Of the free image editors we have tested our favorite is PhotoPlus 6 by Serif. It allows you to fix and enhance your digital photos in a variety of ways. In addition you can create high quality bitmap images and even web animations. For these reasons it beat out the field of six or so products that can be considered free photo editors.
With PhotoPlus 6 you can enhance your digital pictures with easy creative tools, including: paintbrush, airbrush, clone, smudge and erase. To give you total control there are adjustable brush settings for size, shape, softness and fade. Few free programs allow you to work with layers. PhotoPlus 6 lets you apply bevels and drop shadows to create sophisticated-looking text and images. You can even use the layer manager to make additions and enhancements to images without affecting the originals picture, just like the professional software such as Photoshop CS3! We found it easy to adjust brightness, contrast, sharpness, color hue, saturation, remove red-eye and more! You can enhance, repair and tweak your photos for consistently great results time after time. The flexible and fun deform tool lets you rotate, resize, skew, reshape and add perspective to any selection or even specific layers. This feature is powerful, yet easy to master, providing amazing results. For professional results you can add editable, deformable text to your images and further enhance your text with stunning drop shadows and even create bevel effects. A feature we use on some of our websites is the ability to easily create animated GIFs for websites and presentations. With PhotoPlus this is easier than you think. You could pay a lot for this feature alone!
Another image editor that we like is PaintNET. This program just keeps getting better and better yet in some ways it is also getting easier and more intuitive to use. It features a number of automatic adjustments but as often is the case you will get better results if you take manual control and use your own judgement as to what looks better. This free product like PhotoPlus 6 above, allows you to work in sophisticated ways with layers. Mistakes are no problem with an unlimited undo feature.
The final product we would like to mention is GIMP for Windows. This is an open source product that is constantly evolving. We found it a little difficult to get installed properly but once installed we discovered it to be quite powerful and especially appreciated the dozens of tutorials available. We have used this product to retouch a number of photos with great results.
While none of these free products have even close to the feature set of a product like Photoshop they still will allow you to quickly and easily make sophisticated improvements to your digital images without spending hours figuring out how to make the program work! You may want to install a couple of these free image editing programs to allow you to take advantage of the specific strengths each has to offer.