Lightworks for Windows review: The free version falls short in export options

Export limitations mean it’s really more of a try-before-you-buy version.

lightworks vfx
Samuel Axon/IDG
At a Glance

Lightworks has an unusual history for free video editing software—it was born out of high-end, professional film editing software that was used to edit such Hollywood classics as Pulp Fiction. Today, it’s just as good with digital media, and it’s offered in both a paid and free version. The free version is strikingly powerful in terms of features, but its export options are very limited.

Check out our full listing of free video editing software reviews and buying advice, or move up to paid video editing packages, which tend to be easier to use. . 

Lightworks guides you through the process of setting up your first project with simple tooltips, but they’re a far cry for the powerful tutorials and wizards available in some other software. While it supports all the import formats that the paid version does, it can be tricky getting everything to import easily for the uninitiated—you have to define project settings like resolution, framerate, and so on before you import your files. If you set anything different from your video, you’ll have to dive into settings and tweak them until you get it right.

lightworks editor Samuel Axon/IDG

The Lightworks editor is powerful, but the program doesn’t do as much as some other consumer products to help total beginners learn how to use it.

Once you’re in though, it’s one of the most powerful free video editors you can find. For example, its visual effects tools are easily accessible, and they let you tweak every aspect of the image to a fine degree of detail. You can finely tune titles down to the exact pixels of their orientations and locations, carefully customize their shadows, and more. Unfortunately, the software doesn’t offer a satisfying solution for users who just want to drag and drop pre-canned effects and titles into their home movies.

As mentioned, Lightworks’ free version limits export resolution and format. It maxes out at 720p, and only in MPEG4/H.264. You can, however, export directly to YouTube or Vimeo. Other features like 3D, timeline rendering, and project sharing are also exclusive to the paid version. 

The export formats make the free version of Lightworks too limited for serious video editing enthusiasts, but it also doesn’t provide enough help to the sorts of home users who wouldn’t care about the 720p cap. Lightworks is extremely powerful, but its export limitations mean it’s really more of a try-before-you-buy version than a useful application.

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At a Glance
  • Lightworks was born out of high-end, professional film editing software. Today, it’s just as good with digital media, and it’s offered in both a paid and free version. The free version is strikingly powerful in terms of features, but its export options are very limited.

    Pros

    • A professional-level editing environment at a free price point
    • Impressive range of import formats
    • Easy-to-use and powerful VFX panel
    • Can export directly to YouTube or Vimeo

    Cons

    • Export limited to 720p — no full HD or 4K support here
    • Very little in the way of tutorials or guided wizards
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