This is my review of some of the most common free image editors, and some of the ones that I like, and you've never heard of :wink: This is meant for the people who are on a really tight budget like me, I would not recomend any of these over Corel Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop Elements, or Photoshop CS3.
Gimp Terrible user interface, it's very confusing, and it really slows down the program with so many things going on at once. It does however have some very nice effects and tools. If you are computer savy, and on a tight budget this is probley the closest to photoshop you can get for no money. Another option is Gimp-Shop, which is based off of Photoshops menue system, but the source code is from an older version of The Gimp, so most of the plugins and "Script-Foos" won't work.
Gimp has a lot of useful plugins and Script-Foos, but yet again the interface is just a huge problem here. It is very hard to know how to use them.
Were it not for the interface I would give The Gimp 10/10, but as it is I give it a 6/10.
Paint.net (windows only) I really recomend this program. It supports infinate layers, and infanite undo. The interface is extremly easy to understand, and it has a lot of powerfull tools that you will not find in Photofilter, and similar programs. While not as powerfull as The Gimp, it will still do all you need it to.
The plugins are for the most part very good. Some of them though are a bit pointless or redundant, and many are meant for graphic designers. Don't let this fool you though, it still has some very nice effects, and the Soft-focus, and Glow are, in my opinion, even nicer than those found in Photoshop. My biggest gripe about it though is that you will notice 3 very important things missing immediatly,
1) It only supports 8-bit color
2) No Burn or Dodge tool
3) No Polygonal Lasso
But don't let this turn you away from Paintdotnet, it is still a very powerfull tool, and most likely all of these things will be found in version 4.0 (it's currently at version 3.2).
I give this program 8/10
Photofilter As the name implies it is mainly about filters, but it is labeled as being a full image editor. There aren't really many powerfull tools in it, and the interface is out-dated. I will say though that it is easy to use. If you really like filter effects, then this is the program for you, but I found it to be an old clunky beast with no real point other than to please point-and-shooters, and scrap-bookers. I really find nothing wrong with that, but I am not pleased that the description is so misleading.
I give this program 3/10
Now we are going to move away from the full-fledged image editors, and on to the veiwers/editors/organizers.
Picasa 2 This is a wonderfull free image viewer, while it may not be Photoshop Light Room, it does do a great job of keeping you organized. As soon as it is installed you get the option to have it scan your entire computer (all connected drives), and organize all of the images based on the date that we were taken. It has some nice effects, nothing you can't do in Photoshop, but sometimes you don't need the "big-guns".
It really is a pleasure for me to use because not only does it keep me organized, but it also reads Canon raw files, so there is no need to fill up my computers hard drives with their ineffective, and slow software. The Raw download on Picasa is much faster than on the Canon supplied software. I am not positive, but I think it also supports Nikon's raw format, so it could really be appealing to Nikon shooters as well as a RAW downloader.
The one weakness of this program though is its slide show feature. The buttons in an odd-ball place, and it isn't as nice looking as other image viewers.
I give this program 9/10
FastStone image viewer Another great program, it's not as powerful as Picasa, but I still love to use it, and I am sure others will as well. It does not veiw, or download RAW files, but it does do a great job of going through jpeg and tiff files. FastStone has a much better Slide Show feature than Picasa, and that is one of the main reasons I still have it. The Slide Show allows you to move your cursor around, and veiw shooting information in one area (it has a little box that pops out), and in another area it has a menu that pops up when you put your cursor over it for editing features.
The editing features are somewhat limited, but that is to be expected when using a program like this. It does have one feature though that will appeal to both newbies and veterans alike though, the crop tool has a grid that comes up, and helps you apply the rule of thirds to your image. It also has red-eye reduction, it works, but there are better red-eye reduction functions on other software. It also allows you to add frames, I don't know how, but it does.
I give this program 8/10
Irfanview This is another really limited program, but it does have one feature that still makes it worth a look, it is compatible with photoshop 8bf plugins, which is the format most photoshop plugins are in. It has a simple to use interface, even if it is a bit.....lacking. The levels adjustment works well, and it has a variety of downloadable skins that are fun, but relitivley useless.
Despite the good though, I think if this were the only image editor availible we'd still be shooting film. Even Faststone has almost as many editing features, and it has a slide show feature, and is an organizer to boot. If you just want to edit levels, and change to colors of a picture in one click, Irfanview will do that, but try to go beyond, and you will find yourself wanting more.
I give this program 5/10
Artweaver (windows) Artweaver is a fun to use program that is meant to be a free-ware version of Corel painter. Although not nearly as powerful, and lacking mixable paints, it really excels at drawing with different brushes, and is very fun to use.
While meant to be a painting program it does still have some nice image editing features. The polygonal lasso tool works much like you expect it to, and it has an unsharpen mask. It also has the ability to add texture to your pictures, and it creates a neat "fish-eye" effect that is meant to mimick a fish eye lens on a slr, or Holga. While not designed to be an image editor it still excells at things you wouldn't expect it to, and for that reason I highly recomend it.
I give this program 7/10