The best free Mac photo editor 2017

Photoshop is the best known photo editing software for macOS, but it's far from the only option. There are also some brilliant, feature-packed photo editors for your Mac if you don't need the power of Adobe's industry-standard app.

Why do you need a photo editor?

Digital photography has come a very long way in a very short time. The pictures you can capture with a recent smartphone are amazing, with resolution, colours and low-light performance that would have seemed impossible a few years ago.

Nevertheless, there’s always room for improvement, whether it’s removing red-eye, cropping out unwanted bits or just drawing comedy moustaches on your in-laws. For those things, you need a dedicated photo editor.

Photos and Preview are the two image viewing and editing applications provided as part of macOS, and should be high up your list when you’re looking for a tool to tweak your images

1. Preview and Photos

Don’t overlook the free photo viewing and editing apps included with macOS – they’re as well designed and powerful as any Apple software

It’s easy to overlook the apps you already have. Preview isn’t just a viewer: if you tap on the Markup icon you’ll see tools you can use to edit or add to your image, and under the Tools menu you’ll find options to adjust the colours and sizes. You can also export in multiple file formats.

Apple’s Photos app contains some handy tools too. You can experiment with automatic enhancement, which tries to guess the best settings for your image, you can remove red-eye and minor blemishes, you can apply special effects filters or adjust the colour parameters, and you can rotate and crop images too. 

Pre-installed with macOS

It takes a little while to familiarize yourself with GIMP’s workflow, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll discover that it’s an incredibly powerful piece of software

2. GIMP

The closest free tool to Photoshop, GIMP is an open source photo editor with an incredible set of tools, filters and options for advanced editing

If you want Photoshop-style image editing power without the price tag or monthly subscription, GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is the app for you. It’s been around forever, benefits from regular updates, and is packed with advanced features to make your images look amazing.

If that's not enough, it's also expandable via third-party plugins – including ones designed for Adobe Photoshop.

Whether you’re an illustrator, photographer or just want an application that will let you experiment with your images, GIMP is up to the task. From fixing lens distortion to selective colourisation.

It’s a superb free photo editor, but don’t expect to be a GIMP pro within seconds of installing it: like other powerful apps it has a reasonably steep learning curve. Don’t let that put you off, because GIMP is worth the effort. 

Download here: GIMP

Pixlr Editor is no longer available as a downloadable app, but the web version is superb and includes everything an amateur photographer needs to make their shots look amazing

3. Pixlr Editor

A fully-featured free photo editor for your web browser, complete with layers, manual color manipulation tools, healing brushes and much more

Pixlr Editor was once available as a downloadable desktop app for Windows and Mac, but earlier this year its developer announced that the free photo editor would be going online-only.

Pixlr Editor's main appeal is its layer-based composition, which enables you to add, organise and edit different bits of content individually before putting them all together – so for example you might have a background image in one layer, some people in another layer, and some text in another.

There’s an excellent selection of editing and drawing tools, colour options and filters, and photo veterans will smile when they see familiar friends such as Gaussian Blur, Heat Map and Night Vision. There’s also a companion web app, Pixlr-o-Matic, for getting creative with photo filters.

Try it online: Pixlr Editor

Some of its tools are only available to subscribers, but Fotor offers an excellent selection of filters and other image enhancing options completely free

4. Fotor Photo Editor

Free photo editing software that includes some excellent editing tools, but the very best ones are only available as in-app purchases

Fotor Photo Editor is an interesting one: it’s available as a Mac app for download, but it’s also online as a browser-based editor (Chrome is recommended; if you visit in Safari you’ll be warned of potential issues).

Fotor is best described as a photo enhancer: its tools enable you to change the parameters of an image – colour levels, brightness, rotation, vignettes, size and so on – or to digitally slim people or remove wrinkles, and there are some cool creative tools including focus effects.

The main app is free but some features require a subscription to Fotor Pro: smoothing, blush, reshape, most filters and many special effects are watermarked in the free edition. There’s enough here to have fun without paying up, but clearly the developer hopes you'll opt for a subscription.

Download here: Fotor Photo Editor

You won’t find layers and complex editing tools in Google Photos, but it’s ideal for speedy fixes

5. Google Photos

Google's image editor is a streamlined tool designed for simple editing

As with most Google things, 99.9% of Google Photos’ features are browser-based. There are uploader apps for macOS and iOS, which can add new pictures to your Google photos library automatically, but everything else happens online.

You get unlimited storage for images with a resolution up to 16 megapixels, but higher quality photos will eat into your Google Drive storage allowance.

Editing takes place in the browser and works much like Apple’s Photos app. You can choose from a range of colour filters, adjust lighting, colours and how much the image should 'pop', and you can rotate your image or crop it.

There are no tools for retouching blemishes or other imperfections, but for colour adjustment and filtering, Google Photos is pretty good and pretty quick.

Try it online: Google Photos

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