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Need to edit photos on a Chromebook? Here are the best tools for the job

The Chromebook is a stripped-down laptop that makes on-the-go computing more affordable and accessible to those on a tight budget (well, if you ignore the $1,000 Pixelbook). But as with anything that has been scaled down, the Chromebook comes with limitations. Unlike laptops running Windows or MacOS, a Chromebook doesn’t allow users to directly install programs, which makes high-bandwidth creative tasks like video editing almost impossible.

But what about photo editing? Well, you won’t be able to enjoy a full Photoshop experience, but there are other options worth a look.

The best photo editing tools for Chromebook


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Polarr is our number one pick when it comes to editing your images on a Chromebook. One of its most significant advantages is that, unlike other software, you can import and edit photos even without an internet connection. You get two options with Polarr; free or paid subscription ($3.50 per month). The free version gives you access to basic light, color, and cropping tools. Paid users can enjoy a more advanced experience, having access to brush, gradient, and radial filter tools. The design is sleek, and it’s simple to use. At present, there’s no RAW support with Polarr, which will be a deal-breaker for some. And for those who enjoy quick edits, you get access to a massive batch of presets, both with the free and paid versions.

Pixlr Editor

Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re looking for an experience similar to that of Photoshop, Pixlr is a great option. It’s popular with Chromebook users as it’s a fully web-based application. Even better news, it’s completely free (but expect to see the occasional ad). Sure, it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as the full version of Adobe Photoshop, but if you want to add layers, remove backgrounds, and put some effects in your photograph, then you really can’t go wrong with Pixlr.

Photoshop Express

Image used with permission by copyright holder

One of the best moves from ChromeOS was to allow users to install applications that were designed for Andriod. This decision opened the door to more apps, including Photoshop Express. Now before we get your hopes up, the Express version is nothing like classic Photoshop. It’s free and basic, but still makes enhancing your images enjoyable. It’s easy to use and will work smoothly on less powerful hardware. There’s no RAW support, and if you miss out on many of Photoshop’s more advanced tools, but there’s a lot here for a free mobile app.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re the kind of photographer who prefers to add a cool filter and be done with it, then Snapseed could be the best option for you. Like Photoshop Express, the app has been designed for Andriod but can be used with ChromeOS. It’s very basic — and we mean very basic — giving you little manual control over your edits. But Snapseed does come with quality presets. It was never meant for the pro retoucher, but rather the photography enthusiast who likes cool-looking photos that will pop on Instagram. You do get some more advanced controls, including tone curve and white balance tools, as well as simple light adjustments. But again, if you’re a one-click kind of photographer, you’ll enjoy plenty of the fancy presets that are loaded into the app.

Lightroom CC

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One of the big advantages of Adobe Lightroom CC versus the older Lightroom Classic CC is that all of your photos can be synchronized over the cloud, across desktop, mobile, and web versions of the app. On a Chromebook, the design is a little different compared to the desktop version, but not enough that you won’t be able to find your way around it. You have access to all the brush, light, and color tools, as well as interactive tutorials. A big plus is that even on a Chromebook, Lightroom CC has full RAW file support. Managing your photos isn’t the best, however, and because Lightroom wants to be as close to a desktop experience as possible, a Chromebook’s lack of processing power can make it frustrating to use. It’s still a reliable app and should be first on the list of all you Lightroom fans.

The reality of editing photos on a Chromebook

This should come as no surprise, but the Chromebook was not created with the professional photographer in mind. Because of this, you’re always going to be limited when it comes to high-end editing tools. But, the options above — especially Polarr — show the Chromebook can still be a capable machine for photographers. However, if you need to retouch images to a professional standard, the reality is that a Chromebook isn’t for you.

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Dan Ginn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Dan Ginn is an internationally published street photographer, feature writer and content creator. Through his writing, he has…
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