in the digital process, GIMP has a slew of Photoshop-like tools that could intimidate a novice--but it's great for people who enjoy the often-meticulous process of perfecting their photos.
Download GIMP | Price: Free
Unlike other programs in this list, IrfanView's focus isn't on image editing. Its initial purpose is as a viewer and batch handler of just about any kind of image file format, as full-size pictures, slideshows, or thumbnails. It is also known for its handling of multipage graphics files. The basic editing tools work well, but the program offers no guidance for the newcomer. A sleek application, IrfanView is fast from beginning to end.
Download IrfanView | Price: Free
A remarkably robust and powerful image-editing program, PhotoFiltre has almost everything a dedicated photographer might want. It includes a full range of editing and correction tools, batch processing, and a library of special effects filters (though it omits layers and templates). However, the interface--which harks back to the early days of imaging--is not for the beginner or the faint-of-heart.
Download PhotoFiltre | Price: Free
Photo Pos Pro
Photo Pos Pro offers a smooth combination of power, functionality, and accessibility. At its core are Photoshop-like color and exposure tools, textures, brushes, layers, a nice library of special effects, collage templates, Web export, and other useful functions. You can also download dozens of other free templates, masks, and tools from vendor Power of Software's Website. Photo Pos Pro's interface is as old-fashioned as PhotoFiltre's (albeit with a bit more help), and it involves a learning curve that's nearly as difficult.
Download Photo Pos Pro | Price: Free
This story, "Free image editors for everyone -- even experts" was originally published by PCWorld.