Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Best low-cost and free image editors

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July, 2001

In this article:
1. 602Photo
2. IrfanView
3. Innomage
4. Pixia
5. Graphic Converter (MAC)

You can finally do away with Adobe Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, the two most popular image editors you can find around. Not that I do not like the two of them, quite the opposite, I
think they are great tools indeed. But, I am too frequently confronted with professionals, managers, entrepreneurs and other executive staff asking me how to manage and edit electronic images, without incurring the high cost (Photoshop's lowest price USD $ 540, Jasc Software Paint Shop Pro's by lowest price online is USD $ 80) and steep learning curve of the two market leaders.

Well, until now I did not have a reliable answer for them. I was also looking for a free tool that could be used in my workshops and seminars, to showcase some basic image editing techniques, without requiring students or workshop organizers to purchase a whole set of expensive software licenses.

So there I ventured into a 6-month long research of free or low-cost image editors that fit my DIET. DIET or Digital Image Editor Tool, is what I need to fully comply with my needs for a new course on "basic digital image editing" I have designed. I will be delivering it in the fall both in physical classes as well as online in a virtual format.

The DIE tool requirements for an image editor are:

a) Must be free or very low cost (below US $ 30)

b) Must be capable of saving digital images in different file formats (.gif, .jpg, .bmp, .tif, etc.)

c) Must be able to create freehand or multipoint selections, allowing for the creation of easy cut-outs (a much requested feature in my courses).

d) Must be reliable. Its version shall be higher than 1.0.

Indeed I have found quite a few pretenders to the be my perfect DIET, which to my surprise, offer what required and more.

I am reporting here a short set of reviews to the ones that I deem are the very best for the novice or the "budget-conscious" digital image hacker.

You can give them a try too, as they are just a download away.


= interesting, promising

Graphical file formats supported: GIF, JPG, PSD.
PSD (Photoshop) file format support is very good: you can open standard Adobe PhotoShop files with this tool without any problem.

Unfortunately 602Photo cannot manage layers (these are electronic sheets containing different images that you can superimpose on each other, with varying degrees of transparency). However opening Adobe Photoshop files it is by itself absolutely a plus.

The editing commands are interactive, you can change the value of the parameter you are editing and you will see in real time the change to the actual image. This allows us to save a lot of time and to fine-tuning any effect in a very precise way, with visual feedback.

The selection features are among of the most advanced ones found in this class of software. You have several options if you want to select an image. Most important is the possibility to make a selection using the "freehand" mode. Really useful to create cut-outs of shapes from an image or to create photo clip-art, symbols, and icons.

602Photo does support the .GIf format (!) but unfortunately you cannot control the number of colors (only 2, 16 or 256), nor the transparency or any other advanced GIF feature (optimized color palette, Web safe palette, arbitrary number of colors, animation).

Well, for the price you paid...

I like the possibility to set the compression value for a JPEG picture. In 602Photo a value can be set in the range between the usual range of 0-100.

For the JPEG export facility there is no advanced optimization feature but at least you can do a decent work in publishing a JPEG file on the Web.

The help section is decent: a standard reference manual explains the purpose of almost all the commands and buttons. The interactive help allows you to drop the question mark on top of a button to discover its function: pretty standard but damn useful when it works. Very good is also the online support on the Web: FAQ, printed manuals, support forums, knowledgebase. If you have a problem with this tool, I am quite sure you WILL get help here.

Very classy user interface: "smooth", cute, and following the Windows Operating system guidelines. Very useful the open file dialog with previews of the images files to be opened. Furthermore, the dialog box itself is resizable.


Light, fast and easy to use.

Several graphical file formats supported.

Saves GIF files, crops, resizes images.

Could be easily used as an image viewer.


Doesn't allow editing for professional Web editing

The undo command is precious and absolutely a must in a program like that. Well, you don't have multiple levels undo like in a full featured commercial package, so you should be careful in doing too many substantial changes to your picture too fast, because you can recall back only the previous unmodified image.

I tried all the effects built in... uhm... I must confess they are pretty useless. Very low quality in the results. Very low flexibility: I cannot see any wise use of them. What a pity.


602Photo is part of 602Pro PC SUITE 2000b for Windows.
You need to download the full Office-clone suite to get access to this specific tool.

Download your copy at:

Click here to go to the top of this page !

= must have

This is the best and the fastest that I've seen. And it is the absolutely free IrfanView, by Irfan Skiljan.

IrfanView handles some three dozen graphic file formats and has the unique ability to use PhotoShop plug-ins.

It is easy and immediate to use and it has one of the easiest and speediest 'batch conversion' features that I have seen before. With this facility you can set on "automatic" the execution of a number of repetitive tasks that have to be applied to a set of images (cropping, changing the resolution, saving in a different file format, etc.).

IrfanView is by all means a multimedia player, as it is capable of handling sound and movie files, audio CDs, and more.

If you are familiar with the ACDSee image viewer, you can think of IrfanView as bigger and better brother, with a unique difference. It is FREE.

Here below I have gathered some of the most interesting reviews on this tool available at CNet's

"Absolutely fantastic piece of software" I CANNOT UNDERSTAND HOW ANYONE CAN GIVE THIS PRODUCT A BAD RATING!!! Supports all major formats, has thumbnail HTML generator, batch file
renames, plays mp3 mpg & avi files as well as being a great image editor ans viewer. I no longer use windows media player this one is quicker to load and has other features WMP does not. Most of the problems that some people have complained about are answered in the frequently asked questions section of help.DONT believe these people for a freeware program its FANTASTIC. (brisman,

"Best* freeware image viewer/editor" IfranView has the highest 32bit and 16bit to 256 color conversion quality I have ever seen. There is very little color loss and the images are smooth with very little pixelization. It supports all of the most popular image formats and can convert between all of them. It's special effect options are spectacular and can be configured to suit your needs. It has many more options I don't have room to list, but on top of every thing else it's layout is simple and
easy to learn. Even novices can use it effectivly. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!"

System requirements:
Windows 95/98/NT/2000/Me

Fast loading.

It can handle over 60 among graphic and multimedia file formats! (It can open anything - see the detail at:

The Capture function is extremely useful when you have to make a large series of screenshots, you just press a hotkey and it's saved automatically to a pre-set folder.

Good help files, which explain technical terms like median filter, pixelize, resample etc.

Want to grab one frame from a movie? The viewer will extract frames from animated gifs, mov and mpg files.

Good integrated screen-capture facility.

The uninstall procedure is not easy to access, UNLESS you have clearly read the "uninstall instructions" during the installation procedure.

A few bugs. May be slightly unreliable or produce screen artifacts on some systems.

Download your fully FREE copy of IrfanView at:

Click here to go to the top of this page !

= must have

Innomage is a menu driven plug-in for your browser.

It allows you to edit, modify and retouch digital images without ever leaving your browser.

This is a great and innovative tool with no competitors in its own niche. Innomage basically enhances the functionality of Netscape and Microsoft browsers by integrating more than 50 imaging, special effects and display features.

Innomage is capable of supporting all of the basic graphic file formats including JPEG, BMP, TIFF, PCX, PNG and TGA. You can apply features like image brightness, color conversions, resizing, emboss, oil painting, and more directly while you are still in your browser.

Through Innomage you can create freehand selections of any image to generate easily nice cut-outs and silhouettes.

For easy viewing high-resolution images, it has features like zooming and panning. You can even select a part of the image and apply any of these features just to the selected part. You can then either print or save it in any of the supported file formats.

How does the Innomage plug-in work?

Innomage works in the following two ways:

1. As an Internet imaging browser plug-in(default): anytime the browser encounters one of these image formats, Innomage is enabled and the image is opened using the plug-in. You can then use the various image processing and display options provided by the plug-in, without leaving the browser window.

2. As an image viewer for your local files: if you also choose Innomage to be your default image viewer during installation, double-clicking the images from Windows Explorer will open them using Innomage. You can also open the local files by using File->Open from your browser window.

You can drag and drop images on to your browser window in either cases.

The Innomage toolbar will be displayed under the browser's toolbar and has different imaging features that you can apply to the image. Some of the buttons in the toolbar have pull-down menus with a wide variety of features that you can apply.

You can access a slow-to-download page which provides a decent demo of the program. You will see a typical screenshot of the program used as a plug-in within IE, but you can actually click on each of the menus and try out the different features.

To see this working interactive-demo-screenshot of it, please go to:

Also accessible on the web is a great documentation page, offering a lot of detail on Innomage functions and facilities. Find here explained how each feature work and how to use it. Documentation.htm

Simple, easy to use interface

Fast performing

Great documentation

Supports Opera5 and NeoPlanet browsers

Can save the latest JPEG variations and progressive formats in different color models

Color Convert images from any color depth to any color depth, using multiple dithering methods and palette options

Pan Window, displaying a scaled view of the image to indicate the portion of the image currently being displayed in the main window.

Process only a part of the image instead of the whole image and move that part to a different location in the image.


Innomage is offered only as "beta" release for IE 5.5 and Netscape 6. This means that there are still some bugs to be cleared when working with this plugin on one of these two specific browser versions. Since the release of IE5.5, developers of third party plug-ins are experiencing incompatibility problems and Innomage is no exception to this.

You can still download and install Innomage which will have the limitation of not being able to open JPEG, BMP and PNG files from the internet.

Netscape users should use File->Open Web Location instead of File->Open.

Download your 30-day free trial copy (2.1 MB) at:

Full version is available as Shareware at USD $ 30

Click here to go to the top of this page !

= worth knowing

Pixia is a free image editing tool created by a Japanese guy, fond of anime cartoons. The Japanese community supporting this tool is really vast and feeds an effervescent forum.

Designed and completely developed by the author, Isao Maruoka, Pixia is specifically designed to work with full color images.

Pixia is well suited to the tasks of photo- painting and retouching as well as to the ones of painting and drawing. A great free image editor from Japan. Completely free, this is one of the most powerful free image editors you can find around.

The interface is not as simple and straightforward as one would like it to be, but once you get accustomed to it, it does provide plenty of tools and functionalities to address any image editing job professionally.

You can use your own customized brush tips and even use an image file as a brush tip to create unique effects.

On the painting side, Pixia has probably no rivals in the freeware arena. It provides many "natural" (oil, water, pencil, etc.) media features as well as the facility to create custom brushes.

Pixia excels at combining graphics and images through different and separate layers. Well designed and functional are the features for making selections, and for all image processing tasks (done interactively).

This tool is particularly practical when cropping objects with smooth contours, because the selection can be made much faster and more precise than it is normally possible with conventional image editing tools.

There are several methods with which you can select specific portions of an image and isolate them from the other elements and from the background (see my personal tutorial on how to do this with any paint program at the end of these reviews).

Find also three great free tutorials on how to use Pixia at: softreview/cont_softreview.php3? archive=y&id=107

Excels at painting, photo-retouching and layering.

Good Pixia tutorials available online.

You can use your own customized brush tips and even use an image file as a brush tip to create unique effects.

Extensive Undo function for reversing previous commands.

Does not support GIF and advanced JPEG options.

Rich and complex interface. It may require some time to beginners to get familiar with all the functions and tools available.

Pixia is NOT recommended for Web publishing purposes since it lacks GIF support and advanced JPEG optimization facilities. To utilize images created in Pixia on the Web you would first need to transfer them to another tool (e.g.: Irfan View) and then save and optimize compression there.

Few graphic file formats supported.

Download a free copy of Pixia at: download.htm

Click here to go to the top of this page !

~~~~~~~For Macintosh users~~~~~~~

For all my Mac friends, who must be hating me for such unabashed racism against their favorite tool, I can only and still recommend the true and only Graphic Converter.

Go get it at:

Here the key features of GraphicConverter:

* Imports about 145 graphic file formats
* Exports about 45 graphic file formats
* Browser Batch conversion with additional actions Slide show
* Easy creation of optimized images for the internet
* Basic images manipulation
* Enhanced images manipulation
* AppleScript support
* Support for the special features of MacOS 8 and 9
* Support of new technologies like LuraWave LWF format

~~~~~~~For Macintosh users~~~~~~~

Click here to go to the top of this page !

Readers' Comments    
2005-07-04 14:32:28

Here is anothere excellent image editor.

2004-12-08 19:17:31


this article might be nice back in 2001, but not accurate/detailed (even back then) to be very useful and also too outdated now. For example, author said in point 2 that to be considered, the tool has to be able to provide freehand selection. But even in latest version IrfanView doesn't have it.

In addition, due to its early date, many good free tools available now are left out like Gimp for various OSs, Faststone Viewer etc. Or Open Office Drawing/Presentation if you simply want to add a bit drawing to existing image or cut something out.

For IrfanView, there was also very few features mentioned, like image transformation, batch conversion, aquire image from scanner, slide show etc. Screen capture is hardly any reason to be happy with an image editor - you could just preset "Print Screen" key for it! Setting compression value for Jpeg's also pretty standard even back in 2001.

Sorry to be so critical, but I do hope that the article could be more informative, accurate and updated. Thanks.

2004-09-24 16:27:42

Hon Kong

Through the internet, people who spend much time and effort on researching and sharing their toil and knowledge truly manifest the best part of human nature!

In my learning quest for photo editing, you have my deepest appreciation for providing such enlightening advice!

I have bookmarked your site to return later to learn more.

Thanks a great deal!

2004-08-08 13:38:20

Paul Bird

May I recommend another free bitmap editor called 'Brush Strokes' to your list which I have put at
. This is a brand new image editor which does GIF animations, captures video frames and all sorts. I believe it to be very high quality and lots of fun!

2004-02-19 08:02:47

Robin Good

My suggestions are all listed above, and though they are not as fresh as when they came out they still hold out pretty good.

The issue is: What kind of editing do you need to do with those images? Crop, resize, mask, contrast, color?

On my radar screen and on my own desktop I still personally use IrfanView for basic cropping, resizing and format conversion. If I need to do more sophisticated work I have found 602Photo and Serif PhotoPlus (5.5) to be two excellent free choices.

More recently I have also happily used FireGraphic which is a nice and lite new digital image editing tool. Give it a try.

Give me more info and I will share more of what I know.



2004-02-18 18:35:37


Hello there

I have an XP professional. I use eBay a lot for business; I need a very fast easy uncomplicated picture viewer to quickly edit pictures. Since I reinstalled XP I do not have the fantastic picture and fax editing of the 97 version, can you help me with that? as far as where I could locate that program? it was small fast and the best I have ever seen. It does not seem to come with XP picture and fax viewer anymore, instead it uses paint to edit, which sucks. Any suggestions will be great.

Thank you.


2004-02-05 19:36:42


I found your research of different image programs to be a great time saver. I'm am now going to download the irfanview program and see if it works in "xp". thank you for this info.

2003-12-06 17:35:21


I'm not sure if people appreciate the amount of hard work and research that goes into an informative and helpful page like this one, but I certainly do. I'd like to thank you for putting all this information out there. Irfanview is worth the price of admission alone. Thank you so much for your efforts on our behalf.



posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, July 31 2001, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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