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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, and make a great photo spectacular. 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. Find quick links to our top three options below, or scroll down further for our full guide.

The best photo-editing software: our top 3

The best photo-editing software available now

best photo-editing software: Photoshop

(Image credit: Adobe)

01. Photoshop CC

Adobe's best photo-editing software

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS (iPad only)
Developer: Adobe
Price: From £9.98 (per month)
Reasons to buy
+Now on the iPad+Incredible feature set
Reasons to avoid
-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: Affinity Photo

(Image credit: Serif)

02. Affinity Photo

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

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS (iPad only)
Developer: Serif
Price: $19.99/£19.99 (iPad) / $49.99/£48.99 (desktop)
Reasons to buy
+One-off fee+Comprehensive features
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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: Photodirector 365

(Image credit: CyberLink)

Reliable, highly cost-effective image-editing software

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS
Developer: CyberLink
Price: $14.99 / £13.99 per month
Reasons to buy
+Powerful AI features+Easy animation effects+Inexpensive subscription cost
Reasons to avoid
-Occasional typos

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. For more information, see our CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 review.

best photo-editing software: Luminar AI

(Image credit: Skylum)

04. Luminar AI

Faster photo-editing from Skylum

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS
Developer: Skylum
Price: $79/£79
Reasons to buy
+Lots of tools+Uses AI
Reasons to avoid
-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: InPixio

(Image credit: InPixio)

05. inPixio Photo Studio 11

A great value intuitive photo editor

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS
Developer: inPixio
Price: Regular: $49, Pro: $79
Reasons to buy
+Very simple and intuitive to use+Great value for money+Strong performance with minimal system requirements+Comprehensive tools for RAW editing
Reasons to avoid
-Quite limited photo management tools-Sky replacement doesn't always look realistic

InPixio Photo Studio is another option that offers a lot of bang for our buck. It's intuitive and easy to use, and performs extremely well for the price and system requirements. Version 11 adds in a host of new features including sky replacement (useful, if not always the most realistic it could be), and background blur in the Pro edition, plus improved UI and new photo montage content in both the Regular and Pro editions. 

The ease of use makes this one of the most accessible full-featured photo editors for beginners, allowing quick modifications to be made in no time at all. The AI background eraser and improved cutout tool are particularly useful for making very rapid cutouts. With the Pro version, you also get inPixio's Photo Maximiser for enlarging and Photo Focus for sharpening, two job-specific tools that can be used separately.

best photo-editing software: Pixlr

(Image credit: Pixlr)

06. Pixlr X / Pixlr E

The best browser-based photo-editing software

Specifications
Platform: Browser
Developer: Autodesk Inc
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Dropbox integration
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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: Corel

(Image credit: Corel)

06. Corel PaintShop Pro

The best photo-editing software for those on a budget

Specifications
Platform: Windows
Developer: Corel
Price: $69/£69.99
Reasons to buy
+Includes graphic design features+One-off fee
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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.

best photo-editing software: Lightroom

(Image credit: Adobe)

07. Adobe Lightroom CC

The best photo-editing software for beginners

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android
Developer: Adobe
Price: $9.99/£9.98 (per month)
Reasons to buy
+Good for beginners+Not as complete as Photoshop
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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

(Image credit: Adobe)

08. Photoshop Elements

Another simple, beginner-friendly photo-editing tool

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Developer: Adobe
Price: $99.99 /£86.56
Reasons to buy
+One-off fee+Decent AI tools
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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: DxO Photolab

(Image credit: DxO Photolab)

09. DxO Photolab

The best Raw converter available

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS
Developer: DxO
Price: From $112
Reasons to buy
+Watermarking tool+Good for denoising images
Reasons to avoid
-Limited to specific functions

DxO PhotoLabis 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

Specifications
Platform: MacOS
Developer: Pixelmator
Price: $29.99/£28.99
Reasons to buy
+Support for M1 Macs+New design
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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

(Image credit: Fotor)

11. Fotor

A useful free photo editor

Specifications
Platform: Web browser, Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android
Developer: Everimagining
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+Simple interface+Free to use
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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

(Image credit: GIMP)

12. GIMP

Free, open-source photo-editing software

Specifications
Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Developer: GIMP
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+Free+Not that user friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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 Paint)

13. Sumo Paint

Another good in-browser photo-editor

Specifications
Platform: Web browser
Developer: Sumoware
Price: Free for basic online version
Reasons to buy
+In browser editing
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

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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Beren Neale

Beren Neale is the deals editor at Creative Bloq. After editing several creative and design magazines - including the graphic design mag Computer Arts - he found his home on the biggest global art and design website, helping digital creatives get the best deals on the kit that they need.