A volunteer and collaborative effort to bring information about shared microscopy facilities to the University of Arizona and the community.

Digital Image Software

There are several popular commercial image editing software programs. Most of these programs were initially developed for the use of the desktop publishing (advertising), or amateur/professional photographers. The programs have many powerful features that are often completely unrelated to the needs of scientific users.

Since most of these programs can do all the tasks that are appropriate for scientists, choosing the correct program often comes down to weighing the factors of:

  • Previous experience with the software (the "learning curve" can be significant)
  • Cost (look into the possibilities of educational pricing for academic users or volume pricing if several computers will use the program). Note that some software (e.g., Photoshop) has switched to an annual subscription model.
  • Other programs or features bundled with the program
  • The program's hardware and software requirements (imaging is a resource intensive task for computers, newer software often requires updated operating systems)

The following list of commercial image editing programs is not meant to be exhaustive. Visit the vendor's web page for more information about the program. Be sure to review the hardware requirements and availability for your computer platform. (NOTE: the links that follow each program are to "tips" sites. Many of the tips will be for desktop publishing users and/or web developers. Scientists should be cautious in the use of some of these tips for image data.)

Photoshop/Photoshop Elements (Windows, Macintosh) Adobe Systems Inc

The Basics:

More Advanced Resources:

Paintshop Pro (Windows) Corel Corporation


Free Image Manipulation Software

GIMP (Windows/Macintosh/Linux)

"GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages."

Paint.Net (Windows)  Pinta (Windows/Macintosh/Linux)

"Paint.NET is free image and photo editing software for computers that run Windows. It features an intuitive and innovative user interface with support for layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools." "Originally intended as a free replacement for the Microsoft Paint software that comes with Windows, it has grown into a powerful yet simple image and photo editor tool."

"Pinta is a free, open source drawing/editing program modeled after Paint.NET."

Free Scientific Image Manipulation and/or Analysis Software

ImageJ (NIH)

Wayne Rasband developed the free software NIH Image many years ago. NIH Image only ran on Macintosh computers, so the software was re-written using Java, and now runs on Windows, Macintosh and Linux.


Reviewed & updated 05/17/2017. Creation of this web page was originally supported as part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of Arizona, NIEHS P30 ES006694.