Whether you are a casual photographer capturing moments through a smartphone or a pro with an SLR camera, photo editing software can help you bring out the best in your images. A photo editing program offers quick and easy access to essential tools for enhancing, retouching, and manipulating photos to your desired outcome.
The best photo editing software programs combine power and efficiency to provide users with the quickest path to editing perfection. Loaded with all the tools a user could need, some programs can be very complex with a steep learning curve, while others are more straightforward and easier to master. With more than three dozen photo editors available for download, finding the right software to suit your level of experience and editing needs can be daunting. To help narrow down the choices, we reviewed the best photo editing software in seven categories.
Best Photo Editing Software of 2021
Best Free Software
Adobe Photoshop Elements
Adobe Photoshop CC
Best for Professionals
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic
Best for Beginners
Best for Mac
Corel PaintShop Pro
Best for PC
Best Overall : Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is an all-in-one editing platform with powerful features that appeals to all but the most advanced photographers at more than half the cost of Adobe Photoshop.
Highly intuitive interface
Low one-time payment
Cannot catalog images
No automatic syncing
Affinity Photo is a professional-level, feature-packed photo editor with the ability to perform all the editing tasks a photographer could ever need at a much lower cost than Adobe Photoshop.
Affinity Photo has only been operating since 2015, but it has quickly ascended the ranks as a professional-quality photo editing platform. Adobe Photoshop might have a very slight edge in the number of editing tools and features, but Affinity has an extensive array of workflow tools to suit the needs of all but the most advanced photographers and graphic designers.
What makes Affinity appealing compared to Photoshop is its one-time, perpetual license fee of $49.99 for a desktop program that's Mac and PC compatible. That price point has greater appeal for photographers who want the same level of work tools as Photoshop without having to pay a monthly subscription.
Affinity offers a scaled-down version of its editing software for iPad users for a one-time cost of $19.99. For users who want to add top-tier, web-based designer and publishing capabilities for creating and managing social media content, Affinity offers both for $49.99 each.
On the downside, Affinity's platform does not include image cataloging or managing capabilities, but it can be easily combined with programs that do offer them. Also, Affinity does not have a cloud-based infrastructure, which means users must transfer images manually or sync them to a service like iCloud.
Best Free Software : GIMP
There are several excellent no-cost photo editing options, but GIMP (which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program) is further ahead with its professional-quality features that are constantly upgraded.
Excellent entry-level editing
Program can be sluggish at times
Launched in 1990, GIMP is a well-established software program driven largely by open-sourced coding. That means developers who have access to the source code constantly improve the platform based on feedback from users which enables GIMP to stay on the leading edge of entry-level programs.
For being a free software program, GIMP doesn't sacrifice quality or functionality. Designers, illustrators, and photographers find its professional-level features sufficient to meet their essential editing requirements. It will never compete with the top paid programs, but it doesn't have to. GIMP has a big following of photographers and graphic designers who like the idea of free access to quality editing tools.
Through its customizable interface, which allows users to change up the editing environment to suit their needs, GIMP offers a wide range of photo enhancement and manipulation capabilities. Its design capabilities enable users to create stunning artwork and professional-quality graphic design elements. GIMP also has a social media component allowing users to create graphics for uploading to social media sites.
GIMP can be downloaded to Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems and supports multiple plugins. Be aware, though, that GIMP can sometimes act sluggish because developers are constantly tinkering with its source code. Users can also access XGIMP, a mobile adaptation of GIMP.
Best Value : Adobe Photoshop Elements
Adobe Photoshop Elements is not the best Adobe photo editing software, but it includes many of its siblings' best features, including its AI technology and Adobe's top-rated customer support for a single fixed price.
Fixed price (non-subscription)
Easy to use
Short learning curve
Cost is on the high end of the single-purchase price scale
Requires a lot of memory space
No mobile app
Adobe Photoshop Essentials is the best Adobe photo editor that is not subscription-based. Actually, it is the only Adobe photo editor that's not subscription-based. But it still contains most of the tools, technology, and support that makes Adobe a market leader—all for one single payment.
At $99, Adobe Elements sits on the high end of the single-purchase pricing spectrum. However, considering you're buying into the industry-leading pedigree of Adobe, with the advanced tools and technology that comes with it, it's a great value. You can often find the software on sale for as low as $69 on sites like Best Buy and Amazon, which makes it an excellent value.
As a standalone photo editor for Mac or PC, Elements is better than most, but it can be perfect for beginners and users seeking to graduate to the more sophisticated Adobe Photoshop. With its sleek, easy-to-use interface, AI editing assistance, and Guided Edits workspace, Elements enables beginners to take advantage of its powerful editing capabilities quickly.
Elements has a helpful organizer that allows you to label and find photos by keywords, tags, or star ratings. It even has a simple, one-click share option for posting to social media sites.
Elements software and its installer takes up to 5 GB of space and can only be run on macOS versions 10.14 through 11. For PCs, the software requires an Intel 6th Generation or newer processor.
Best for Professionals : Adobe Photoshop CC
No other editing software can match Adobe Photoshop CC for its power, sophistication, and massive array of tools and add-ons.
Powerful and fast
Masking and selection tools are best in class
Sleek and easy-to-use interface
Compatible with many other photo editors
Mobile apps for iPad, iPhone, and Android phones
Too complex for beginners and casual photographers
Subscription pricing is on the high end
Adobe Photoshop CC is unmatched for its fast and powerful editing applications, offering full-featured functionality only a pro could appreciate, making it our choice as the best photo-editing software for professionals.
Adobe Inc. has been a leading graphics software maker since 1988, and Photoshop has been its hallmark editing platform since 1990. It has been among the top photo editing platforms ever since, and with its constant improvements and updates, Adobe aims to keep it there.
Photoshop offers three downloadable, subscription-based packages starting at $9.99 per month for its Photography Plan. In addition to the Photoshop platform, the plan includes Adobe Lightroom (see our choice for best photo editing software for beginners) with 20 GB of cloud storage. For $20.99 a month, the Photoshop plan offers powerful imaging and design apps with 100 GB of storage. For professional photographers who want to do it all, the $53 per month All Apps plan offers everything in the Photography plan plus 20 Creative Cloud and mobile apps, such as Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Premiere Pro, with 100 GB of storage.
Photoshop is a Mac and PC compatible desktop solution that can also run on iPad. A mobile app is also available with limited functionality. Designing graphics and posting them to social media is a snap. Users can use add-on apps, such as Adobe Social and Adobe Experience, to manage their social media content.
Photoshop is not recommended for beginners or casual photographers due to its complexity and cost. Also, Photoshop is not known for its capacity to organize your work, but if you run it in concert with Lightroom, it does have that capability.
Best for Beginners : Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic
With its detailed, guided walkthroughs of every module, clean and straightforward interface, and plentiful one-click presets, Adobe Lightroom is our choice as the best photo-editing software for beginners.
Intuitive user interface
Guided walkthroughs with each module
Extensive library of one-click preset edits
Mobile apps for iPhone and Android phone
Not as complete as Adobe Photoshop
Sometimes referred to as Adobe Photoshop "light," there's nothing a beginning photography enthusiast can't do with Adobe Lightroom Classic. Lightroom offers guided walkthroughs for every module to accelerate users up the learning curve, allowing users to master its clean and easy workspace quickly. That's why we selected Lightroom as the best photo editing software for beginners.
Lightroom was launched in 2007 to complement Adobe Photoshop as an all-in-one photo editing platform with image cataloging and raw-processing capabilities. Where Photoshop excels with photo manipulation, Lightroom is a more than capable photo enhancement tool.
For $9.99 a month, the Starter plan includes access to its web-based Adobe Photoshop Lightroom that lets users easily edit, organize, store, and share full-resolution photos anywhere. Or, you can pay the same $9.99 a month for the Photography plan, which adds Lightroom Classic and The Photography plan with 20 GB of storage. Or you could pay $20 a month for 1TB of storage. All plans include Adobe Spark, which allows users to create social media graphics, videos, and web pages.
Lightroom works magically with iPads, iPhones, and Android devices for automatic photo transfers with automatic syncing. Once there, the program lets users organize their work and share it from anywhere. Content can be uploaded to social media with just a few clicks.
Photographers transitioning from beginner to more advanced can simply add Adobe Photoshop for a more complete editing platform.
Best for Mac : Luminar
Most of the top-tier photo editors are compatible with both Macs and PCs. However, based on reviews, Mac users get more out of Luminar than PC users, making it our pick as the best photo-editing software for Mac.
Power AI functionality
Integration with social media
Low, one-off price
Money back guarantee
Mobile app for iPhone and Android phone
Limited image cataloging and managing capabilities
Luminar started as a Mac-only application in 2016, choosing to evolve into a multi-platform app. With its faster processors, larger storage, and overall greater computing power, Apple Macs can bring out the best in high-end photo editing software. While AI-powered Luminar shines on both Macs and PCs, its cutting-edge functionality and powerful AI algorithms perform like magic on a Mac, which is why we chose Luminar as the best photo editing software for Mac.
Luminar offers three standalone packages starting at $59 for its Master plan. With that, you get all the features and work tools a photographer needs to perform most edits. The expert plan for $99 adds several editing tools such as Summer Sky and Summer Portrait templates. For $158, the Guru plan adds editing templates plus a membership that includes free updates. Membership is included in the initial cost and then billed $59 annually starting in the second year. All plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Luminar's key feature is its intelligent functionality, enabling users to perform certain tasks instantly and sometimes automatically. Its AI algorithms can analyze photos, and with one click, fix imperfections, enhance colors, and add dramatic elements, which can streamline workflow substantially. Its easy-to-use interface makes it simple to move through workflows or between projects.
Luminar has a gentle learning curve, making it more accessible for beginners, and unlike other photo editors, Luminar integrates directly with Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr for simple, one-click posting.
Best for PC : Corel PaintShop Pro
Corel PaintShop Pro is a mature and powerful photo editor that continuously strives for excellence while keeping its cost low, making it our top pick as the best value for photo editing software.
Low starting price
Robust creative tools for graphic designs
Not available on Mac
No mobile app
Corel came out with its flagship PaintShop Pro platform in 1989 and has since stood up to Adobe Photoshop as a competitive low-cost alternative. Corel PaintShop Pro was designed for Windows and remains a Windows-only app, which means the company spends its resources optimizing its platform for Windows.
The starter PaintShop Pro package for desktop lists at $79 but is often on sale for $39. For $99, Corel also offers an Ultimate package with more advanced imaging and graphics tools. Even at $79, the software is an excellent value for beginners with access to an excellent help system with integrated learning tools. And its substantial creative tools and powerful features provide advanced users with most of what they need. Take advantage of Corel's 30-day free trial before committing to a package.
Corel has spent the last two decades refining the features that made it an industry leader while constantly improving the editing experience. For example, its new Photography Workspace provides users with a one-click capability for accessing and applying editing tools, which is particularly helpful for beginners.
PaintShop Pro's photo management workspace allows users to organize photos and create catalogs according to keyword tags, and it supports a variety of file formats for importing and exporting images.
While PaintShop Pro doesn't yet offer a mobile app, it does have touch-screen compatibility for iPad users. PaintShop Pro also includes a simple, two-step process for sharing photos on social media.
By most measures, Adobe Photoshop is considered the most powerful and complete photo editing software around. Affinity Photo nearly matches Photoshop on both counts, but it is more accessible to users of varying experience levels due to its low cost and more straightforward user interface. Affinity also wins out for its shorter learning curve, more streamlined workflows, and faster speed. Everything considered, Affinity Photo is our choice as the best overall photo editing software.
Compare the Best Photo Editing Software
|Company||Price||Free Version||Experience Level||System Compatibility|
|Affinity Photo Best Overall||$49||30-day free trial||Beginner to professional||PC, Mac|
|Gimp Best Free||$0||Yes||Entry-level with many advanced features||PC, Mac, Linux|
|Adobe Photoshop Elements Best Value||$99||30-day free trial||Most suited for professional photographers||PC, Mac|
|Adobe Photoshop CC Best for Professionals||$9.99 to $53.99 per month||30-day free trial||Beginners to advanced enthusiasts||PC, Mac|
|Adobe Lightroom Best for Beginners||$9.99 to $20 per month||30-day free trial||Beginners to advanced enthusiasts||PC, Mac|
|Luminar Best for Mac||$59 to $158||30-day free trial||Beginners to advanced enthusiasts||PC, Mac|
|Corel PaintShop Pro Best for PC||$79||30-day free trial||Beginners to advanced enthusiasts||PC only|
How to Choose the Best Photo Editing Software
When it comes to photo editing software, you are paying for ease of use, functionality, efficiency, and the latest in editing technology. Those are the essential elements of a good photo editing program. From there, consider aspects of the program more specific to your needs and experience level, such as:
- Tutorials or learning tools to move you quickly up the learning curve: Some programs have extensive tutorials built into the software. Others have just-in-time learning tools built into the navigation.
- Clean and intuitive user interface: Is the workspace well organized for accessing and switching between tools and projects?
- AI technology for streamlining workflow: Some programs use artificial intelligence to analyze images and perform or suggest edits, saving the time it takes to find the right editing tools.
- Enough editing tools and features for your experience level: Are you a professional requiring the most advanced editing tools or a beginner needing just the essential tools?
- System compatibility: Most programs run on both Mac and PC, but some operate better on one or the other.
- Price: If you are earning money from your photos, you can afford a subscription-based plan. For beginners or casual photographers, a program with a reasonable one-time fee is more economical.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Need Photo Editing Software?
Unless you are a professional, a hobby enthusiast, or a social media manager, you probably don't need to buy photo editing software. If you are just a casual photographer, you might do well with basic photo editors available through your operating systems, such as Photos of iOS or Microsoft Photo Editor. However, if you have ambitions of going professional or becoming an enthusiast, you should begin to acclimate yourself with more advanced photo editing software. Start with an entry-level program such as Corel PaintShop Pro or Adobe Elements, which should meet your needs until you gain experience.
How Much Does Photo Editing Software Cost?
There are several excellent photo editors that cost nothing, but they may have limitations. Most of the better photo editing programs charge a one-time fee that can range between $30 and $160, depending on your needs. Affinity Photo, our choice for the best overall photo-editing software, charges $49. If you have the experience to take advantage of Adobe Photoshop, you will pay a $10 to $20 monthly subscription.
Are There Any Photo Editing Software Programs That Are Functional Without Internet Access?
Most of the top photo editing programs are downloaded as standalone desktop versions. Some programs offer cloud storage or web-based tools with design and painting functions, but you don't need access to the internet for the most part.
Do You Need a High-Quality Camera to Use Photo Editing Software?
Unless you want to splurge for an expensive single-lens reflexive (SLR) camera, it's not necessary to have a high-quality camera to use photo editing software. Today's smartphones can generate high-quality photos, or you can opt for an entry-level digital single-lens reflexive (DSLR) camera if you're getting serious about photography.
Is Photo Editing Software Good for Beginners?
Many photo editing software programs cater to beginners who want to learn entry-level editing. It's a great way to experiment with photo enhancement which can be fun and rewarding.
How We Chose the Best Photo Editing Software
We reviewed 20 photo editing software programs and compared them against our criteria of price, ease of use, technology, functionality, experience level, and any unique value-add features. After narrowing the list to 10, we took a deeper dive to uncover the best photo editing software in seven distinct categories.