Free Aerial – Satellite Imagery & GIS Viewers

Do you need free software to view your aerial imagery, satellite imagery files and/or GIS data?

If so, you have come to the right place!

We’ve written reviews for two of our favorite free GIS and imagery viewers, QGIS and Google Earth, for your convenience. We’ve also included download links for each program as well as simple instructions on how to upload an imagery file so you can easily get to work.

Each of these programs:

  • Can be installed on multiple operating systems;
  • Will open a wide variety of GIS (i.e. vector) and imagery (i.e. raster) file formats; and
  • Allow you to display GIS and imagery files at the same time.

Please let us know by email if any of these download links do not work!



qgis screenshot

QGIS makes it simple to upload both raster and vector data.

QGIS is the standard for open-source Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs around the world. A Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS), QGIS is a user-friendly alternative to expensive GIS and imagery processing programs like ArcGIS, ENVI and Catalyst. Users can view, create, edit, manage and export both vector and raster data in numerous formats. Once imported, users can analyze data and create maps, then easily publish the results online through the QGIS Web Client or dive even deeper into analysis by integrating one of the many Python plugins. In addition to QGIS Desktop for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android, users can publish web maps through QGIS Server and view maps on mobile devices through third-party apps. Download this free GIS software here.

User Friendliness Rating: 3.5/5

Available On: Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, Windows and Android

Type: Desktop

How to Upload an Imagery File:

  1. On the header bar, click File
  2. Click Add Layer
  3. Select Add Raster Data
  4. Choose the imagery file you want to import

Usability Pros:

  • Similar to ArcGIS
  • Can be used with advanced cartography tools and Pythons plugins
  • Analyzes both raster and vector data
  • Integrates with other open-source GIS systems to extend functionality
  • Can be used for both basic tasks and specific tasks (disaster reduction, terrain analysis, environmental resource mapping, etc.)
  • Youtube and Internet support resources available

Usability Cons:

  • Figuring out how to export data can be tricky

File Formats Accepted: GeoTIFF, ERDAS IMG, ArcInfo ASCII GRID, JPEG, PNG, SHP, TIN, essentially all cartographic data types


Google Earth


google earth screen

Load image and vector files into Google Earth Desktop with ease.

Google Earth is the best-known free imagery viewer, as well as the easiest to use. While Shapefile or .KMZ/.KML formats work best, Google Earth accepts most image files like TIFFs, and vector files including MapInfo, generic text and CSV files. After importing data, users can apply style templates, add place markers, highlight key features, and draw on the map. Users can also collaborate and create a project presentation to share with others. For a different experience, users can try 3D view or Streetview for a 360-degree perspective of their data. You can access the desktop version of Google Earth here.

User Friendliness Rating: 4/5

Available On: Desktop Mac, PC and Linux; mobile and online versions available but they do not support raster files

Type: Desktop

How to Upload an Imagery File:

  1. On the header bar, click File
  2. Click Open
  3. Navigate to and Select the imagery file you want to import
  4. Click Open

Usability Pros:

Usability Cons:

  • Works best with small file sizes
  • Ruler tool must be added to the toolbar before it can be used

File Formats Accepted: KML/KMZ or SHP (vectors); GeoTIFF, NTF, IMG, PNG, JPG, HDR, PIX PNM and BMP (rasters); detailed data import directions can be found here