Killer Download

Once I've taken care of installing security software on a new a PC, one of the first programs I end up downloading is an image editor. Whether I'm using it to make a quick edit to a screenshot, convert a digital photo to a more Web-friendly image format, or even something as mundane as cropping an image for a desktop background, an easy-to-use image editor is a must have. Those of you with recently acquired computers probably have a lot of holiday photos you've resolved to go through, so this little collection will definitely come in handy.

Obviously, Photoshop is the heavyweight champ in the image-editing category, but most people don't need such an advanced toolset for everyday image-editing tasks. Also, $650 (for Photoshop CS3) is not exactly pocket change for most of us. Fortunately there are a lot of options available at a fraction of the cost, and some of the best downloadable image editors are completely free. For those who just need a tool with a modest feature set for everyday tasks, I've rounded up my three favorite free image editors.

For the most lightweight and nimble editor, IrfanView is the best choice (Credit: CNET Networks)

IrfanView is longtime user favorite for its simplicity. It was the go-to for free image editors a few years ago and remains as one of the best for quick image editing. Basic features such as cropping, resizing, and file conversion are all part of the toolset, and if you want more options, there are IrfanView plug-in packs you can download from the IrfanView developer site. This one doesn't have the prettiest interface of the group, but for basic tasks it gets the job done.

FastStone Image Viewer
FastStone Image Viewer\'s easy-to-access full-screen mode lets you view and edit your images without distraction (Credit: CNET Networks)

FastStone Image Viewer is the program I use to crop and resize screenshots here at work. I even have Photoshop on my hard drive, but it just can't beat the speed and convenience of FastStone Image Viewer. An intuitive interface lets you browse your image folders and select what you want quickly and easily. But my favorite thing about this free program is the ability to double-click an image to bring it up in full-screen mode for closer inspection. You can then mouse to each side of the screen for pop-up tools for editing and basic effects, file management, and image info.

Paint.NET gives you more effects to play with along with a layer manager and history window. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Paint.NET is a free alternative that is closer to Photoshop than the rest in this collection. Complete with Photoshop-like toolbars, a layer manager, a history window, and more image effects than the others, Paint.NET offers just about everything you might need. Though the feature list is not nearly as long as Photoshop, you can't beat what you can get for free with Paint.NET. The only caveat is you'll need to download Microsoft's .NET framework to run this program.

If you're a digital camera enthusiast or like to scan or collect images, you need a good image editor. These apps are definitely great for the basics and some offer extra features that make them an even better value. As always, if you have a favorite image editor which is not listed here, let me know in the comments!

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.