Since graphics are an important part of any learning course, anyone who builds e-learning should have a good graphics editing tool. The right one for you will depend on multiple factors, including the type of editing you want to do, your skill level, and the size of your budget.

For example, Photoshop is the industry standard for professional graphic designers. But, it has a pretty steep learning curve and provides far more features than the average person would ever need. So unless you really need all that power and advanced capabilities, consider some of these other options that won’t cost you a fortune.


With full support for layers, masks, and many other advanced features, GIMP is as close to Photoshop as you can get with free software. If you’re looking for advanced image editing capabilities without the expense of Photoshop, GIMP is hard to beat.

With all the essentials plus support for a few more advanced features, like layers, provides a good balance between capability and ease of use. 


Photoscape is an easy-to-use program that handles most of the basics, like cropping, resizing, and color adjustments. Photoscape is great for quickly adding speech bubbles, custom frames, special effects, and other pre-built items to your images. 


As an instructional designer, chances are you already have access to PowerPoint. But did you know that PowerPoint can handle a lot of the basic image editing tasks, from combining shapes to removing backgrounds and applying special effects? Learn more about how to create and edit images in PowerPoint  with these tutorials:


If your IT department doesn’t allow you to install unauthorized software on your computer, there are a lot of online graphics editing options that will work right in your web browser. The challenge is to find one that does what you need without drowning you with annoying ads. That's where Pixlr comes in. What's nice about Pixlr is that you can choose between two different editing options depending on your needs.

Pixlr X is a streamlined option that can handle all the basic editing tasks, like cropping, resizing, and color adjustments. It also has text and sticker options if you want to add a little flair to your images.

Pixlr Pro is a full-featured image editing and creation tool, with support for layers and other more advanced editing features. Though it’s not free, it’s much cheaper than its competitors at only $5 a month.

Do you have any experience with alternative image editing tools? What advice would you give to someone looking to add a free or cheap graphics editor to their e-learning toolbox?

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Luke Benfield

Seashore is a great, free application for image creation/editing for Mac users. I use it a lot for alpha and transparency editing. Works like a charm, and its U/I is much less intimidating than many other programs. General advice from my 'starting from scratch' experience: First, start by learning the terminology and basic functions of graphics software. Alphas, masks, layers, etc. For the actual programs: Start with the free stuff if you don't have a strong graphic design background, and look for blogs and user forums for that program like this one. Why spend tons of money when you can probably do a number of basic graphics operations with what you have right now? I still use Word/PPT/Publisher and Storyline for qu... Expand

nancy hoorn
David Holzemer