Review of Serif PhotoPlus SE for Windows

Free Photo Editor Serif PhotoPlus SE Reviewed

Serif PhotoPlus SE Free Photo Editor
Serif PhotoPlus SE Free Photo Editor. © Serif

Publisher's Site

PhotoPlus SE is the free version of Serif's established image editor available for Windows users. For many years, Serif has offered free versions of their software to attract users, but users should note that with PhotoPlus SE, some features and tools are disabled. I've used a few free Serif applications over the years and have always been impressed by them. PhotoPlus SE is not an exception, and in many ways is an excellent free image editor.

Unfortunately, a few surprising omissions from the feature set do compromise the software.

The User Interface


  • Clear and intuitive interface
  • Slide out palette with 'How To' information


  • No visual cue to disabled features other than intrusive pop-up window
  • No keyboard shortcuts

The first impressions of PhotoPlus SE are very positive with a well presented user interface. Adobe Photoshop is the recognized king of the image editor applications and anyone familiar with using that application will recognize more than a passing similarity with PhotoPlus SE. Having been using Photoshop since version 3, I found PhotoPlus SE easy and intuitive to work with. This gives the software an edge over GIMP, which is regularly criticized for its unwieldy system of floating palettes, though GIMP does have the benefit of keyboard shortcuts, which are noticeably absent from PhotoPlus SE.

The main tool box is docked to the left of the screen by default, but it can be dragged out to float freely within the working area depending on personal preference.

Individual tool options become visible in the top bar when a tool is selected. Other palettes dock to the left, bottom and right edges of the screen and slide out when moused over. These can be locked in position if used regularly or allowed to slide back out of view when mousing out.

Another thing in common with Photoshop is the potentially steep learning curve for new users with little experience of image editing software.

However, one feature that will help new users is the 'How To' slide out palette which offers simplified information for undertaking basic steps in PhotoPlus, helping users to improve photos and get creative. There are further PhotoPlus tutorials available through the Help menu to lead new users through the steps needed to achieve popular effects such as giving a photo an aged sepia appearance.

The most frustrating part of using PhotoPlus SE is the lack of any visual cues as to which features have been disabled. If you click a disabled tool or feature, you will only know when a window opens explaining that you need to buy the full version if you want to use it. You quite quickly become familiar with the disabled features, but this can be a bit irritating.

Enhancing Images



  • Some key image adjustment tools disabled
  • Dodge and Burn tools disabled

Image editors like PhotoPlus SE can serve a few different purposes and perhaps the most common is image enhancement. This is basically improving the visual appearance of photos from a digital camera before printing them or adding them to a web page.

Any users familiar with Photoshop will instinctively find their way to the adjustments tools under the Image menu.

Unfortunately, once there, this image editor's Achilles' heel becomes apparent, as the first five tools have all been disabled in this free version of PhotoPlus. This means that there are no tools for editing curves, levels and color balance, which are tools that all levels of users will regularly use to enhance almost every image.

With image editor software, there is often more than one way to achieve similar results, and so adding layers with some blending modes can help get around this shortcoming. However that isn't an approach that I could recommend for someone looking to regularly enhance images. Photographers will also lament the disabling of the Dodge and Burn tools.

While it's understandable that Serif want to restrict the tool set to encourage upgrades, disabling such fundamental tools within an image editor does seem a little cynical and seriously undermines the application's usefulness.

If your image enhancement requirements are more basic, then the inclusion of a red eye removal tool will surely be appreciated to allow you to correct a common problem with flash photos from indoor events.

Publisher's Site

Publisher's Site

Creating Artistic Images


  • Layer masks for non-destructive editing
  • Extensive selection of brushes


  • No plug-ins system
  • Some Effects tools disabled

PhotoPlus SE is, however, more than just a digital darkroom and can be used as a creative artistic tool. The Effects menu, layer tools and Brush Tip palette come into their own for creative users.

The Effects menu offers a selection of tools that will be recognizable to image editor users and the Filter Gallery tool allows them to be easily applied to an image in combination.

The range of effects offered isn't very extensive and there isn't a plug-ins system, such as in GIMP, to allow these to be extended. An enhanced range of effects and artistic filers and brushes is reserved for the paid version, but there is enough in this version to get the creative juices flowing.

A notable inclusion in this free version of PhotoPlus is Layer Effects, which allow for the easy application of common special effects such as drop shadows, bevels, and embossing. GIMP users will be jealous as this is a feature which is absent from that image editor, and its presentation here is quite clearly inspired by Photoshop, which is no bad thing. Another powerful tool that more experienced creative image editor users will appreciate is Layer Masks, which allow users to edit individual layers in a non-destructive way.

Creative users will also enjoy the wide range of themed brushes included in the Brush Tips palette.

Many of these are abstract or texture type effects, but there are also many symbol brushes, including sci-fi and animal sets, which will keep most users happy for some time.

Graphic Design with PhotoPlus


  • Strong set of layer effects
  • Can be used to produce a complete design


  • No text frame option
  • Control of text is limited

    Graphic designers will primarily use image editors like PhotoPlus SE to produce graphic elements for inclusion in designs produced in other applications, however it is possible to use software like this to produce complete designs, such as posters or adverts where there is limited text.

    Control over text in PhotoPlus SE is limited; there isn't a palette to offer control over features like leading and letter spacing, but you can quickly set the font size with the cursor before you start typing and the Deform tool allows text to be resized and distorted, perhaps to give the effect of a condensed font. There isn't an option to constrain text within a frame, so line breaks need to be manually inserted, meaning this is only suitable for projects that include little text. The Layer Effects tools, mentioned earlier, offer a range of options for adding interest to text headings.

    Sharing Your Files

    PhotoPlus SE saves its files in a proprietary .spp format, but the application allows images to be exported to a wide range of formats. The Export Optimizer gives a good degree of control over this process, to ensure the resulting image is in the most suitable format, depending on how it is to be used.

    I found this tool worked very smoothly, but saving large images with many layers could be disappointingly slow, though users with more powerful computers may find this less of a problem.


    For a free image editor application, PhotoPlus SE offers a generally compelling case. For many users, it may be a more attractive free option than GIMP because of its friendlier interface. Some of the positive aspects of the application include:
    • Layer masks
    • Layer effects
    • Wide selection of brushes included
    • Tutorials and help files explaining some popular effects

    On the other side of the coin, there are some frustrating negative aspects to PhotoPlus SE, such as:

    • Irritating pop-up window if you click a disabled feature
    • Limited filter effects
    • No plug-in system
    • Lack of keyboard shortcuts

    I personally like PhotoPlus SE a lot, and think that the similarities with the interface of Adobe Photoshop lends a real strength to this image editor.

    The application has a wide enough feature set to satisfy a broad range of users, and the help files and tutorials can help to ease new users along what could be a steep learning curve.

    Ultimately, what tempers my enthusiasm is the disabling of the curves, levels and color balance adjustment tools. While there are ways to work around the inconvenience that this causes, it undermines this free image editor's usability in a fundamental way. Had these tools been included, PhotoPlus SE would arguably merit full marks, but because those features are so key to the everyday usage of an image editor, their omission seriously weakens the case for this otherwise excellent piece of software.

    PhotoPlus SE can be downloaded for free from Free Serif Software.

    Publisher's Site

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    Your Citation
    Pullen, Ian. "Review of Serif PhotoPlus SE for Windows." ThoughtCo, Dec. 15, 2014, Pullen, Ian. (2014, December 15). Review of Serif PhotoPlus SE for Windows. Retrieved from Pullen, Ian. "Review of Serif PhotoPlus SE for Windows." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 22, 2017).