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The best photo editing software

Once the purview of photographers and graphic design professionals, photo editing is something most of us now do on a daily basis. Whether it’s applying a filter to a selfie in Instagram or cropping out an unwanted photo-bomber before posting a pic to Facebook, we’re all amateur photo editors these days.

But what if you want to make those photos you snapped on your phone really sing or you’re a budding photographer with a DSLR camera with aspirations of becoming a professional shutterbug? Then you’re probably going to want to invest in photo editing software.

PhotoDirector 365

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  • Starting at $3.17 per month
  • Windows and Mac (iOS and Android available)
  • Free version available
  • A.I. makes routine fixes and corrects imperfections
  • Glitch, Light Rays, Dispersion, Photo Animation, and other effects
  • Free access to a royalty-free premium Shutterstock photo & video library

PhotoDirector 365 began life as a workflow program, but CyberLink has made numerous upgrades to position it as a viable (and cheaper) alternative to Adobe Photoshop. It has introduced A.I.-powered abilities such as masking and sky replacement along with style effects such as adding brushstrokes and routine fixes for correcting imperfections. It comes with a palette of effects, light rays, glitch, and dispersion, and it can easily bring your photos to life using its animation features. It even has a body-slimming feature to prep your photos for Tinder. Plus, you get access to Shutterstock’s world-class library of stock images. A subscription to PhotoDirector 365 normally costs $55 a year ($4.58 per month) but is currently on sale for just $38 for a year ($3.17 per month).

Adobe Photoshop

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  • Starting at $10 per month
  • Windows, Mac and iPad (iOS and Android available)
  • Free trial available
  • Customizable interface
  • Ability to collaborate via the cloud
  • Cloud storage included

Adobe Photoshop has long been the gold standard for working with digital images. Its rich and extensive palette of customizable tools has made it indispensable in any graphic designer’s arsenal, especially when used in tandem with Adobe’s other industry-leading graphic design software, InDesign and Illustrator. It has A.I. features like sky replacement and Super Resolution, which doubles your image’s resolution. But Photoshop’s capabilities aren’t limited to still images. It comes with video editing tools as well as the ability to work with 3D images. Plus, you can use Photoshop on multiple devices — including your iPad — and sync your presets to use them no matter what device you are using or where you might be.

Photoshop subscriptions are available with or without Lightroom (Adobe’s photography-focused image manipulation software) along with varying amounts of cloud storage. It also comes as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, which might be the best option for graphic designers using Adobe’s other software.

PaintShop Pro 2021

PaintShop Pro 2021

  • Starting at $55 per month
  • Windows compatible (Aftershot Pro available for Mac)
  • Free trial available
  • A.I. powered
  • Supports RAW files
  • Time-saving scripts and One-click corrections

If you’re looking for an inexpensive, non-subscription-based photo editor and happen to be running a Windows machine, then Corel’s PaintShop Pro is a worthy choice. It starts at $55 and comes with ParticleShop and the Artistic Effects Script Bundle thrown in for free (a $110 value), so you get a lot of bang for your buck. It has a suite of A.I.-powered tools like Upsampling, Artifact Removal, Smart Photo Fix, and Denoise and has an enhanced workspace with a split screen so you can compare your original photograph with the work you’ve done. You can also record a series of tasks that you perform often as a script for use as an automated action. It has a palette of editing tools and effects that should be more than ample for most users.


Luminar 4

  • Starting at $67 per year
  • Windows and Mac
  • No subscription required
  • Intuitive with A.I. tools
  • Comes with pre-installed object images

Now in its fourth iteration, Skylum’s Luminar is available both as a standalone editor and as a plugin for Photoshop and MacOS Photos. Given its capabilities, though, we’re not sure why you would pay for both Luminar and Photoshop, but it’s a nice option nevertheless. It comes with several easy-to-use A.I.-powered tools: Sky Replacement, Augmented Sky, Skin Enhancer, Portrait Enhancer, a Structure slider that detects areas for enhancement, and an Accent tool that makes focal points pop with one click. Other features, like Smart Contrast, Landscape Enhancer, and the Erase tool, are very intuitive, letting non-design professionals create pro-level images.

Affinity Photo

  • $25 for Mac or PC or $10 for iPad
  • Windows, Mac, and iPad
  • Free trial available
  • Edits PSD files
  • Panorama Stitching
  • Both RGB and CMYK color spaces

Our pick as the best Photoshop alternative, Affinity Pro is a powerful photo editing tool at a fraction of the price of its Adobe competitor. Though it has the feel of a mobile app, which makes sense given that it’s always made its iPad version a priority, this award-winning software has a long list of features. It has all the retouching tools you would expect of a pro-level editor plus a huge library of brushes, an ample palette of effects, and an unlimited number of layers available. It also features HDR merge and 360 image editing. Even better, it supports RAW files, and you can even use it to edit PSD files! And if you’re using the iPad version, it works with your Apple Pencil.

Movavi Picverse

Moravi Picverse

  • One-Time payment of $60
  • Windows and Mac (iOS and Android available)
  • Free trial available
  • Automated A.I. tasks
  • Noise reduction
  • AI Restoration of Old Photos

Movavi’s Picverse photo editor combines ease of use with pro-like results. Available in both Mac and PC versions, this software is packed with A.I. technology for automatically adjusting color and contrast or doing more complicated tasks like repairing scans of old photos. It has more than 100 preloaded filters and is compatible with RAW files. In addition to object removal and custom sharpness tools Movavi Picverse AI helps restore old photos hiding creases, scratches, stains, and even adding color.

Exposure X6


  • One-Time payment of $129
  • Windows and Mac
  • Free trial
  • Library of film looks
  • GPU processing
  • Intuitive design

Exposure X6 is a robust photo editor meant to appeal to photographers and rival Photoshop. It was developed with input from experienced film photographers to create a library of film looks, while its extensive selection of tools allows exacting alterations, especially when it comes to color correction. It allows you to add realistic film grain as well as choose from a huge number of textures, light effects, and borders. It has more than 500 customizable presets and features, advanced masking tools, and one-click automatic adjustments. Previous versions of Exposure already boasted fast processing speeds, but X6 now supports GPU processing for even better performance (depending on your GPU, of course).

$129 One Time

Pixelmator Pro

  • One-Time payment of $40
  • Mac only
  • Free Trial
  • Native MacOS look and feel
  • Streamlined design
  • Support for RAW photos
  • Machine learning

Pixelmator Pro is a top-rated MacOS photo editor. It has a simple, streamlined design that makes it super easy to use, and though it may not have as many features as some of the other programs on this list, it does have advanced features like nondestructive layers, RAW file support, and a slew of brushes and retouching tools. Even more impressive, Pixelmator’s machine learning enhancements allow you to make many adjustments automatically. Plus, at only $40, this software certainly won’t break the bank.

$40 One Time

With so many great photo editors to choose from be sure to find the photo editing software that suits your needs. Free trials are available through most software or you can download one of the many photo editors or photo editing apps that provide free options.

Editors' Recommendations

Stephen Slaybaugh
Stephen Slaybaugh is a freelance writer with with more than 20 years experience. He’s written extensively about internet…
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