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The best photo-editing software in 2021

best photo-editing software
(Image credit: Serif)

The best photo-editing software can turn a mediocre photo into something impressive, or make a great photo even better. It allows you to do everything from making subtle tweaks to colour or saturation to the application of filters, removal of blemishes or even wholesale transformations. 

There's a huge range of options out there these days, so to save you from having to try them all, we've rounded up all of the best photo-editing software into one handy guide. Some of the software below is desktop only, while other programmes work in your browser, on a tablet, or even on your smartphone. Our guide covers every price point and ability level, so you're sure to find the best photo-editing software for your needs.

If you specifically need to edit on the go, see our guide to the best photo apps, and if you want to be able to view your images at their best, don't miss our buying guide to the best laptops for photo editing. Meanwhile, read on for the best photo-editing software available now.

The best photo-editing software available now

best photo-editing software: Affinity

(Image credit: Serif)

01. Affinity Photo

The best photo-editing software with a one-off fee

Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS (iPad only) | Developer: Serif | Price: $19.99/£19.99 (iPad) / $49.99/£48.99 (desktop)

One-off fee
Comprehensive features

Affinity Photo is a professional-standard photo-editing programme without the high price tag. Its impressive toolset covers digital painting, raw editing, professional retouching and the creation of multi-layered compositions. Other features include advanced lens corrections and best-in-class noise reduction, which allow complete control over images with quality results.

The software is also available as a dedicated iPad app. The first professional photo-editing tool to cater to the tablet, it was named Apple App of the year in 2017. Serif also has a graphic design package (Affinity Designer) and a desktop publishing app (Affinity Publisher) to cover other creative requirements.

best photo-editing software: Photoshop

02. Photoshop CC

Adobe's best photo-editing software

Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS (iPad only) | Developer: Adobe | Price: From £9.98 (per month)

Now on the iPad
Incredible feature set
Subscription model

There's no doubt that the latest edition of Photoshop is among the best photo-editing software available. Photoshop CC is astoundingly good, and it has too many great features to summarise in this small space. You can read all about it in our Photoshop CC 2020 review and explore its capabilities further in our roundup of the best Photoshop tutorials

You can soup up the software with a selection of free Photoshop brushes and simplify long-winded processes thanks to all the free Photoshop actions available. The monthly cost is not insignificant, so check the best Adobe deals to make sure you don't miss a bargain on a Creative Cloud subscription.

best photo-editing software: Pixlr X

03. Pixlr X / Pixlr E

The best browser-based photo-editing software

Platform: Browser | Developer: Autodesk Inc | Price: Free

Easy to use
Dropbox integration

Pixlr X and Pixlr E are fast and easy to use, whether on a web or mobile browser. Pixlr X has a useful functionality that allows you to make non-destructive edits to your images, letting you change and fine-tune every edit at any time. Another plus is that you can use the programme within Dropbox, which makes it a great addition to your toolkit for collaborative work. It offers the usual adjustments, filters and texts that will be familiar to Pixlr users and are sure to delight newcomers. Pixlr E offers the same classic photo-editing tools with the addition of some extras for the pros.

best photo-editing software: Luminar

04. Luminar AI

Faster photo-editing from Skylum

Platform: Windows, MacOS | Developer: Skylum | Price: $79/£79

Lots of tools
Uses AI
Limited export options

Skylum Luminar AI aims to speed up photo editing so photographers can spend more time creating, and we have to say it does that very well. It uses artificial intelligence to suggest editing options that can enhance photos of different styles. It can suggest the best templates to improve images and has tools that can be used to easily tweak skies, accents, skin, faces and even eyes. With a very reasonable one-off cost, this AI-based software is certainly worth checking out.

best photo-editing software: PaintShop Pro

05. Corel PaintShop Pro

The best photo-editing software for those on a budget

Platform: Windows | Developer: Corel | Price: $69/£69.99

Includes graphic design features
One-off fee

Corel PaintShop Pro has been the budget alternative to Photoshop for PC users for more than two decades, and it's still going strong. The 2021 edition promises to be the fastest, easiest to use and more creative version yet. 

If you can stretch to pay a little more than the price for the standard version, there's also PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate, which has been upgraded to include a Refine brush and a dedicated photography workspace.

06. Adobe Lightroom CC

The best photo-editing software for beginners

Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android | Developer: Adobe | Price: $9.99/£9.98 (per month)

Good for beginners
Not as complete as Photoshop

Adobe Lightroom is among the best photo-editing software for beginners. It helps you to organise your work by letting keep all of your photography in one place, edit it and share it from anywhere. Many experienced creatives also choose to use Lightroom because it can easily handle complicated image management jobs that Photoshop isn't designed for – it makes light work of day-to-day enhancements and raw files.

You can store images on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android device and even transfer photos automatically from your phone into Lightroom as you take them. Syncing is automatic, so when you make an edit or flag an image as a favourite in one place, it updates everywhere else too.

best photo-editing software: Photoshop Elements

07. Photoshop Elements

Another simple, beginner-friendly photo-editing tool

Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux | Developer: Adobe | Price: $99.99 /£86.56

One-off fee
Decent AI tools

Photoshop Elements is a more basic alternative to Photoshop CC. Its handy Quick and Guided Edit modes make it great for beginners, but that doesn't mean it lacks power. 

The 2021 version includes Auto Creations, a collage tool that scans and groups photos automatically or via the tagging and sorting tool Adobe Sensei. It also comes with a range of performance enhancements and upgrades – see our Photoshop Elements 2019 review for more about the software. One plus over Photoshop CC is that Elements doesn't require a subscription.

best photo-editing software: PhotoDirector 365

(Image credit: CyberLink)

Reliable, cost-effective image-editing software

Platform: Windows, MacOS | Developer: CyberLink | Price: $14.99 / £13.99 per month

Powerful AI features
Easy animation effects
Inexpensive subscription cost
Poor smart features
Software has silly errors
Complex effects fall flat

CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 offers many of the standard image editing tools and features and throws in some artificially intelligent tricks, such as automatic body shaping, skin and face tools, and some lighting and animation effects. The interface is user friendly enough for anyone who's used to working in the digital space, and it's fast and reliable.

The tool has its flaws, with typos and little glitches that might dissuade power users. That said, the cheap monthly subscription and high-level editing features such as levels and colour adjustment make this a decent option for creatives that occasionally need dedicated software to edit images and don't want to break the bank.

best photo-editing software: DxO Photolab

09. DxO Photolab

The best Raw converter available

Platform: Windows, MacOS | Developer: DxO | Price: From $112

Watermarking tool
Good for denoising images
Limited to specific functions

DxO PhotoLab is a much more specific tool. It's really just a raw converter, but it's perhaps the best raw converter going. It's a specialist, slightly complex tool to use, but it achieves impeccable results. You can browse images on your computer folder by folder, then select an image and choose from the default conversion/correction setting or a range of presets. 

The software offers lens corrections that automatically compensate for the different degrees of distortion, chromatic aberration, edge softness and vignetting that are common to most digital camera lenses. The results are outstanding, although this could never be the only image-editing tool you use.

best photo-editing software: Pixelmator

(Image credit: Pixelmator)

10. Pixelmator

Great photo-editing software for Mac users

Platform: MacOS | Developer: Pixelmator | Price: $29.99/£28.99

Support for M1 Macs
New design

Pixelmator uses Mac OS X libraries for fast, powerful image editing. It allows seamless integration with iPhoto and Aperture, as well as iCloud. There are also built-in export tools for Facebook and Flickr.

Colour correction tools include Hue/Saturation, Shadows/Highlights and Contrast and Pixelmator supports filters – it comes with 150 to experiment with. You can also open and save images in many popular formats, including PSD, TIFF, PDF and PNG. Layers are preserved in Photoshop documents, which lets you collaborate with colleagues who use Adobe's software. A recent update also adds compatibility with Apple's M1-powered machines.

best photo-editing software: Fotor photo editing software

11. Fotor

A useful free photo editor

Platform: Web browser, Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android | Developer: Everimagining | Price: Free

Simple interface
Free to use

Fotor comes in mobile, web and desktop version, so there's a suitable option available whether you're at your desk or out and about. The software features a full suite of tools that should cover the majority of immediate editing requirements. 

A one-tap enhance button aims to offer an instant fix, which will be loved by some and hated by others. More control is offered via tools for resizing, cropping, rotating and straightening images. There's also a background remover and some handy retouching tools such as red-eye and wrinkle removal. There's even an HDR image creator and tilt-shift editor in case you're looking to turn your photos into something more dramatic.

best photo-editing software: GIMP

12. GIMP

Free, open-source photo-editing software

Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux | Developer: GIMP | Price: Free

Not that user friendly

GIMP is another free photo-editing tool. This open-source photo editor debuted on Unix-based platforms and now offers versions for Linux, Windows and Mac. GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, offers a broad range of tools including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement.

The development team has worked hard to ensure compatibility, so you'll be able to work with all the popular file formats without problems. The software also boasts a very capable file manager built in, similar to Adobe's Bridge.

best photo-editing software: sumo paint

(Image credit: Sumo)

13. Sumo Paint

Another good in-browser photo-editor

Platform: Web browser | Developer: Sumoware | Price: Free for basic online version

In browser editing

Sumo Paint is another very capable browser-based image editor. It boasts all of the standard features you'd expect in a desktop tool – in fact, the Pro version for $9 a month includes the option to download a desktop version if you prefer. 

Tools include brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning and gradients, which can all be accessed quickly from a Photoshop-like floating toolbar. Sumo Paint can open saved documents from your hard drive, making it a viable option for editing and re-editing, and its latest upgrade gives it a slick look. There are significant limitations, though. The editor appears to be RGB only, limiting its use to work designed for screens. There are No CMYK, Lab or other colour models offered.

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