Free image editing applications are a dime-a-dozen, and with good reason. Many who want the powerful features of Adobe Photoshop do not want to pay the $500+ that Photoshop Creative Suite 5 comes with. Because of this, a market has opened up for free or inexpensive image editing applications that include many of the same features (color adjustment, raster layers, light adjustment, filters, and other essential photo editing features) without the hefty price tag.
The three most popular (at the time of this writing) of these image editing applications are Pixlr, Gimp, and Picnik. Gimp is the only of these applications that is a standalone editor for the computer. The other two (Pixlr and Picnik) are online applications (indicative of a growing shift of applications to “the cloud” or online storage).
Most users will likely be satisfied with the features that Gimp includes. For example, with Gimp, users can draw on images, create layers, export images as many different file types, and (the most popular use case), photo retouching (a tutorial is available on the Gimp website).
Families who take a lot of pictures and need to occasionally retouch the images with more than just iPhoto or the standard photo editor would get the most value out of Gimp, as it is feature-rich without being overwhelming to the users. While there is a bit of a learning curve to using Gimp, if you are only using it for photo retouching or the occasional photo manipulation, then you will tend to hover around the same few tasks.
Pixlr is very different from Gimp in that it is entirely based online. You do not need a user account in order to get started with Pixlr, which makes it ideal for the user who only occasionally needs to change something in an image. For example, if an image comes out over-saturated or if the lighting is overexposed, then you can simply fix it in a matter of minutes with Pixlr.
Of all the user interfaces we tried, Pixlr struck the best balance between ease-of-use and features available. While it does not have as many features as Gimp does (it is particularly lacking in color adjustment features), it covers most of the features that casual users would need in everyday usage.
Picnik’s user interface was simple. For some, it might be too simple. Instead of giving users full control over their image manipulations, as Gimp does Picnik provides the user with a list of options. With a host of auto-fix options, Picnik would be ideal for the user who simply wants their pictures to look better without needing to drive the controls too much. However, this is probably too simple for most users.
Since most users will not be using photo editing software to make a living, it does not make sense to spend $500.00 on casual software. For this reason, Photoshop is out of the question for most home-based users. Luckily, the open-source and free software available is more than sufficient for most casual users.