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The best photo-editing software in 2021

Best photo-editing software
(Image credit: Pixlr X)

The best photo-editing software is what can take a mediocre photo and turn it into something breathtaking, or make a really good photo even better. The best photo editing software enables you to make a range of edits to your images, ranging from applying filters and fun effects to making tiny tweaks to colour or saturation. 

To save you from having to experiment with every piece of photo editing software going (and there are a lot of them), we've rounded up the best right here. And if you want to be able to see your images in all their glory, then don't miss our best laptops for photo editing buying guide.

Some of the below are desktop only, while others are available in the browser, tablet, and even on your smartphone. Every price point and ability level is covered, so you're bound to find the right applications for you.

01. Affinity Photo

(Image credit: Serif)

Affinity Photo is a professional-level tool without the high-end price tag. Digital painting, raw editing, professional retouching and multi-layered compositions are among Affinity Photo's impressive toolset. Features also include advanced lens corrections and best-in-class noise reduction, allowing full control and quality over every image.

Affinity Photo is also available as a dedicated iPad app. The first professional photo editing tool to make its way onto the Apple tablet, it took home the title of Apple App of the year 2017. Serif also has a graphic design package (Affinity Designer) and a desktop publishing app (Affinity Publisher), so your all your creative needs are fully covered.

02. Photoshop CC

Photoshop photo editing software

Photoshop CC is head-bangingly brilliant, and has too many features to summarise in this small space – but you can read more in our Photoshop CC 2020 review and explore its capabilities further in our roundup of top Photoshop tutorials

You can also pimp it with a selection of free Photoshop brushes and turn long-winded processes into a single click, thanks to all the free Photoshop actions available.

There's no doubt that the latest Photoshop is a hugely impressive photo editing application; probably the best out there. But it does come at a not-insignificant monthly cost – check the best Adobe deals to make sure you don't miss a bargain.

03. Pixlr X

Pixlr X photo editing software

You'll find Pixlr lower down this list, so what is Pixlr X? Well, it's all the goodness of Pixlr but on an all-new platform. No longer reigned in by its Flash architecture, Pixlr X is fast and easy to use, whether that's on your web or mobile browser. Pixlr X allows you to make non-destructive edits to your images, meaning you can change and fine-tune every edit at any time – very useful. Plus you can use it right within Dropbox, which makes it a brilliant addition to your collaboration toolkit. It has the usual adjustments, filters and texts that will be familiar to Pixlr users and delightful to newcomers.

04. Luminar 4

Luminar photo editor software

With a reasonable, one-off price, Luminar is well worth checking out. It's stuffed with tools for quick and easy photo fixes, including fast automatic corrections for lens distortion, chromatic aberration and removing fringes, as well as more than 40 non-destructive filters to enhance your shots.

Luminar 4 has a long list of new features including a new tool for editing the sky, face features detection and a feature for removing shine from faces. 

05. PaintShop Pro

PaintShop Pro photo editing software

  • Platform: Windows
  • Developer: Corel
  • Price: £69.99

PaintShop Pro has been the budget Photoshop alternative of choice on PC for over 20 years, and it's still holding its own. The 2020 version promises to be easier, faster and more creative than ever.

On top of the standard version, you can pay a little extra for PaintShop Pro 2020Ultimate, which has been upgraded to include a new Refine brush and a dedicated photography workspace.

06. Adobe Lightroom CC

  • Platform: Windows, MacOS
  • Developer: Adobe
  • Price: $9.99/£9.98 (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.

07. Photoshop Elements

Photoshop Elements photo editing software

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

Photoshop Elements is the basic alternative to Photoshop CC, 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 on the 2020 version, with Auto Creations – a collage tool that scans and groups your photos automatically or by tagging, sorting tool Adobe Sensei, and Guided Edits which are great for beginners. This is as well as the usual performance enhancements and upgrades. For more information, take a look at our Photoshop Elements 2019 review.

08. DxO Photolab

DxO Photolab photo editing software

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

Things get a bit specific with PhotoLab, but what it does, it does very well. Its results are spectacular, but it's a specialised and sometimes complex tool to use. It's arguably the best raw converter of all, but that's just about all it does.

DxO PhotoLab automatically compensates for the different degrees of distortion, chromatic aberration, edge softness and vignetting common to practically all digital camera lenses.

It's also a raw converter, and DxO has applied just as much scientific rigour to this process as its lens corrections. You can browse the 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 results are excellent. However, it would never be your one and only image-editing tool.

09. Pixelmator

(Image credit: Pixelmator)

Pixelmator uses Mac OS X libraries to create fast, powerful image editing tools, which allows the software to integrate seamlessly with the likes of iPhoto and Aperture, as well as iCloud. There are also built-in export tools for Facebook and Flickr.

Colour correction tools such as Hue/Saturation, Shadows/Highlights and Contrast are all present and correct, and Pixelmator supports filters and comes with a collection of 150 to play with. You can also open and save images in many of the popular formats, including PSD, TIFF, PDF and PNG.

When saving or opening Photoshop documents, layers are preserved allowing you to collaborate effectively with colleagues using Adobe's software.

10. Fotor

Fotor photo editing software

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

Whether you're at your desk or out and about, there's a version of Fotor ready for you to take care of any essential photo editing. It comes in mobile, web and desktop app flavours, and features a full suite of tools that should cover most of your immediate editing needs.

If you want an instant fix there's a one-tap enhance button that you'll either love or hate, and if you need more control you'll find tools to resize, crop, rotate and straighten your images, as well as a background remover. Fotor also packs some handy retouching tools such as red-eye and wrinkle removal, and there's even a HDR image creator and tilt-shift editor if you want to turn to turn your photos into something a little more epic.

11. Pixlr

Pixlr photo editing software

  • Platform: Web browser, iOS, Android
  • Developer: Autodesk Inc
  • 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.

12. GIMP

GIMP photo editing software

  • Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux
  • Developer: GIMP
  • 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.

13. Sumo Paint

Sumo Paint photo editing software

  • Platform: Web browser (requires Adobe Flash Player)
  • Developer: Sumoware
  • Price: Free for basic online version

Sumo Paint is a highly capable browser-based image editor. All the standard features you'd expect from a desktop tool are present and correct and by buying the Pro version for $9 a month you can install a desktop version of the app if you prefer. You need Adobe Flash Player to use this tool, so you're not going be using Sumo Paint on your iPad.

The standard range of tools and adjustments you'd expect are all included. Brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning, gradients and so on are all quickly accessed from the Photoshop-esque floating toolbar. It can also open saved documents from your hard drive, making Sumo Paint a perfectly viable option for editing and re-editing.

There are, however, limitations that will put off some users. The most important of these is that the editor appears to be RGB only, limiting its use to screen-destined artwork only. No CMYK, Lab or other colour models to be found here.

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