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Best Photo Editing Software

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The best photo editing software packages and apps get better every year. They're an essential part of every photographer's kit - whether you're a professional, an aspiring amateur, or just someone looking to make your pictures better and remove blemishes. These top-rated photo editing apps come in two forms - lifetime license, and subscription. There are benefits and disadvantages to both. Obviously, subscription packages cost more, but offer things like constant new features, online storage, and cross-device editing. Lifetime license software is cheaper, and often just as powerful, but it may lack online features and will eventually become outdated.

Best overall

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Adobe Lightroom

Powerful toolset and broad range of option

Adobe Lightroom has all the tools you need to enhance, organize, and publish your photos, and the basic editing functions will allow you to clean up imperfections, crop and skew photos, and remove any unwanted elements. It has features for enhancing specific areas, boosting colors in skies and foreground objects, and extremely powerful auto-correction options for amateurs and beginners. Workflow history and comparison options show you exactly what the effect is when you make changes. Dig deeper and you can customize and save your enhancement process for batch editing, organize your images, export them to other apps like Photoshop.

Best value

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CyberLink PhotoDirector 365

Great for adding effects

If you're new to photo editing and want to get flashy results quickly with the minimum of fuss, CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 is a great option. It's easy to use, relatively inexpensive and gives you all the features you need to make your photos stand-out straight away. It's ideal if you're looking to make a splash on Instagram, or putting together images for a website. You get most of the tools you need for all kinds of edits and a generous 50GB of cloud storage for your photos. There's a CyberLink app for smart devices too, which allows you to edit on the move via smartphone or tablet.

Best for beginners

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PaintShop Pro

No subscription required

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 is the newest, strongest version of the classic image-editing program. It is a great value and is easy to use, especially for beginners. It doesn’t lack features. Everything you'd expect to find is here; from basic editing tools that allow you to crop, enhance, and remove blemishes from a photo, all the way through to advanced features like layers, masks, HDR edits, and creative filters. While the AI driven enhancement tools aren't quite as accurate or effective as the Photoshop and Lightroom versions, they're still very good.

Best for basic design projects

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Adobe Photoshop Elements

Powerful package for graphic designers

For full edits of images, design projects, and total overhauls of all kinds of graphics and design elements, you can't get better than Photoshop. While Lightroom is more focused on photo enhancement, and editing on the move, Photoshop is the Adobe companion app that lets you change everything about your image. From simple crops and level-changes through to layer-work, vectors, masks and total overhauls of subjects and background, Photoshop is the best at this kind of work. What's more, Photoshop isn't all that difficult to use, as there are tutorial videos, guided edits, and hints and tips built into the interface itself.

Photo Editing Software Buying Advice

When most think of the best photo editing software they automatically assume it's an Adobe product - either Photoshop or Lightroom. And, yes, they both sit at the top of our guide, as they are exceptional editing packages. However, they're far from the only option, and other software offer different things to different types of photographer.

Our picks of the best photo editing software come from real photographers, and people who regularly use editors as their day-to-day jobs. We tested a range of options and assessed them based on things like toolset, ease of use, value, compatibility with not only Windows and Mac, but also different file types, and - of course - overall value. The below list represents photo software that excels at different things, so it's not just a list that goes 'from best to worst'. While we may recommend Lightroom to most people, beginners looking to create superb combination and crowd-pleasing shots, for example, will be more delighted by PhotoDirector.

We tested each of the best photo editors using our own images, shot on the same Nikon DSLR, and we looked for ways to clean up and enhance images in similar ways. We also took into account various plug-ins, and any additional improvements offered by the software that comes as a subscription service, as they are constantly updated. If you're simply looking to

 What computer should you use for editing?

Generally speaking, we recommend a more powerful computer for photo editing, as most of the programs you'll find require significant system resources. For us, it doesn't really matter whether you use a Mac or PC. Many design professionals use Mac but, honestly, it makes very little difference unless you're planning to continue your work on an iPad Pro. Even then, some services cater for a Windows / iPad hybrid use. 

In terms of specs, you need to be looking at an Intel 9th-gen or above core i7 or i9 as your CPU. Some software packages come with a CPU optimizer, but they still take a toll. You need to work from an SSD, and you really should be working with 16GB of RAM. Ideally, 32GB if you're doing serious graphic design work.

Look for monitors or laptop displays with Adobe RGB compatibility if you're planning to use Photoshop and Lightroom, aim to have a 4K display if you can afford it. 

Why does file compatibility matter?

Most professional photographers prefer to work with RAW images since it gives them more control over brightness, color and overall image quality. PSD is another popular file type since it saves the individual layers of your photos so you can edit them at any time. If you plan on becoming a serious photo editor, it is best to learn to work with these files.

If you take a lot of photos and plan on editing them on a regular basis, it can really help you save time if you get a program that offers batch processing. For example, if you wanted all of your photos to be a little brighter, you can use batch processing to quickly brighten all of the photos you select instead of taking the time to do it individually. This feature is commonly found in the photo organizing section of photo editing software.