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Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 review

If you're just starting with photo editing, Photoshop Elements 2021 is a good place to begin, and a great way to learn Adobe toolset.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 review
(Image: © Adobe)

Our Verdict

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 is a good way to start in photo editing, design, and image manipulation. It's complex enough to let you grow, but simple enough for beginners. It's relatively expensive, though.

For

  • Easy to use work spaces
  • Loads of social media-focused tools
  • Versatile software

Against

  • Quite expensive
  • Not as good as some cheaper rivals

Why would you choose to buy Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021, instead of signing up to the full version of Photoshop CC? The answer to that question is becoming increasingly difficult to find, but it boils down to two fundamentals: simplicity and pricing. While Photoshop Elements 2021 is well worthy of its inclusion of the best photo editing software this year, it is the simplified version of the Photoshop family. This makes it ideal for anyone who is just starting to explore photo manipulation and editing, as it offers a very gentle introduction to many of the tools used across the whole Adobe suite.

And while it isn't the cheapest photo software on the market, Elements differs from the full-fat Photoshop in a very crucial way: you pay for a one-off license, download it, and it's all yours forever. Regular Photoshop CC is only available via Adobe Creative Cloud, which you have to pay a monthly or yearly fee to access. So if you're on more of a budget, and want to just keep your Photoshop indefinitely, this is a good option.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021: Features

Photoshop Elements lets you select one of three workspaces to correspond with your skill level: Quick, Guided or Expert. The Quick view displays only the most common tools and elements, to help you quickly create a design or edit a photo. The Guided view shows you different design effects and teaches you how to apply them to your images. And the Expert workspace has all of the tools for you to use at your discretion, but gives you no help in doing so.

New features are added to Photoshop Elements every year, and the new features in the 2021 edition of the app include motion photos, sky replacement, and easier moving and scaling of objects. These are all powered by Adobe Sensei, the developer’s powerful cloud computing and AI platform, but the basic image-editing toolset has not changed for several releases now. New features tend to concentrate on special effects. The last major addition was Select Subject, a Sensei-powered automatic selection tool, that was added in version 2020. Before that, you have to go back to version 10, released in 2011, before you find an app that looks significantly different from the one we have today.

That’s partly because Elements is a finely honed image editing app that does everything you could need, and partly because the gap between it and the professional Photoshop CC is narrowing. As Elements gets more powerful, and its big brother gets easier to use, pro users may wonder why they’re paying the Creative Cloud subscription when they could buy Elements for a one-off payment. That’s why you won’t find support for CMYK color, used by commercial printers, or the vector tools used for professional illustration, in Elements.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021

(Image credit: Adobe)

Photoshop Elements includes several tools to help you create unique and intricate designs. With a wide selection of brushes and the option to create your own, the program allows you to adjust the thickness, stroke, color and tip of a brush. The software is also compatible with tablets, so you can adjust the pressure of a custom brush or use the tablet to draw.

With Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can customize your typography by color, size and weight, or add effects. The software allows you to alter the fonts, shapes and images with gradients and opacity, giving you a wide range of typography effects.

With the Photoshop Elements' 130+ photo filters, you can add textures and adjust colors on each of your photos. The program even includes panorama merging and HDR imaging. In addition to the photo effects, Elements has tools that help improve the quality of photos, such as color correction, noise removal and automatic lens correction. These enhancement tools are AI-driven, but these auto-correct options manage to get the balance right more often than not.

Elements also has content-aware scaling, which allows you to resize images without distorting them, as well as a history log that displays every edit you make and allows you to undo any unwanted changes. You can also use the mask tool to remove unwanted objects or subjects, but it isn't as sophisticated as the one in the full version of Photoshop.

To help you design projects, Photoshop Elements comes with over 100 pre-designed templates for photo books, Facebook headers and more. It also has a helpful feature that allows you to export your designs directly to social media sites, and there are tools that lean towards memes and collages, including a new one for creating retro duotone images. 

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021

(Image credit: Adobe)

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021: Compatibility and export options

Photoshop Elements works with most image file types, including PNG, GIF, TIF, JPEG, PSD, BMP and RAW. Just about any raster-based file should work, as long as it’s not the proprietary format of a different application.

This software offers bleed setup and printer’s mark tools so you can make sure your designs print and cut exactly the way you want them to. If there is a potential problem with your print order, Photoshop Elements will notify you before sending your print request to the printer.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021: Price and support options

Although most of Adobe’s products have been converted to subscription-based services, Photoshop Elements remains one-time-payment software. It sells for $99.99, which is actually quite expensive for a single-purchase photo editor, although you'll often find it on discount for far less, and in a good value bundle with Premiere Elements, Adobe’s similar video-editing app. Before deciding on it, you can use the 30-day trial to see if it’s a good fit for your work style. We think Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 is better value, as it offers more features and better workspaces for around $20 less...

Adobe has several support options. You can access help within the application or use the support page on the company’s website. Adobe’s website has video tutorials, support forums and solutions to common problems. You can contact an Adobe customer service representative via live chat, phone and forums. In Elements itself you get 57 guided edits, which take you through the process of some of the software's most common uses. They're really handy for beginners.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021

(Image credit: Adobe)

Should you buy Photoshop Elements 2021?

These days, it’s tricky to recommend Photoshop Elements. Every year we get a new version with a few new features and some guided edits, but Adobe is careful not to encroach on the professional space that it dominates. Other apps are passing Elements by, and while it’s still a good program for beginners, especially in the way the guided edits teach you about image editing and the way the app works, Elements is a solid all-rounder rather than a specialist in one area. Dare we say it, it’s becoming a bit dull. However, there’s nothing wrong with being a bit good at everything, and Elements will still appeal to beginners and some serious photographers who don’t like Adobe’s subscription model and for whom Expert mode holds no fears. 

Ian has been a journalist for 20 years. He's written for magazines and websites on subjects such as video games, technology, PC hardware, popular (and unpopular) science, gardening and astronomy. In his spare time he has a pet tortoise and grows his own vegetables.