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Best Photo Editing Software

Written by: Connie Bazet  | August 20, 2021

If you asked me about the best photo editing tool a few years ago, I would have probably said, hands down, Adobe Photoshop

In fact, not too long ago, we started using ‘photoshop’ as a verb. Just like we ‘google’ things, we could ‘photoshop’ pictures. 

And let’s not forget about those ‘Photoshop fails’ compilations that would go viral now and then. Celebrities and magazines would abuse Photoshop all the time, often with catastrophic results.

giph of justin bieber in underwear being photoshopped to be bigger then smaller

There’s no denying that Adobe Photoshop was a pioneer, although it gained a lot of strong competitors in the past decade. Today there are countless options to choose from that can actually go way further. 

It is not just about photo editing anymore. Professions evolved and so did their gear. 

Photographers now expect their editing software to integrate all kinds of solutions that are also part of their job; organizing, sharing, and then storing the material, to name a few.

Graphic designers and illustrators, on the other hand, appreciate things like graphic design tools, templates, and automation features. 

It is no wonder Adobe Photoshop started feeling rather limited, don’t you think?

Our Top Picks For Photo Editing Software

Reviews Of The Best For Photo Editing Software From Our Research

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator has always been linked with Adobe Photoshop in a way. Professional photographers, creatives, and designers like to use them in tandem.

These two programs have a lot in common but serve different purposes. Photoshop is used to create and edit photos or raster-based art and Illustrator is more commonly used for designing.

But the main difference between them is that Adobe Photoshop works with pixels, while Adobe Illustrator works using vectors.

Illustrator is a professional program and requires special training. It is not intuitive or user-friendly but offers excellent capabilities and jaw-dropping results once you get the hang of it.

This program's interface is consistent with that of the other products in the Adobe Suite, so if you have already worked with some of these other programs, you'll feel at home.

It is ideal for creating all kinds of graphics, art, logos, and images.

Illustrator is typically used in advertising, web developing, and printing, but you don't really have to be an actual professional to use it.

Anyone with a solid computer, a fair amount of free time, and a few bucks can start creating. But only after a few months of consistent use and training will they be able to reach their full potential.

Best Features

  • Extreme versatility. Works for any kind of project.
  • Excellent set of advanced tools. There are multiple ways to achieve the same result with different styles.
  • Vector-based design software. All files are 100% scalable.
  • Efficient help center.
  • Image tracing tools.
  • Noise reduction.

Cons

  • Requires strong photo editing skills.
  • You need to download it and the program takes up a lot of space on your computer.
  • Doesn't offer tutorials for all the features, but merely for the most basic.
  • You can't buy a single license. You must renew your monthly or yearly subscription from time to time.

Choose This Editor If…

  • You are an artist, designer, or creative, and you need a tool that will allow you to create whatever you picture in your mind.
  • You are experienced and already have some editing skills, or you are familiar with other products from the Adobe family.
  • You are willing to learn and invest some money.
Snag your quote for Adobe Illustrator.

PicMonkey

If you are no expert and need simple, instant solutions, PicMonkey might be the tool for you.

This is a user-friendly online graphic tool, ideal for non-designers. It's versatile, meaning that you can do everything from creating graphics to image processing.

PicMonkey is extremely easy to use and intuitive. It requires no experience whatsoever, although it might take you a bit to get familiar with all its capabilities.

It doesn't have a free version, which is not great news for absolute beginners who are not yet willing to spend money. However, it does offer a free trial. Many users have complained that PicMonkey isn't transparent when it comes to billing and ending your trial period. They ended up being charged an unexpected amount, so you might want to read the terms carefully before buying.

PicMonkey is a great ally if you want to edit photos online instead of downloading a program. And it is not just a photo editor, but a graphic design tool as well. It allows you to work on all kinds of creations and resume your editing some other time. All you have to do is log in!

One big plus about PicMonkey is that it has a mobile version. Not all editors can offer mobile solutions that are pretty much as efficient as their desktop counterparts.

Its drag-and-drop interface is pretty straightforward. All the tools are visible at first glance, and you can access them from the toolbar on the left. It reminds me a bit of good old Paint and how easy it was to choose the colors and shapes.

Best Features

  • Thousands of design templates for any kind of creation.
  • Millions of stock photos to choose from.
  • Smart resize.
  • Brand kit. This can help you keep your product consistent, especially if you work in a team. All of your colors, fonts, and styles will be saved in one place for you to quickly access them and save time and effort.
  • Collaboration tools. You can work in real-time with others and simultaneously edit a single file together.
  • Background remover.
  • Touch-up tools.

Cons

  • A bit expensive for what it offers.
  • Pretty limited if you need to make more advanced edits.
  • A bit slow, responsiveness could be improved.
  • It only allows you to work on one picture at a time.

Choose This Editor If…

  • You are an absolute beginner and need an easy solution.
  • You are not interested in a professional program.
  • You are willing to make a small investment.
  • You want to be able to work with templates and graphic elements.
  • You also want to have an app.
Snag your quote for PicMonkey.

DxO PhotoLab

This photo editing software started as a camera equipment testing lab, so it is no wonder that it has such advanced professional capabilities.

Today, DxO PhotoLab is a powerful Raw processor, best used for quick and easy adjustments based on lab testing of camera equipment.

In a few words, it allows you to apply corrections to Raw files in order to restore details more precisely. DxO Photolab offers an impressive set of manual tools to tune the appearance of your photos. Contrast, color, white balances, brightness, and exposure, to name a few.

DxO Photolab features two different interfaces. First, we have the editor, which is where the magic happens.

The second interface is the library, which compared to its competitors seems to be quite limited. Here you can browse and organize your photos.

You can browse folders on your computer and collect elements for a project, but that's about it. It allows you to search images based on keywords. Honestly, it is barely good enough to browse through your photos if you already know where to find them.

It supports modern gear like touch screens, pens, and high-resolution displays. It is capable of providing outstanding quality, lots of details, and vibrant colors. With this photo editing software, you can truly bring your artistic vision to reality.

Needless to say, this image editing tool cannot be used by just anyone. If you want optimal results, you need to know what you're doing.

The license is quite expensive, but the good news is you only have to pay once. No subscription is required.

Best Features

  • Amazing lens correction.
  • Selective adjustment tools.
  • It allows you to fully customize your workspace.
  • DeepPrime noise reduction.
  • Keyword management.

Cons

  • Poor image organization/browsing tools.
  • Expensive.
  • Limited DNG support.
  • No support for Fujifilm X-trans sensors.
  • Poor responsiveness.

Choose This Editor If…

  • You hate subscriptions and want to make only one payment.
  • Your editing style is extremely meticulous.
  • You are a photography enthusiast or a professional photographer and you know what you are doing.
Snag your quote for DxO PhotoLab.

Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom has always been a favorite among artists and photographers. Its phenomenal free mobile app became a top choice for influencers and social media characters as well. 

It has incredible capabilities and an impressive set of digital photography tools. From 1-click adjustments to cut-edge advanced editing.

You can remove distracting objects, enhance the colors of your photos, and straighten skewed shots among hundreds of other possibilities. It also makes it extremely easy to store, organize and share your edits.

Lightroom is cloud-based, which means that all of your files are stored on a network of remote servers and are available on demand. Your material will be safe and easily accessible for you to resume your work whenever and wherever you need it.

My favorite thing about this tool is that it launched two versions: Lightroom, and Lightroom Classic. One for amateurs and one for professionals. 

The new Lightroom is like the Classic version’s younger sibling. While Lightroom Classic keeps most of the original functionalities of this software, the new version features a user-friendly interface, perfect for a broader audience. 

Best Features

  • Same interface as the original Adobe Lightroom editor.
  • Excellent photo management capabilities. 
  • Affordable price.
  • Face detection and tagging. 
  • Ideal for professionals (Classic version) as well as beginners (new version).
  • Great retouching tools.
  • HDR panoramic photos.
  • Super-resolution.
  • Support for new cameras and lens.

Cons

  • Lightroom Classic only offers a desktop version and doesn’t include file backup. 
  • Minimal graphic design elements, such as text, shapes, frames, or templates.
  • Requires subscription. 

Choose This Photo Editor if...

  • You need a reliable photo editing tool.
  • You're willing to make a small investment.
  • You need to edit images on your smartphone.
  • You aim at top-quality results.
Snag your quote for Adobe Lightroom.

GIMP

Finally, we see some free photo editing software on this list. I know the word 'free' might be misleading, but you might wanna hear what I have to say about this tool before jumping to conclusions.

GIMP appeared in the market as a pretty decent and reliable photo management software.

Its photo editor allows you to soften the noise, correct and adjust the colors of your pictures, make collages, and use gradients and brushes.

We can also mention its open-source code as a big plus. This means you can view and edit everything online and use already created code to come up with new versions of other programs.

Something pretty cool that GIMP has that others tool don't is a selection of four different themes. Dark (default theme), Gray, Light, and System. You can choose the one that suits you best!

As for the ease of use, I'd say it is halfway between PicMonkey and Illustrator. A couple of good tutorials and a little practice should do the trick. But this is exactly what makes it a tool worth mentioning.

Best Features

  • Open-source code.
  • Customizable interface.
  • Graphic design capabilities.
  • Supports different file formats.
  • User-friendly interface.

Cons

  • Not 100% intuitive.
  • Limited editing capabilities.
  • May freeze sometimes.
  • The interface looks a bit old-fashioned.
  • No batch processing.

Choose This Editor If...

  • You are looking for something completely free.
  • You need to combine photo retouching and graphic design.
  • You are a beginner but want to become more advanced.
  • You are into web development.
Snag your quote for GIMP.

Buyer's Guide to Photo Editing Software

Why Should You Choose Good Photo Editing Software?

Whether you are an artist, a photographer, a designer, or merely an amateur, image editing is the key to taking your material to the next level. 

Any expert can tell if an image has been edited. There’s a big difference between raw files and their final version. Good photo editing software has the potential to turn a dull picture into an absolute masterpiece. 

Gif showing marble block being turned into a sculpted man with one touch.

However, achieving professional-looking results is never easy. Only after spending hours wracking your brain in front of a screen will you realize that having a reliable photo editing tool is a game-changer.

It will save you time and mental health. 

Got it. So, which one should I go for? 

There is no right answer to that question. It will depend entirely on your needs and skills. Trust me, you don’t wanna blindly go for the most popular one, or the one your friend uses. 

But if you’re clueless, this article should give you a few ideas. 

What to Consider Before Buying?

Skills Required

Some photo editors are more intuitive than others. 

Normally, the most powerful tools require special training and a fair amount of practice to reach their full potential. Editing photos using these tools often takes quite a long time, but it is generally worth it, as they offer you complete control over your work.

There are also simpler options that are much more user-friendly and suitable for beginners and people with zero knowledge. 

Margie from the Simpsons show is shown asking a bowling center worker where to throw the bowling ball.

The photo editing capabilities are, of course, much more limited. But if you are not a professional, you’re not likely to aspire to professional results anyways. 

You wanna make sure your editing software is at the right level for you. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with an overly technical tool that you probably paid a lot for and don’t even know how to use. 

Work Volume

Say you’re a professional photographer, and you took hundreds of pictures in an event. You’re already thinking of how many coffees you’re gonna need to get through the night and finish the job in time. 

Man putting his head down on his laptop at his desk

If that’s your case, you should go for professional photo editing software that allows you to store and organize your material in the most efficient way possible. 

Many photo editing tools have awesome features but don’t offer the space you need to collect your edits. This is a must if you work with large volumes. 

File Formats

Not all photo editing programs support the same formats. Some are more suitable for videos or large files, while others offer a smaller range of formats that might be enough for what you need.

For example, if you have a website, you need to be able to create images that are suitable for display on a browser or a smartphone. Formats such as JPG, GIF, or PNG are a must.

Price

Decide how much money you are willing to invest and stick to that budget. Prices range from zero to thousands, so there’s always going to be an option that suits you financially. 

It is only logical that the most expensive ones are those with the best capabilities. If having a solid photo editor will mean a significant increase in your earnings, you’ll get your investment back in no time. 

If you’re an amateur and don’t expect to be making money with your creations any time soon, the smartest thing would be to start small.

Keep in mind that refunds are rare. So if you’re not happy with your choice and decide to try other photo editing software, you’ll end up spending twice as much. 

Final Thoughts

The idea of this article was to select 5 completely different tools for 5 completely different types of users.

Some are artsier, others more technical. Some are aimed at professionals, others at amateurs. Some are expensive, others affordable.

My original intention was to show you that there is a photo editing tool for everyone and it relies on you to decide which one is genuinely the best for you.

Hopefully, this article gave you some valuable insight.

Check out these photo editing tools: Adobe Illustrator, PicMonkey, DxO PhotoLab, Adobe Lightroom, GIMP

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