10 free photo/image tools for Linux

Okay, you’re probably wondering why would anyone want an alternative image editor to GIMP – the GNU Image Manipulation Program. After all, it appears in all the major distros already and is easily the most popular image/photo tool for Linux OSs.

I might be wrong about this but I reckon GIMP is not an easy-to-use option, especially if you’re coming from a Windows background, which, if we’re honest, is where most of us are coming from. GIMP also isn’t great for serious photography given its 8-bit-per-channel limitation (Photoshop can do 16- and even 32-bit-per-channel colour). It does do a lot of things right but given it gets such a rap from most people by default, it’s worth looking to see what else is out there.

While Adobe still hasn’t made up its mind if it’s going to release a Linux version of Photoshop, what else is there around that’s free, allows you to create or edit images and doesn’t require a post-grad degree in multimedia graphics to use?

This isn’t an exhaustive list so if you know of another, drop us a line below.

1. Inkscape

01-inkscapeInkscape is a Corel DRAW/Adobe Illustrator clone that is light and portable and even works well on netbooks. It’s requirements are surprisingly light and can be found in the Ubuntu archives if you’re an Ubuntu fan. It only requires GTK+ support so will work on most of the major distros (and a large truckload of the smaller ones too). Strictly speaking, Inkscape is a vector-graphics app so it’s not ideal for editing bitmap images (like your favourite photos) but for creating graphics and images, it’s one of the most well-featured tools you’ll find for your Linux desktop.

2. Digikam

02-digikamDigikam requires the KDE desktop environment (well, the run-time bits of it at least) but can be installed on GNOME or Xfce-based distros such as Ubuntu and Xubuntu. This is one of the best image editors “for the rest of us” who don’t need the complexity of a complete Photoshop app. The only problem you may find installing it on non-KDE based setups is that the help section doesn’t work correctly, due to its expectation of using KDE’s web browser rather than Firefox. Still, this is a simple yet highly featured tool that will help you knock your photo images into shape without needing to read a complete manual before you start.

3. Picasa

03-picasaGoogle’s Picasa comes in a version for Linux but is basically just the Windows version prebundled into a version of WINE, the Windows compatibility layer app. While it is free to download and use, it’s not open-source so you may want to think twice if you’re looking for something a little more “open”. Picasa can also be a bit sluggish although it’s not certain whether that’s Google’s programming of Picasa or whether its having to run through WINE as well. In functionality, it’s very similar to Digikam but with a more traditional Windows look (thanks to WINE). It can’t do everything GIMP can do but then again, it’s not meant to. Picasa also doubles as a photo manager.

4. F-Spot

04-fspotF-spot is the GNOME equivalent to Digikam. On the surface, it doesn’t look quite as polished as Digikam but users of Ubuntu/Xubuntu are likely to get just as good results from this as from DigiKam without the need to load in the KDE runtime environment to make it work. F-Spot is more a photo manager with photo editing features rather than a fully featured image editor but it does have colour correction options as well as contrast/brightness adjustment. Its management features including being able to burn Photo CDs as well as upload your images direct to Flickr.

5. Nathive

05-nathiveNathive aims to be like Photoshop and Corel Photo-PAINT however at this early stage, it’s more like Windows Paint. It’s about to come out of Alpha phase. It’s written for the GTK+ graphics library so that means it should work on most distros without any worry. The developer is wanting to achieve computer-nirvana – a tool that’s easy to use and as complex as Photoshop. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets there but for now, it seems it might take a while. The latest Alpha version is available as a .deb download but remember, “alpha” comes before “beta” so don’t expect it to be bug-free.

6. Krita

06-kritaKrita is about as close as you can get to an alternative to GIMP without coughing up some cash. It comes by default as part of Koffice, KDE’s office suite but like most of the tools here, you can install Krita separately provided you’re happy to load in the runtime environment of KDE as well. In Ubuntu 8.10, it’s a 106MB download so it’s not small but the results look to be well worth the effort. The impressive thing about Krita is its general desktop layout is far more similar to Photoshop/Photo-PAINT than GIMP so it feels easier to use.

7. ImageMagick

07-imagemagickImageMagick is a set of command-line based image tools that are used as the backengine for a number of image tools for Linux. It’s available in both Windows and Linux but the complexity available here is impressive, provided you’re happy to work with a command-line or Terminal prompt. Most of the work is done in the Convert application but you’ll need to spend time understanding all of the command-line switches to work out all of its possible functions. If you’re a developer and looking for something to do, a nice front-end for this would be an interesting place to start.

8. UFRaw

08-ufrawIf you’ve been playing around with any digital SLR camera for any length of time, you’ll know by now the minefield that is RAW image file formats. With every camera vendor having its own version of RAW, it’s not always easy to find an image editor that supports your camera’s version of RAW. UFRaw stands for Unidentified Flying RAW and it’s a great tool for being able to read many of the proprietary RAW formats and allowing you to convert those images into more generic formats such as TIF, PNG etc. It doesn’t have the major features of a GIMP but it still allows you to correct colour saturation as well as basic image editing features such as crop and rotate.

9. gPhoto2

09-gphoto2gPhoto2 is another command-line based image app but focussed more on the capture and retrieval side of things rather than image editing per se. It has some unique features such as the ability to set up supported cameras as remote webcams capturing frames at regular intervals. Combined the ImageMagick, you could create a complete capture-edit image application. It supports all the major consumer-brand cameras (1000 at last count) so if you’re looking for a way to get your photos off the camera via USB, this is one tool that should get the job done.

10. Nautilus Image Converter

10-nautilusicOne of the things I’ve always found frustrating is when you have a bunch of photos you want to send to friends but you don’t want to send the 5MB original maxi-size images you captured but rather just 1024×768-pixel size images that fit on the screen and importantly, don’t require MBs to upload. This little plug-in for the Nautilus file manager is perfect for batch-resizing of images, allowing you to convert a bunch of photos to a smaller size, ready for emailing. You just right-click in Nautilus and click Resize Images. Sure, it’s not a full-on image editor but there are times when the simple things in life are often the best. You’ll need to have ImageMagick installed for this one.

Have we missed any? Tell us below.

28 comments for “10 free photo/image tools for Linux

  1. February 8, 2009 at 4:26 am

    Honestly, when I came from Windows and using Photoshop to Linux and using GIMP, I had no trouble at all.

    GIMP is great for web graphics, and from what I’ve heard, they’re finally starting to do some work on making it a good tool for serious photo editing.

    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 5:48 am

      The trouble I had was with the split interface. Couldn’t get used to it. I’m not saying it’s wrong but I’m always a bit uncomfortable when there’s only one main option for doing something. I just thought to look and see what else there was. GIMPshop doesn’t cut it in my book. But yeah, I hope they do keep improving GIMP.

  2. Richard Bacchetta
    February 8, 2009 at 4:42 am

    I think you answered the question in your first paragraph by the alternatives you listed. I have tried most of them and they are good for lightweight editing, but none come close to Gimp in my opinion.

    I came from Paint Shop Pro in the Windows world and initially had some trouble learning Gimp, but sticking with it has garnered great benefits,

    As far as the 8 bit limitation, and I have no inside info, but I suspect with the speed of Gimp development you may see higher bit depths soon. And for the average user 8 bit is good enough.

    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 5:49 am

      Yeah, you’re right – Linux is a bit light-on for serious image editors – ones that are free at any rate. I guess you need to have a bit of the “burn the ships” mentality when using GIMP – it’s always too easy to go back to what you’re used to.

  3. Stephane
    February 8, 2009 at 4:46 am

    And what about Xnview ? it’s free too (ok it’s closed source). A really good image organizer converter with gui and command line.

    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 5:50 am

      Didn’t know about that one. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Craig
    February 8, 2009 at 5:54 am

    I use UFRaw for viewing the RAW images from my camera, adjusting white balance, and so on. From there the image goes to the GIMP for sharpening, other post-processing, and saving as JPEG.

    Regarding bits per pixel, it’s true that the GIMP is currently limited to 8 bits per channel (I think there is work being done to improve this), but then again, the JPEG format is only 8 bpc too, so if you don’t do much post-processing and you save your final results in JPEG, it’s not a problem. Some cheaper cameras don’t produce more than 8 bpc to begin with, though the better ones these days are 12 bpc or better.

    Another photo processing tool worth mentioning is Hugin, which does a wonderful job of stitching together large panoramic images from a series of photos.

    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 6:07 am

      Yeah, UFRaw is pretty good isn’t it? We’d be pretty stuffed if we had to wait for the camera vendors to sort themselves out and deliver a unified RAW format.
      I think you’re right about eight-bit-per-channel JPEG – most people don’t need more than that. I just have a problem with the interface and for some jobs, it is a bit like cracking a wallnut with a sledgehammer.
      Thanks for the tip on Hugin – didn’t see that one.

  5. mleigh
    February 8, 2009 at 11:43 am

    It’s not an “image editing” application per-se, but ImageJ is very excellent at image analysis. We are using it to analyze laser beam profiles. Many other people use it in astronomy and biological imaging. It certainly should get a mention.

  6. rennis
    February 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    As far as a GUI for the ImageMagick tools, use the “display” program. It will start a complete GUI for the ImageMagick tools (and is part of the ImageMagick “suite”) to allow you to do some great image conversion/editing.

    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm

      Cool, thanks Rennis. Is it available for both Windows and Linux?

  7. petrus1928
    February 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    What about including Showfofo in your list? In Windows, I’ve mostly used Irfan View for minor editing of photos – adjusting levels, resizing, cropping, rotating, applying various effects, etc. IOt’s an excellent freeware program. Showfoto in Linux has even more features, and I use it extensively for the same purposes. After all, many users don’t need the complexity of high powered programs like Photoshop & the Gimp for what our essentially relatively mior adjustments to a digital photo.

  8. petrus1928
    February 8, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    What about including Showfofo in your list? In Windows, I’ve mostly used Irfan View for minor editing of photos – adjusting levels, resizing, cropping, rotating, applying various effects, etc. It’s an excellent freeware program. Showfoto in Linux has even more features, and I use it extensively for the same purposes. After all, many users don’t need the complexity of high powered programs like Photoshop & the Gimp for what are essentially relatively mior adjustments to a digital photo.

    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 1:18 pm

      Yep, I agree absolutely. I use IrfanView myself but didn’t know about Showfoto. The only thing for some people will be the fact that it requires the KDE runtime stuff so it might be a bit of a download for some. Head to http://docs.kde.org/kde3/en/extragear-graphics/showfoto/index.html for details.
      Thanks for the tip, Petrus1928.

  9. Mark Lord
    February 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Totally missed the best of the freebies: xv

    This little standalone app is seriously overlooked by everyone. Could hardly work without it here!


    • darren
      February 8, 2009 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks for the tip, Mark. You can get xv at http://www.trilon.com/xv/ however be aware that this isn’t really a freebie – it’s shareware for personal use and payware for businesses. But it could well be worth a look for some.

  10. February 8, 2009 at 11:57 pm


    RawTherapee is a big one you forgot. It’s not quite open either, but it’s free and has Windows and Linux versions. It has an amazing array of features, but in my experience it’s a bit slow and for me the interface just seems to make an efficient workflow difficult.

    • darren
      February 9, 2009 at 10:09 am

      Thanks, Vern.
      We should have made this “20 free Linux image/photo tools”!

  11. February 9, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I have a couple of other recommendations to look at. Rawstudio is a worthy contender for image editing. Fotoxx is something that is useful for light duties.

    • darren
      February 9, 2009 at 10:11 am

      Thanks for those tips, LinuxCanuck. They’re great.
      Linux really is awash with good RAW image manipulation tools.

  12. Roszyk
    February 9, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Though it is not open source, Xara Extreme deserves to be on your list. A great vector graphics application, the Linux version is free.


    • darren
      February 9, 2009 at 9:58 pm

      Roszyk, you’re right! Definitely well worth adding Xara Extreme. Not open-source but still a great tool to include.

  13. Tony Parker
    February 10, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Phatch is a great tool. It provides a very well thought-out GUI for designing a workflow to operate on a batch of photos.


  14. February 10, 2009 at 1:23 am

    I haven’t seen anyone mention one of my favorite graphics tools, Gwenview:


    Gwenview was included in a Slackware install some years ago, and I always added it from repositories going forward with other distros and KDE. One can do some basic photo editing (mostly simple stuff like flipping orientation and resizing), but Gwerview’s strength is as a photo browser. Sometimes, I just want an app that will take me through my photo collection rapidly, while offering slideshows as well. Gwerview has it all. Hope this is helpful.

  15. Johnny
    February 10, 2009 at 4:19 am

    LightZone is the ONE !

    Try it, its fantastic.

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