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Best Photo Editing software

Best Photo Editing software

We thoroughly tested each program by manipulating the same set of photos to see how each program handled the edits. The programs all scored differently based on how intuitive the software's interface is. We also evaluated the photo organizing system to see how well the system helped us find and arrange our photos. Our testing helped us identify Corel PaintShop Pro 2019 as the best photo editing software in our review. Its user-friendly interface and advanced editing tools are good for both beginners and seasoned graphic designers alike. The photo organizing system helps you arrange your photos in a variety of ways so you will be able to find the images you need quickly.

Best Overall

PaintShop Pro 2019

PaintShop Pro 2019

This program is really easy to use.
You can arrange your photos in several different ways.
Is isn't Mac compatible.
You cannot make animated GIFs with this software.
You cannot post directly to online photo galleries using this software.

This software offers some automatic editing tools, which is helpful for beginners, but it also provides hands-on editing tools that allow you to tweak your images exactly the way you want.

The Smart Photo Fix tool allows you to compare the original image alongside an edited preview as you make alterations, which can help you make the changes you want.

The interface is clean and organized so you can easily find the tools and menus you need. You can organize your photos by rating, keywords, people and places to help you find your photos faster. It also keeps track of your images' EXIF data so you can look up the exact settings your camera used to capture your photos. It also works with a wide variety of file types, including RAW, PSD and PDF files so you can edit just about any project using this software. One thing that helps this program stand out from the others is its extensive help features and resources. The learning center tool allows you to get information quickly about any of the tools in the program. PaintShop Pro also has hundreds of tutorial videos on its YouTube page so you'll be able to find help on any subject.

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Best Value

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo

The interface is easy to navigate.
The advanced layers tools allow you to do more in-depth edits.
It is Mac compatible.
There is no photo organizing software.
It is hard to get a hold of this company if you have questions.
There aren't any printing project resources.

This software offers all of the advanced photo editing tools that an experienced photographer or graphic designer might want, including content aware tools, EXIF data, HDR tools and more.

While each of the programs on this review can make edits, this software creates the most professional-grade edits. Surprisingly, this program is relatively cheap and only requires a one-time payment instead of a subscription like many of the top programs on the market.

As a more advanced feature, this program's Assistant Manager allows you to make presets to each of the editing tools so that when you select a specific tool it automatically adjusts brush settings, adjustment tools, masks and layers to match your predesignated specifications. This program lacks a built-in photo organizing system. While it isn't necessary to have one, it can make the editing process easier when you can quickly locate your photos.

There are dozens of tutorials on the Affinity Revolution YouTube channel and even more throughout the web so you can learn various effects from experienced users. It is compatible with all the basic files along with PSD, RAW and PDF files. This program is available on both Windows and Mac so it is more likely to suit your needs. A full version of the software recently became available for the iPad.

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Best for Beginners

CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra 10

The interface is easy to use.
You can organize photos in a variety of ways.
There are plenty of online video tutorials.
This program doesn't offer vector graphics tools.
It only supports six file types.

This software is split into six different sections to help you find the tools you need without overwhelming you with too many options at once, which is especially helpful when you're a beginner.

A user guide is available within the application to help explain the various tools, and there are dozens of video tutorials online to help you learn and achieve more effects. You can add text and a number of text effects to your photos using this program. This software's watermark feature allows you to easily create and place an identifying mark on your photos so you can feel better about sharing them online. In addition to editing your photos, this software also allows you to create slideshows complete with music, transitions and accompanying text.

The Library section helps you to find and arrange your photos by rating, tags and name. To save you time, this program allows you to use batch editing to complete the same edits to a group of photos. It also features a content-aware removal tool which allows you to seamlessly remove items from your images and fills the empty space in a way that matches the rest of the photo.

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Best For Learning Adobe

Photoshop Elements

Photoshop Elements

This program helps prepare you for other Adobe programs.
The Photo Organizer is in a separate application.

Photoshop Elements is the gateway software for Adobe CC. The program's interface is divided into Quick, Guided and Expert mode, designed to help beginning users grow and come to an intermediate editing level.

You can toggle between the modes to learn how to use the software until you are comfortable enough to stay in the Expert mode. Adobe offers the best editing tools on the market and this is made evident by its impressive content-aware fill tool, which allows you to remove unwanted objects, like trash or electrical poles, from your images and fill in the space believably with just a couple button clicks.

This is one of the only Adobe programs that doesn't require a subscription. You'll just need to make a one-time payment, albeit it a pricey one, of roughly $100. This will give you access to 90 creative filters, plenty of tutorials, HDR tools, blemish removing tools and many more useful features. Like many of Adobe's programs, this one expects you to work with other Adobe software to fulfill your editing goals. The photo organizer is a separate program that opens in a different window. While this is nice in getting you ready for how other Adobe software works, it can also be a little annoying popping between the two programs.

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Best Built-In Photo Organizer

ACDSee Photo Studio

ACDSee Photo Studio offers over 60 filters so you can quickly add stylization to your photos. It also features plenty of drawing and painting tools as well as background removal tools.

However, the reason it didn't score as highly as other programs is because this software doesn’t work in layers, which is standard for most photo editing software. This means you cannot view and select your separate elements as easily as you can with other programs. This software also requires that you take a few extra and somewhat unnecessary steps before you can finalize your editing changes to your file, which is why it didn't score as highly in the ease of use category.

If you don't mind the lack of layers and the extra steps it takes to edit your photos, this program is a great choice. It has a phenomenal photo organizer that allows you to separate, rate and organize your images in a variety of ways so you can find them in the way that makes the most sense to you. You'll find plenty of online support including an active user forum, tutorials and live chat so you can find answers to questions quickly.

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ProductPriceOverall RatingPricingEditing ToolsOrganizing OptionsFile Compatibility & SharingHelp & SupportSupported ConfigurationsTrial PeriodEase of Use ScoreEditing Tool ScoreNumber of Filter PresetsOrganizing Tools ScoreFile Compatibility ScoreSharing Options ScoreHelp & Support ScoreWindows 10Windows 8Windows 7Mac OS
Corel PaintShop Pro 2019View Deal4.5/555555030 Days10010099100100100100
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018View Deal4.5/54.54.5555530 Days1009598100100100100
CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra 9View Deal4.5/54.55523530 Days10093931005010060
Zoner Photo Studio X 4/53.54.5551.5530 Days100383810010010060
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 20184/54.52.55542.530 Days1006060100100100100
Affinity PhotoView Deal3.5/54.55032.5510 Days175757171002540
Xara Photo & Graphic DesignerView Deal3.5/553. Days3314014033757560

Why Trust Us 

For the past nine years, we have reviewed photo editing software to find the best programs available. We spent over 85 hours in the last 12 months using these editing programs to manipulate photos. Our testers are skilled editors with backgrounds in photography and graphic design. We used the same set of photos so we could compare each program's editing capabilities against each other. 

We contacted John Yoo, Head of Sales at CyberLink, to see what he finds most important for any photo editing software. He told us, "The basic functions – crop, adjust exposure, contrast, white balance, noise reduction – all of these features are not only important but the software needs to be able to adjust these accurately and easily." We completely agree.

Programs that completed edits in a quick, intuitive fashion while truly enhancing the photos received higher scores in our review. Programs lacking main features or offering them in a clunky fashion scored lower. Since tutorials and forums are such an important part of learning the photo editing process, programs with better instructive and help features scored higher. 

We also evaluated each programs' help features and organizing abilities to determine which offered the best options overall. We paid attention to each program's ease of use to see which were best for beginners to learn on. Since file compatibility is such an important part of the editing process, we scored programs higher if they accommodated the main photo file types: JPG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, PSD, PDF and RAW.

How We Tested

We used the same 12 photos in each of the programs we tested to see how well each one performed basic and advanced edits. We began by using the most basic editing tools like cropping, red eye removal and filters before moving on to more advanced editing tools like using mask layers to adjust hue, tone and brightness, or creating HDR images. We compared the final images from each program to see which software performed editing tasks the best.

Some programs provided the same level of editing finesse but forced you to go through several unnecessary steps before completing a task. For this reason, we scored clean, simple and well-organized interfaces higher. This year's best photo editing software, PaintShop Pro 2018, beautifully creates basic and advanced image enhancements through an easy-to-use interface.

If the program you want requires a subscription, make sure you understand the payment schedule. For instance, find out if the $20 payment is due quarterly or monthly.

If you are a beginner wanting to become a more advanced editor, make sure you purchase a program that allows you to work in layers. 

How Much Does Photo Editing Software Cost?

Beginner to Intermediate-level photo editing software costs between $40 and $100, though some programs are subscription based and require a monthly or annual payment that typically totals to about $50 per year. More professional-level photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop CC will cost you roughly $21 a month or more. Before deciding on a program, make sure it has the features and editing tools that you will likely use the most. 

Things to Consider With Photo Editing Software

File Types
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.

Simple Tips for Good Photography & Editing

  • One of the most crucial parts of editing is taking a good picture to begin with. You’ll save hours of work if you learn to set up your camera and lighting correctly from the start.
  • To capture better details, get as close as you can to your subject while still keeping it in focus.
  • Try not to work in direct sunlight, as the harsh cast shadows can be very distracting. This is why many photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days or during the golden hours – just after sunrise and just before sunset when the light isn’t as harsh.
  • If you must work in direct sunlight, try to counterbalance the sun's harshness with diffuser or reflector panels, the camera flash, light boxes, and shade.
  • Learn how to use shutter speeds. To capture crisp details in fast-moving subjects, such as wildlife, you need a shutter speed of over 1/500th of a second.
  • Engaging landscape photography often has a foreground, middle ground and background. Try to incorporate all three when taking a shot.
  • When taking portraits, try to help your subjects loosen up. You’re more likely to capture genuine expressions and body language this way.
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you want to get better, get out there and learn. Experiment with aperture sizes and learn which lenses and settings you like best.
  • If you make too many edits, your image may look less organic, amateurish or downright bad. Be conservative with your edits – as the saying goes, “less is more.”
  • Keep a copy of the original image in case you don’t like your edits. Before finalizing a photo, focus on something else for 10 minutes and then come back to it. Your fresh eyes will be able to tell if the image looks good or if it needs tweaking.
  • Learn from the pros. Many photographers offer tips on YouTube or their websites. Ask questions and learn as much as you can.
  • Pace yourself. Photography equipment and editing software are expensive, so you’ll likely have to acquire everything bit by bit.

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