11 Best Free Photo Editing Software for Mac: 2021 Review

January 01

18 min. to read

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Need to get your photos all polished up with an online photo editor[a][b]? Want to do it without breaking the bank? We’ve got the best free photo editing software for Mac users.

You want your photos to look their best. And ideally, you want to make that happen without spending a lot of time learning a new program or dropping a lot of money on software. We get it.

To help you out, we’ve put together this list of the best free photo editing software for Mac. Take a look and get those JPEGs and RAW files queued up.

(Don’t worry, PC devotees — we won’t leave you high and dry when it comes to the best free image editors. Many of these will work for Windows, too. We’ll let you know which platforms each app or program is compatible with in the “Where you can use it” section.) 

The Best Free Photo Editing Software for Mac

Some of the winners on our list are available as desktop apps, while others are strictly available as online photo editors. Some are free trials of paid programs, and others are genuine, no-strings-attached free photo editors.

Choose any of the options on this list and you’ll have yourself one of the best photo editors for your next project. 

Free photo editing software for Mac: 11 of our favorites


1. Apple Photos

Where you can use it: Mac 

Why we love it: We thought we’d start with the OG of Mac photo editors. Photos made its first appearance in 2015, on OS X Yosemite 10.10.3. Since then, it’s cemented its reputation as the best free photo editing software for Mac. The tools are intuitive and simple to navigate, and the integration with iCloud Photo Library is seamless. Plus, as a built-in Mac app, it’s genuinely, totally free — which is why we’re more than happy to name it the best free image editor. Learn more about what this Mac photo editor can do for you.

What could be improved: If we have a complaint about Apple Photos, it’s that the photo enhancement features are relatively limited. The app works well as a basic photo editor, but for more complex creative work, you’ll want to look into some other options.

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2. Luminar

Where you can use it: Mac and Windows

Why we love it: Luminar boasts 60-plus filters for maximum results with minimum time and tinkering. The app comes with all the photo editing tools standard in professional-grade software, including layer functionality, transforming and cloning, and a collection of versatile brushes. It’s available as a standalone app or as a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop. Luminar has been ranked among the best photo editing software for Mac by CleverFiles and Photolemur, among others.

What could be improved: Mobile users might consider a mobile-specific app for an on-the-go photo editor, since Luminar is desktop only. Also, it doesn’t quite qualify as a free photo editor, but you have 7 days to try it out risk-free. Curious about what Luminar can do for your photos? Start your free trial now.

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3. Adobe Photoshop Elements

Where you can use it: Mac and Windows

Why we love it: While not truly a free photo editor, Photoshop Elements does have a free trial, and it’s far and away among the best photo editing software for Mac and Windows. The suite of automated editing tools — including for exposure, color balance, and reducing the effects of camera shake — make short work of the most common photo issues. This program allows you to move well beyond basic image editing into more creative work, so it comes as no surprise that Photoshop Elements is close to the top of our list of the best free photo editors.

What could be improved: Elements is not as powerful as the full version of Adobe Photoshop (which, of course, is exactly the point). At about $100 for the 2021 version, it’s also among the priciest options on our list of Mac photo editors.

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4. Darktable

Where you can use it: Mac, Windows, and Linux 

Why we love it: While many online photo editors are streamlined and fairly basic, Darktable is free photo editing software that can hold its own against professional tools. Its cataloguing and photo organization features are comparable to Lightroom (which is a major compliment). It works with JPEGs as well as RAW files, and the perspective distortion and lens correction features are impressive. Darktable also offers non-destructive editing, which is a huge plus.

What could be improved: The interface isn’t quite as polished as it could be, so it’s not as easy to pick up as some of our other contenders for the title of best free image editor. But considering it’s free photo editing software, that’s about all we can complain about. 

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5. Pixelmator

Where you can use it: Mac 

Why we love it: Pixelmator shows up in just about every conversation about the best free photo editing software for Mac. This software is powerful and versatile, with layer-based functionality that empowers users to create graphics as well as edit photos. With the latest version, Pixelmator Pro 1.4 Hummingbird, you’ll get access to a rich array of features and tools. Our favorites include machine-learning-enabled color matching, a sleek new Free Transform tool, and new templates sized for iPhone, Mac, and Apple Watch. As a true Mac photo editor (i.e. one built from the ground up for macOS), Pixelmator is right up there with the best of them.

What could be improved: It’s only the trial that’s free — you’ll need to purchase the full version of Pixelmator to use it beyond the first 30 days. The effects and filters are impressive, but not as intuitive as some other options, so there’s a bit of a learning curve for those who are new to Mac photo editors.

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6. GIMP

Where you can use it: Browsers for Mac, Windows, Linux

Why we love it: GIMP — short for GNU Image Manipulation Program — has long been a contender for the best free image editor. In fact, it’s been consistently ranked the best free photo editor for Mac, or close to it, since not long after its debut in 1996(!). Originally developed for Linux, this open-source online image editor provides a rich array of tools, with capabilities for everything from image retouching to image format conversion to drawing and graphics creation. The interface echoes Photoshop in many ways, so if you’re used to Adobe software, you’ll find it easy to switch to GIMP.

What could be improved: Because of the open-source, volunteer-run nature of the program, there are occasional bugs that you wouldn’t see in professionally developed software. But that’s not nearly enough to knock it off our list of the best free photo editing software for Mac.

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7. Fotor

Where you can use it: Mac, Windows, Linux 

Why we love it: Fotor is designed to be a straightforward, easy-to-use photo editing platform with one-touch results. At that, it succeeds brilliantly. The filters are designed to punch up your photos with a single click, and they yield impressive results. What really secures Fotor’s place on our list of the best photo editing software for Mac is the batch processing. Use it to apply the same filter to a big group of photos — maybe those beach shots that all came out so darn overexposed — and do all the color correcting you need in one fell swoop. (Techradar has all the nitty-gritty details on Fotor in their review.)

What could be improved: There’s a downside to Fotor being as sleek and intuitive as it is, and that’s a lack of high-end features. If you need to do highly detailed retouching with a clone brush, for example, you’ll need to look to another Mac photo editor. We’re also not crazy about the ads in this free photo editor, but you can pay for the Pro version for a cleaner experience.

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8. Picktorial

Where you can use it: Mac

Why we love it: Now on version 4.0, Picktorial is free photo editing software with a suite of impressive features. The built-in photo organization tool is a nice touch, and the filters and effects hold their own against more expensive photo editing programs. Picktorial can even be used as an extension to Apple Photos, so you can use it to complement one of our other picks.

What could be improved: To really get the most out of this Mac photo editor, you’ll need to shell out for the Premium version (currently $9.99/month, or a one-time fee of $69.99). And although this is a ranking of the best free photo editing software for Mac, we do hate to leave our Windows brethren behind. We have to dock some points for the lack of cross-platform compatibility.

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9. Affinity Photo

Where you can use it: Mac, Windows, iPad

Why we love it: Affinity is jam-packed with professional-grade features: focus merge, photo stitching, PSD import and export, masks, filters, non-destructive editing — the whole kit and kaboodle. (And, although not every photographer will have a use for it, we have to mention that the Affinity brush engine is stunning.) Admittedly, the “free” part of this “free photo editor” is only a trial. But try it out and you might find it hard to let go.

What could be improved: We’ll be honest: The learning curve is pretty steep here. As a Mac photo editor, Affinity Photo is not for the easily intimidated. If you’re willing to put in the time to get comfortable with the less-than-intuitive interface, though, the rewards can be great.

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10. Google Photos

Where you can use it: Browsers on Mac and Windows, and as an app for Android and iOS

Why we love it: Google Photos is a straightforward but efficient online photo editor. The cloud-based photo organization system is a huge plus, as is the 15GB of free storage. We’re also impressed by the limited, but still useful, filters and basic editing tools.

What could be improved: For an online image editor, it’s a shame that the size limit on images is relatively small (only 16 MP). And it would be nice to have a desktop version instead of being restricted to the browser. Nonetheless, Google Photos still ranks among the best free photo editors out there.

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11. Pixlr X

Where you can use it: Browsers on Mac and Windows, and as an app for Android and iOS

Why we love it: This easy breezy little online photo editor is surprisingly powerful, considering that it’s about as beginner-friendly as they come. The slider-based adjustments and filters make it easy to tinker with your photos and get the right look without a lot of technical know-how. Pixlr X is somewhat unique among online image editors in that it doesn’t use Flash, which is both a good thing (in terms of security) and a not-so-good thing (in terms of the more limited functionality).

What could be improved: Expect a pretty significant amount of downsizing when you save your file with this online photo editor. You shouldn’t have any problems if you just plan to share your images on social media, but you won’t want to rely on this free photo editor for full-size prints.

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What’s the best photo editor for Mac?

To find the right mage editor for you, you’ll need to consider a few things:

  • What do you need to do with your photo editing software for Mac — simple image retouching or an intensive creative overhaul?
  • How much are you willing to spend? Does it need to be truly free photo editing software, or are you willing to put some money down if you’re happy with the free trial?
  • What’s your skill level? Do you need something simple and streamlined, or are you an image tech whiz?

Once you’ve got a handle on these three key questions, you’ll be well-equipped to find the Mac photo editor of your dreams. 

We hope our list has helped you select the best free image editor for your next project. If you want to learn more about Skylum software, we invite you to find out whether Luminar is the picture editor for you. Or if you’re ready to jump right in, start your trial of Luminar 3 now.

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No matter which online image editor or photo editing software for Mac you choose, we wish you the best in your photography ventures. May you never need to fix it in post.

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