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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 software for you. If you specifically want to edit on the go, then see our best photo apps.

(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-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.

Photoshop photo editing software

02. Photoshop CC

The best photo editing software from Adobe

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

Now on the iPad
Incredible feature set
Subscription model

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.

Pixlr X photo editing software

03. Pixlr X / Pixlr E

The best photo editing software to use in the browser

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

Easy to use
Dropbox integration

Pixlr X and Pixlr E are both 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. Pixlr E offers the same classic photo editing tools, plus some extras for the pros.

Luminar photo editor software

04. Luminar AI

Upgraded photo editing software from Skylum

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

Lots of tools
Uses AI
Limited export options

With a reasonable, one-off price, Luminar AI is well worth checking out. It uses artificial intelligence to suggest editing options to enhance photos in a range of styles. It can suggest Templates to enhance images and has tools to easily tweak skies, accents, skin, faces and even eyes.

The idea is to speed up photo editing so photographers can spend more time being creative and we have to say it does that really well.

PaintShop Pro photo editing software

05. PaintShop Pro

The best budget photo editing software

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

Includes graphic design features
One-off fee

PaintShop Pro has been the budget Photoshop alternative of choice on PC for over 20 years, and it's still holding its own. The 2021 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 2021Ultimate, which has been upgraded to include a new Refine brush and a dedicated photography workspace.

06. Adobe Lightroom CC

Great for beginner photo editors

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

Good for beginners
Not as complete as Photoshop

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.

Photoshop Elements photo editing software

07. Photoshop Elements

Simple and beginner-friendly photo editing software

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

One-off fee
Decent AI tools

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 2021 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.

DxO Photolab photo editing software

08. DxO Photolab

The best Raw converter

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

Watermarking tool
Good for denoising images

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.

(Image credit: Pixelmator)

09. Pixelmator

Ideal photo editing software for Mac

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

Support for M1 Macs
New design

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. A recent update also adds compatibility with Apple's M1-powered machines.

Fotor photo editing software

10. Fotor

A handy free photo editor

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

Simple interface
Free to use

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 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.

GIMP photo editing software

11. GIMP

Free, open source photo editing software

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

Not that user friendly

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.

photo editing software - sumo paint

(Image credit: Sumo)

13. Sumo Paint

In browser photo editing just got better

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

In browser editing

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 software if you prefer. It's just got an upgrade, too, so is looking slicker than ever.

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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