2021's Best Photo Editing Software
Between the ever-evolving professional camera and professional lens integration for smartphones, the photo industry is bursting at the seams with new software, a range of functions, innovative AI features, and user interfaces to fit anyone from neophytes to professionals. We know that picking a software can be daunting no matter the subject, but add in a range of color and light presets, AI skies, and the ability to smooth skin and shape objects, and the difficulty in making that decision is amplified! Not to worry, we gathered the best photo-editing software on the market and laid it all out for you.
Best Overall: Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020
Adobe Photoshop has been topping the photo-editing charts for a while now, and it remains the benchmark by which other editing software compares themselves. Photoshop Users prefer Photoshop for its single-click object selections, AI skin-editing, and simplified object removal. Professional edits are possible at the click of a button. The possibilities are endless with additional tools to support other creative ventures such as typography, drawing, and mobile and web design. While these add up to a seriously multifaceted tool, some find the interface to be a bit overwhelming.
Best Value: GIMP
GIMP brings a new element to the market, offering completely open-source photo editing software that’s even compatible with Linux. Users chose GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) as the leading alternative to Adobe because of its full-featured yet easy-to-use interface. This software is perfect for the beginner or the expert and everyone in between, offering image retouching, drawing, and the ability to create graphics from scratch. Not only is GIMP free to use, but you will also have access to a lifetime for free updates!
Best for Mobile Use: Adobe Lightroom
Brought to you from one of the most trusted brands of photo-editing software, Lightroom is built with the photographer in mind. It features cloud storage, making photos accessible across both mobile and desktop platforms, with presets at your fingertips. Users love how Lightroom’s step-by-step tutorials within the app allow them to successfully complete projects with a professional touch, even on the go.
Best AI Integration: Skylum Luminar
If quality user interface is at the top of your list for photo-editing software, Skylar Luminar 4 is for you! Luminar has the added benefit of not being a subscription service like other well-known photo-editing software, and features a one-time payment option that puts its AI skin enhancer, AI sky replacement, and smart presets all at the touch of your fingers. Users chose Luminar for both its speed and reliability, as well as its sheer number of automatic photo fixes that make magic happen at the single touch of a button.
Best for Creative Projects: Corel PaintShop Pro
Take your designs next-level with this combination photo-editing and graphic design software from Corel Paint Shop Pro. This software is easy to use whether you're an expert or just getting started. Corel features built-in algorithms for quick photo fixes as well as professional level editing tools. Users praise this software for giving them a tool they could use in creative ways such as creating holiday cards, banners, and crafts for the kids. Take note that Corel does not offer a Mac version at this time, something that may disappoint Apple devotees.
Best for Merging: Photomatix Pro 6
If you're a dedicated user of Adobe Lightroom, consider maximizing your editing ability by combining your plug-in with Photomatix Pro 6. Reviewers praise this photo-editing software for working seamlessly with their Lightroom plug-in, as well as its ability to merge their exposures into a single quality HDR image, ready for its automatic alignment and tone mapping.
Best on a Budget: Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is here to offer a cost-effective solution compatible across Mac, iOS, and Windows platforms. While reviewers weren't sold on the non-standard interface, they did tout Affinity Pro for the range of capabilities—RAW editing, panorama stitching, focus stacking, and digital painting, to name a few—available to users without costing them a bundle.
Best for Light and Color: ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020
While lesser known, ACDSee PhotoStudio is worth getting on a first name basis with. ACDSee is a comprehensive RAW photo-editing software featuring automated adjustments, face recognition, geotagging, and the ability to control the light and color in your photos with the utmost precision. Users raved about the seamless cloud storage integration, for one. Ultimate 2020, the latest version of this software, promises even more outstanding features including state-of-the-art layered editing and intuitive digital management.
Best for RAW Images: DxO OpticsPro 11
Photographers are starting to shoot RAW images, giving them higher quality and unprocessed photos. DxO OpticsPro 11 is here to offer the best solutions for handling RAW images with its smart lighting, intelligent boosting of local contrast, and automatic recovery of colors and details. Reviewers said over and over again that this software offered them the best noise reduction out there on the market.
Best for Frequent Updates: Cyberlink PhotoDirector 11 Ultra
From the brand that brought you high-quality video-editing comes Cyberlink PhotoDirector, powered by AI to create stunning works of art right before your eyes. Cyberlink is constantly adding new features to upgrade your experience with frequent updates. Users loved its smooth UI, thorough noise reduction, unique body shaper tool, and the special effects for multiple-exposure and HDR images.