Five image editors for graphics novices

Today's image editing apps tend to be pretty sophisticated, with more bells and whistles than everyone needs or wants. Here are a few simpler alternatives.

When your users take pictures with a digital camera, they often want to tweak them a bit and perhaps print or post them on the Internet. Occasionally, they may also need a simple graphic design. At the same time, the mainstream graphics editors, like Adobe Photoshop, are simply too difficult (and too expensive) for the novice to use. Here are five applications to consider if your users (or you) need to do simple graphics editing at a lower, even free, cost. Some of them are more advanced than others, so you will want to take a look at each one and see which ones are best suited for the skill level.

1: Adobe Photoshop Elements

Adobe Photoshop Elements is a low-cost, easier-to-use version of the graphics editing powerhouse Photoshop. Photoshop Elements lacks the functionality to cover the full project lifecycle of a professional graphics artist -- for example, it does not have the tools needed to prepare something for a true print shop. But for the amateur photographer or new Webmaster, Photoshop Elements is a good way to get your feet wet with a capable tool at a reasonable price.

2: Paint.NET

Paint.NET is a free application for Windows that offers a good amount of functionality without the complexity of other applications. It supports the creation of plugins in C#, which means that plenty of developers already have the skills needed to extend it to support their creative vision. Like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and most other major graphic editors, Paint.NET uses the layer metaphor.

3: Fatpaint

Fatpaint is a zero-install, free (for noncommercial use), Web-based image editor. While Fatpaint supports both raster and vector image editing, its UI really walks you through concepts that other editors just leave you hanging with. In contrast to most image editors, Fatpaint uses a model where everything is an object to be treated separately, not pixels in a layer, which is a bit easier (I think) for new artists to work with.

4: Picassa

Most people who have never used Picassa know it as a picture-sharing system, but it has basic editing tools as well. While its toolset is limited, someone with very basic needs (cropping, removing redeye, adding text, and similar tasks) and no desire to learn how to use a full-fledged graphics editor will be able to get some miles out of it. From there, they can easily post their pictures for everyone to see.

5: Corel PaintShop Photo Express

Corel PaintShop Photo Express takes many of the more powerful tools you would find in a product like PaintShop Pro and puts them in a More Tools section so that beginners do not have to be confused by overwhelming options. It also has tools to lead you through common projects, like making photo books, and it includes an automated tool for correcting common photo problems.

Other apps?

Have you come across a good image editor for beginners or users who don't need a bunch of sophisticated features? Share your recommendations with other TechRepublic members.