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Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 review

Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 brings some powerful new enhancement features, but is it still worth the price of admission?

5 Star Rating
Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 is the best version of the photo editor yet, but not all the new features in this update hit the mark. It's still hugely powerful and feature-filled, though, so worth the price you pay.

For

  • Unrivalled editing tools
  • Loads of tutorials and new searching options
  • Superb compatibility and cloud storage

Against

  • Quite expensive subscription
  • New neural filters aren't all that great... yet

Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 is the latest version of the all conquering photo editor. Because Photoshop CC is exclusively available via subscription to Adobe's Creative Cloud, it continues to update and evolve. We update our Photoshop review too, and what's written below reflects the app as you'll find it today, following the February update. For our money, it's easily one of the best photo editing software packages you can buy, and when paired with Adobe Lightroom (which you get included with most subscriptions), there is no other image editing package to match it.

We love how deep the tools are in Photoshop CC, and how easy this software makes it to use them. Advanced editing techniques are a quick search away, and the ability to swap and share your projects between all Adobe packages means you'll always have the right tools for whatever you're doing. Here's what's new with Adobe Photoshop CC for 2021.

Adobe Photoshop CC: What's new in 2021?

There are several headline features in the latest version of Photoshop CC, and we've tested all of them. The best of the bunch is the sky replacement tool, which is a boon for Instagrammers the world over. Can't be bothered to get up and snap the sunrise this morning? You'll be able to swap in a gorgeous sunrise to any of your images. Adobe's powerful processing makes it easy, and we were impressed with how natural the skies look in most of the images that we tried it with. Check out the example below.

Adobe Photoshop cc

(Image credit: Future)

There are limitations, though. Sky replacement really struggles with thinner structures and lines. We tried, for example, to replace the sky behind a complicated structure like a Ferris wheel, and found that it colorized the uppermost spokes of the wheel, and we lost a lot of clarity. It's fixable, sure, and Photoshop is the app to do it in, but it shows that the sky replacement isn't perfect. You'll also need to work hard with reflections and ambient light too, if you want your sky replacements to be perfect.

Another fresh feature are Adobe's 'Neural filters', which are mainly aimed at portraiture. Here you can enhance most aspects of a person's face, from the clarity of their skin, down to things like facial expressions and artistic treatments. We tried it with a few images of people and... there's still a lot of work to be done here. While the AI processing is powerful, smiles look weird in most instances, and some of the more subtle emotional effects really don't hit the mark. 

Elsewhere, there are improved tutorial functions, which allow you to not only search for tools within Photoshop, but also access YouTube tutorials for design projects and features. We attempted to make a horror b-movie poster, and found some excellent advice on font choice, lighting, compositional elements and more. So, a smaller feature, but a good one.

The rest of the tools are largely unchanged, so carry on reading for the rest of our Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 review.

Adobe Photoshop CC: Features

Adobe Photoshop CC has a vast number of photo editing tools and features. It has almost everything you'd need to edit, change, or enhance a photo, so to guide you a little on your decision here, as yourself what you want to do with your photos. If the answer is: significantly change them, crop out objects, work in layers, and craft brand new images then, yes, Photoshop CC is for you. If you're looking to take existing photos and manipulate and enhance them, making the most of colors, levels, and other lens correction tools, that is better suited to Lightroom.

Photoshop 2020 has plenty of basic tools for image manipulation - crop, paint, fill, blur, sharpen, erase, dodge, and so on. That'll satisfy most casual users. Get beyond the basics and you have options for manipulating multiple layers, masks, channels and paths. You can replace entire backgrounds with ease, do things like mirror-image creation, and manipulate 3D and 360 degree images too.

Adobe Photoshop review

(Image credit: Adobe)

You can type on photos, add vector graphics, stitch images together... the list goes on. However, one of the beauties of Photoshop CC is that it's simple to use, and has multiple layers of tutorials and tips. You never feel lost here, and even beginners will feel well informed about how to get the effects they need from their photos and images. In that way, it's better than Affinity Photo because it rarely feels intimidating. If you really are concerned that it's too advanced, and you want to own your Photoshop instead of paying a subscription, then Photoshop Elements is an option.

One of the newer features introduced in the 2020 update is the Content-Aware Fill tool. This tool basically enables you to quickly remove unwanted elements from your photos. For example, you can remove trash or people in the background and the fill makes the space around the removed object appear as though nothing had been there in the first place. To increase the accuracy of the fill, the update allows you to specify exactly what areas of the photo you want the fill to pull from as well as the areas you want it to avoid.

There are so many features, and it's impossible to cover them all here. Overall, we're impressed with the layout and interface, and how smooth the editing actually is. You'll rarely make mistakes when the program stutters, because once open it's usually solid as a rock.

Adobe Photoshop review

(Image credit: Adobe)

Adobe Photoshop CC: Compatibility and export options

Since Photoshop CC is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud service, your image files will be automatically saved to a secure cloud network. This means you can access your files remotely from any computer, smartphone or tablet. This makes bringing work along on vacation easier, since you don't have to lug your laptop around. Simply access your artwork from the hotel, library or hostess' computer when you have a few minutes to work on your design. This also allows friends, family, coworkers and editors to access images through their devices, if you give them access to your files.

One of the best things about Photoshop CC is that it supports every file imaginable, including PDF, PICT, TIFF and PNG. You can easily convert your files into other formats that are more compatible with friends' or editors' viewing programs. You can also choose to save images in a file that is compatible with Facebook and upload them to the site straight from the Photoshop CC program.

You can share images easily between Adobe programs, so enhancing color in Lightroom before cleaning up aberrations in Photoshop is usually the way to go. 

Adobe Photoshop review

(Image credit: Adobe)

Adobe Photoshop CC: Price and support options

Photoshop CC is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, so you pay a monthly subscription to use it. You can buy it in various forms, and as part of various packages, but we recommend it as part of the Photography Pack. Here you get Photoshop, Lightroom, Bridge and a bunch of other apps designed for photo editing and image creation for either $9.99 per month, with 20GB of online storage, or for $19.99 with 1TB of online storage. Due to the size of the images you'll be working with, your cloud space can quickly fill up, so consider if 20GB is enough. 

You can obviously export your projects and store locally on your computer or a HDD, but that makes it slightly trickier to re-upload them for other apps. Either way, the Photography Pack is good value, if you're serious about enhancing your photos. You cannot currently buy Photoshop 2020 to own without subscription, and this is unlikely to change any time soon.

In terms of support, not only is Adobe's customer support options excellent, but you also get a wealth of tutorial videos, tips, and general photography advice built into the app itself. From your home screen, all you need to do is scroll through the tips videos, or search for what you need. There are even interactive tutorials that walk you through the process of adding or using a particular effect. It's very comprehensive.

Adobe Photoshop review

(Image credit: Adobe)

In terms of specs, you will need one of the best laptops or home computers to really get the most out of Photoshop CC. While the minimum specs aren't too intimidating, Adobe programs are known for being system-hogs, so if you want to switch between things like Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom, Bridge etc, you'll want 16GB of RAM as a minimum, and an i7 or above processor.

Should you buy Adobe Photoshop CC 2021?

Yes, you probably should. Adobe Photoshop CC is the gold standard of photo editors, and if you're looking to do more than just adjust the contrast and crop of your photos, this has all the tools you need to make your images perfect. Whether you choose Lightroom or Photoshop really depends on what you want to achieve with your images - Photoshop is best for creation of pictures, and removal of imperfections (or indeed anything at all). 

The best option is to sign up for Adobe's Photography Pack and simply have both, giving you all the resources you need. The only real downside is the subscription cost, which is comparatively expensive. If you want to own the software you buy forever, then something like Corel Paintshop Pro 2021 is a good option. But the best doesn't come cheap, and if you're serious about photography, this is a brilliant post-production tool.

Andy Hartup

Andy is Editor-in-Chief of Top Ten Reviews. With over 18 years experience in both online and print journalism, Andy has worked for a host of world-leading tech and gaming brands, including PC Gamer and GamesRadar. He specializes in photography, technology and smart home, and has provided expert comment for sites like The Guardian. In his spare time Andy is an amateur photographer, and teaches at the National Film and TV School in the UK.