Startups rarely experience seamless growth. You might dream of launching a business, offering a fantastic product, and swiftly seeing new customers flock to you — but that isn’t realistic. In truth, startup fortunes are heavily determined by the quality of their marketing. And in these times of such corporate competition, video marketing is a tool that everyone should be using.
That’s a nice idea, certainly. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of everything great about video content? It gets a lot of attention, keeps people around for minutes at a time, and allows you to communicate complex points much more efficiently than you can through rich text.
Well, the issue is the editing process. Releasing raw video footage is a terrible idea. It’ll frequently drag, include all the mistakes that would otherwise hit the blooper reel, and — most significantly — limit you to single takes. Any video longer than 30 seconds with no edits is likely to be a complete disaster.
But startups aren’t flush with cash, and grabbing Adobe Premiere Pro — let alone a seasoned editor with relevant skills — is hardly inexpensive. But despite what many think, tools like Adobe Premiere (or Final Cut Pro X on MacOS) are far from the only options for video editing. There are free video editors out there that can provide all the features you need to get great results.
In this guide, we’re going to set out the best free video editing software (as we see things, at least), but only after we go over video editing in a little more detail and address the concern that free video editing software is too good to be true. Let’s get started!
What does video editing software do?
The wording of video editing software makes it hard to miss the central purpose, but you can know that much without knowing the key mechanisms. When you get down to brass tacks, what does video editing actually involve? Well, here’s a simple way to put it:
Video editing software allows you to freely arrange video clips, audio clips and images to create a new video that meets your needs. It may also provide methods for tweaking those component parts: deploying video filters, for instance, or making audio louder.
Excellent video editing can take a handful of boring video clips and turn them into a captivating montage. This is why you need a capable video editing tool on your side. And while many smartphones now have some built-in options for simple video editing, producing edits with any complexity will always be massively easier on a personal computer.
That means you need editing software to suit. Windows, Mac and Linux platforms all have solid options these days, with many tools being cross-platform.
With that said, you’ll mostly find editing software for Windows (Mac being a close runner-up due to so many media professionals using MacBooks, with Linux in a distant third).
Is there a catch with free video editing software?
You may have heard that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so how can you receive a delicious buffet of video editing features without needing to pay? It’s smart to be skeptical. After all, you don’t want to download something that’s ostensibly a free editing tool only to discover that all the worthwhile features are inaccessible unless you pay.
And in many cases, there are catches with free video editing software. A free version can have limits on the file types or sizes you can use, particular functions or filters that only customers can access, update limitations, or even omnipresent watermarks. Software developers want you to spend money on their creations, obviously, and they’ll try various means to achieve that.
But the catches vary massively in significance, and the designers of the best free editing tools don’t pressure you to pay for them. Instead, they seek to make their programs so useful that you choose to upgrade because you want the extra features — not because the features in the free versions are fundamentally deficient.
We’ll always point out the catches for any video editor we recommend, so you needn’t fear that you’ll get bait-and-switched with features that aren’t truly free. Let’s get to our selection, then.
The best video editing software: our selection
You want a free video editor. You need a free video editor. But you don’t want to just grab the first one you see: ZX Super Deluxe Hyper Video Free Cut Pro Express seems a little sketchy. No problem! Anything from the list below will do a solid job:
Best overall: Lightworks
Lightworks has seen a lot of use in the film industry, showing enough quality to be chosen for huge releases like The Wolf of Wall Street, Pulp Fiction, and The King’s Speech — and if it’s good enough for Scorsese and Tarantino productions, it’s good enough for your small-scale startup needs. But can the free version meet all your requirements?
Well, in all likelihood, yes. The restrictions mostly limit the export formats you can choose, making some formats completely inaccessible and capping the maximum resolution of others. You’ll only be able to hit 720p if you want to upload to YouTube, for instance, while you’ll have a cap of 1080p on your uploads to Vimeo — but you can export at full resolution in a core format and convert to the format you need using another tool if that’s necessary.
Outside of those limitations and some lacking hardware support and project management features, you get the fully-fledged Lightworks experience, all for free. The same core set of options used for those big-budget movies will lie at your fingertips. And while it isn’t the most intuitive solution, it has enormous potential, making it our top pick overall.
Best for beginners: VideoPad
If you find Lightworks rather too intimidating (which isn’t wholly unreasonable), then you’ll need a more beginner-friendly option — and that’s where VideoPad enters the frame. It’s simple and easy to use with an intuitive interface and a surprisingly-robust range of features that make it more powerful than you might expect from this type of tool.
Being more powerful than you might expect doesn’t make it outright powerful, though, particularly relative to options like Lightworks. If you want to do anything more than get to grips with basic editing and put together some simple videos with minimal effects, you’ll struggle to find the features you’re looking for. VideoPad can also be somewhat unclear about which tools are available to free users, possibly in a deliberate effort to spur purchases.
A good alternative to VideoPad if you’re an Apple aficionado is Apple iMovie. Available for free on MacOS and iOS devices, it’s blessed with the kind of design polish you’d expect from Apple (with a drag and drop interface), and gets more powerful with every iteration — but it wasn’t built for high-end use, so be mindful of its limitations if you choose it for a big project.
Best for advanced users: DaVinci Resolve
If you’re a seasoned video editor looking to flex your creative muscles using the most powerful software available, look no further than DaVinci Resolve, a program with elite color-correction features that have seen it used for box-office toppers like Avatar, La La Land, and Spectre. It even offers outstanding options for editing audio.
Upgrading to the paid version (DaVinci Resolve Studio) will get you sophisticated 3D tools, effect filters, audio plugins, and improved HDR grading, but you likely won’t need those for even your most complicated project. If you go with the free version of this advanced video editor, then, it’ll provide every feature you could ever ask for — and so much more.
If you’re set against it (maybe the interface doesn’t work for you), then you can try HitFilm Express. It isn’t all that much easier, but it’s somewhat different, and that can be enough when you factor in personal taste. Be mindful that it’s awkward to install, though: you need to promote the developer via social media to get the link to the free video editor!
Best for audio editing: Shotcut
Sometimes you care less about the video quality than the audio quality.
Startups often need guides and explainer videos with strong voice overs, and not all video editors are great at tweaking audio (pushing their users to use third-party audio editors, which isn’t ideal). Shotcut is a standout in this area, featuring tools for fine-tuning audio and a decent selection of free audio filters (where alternatives tend to offer relatively few).
Best for cloud users: Movie Maker Online
Not all computers have the horsepower to handle video editing, and this is an age of remote working — so why not lean on the cloud instead of editing software for Windows or MacOS?
Despite running in your browser, Movie Maker Online is a fully-featured video editor (albeit with some quirks). If you’re fine with keeping files in cloud storage, taking this route can make your life a lot easier. The access to royalty-free images and pieces of music is just icing on the cake.
So there you have it — a range of the best free video editing software for startups. Pick one of these to boost your marketing efforts and you won’t go wrong.