15 essential photo editor apps

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 wouldn't be complete without the ubiquitous Adobe application, as you'll see.

01. Affinity Photo

Affinity photo editor software

Affinity has quickly become the go-to Photoshop alternative

We will never waver in our love for Serif's Affinity Photo, especially now that it's available for Windows as well as macOS, making it the subscription-free Photoshop alternative that everyone can enjoy. 

The latest version boasts plenty of amazing features, including full HDR merge support, 360° image editing, recordable macros and batch processing, plus a tone mapping workspace that enables you to turn any image – whether it’s a standard JPG or an HDR photo – into a dramatic scene, bringing out details you never realised were there.

02. PaintShop Pro X9

Shout out to everyone who used Paint Shop Pro on Windows 3.1
  • Platform: PC
  • $63.99/£53.99

PaintShop Pro has been the budget Photoshop alternative of choice on PC for over 20 years, and it's still holding its own. The latest version, X9, promises to be easiest, faster and more creative than ever, and comes packed with new features including ready-made project templates, a built-in screenshot function with a smart capture mode that lets you grab part of the screen, a gradient fill option and improved support for graphics tablets and styluses.

On top of the standard version, you can pay a little extra for PaintShop Pro X9 Ultimate, which adds professional-grade RAW editing, automatic photo corrections and screen recordings to the mix.

03. Photoshop CC

Photoshop photo editor software

It's Photoshop. What you gonna do, eh?

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.

04. 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 you'll find Pixlr's user interface easy to pick up quickly, as it's very similar.

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 15

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 15th iteration, and for its latest update, the team have automated elements of organisation and editing, so you can focus on being creative.

08. Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom photo editor

For straight photo editing, Lightroom is a must
  • Platform: Windows/Mac
  • $9.998.57 (per month)

Adobe Lightroom allows you to keep 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 device and even transfer photos automatically from your phone into Lightroom as you shoot them. Syncing takes care of itself, so when you make an edit or flag a favourite in one place, it’s automatically updated everywhere else.

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