16 essential photo editor apps

Here's a list of the best photo editor software so you can decide which suits your needs and budget.

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Photoshop is the world's go-to photo editor – so much so that the word has become verbified, like 'Hoover' or 'Google'. This might give the impression that Adobe's Creative Cloud photo editor is the undisputed champion, but that all depends on what you use it for – for your purposes it may be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

There are a wide range of very capable alternatives to Photoshop, as you will discover, but our list of the best photo editors is going to begin with with the ubiquitous Adobe application.

01. Affinity Photo

Affinity photo editor software

We're big fans of Affinity Photo, one of the best Mac alternatives to Photoshop around.

Although there's no subscription fee for Affinity Photo – just a one-off fee – Serif had previously promised to release regular free updates to the app for at least the first couple of years.

Affinity Designer also launched recently on Windows – find out more here

02. Photoshop CC

Photoshop photo editor software

The replacement for Photoshop CS6 surprised everyone by not being the expected Photoshop CS7 but 'Photoshop CC'. And surprise turned to consternation when it was revealed that the software would be solely available via the Creative Cloud subscription service.

Time has passed and anger has subsided. Photoshop CC is head-bangingly brilliant, and has too many features to summarise in this small space – but here you can read a run-down of its 15 top features.

There's no doubt that the latest Photoshop is a hugely impressive photo editing application; probably the best out there. But it comes at a cost.

03. Pixlr

Pixlr photo editor software

Pixlr's mobile photo editing software comes with more than 600 effects
  • Platform: iOS, Android
  • Price: Free

Pixlr claims to be "the most popular online photo editor in the world", which may have something to do with the fact that it's free. But it also boasts more than 600 effects, overlays, and borders and lets you do all the main things you'd expect from a photo editor, from cropping and re-sizing to removing red-eye and whitening teeth.

And if you're used to using Photoshop, then you'll find Pixlr's user interface easy to pick up quickly, as it's very similar.

04. Serif PhotoPlus X8

Serif PhotoPlus X6 photo editor software

PhotoPlus X6 explicity sets out to recreate Photoshop's functionality

Whilst Serif make inroads into the world of Mac photo editing with its Affinity Photo, this is for all things PC.

Of all the tools featured in this list, PhotoPlus X8 is perhaps the most direct competitor to Photoshop in terms of trying to replicate the different tools in Adobe's software for the PC at a lower price.

It's definitely a case of getting what you pay for. To be frank, the tool can be tricky for beginners to use, and lacks the slickness and reliability of its big-bucks competitor. But in the right hands it's possible to create quality work with PhotoPlus X8.

05. Acorn

Acorn photo editor software

Acorn's new update includes the addition of non-destructive filters

Image editing software Acorn debuted back in 2007 and has provided hobbyists and artists on a budget with a great, affordable piece of photo editing software. Features include layer styles, non-destructive filters, curves and levels, blending modes and much more.

The latest version, Acorn 5, added improved speed, an enhanced UI and more. One of the most sought-after improvements was the addition of non-destructive filters, which includes includes a great interface to chain filters together to create unique effects. You can even save and modify your filters after you've closed and re-opened your Acorn image.

06. GIMP

GIMP photo editor software

GIMP is a popular open-source photo editing software
  • Platform: Linux/Windows/Mac
  • Price: Free

An open-source photo editor that debuted on Unix-based platforms, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Today it's available in versions for Linux, Windows, and Mac. GIMP offers a wide toolset - everything you're accustomed to is within easy reach, including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement.

The team that oversees development has worked hard to ensure compatibility too, so you'll be able to work with all the popular file formats without any trouble at all. You'll also find a very capable file manager built in, along similar lines to Adobe's Bridge.

07. Photoshop Elements 14

Photoshop Elements photo editor

Somewhere inbetween Photoshop and Touch, Elements is a powerful standalone app

This is the basic alternative to Photoshop Creative Cloud (or CS), as reflected in its great Quick and Guided Edit modes, but don't think that means it lacks power under the hood. Also, unlike Photoshop CC, Elements doesn't require a subscription.

It's now in its fourteenth iteration, and new features include an easier way to merge photos together, a new crop suggestion tool, extra effects and a way to create a combined Facebook profile and cover photo.

08. Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom photo editor

  • Platform: Windows/Mac
  • $9.998.57 (per month)

Adobe Lightroom allows you to have all your photography in one place, and organise, edit and share it from anywhere. Many creatives opt to use Lightroom as it can tackle the complex image management jobs Photoshop is not designed for, making light work of day-to-day enhancements and RAW files.

With Lightroom you can store images on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android devices and even have photos from your phone go directly into Lightroom as you shoot them. Syncing takes care of itself, so when you make an edit or flag a favorite in one place, it’s automatically updated everywhere else.

Next page: eight more photo editors (and some are free...)


Craig Stewart is the editor of Creative Bloq. Craig has written about everything from cars and design to football and tech for numerous national newspapers, websites and magazines, including Classic Ford, The Scotsman and T3.