It seems like every day we hear about the release of new photo editing software, each claiming to be better and easier to use than everything before it. From apps for mobile devices that let you do basic filtering and cropping to full-fledged, professional-level, RAW-processing engines that require a powerful computer to fully leverage everything they’re capable of, there’s something readily available for every level of user.
It used to be that Adobe was the one and only word you’d hear when talking about editing photos. While the creative giant is still a household name in the creative industry, there are a plethora of other options available to suit your needs, whatever they may be. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite photo editing software and separated them into three categories for you: Subscription-Based, One-Time Purchase, and Free! These are not ranked in any particular order since each one has its own strengths, and some apps have placed into two or more of the categories as well, so make sure you go through to the bottom of the list.
That said, here’s our list of the best photo editing software currently available in 2020.
Subscription-Based Photo Editing Software
Capture One Pro offers an interesting setup where you can buy the software outright once for a single purchase price, or you can sign up for a subscription and get continuous updates and upgrades as they are released. Available on both Mac & PC, Capture One Pro delivers a similar feel to Adobe Lightroom Classic, only arguably with its power cranked up to 11!
Capture One Pro offers a wide array of incredibly powerful and detailed tools to make RAW processing a breeze! Professional retouchers will attest to its RAW conversion being sharper & cleaner than Adobe’s, as well as a more vibrant and accurate color recognition; you’ll also get access to incredibly powerful tools such as layers and masks, which are typically reserved for Photoshop. C1 may be more expensive than many of the others on this list, but if you’re a serious professional looking to deliver the best quality in your work, then it’s worth every penny!
Adobe Creative Cloud – Lightroom & Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom are pretty much world-renowned as the most popular and powerful photo editing combination of applications on the market. And while there are a lot of other options out there, it often seems that nobody else can stand up to the dream team of apps under the Creative Cloud Suite! Also available for both Mac & PC, Photoshop (and Lightroom) are pretty much the standard go-to for image editors worldwide. Simply put, Adobe’s retouching tools are the standard that most other applications are compared to and judged by.
Under the Creative Cloud, you’re given several different options for accessing whichever application you need, whether for photos or audio engineering and animation! That said, you can subscribe to the apps piece by piece, or choose several optional plans like the Photography package, which bundles Lightroom and Photoshop, or the complete Suite, which gives you access to everything Adobe has to offer, including every new update! For photographers, the good news is you can get the Photography plan for just $9.99 a month!
Canva is a bit different from the others on our list as it’s not quite a RAW processor, but more of a photo designer app. It’s among the most popular tools out there to help you quickly and easily design photo templates and graphics for social media and your website. You can’t do much RAW manipulation. Instead, it’s a very user-friendly drag & drop design editor meant to function more as a platform to take your already edited images and raise them to a new level for your digital or print marketing. Loaded with thousands of templates, graphics, icons, and more, it even has a mobile app so you can design on the go.
PicMonkey is recommended for beginner editors who want to brush up on the editing basics for design and photography. There’s a full range of tools that those coming from Adobe will find familiar, like cropping, collages, and basic image touch-ups. It’s available in a 7-day free trial and offers several different levels of pricing plans, including access for teams. This app is another great addition to your arsenal for designing ads and social media posts for yourself or your business.
One-Time Purchase Photo Editing Software
If you’re looking for the power of Photoshop but don’t want the hassle of the subscription plan, then this is the solution for you. Available on both Mac & PC, Affinity Photo provides a full-powered Photoshop rival, created by the team at Serif. Even though it’s listed at a budget price of only $49.99 (currently on sale for 50% off), it’s loaded with enough features and power to rival its big-budget competition. While the layout may be a little different, those who have experience with Photoshop will find the layout familiar with many of the same tools, including layers, HDR tone mapping, masking, and more. Like its competitor, Affinity Photo is not a RAW-processing engine like Lightroom or Capture One, meaning it doesn’t have a catalog or library feature; it’s meant to edit a single file at a time. Affinity Photo is focused on in-depth single image manipulation, and it does it well.
PortraitPro is one of those apps that has grown leaps and bounds with every new version they release. Currently sitting at version 19, it’s designed with Portraits (as its name implies) as its main focus. The software is loaded with all kinds of tools to help you create stunning portraits quickly and easily, without any lag! It lets you fix skin tones, remove wrinkles & dark spots, cleans up blemishes, fixes saggy skin, and even has some creative features, like the ability to add eye shadow! Additionally, the app comes with many features we’re used to, like advanced layering options, manual adjustments for exposure, highlights & shadows, as well as the ability to “transform a face efficiently.”
Photoworks is an automatic photo enhancer that’s suitable for everything from landscape images to portraits. It’s built for the beginner who isn’t quite on the expert level when it comes to more complex editing that you’d find when using things like Affinity Photo or Photoshop. Still, it offers a plethora of incredible features, from basic color correction to advanced portrait & landscape enhancements. It’s a great alternative to some higher-priced and more advanced applications, giving the users more freedom to easily achieve complex edits.
ON1 has been growing in popularity over the last five years, largely because it offers a lot of the more advanced editing capabilities for free (you can get the app as a 30-day free trial version that you can upgrade later on). Available for Mac and PC, it offers a great selection of RAW-processing tools along with a catalog feature to help you organize your images, all while helping you spend less time in front of the computer. Photo Raw also allows for a full editing history so you can revert to any step at any time of your retouching process; it has integration with Apple Photos, and if you buy the full bundle version, you can work with HDR, Layers, Panoramas, and more!
Topaz AI, from Topaz Labs, is available for both Mac & PC and it has a wide suite of apps available to suit all of your editing needs. In the full suite, you’ll find Sharpen, Mask, Adjust, DeNoise, Gigapixel, and Jpeg to RAW. Each one operates as a stand-alone application while Sharpen & DeNoise also work as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom to give you even more flexibility. As you can probably tell from the individual product names, each one is named after its clear purpose. While each one of the bundle may be targeted to a niche area, they offer some powerful tools for your image editing, with features that are being boasted as industry best like with Sharpen AI, which has been able to make incredible improvements to slightly blurry or out of focus images! While a little pricier than some of its competitors, each app is available for a free trial, individual purchase, or as a bundle to save some extra cash.
Luminar has become one of the more game-changing editors on the market recently with the additions to the app in version 4, like AI Sky Replacement, AI Augmented Sky, and the AI Skin and Portrait Enhancers. Really, Luminar has kind of entered a league of its own. While it’s still easy to go overboard with your edits, you can create your own base presets for portraits or anything else to apply to the images that’ll allow you to save massive amounts of time when you’re stuck behind the computer doing bulk edits on things like landscapes and/or corporate headshots and portraits! Additionally, with version 4, they’ve added a decent cataloging service (Libraries) and fully non-destructive editing capabilities, so you can go back and make changes to your edits at any time. Currently, these features can be a tad resource-heavy, so we’d recommend grabbing the free-trial before you buy to be sure your system can handle the AI-based tools the app has to offer!
Exposure (formally known as Alien Skin Exposure), is one of those apps that’s been in the back pocket of most photographers I’ve known for nearly the last decade. It’s a fantastic app and plugin that blends the old analog look with modern enhancement tools. The app comes absolutely loaded with presets to get your creativity sparked and then has a wide array of professional, powerful, and detailed editing tools to completely customize every little detail of your image, including the addition of layers and masking! All of this is bundled in a fast and efficient editing system that even has a powerful filter & keyword-based folder & file searching system so that you don’t have to import your files like with some other editors.
Corel PaintShop Pro is celebrated as one of the best photo editing applications for beginners. It’s very capable, and it’s one of the most inexpensive photo editing tools on the market. It’s arguably a Photoshop alternative, but it should be noted that it does lack some of the more advanced “flagship” features like 3d modeling, liquify, and detailed typography. That said, if you want a powerful image editor that’s easy to learn and use, Corel PaintShop Pro is a very good choice, especially since it also comes preloaded with a bunch of graphic design templates, in case you want to get creative with your marketing and design.
DXO is a name most in the photography industry are familiar with due to its DXOMark site for ratings on everything camera and lens-related. With the Photo Lab application, the expected level of detail is still there! Famous for its lens correction profiles and RAW conversion, DXO has brought back the Google NIK software and integrated some of its best features into this powerful image editor. With PhotoLab, you can apply powerful localized adjustments to your images with a full RAW processing tool selection, as well as a huge library of lens perspective corrections. It doesn’t support cataloging, but it does have basic folder browsing capabilities, which will make navigating through image folders easier.
Like Capture One, ACDSee is available as a single one-time purchase, or under a subscription model to give the user a little more flexibility with spending power. This app has been around for a long time. Besides the Adobe suite, it’s one of the very first applications I personally ever used to work on my images. Initially only available on PCs, you can now get the application on Macs as well, and with its latest release, ACDSee Photo Studio offers the latest in advanced toolsets for a fantastic editing experience. With all its features, it actually is a pretty impressive alternative to applications like Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop and Capture One, especially since it’s very easy for beginners to navigate and use.
HDRSoft’s Photomatix Pro is a little more niche-market than some of the other applications listed in this post. Just as Portrait Pro is focused on portraits, this application is geared towards High-Dynamic-Range image editing. It’s a standalone app that can be used on Linux, Mac or PC and is used to merge and adjust/edit exposure brackets (or a single image) to create a detailed and evenly lit image from edge to edge. With the pro version, you are able to use this as a plugin with Adobe Lightroom to give you some additional editing flexibility.
Since it’s targeted more towards Landscape and Urban images, the toolsets will let you get much more realistic styles than most other HDR merging tools, providing an improved image and color control set with exposure blending and masking capabilities, image distortion correction, ghost reduction tools, tons of presets, and a decent selection of rendering modes. Packed into a very user-friendly and robust system, it’s a fantastic choice for someone getting into HDR Imagery.
Free Photo Editing Software
Adobe Photoshop Express is the app for easy on-the-go photo editing, just as the tagline above says! It makes it easy to edit, get crazy creative, and share your images on social media, all at the low cost of free! As you might guess from its name, Photoshop Express is a scaled-down version of its world-famous sibling, yet it still has far more capabilities and tools than you’d expect from a free application. The app is available for Mac, PC, and mobile devices, and all platforms come loaded with powerful editing tools, including auto-fix, presets, selective spot healing, and export options that allow you to send images directly to your social media outlets or into the full version of Photoshop to get even more creative with your work. For someone considering the jump into the Adobe Creative Suite of applications, you can’t go wrong by starting with the free version of Photoshop Express.
GIMP has been around as long as I can remember, and it is rated one of the best Free and Open Sourced based Photo Editing Software out there. The name stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program,” and it comes loaded with a surprising pro-level variety of features to help you get started on your image editing adventures. While it’s not as user friendly or powerful as many of the bigger tools and brands mentioned above in this list, GIMP is a great way to get started and feel things out for those of you not ready to take the financial plunge into any of the applications listed. Plus, it offers a plethora of great functionality for graphic designers and illustrators who are also getting started!
Similar to Ashampoo, Fotor is also geared towards automated/one-click photo enhancements, only this app will work on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems! Designed to give your images a quick boost, there’s no specifics areas you’d need to retouch with local adjustments. And if you did, sadly those features are not available; however, if you’re only looking for quick, simple, and even filter/preset based edits, then this is a fantastic choice for your image editing needs.
PhotoScape is a PC & Mac compatible photo editor that offers far more tools than you’d expect from a free application. Including raw conversion, photo splitting, animated GIF creations (meme makes rejoice!), along with some interesting graphic design features. Basically, PhotoScape gives a LOT of punch for a free program. It’s still geared more towards the beginning editor as the interface is a little more “nuanced” than some of the other apps on this list, but since it’s free, the only thing it’ll cost you is the time it takes to test it out to see if it meets your needs!
Ashampoo Photo Optimizer is definitely an app geared towards someone focused on bulk and batch editing. The PC editing system is uncluttered and designed to make editing go as fast as possible. While it lacks many of the professional/powerful features you may find in apps like Lightroom or Capture One Pro, it makes up for it in its ease of use with its automatic one-click optimization of your images.
Pixlr X is a browser-based photo editor that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux and is designed to give you quick results working with smaller images (3840 pixels max). The interface is similar to the Adobe Photoshop Express layout and the editor gives you a decent selection of editing tools to enhance your image. These include sharpening, saturation adjustments, image combinations/collaging, as well as color adjustments and support for layers!
As you can tell from this list, there are a lot of options available to you when it comes to photo editors. We hope you find this list helpful and you can find the right photo editing software for your next project, whether you choose a free, one-time purchase, or subscription-based plan. Let us know if we missed anything by leaving a comment below and we’ll keep this post as up to date as possible.