The best photo-editing software is having a bit of a moment right now. Spearheaded by Adobe's 'Project Sensei', software firms everywhere are incorporating smart AI and machine learning into their products, making edits that once took hours of fiddling about possible within the click of a button. So it's a great time to buy or subscribe to photo editing software, whether you're a veteran professional or just getting started.
So which is the best photo editing software in 2022? That depends largely on what you're looking for. If it's just simple cropping, or subtle tweaks to colour or saturation, you might find all you need in a cheap or even free tool. If you're a full-time photographer, designer, artworker or image editor, though, you'll want the top-of-the-range software with the latest and most sophisticated tools. While if you're somewhere in between – such as a designer or marketing professional who edits images every now and again – you'll be looking at the best middleweight options that are powerful yet still very affordable.
To help you out, we've rounded up the best photo editing software below, and give you the information you need to choose between them. These cover a range of budgets, and include software that will work on your computer, phone or tablet. (If mobile software is your main interest, also see our guide to the best photo apps.)
So read on for the best photo editing software, and once you've chosen your tool, check out our guide the best laptops for photo editing too.
Top 3: best photo-editing software
Photoshop: Download a free trial for PC, Mac or iPad
Photoshop is the best photo editing software overall, and a seven-day trial lets you try the latest release for free. There's no obligation to buy, but you can convert to a paid subscription during the trial or after.
Affinity Photo: Subscription free! Just $54.99/£47.99 (desktop) or $21.99/£19.49 (iPad)
This very capable Photoshop alternative from Serif comes at a one-off price; no subscription needed. This photo editing software provides impressive tools for digital painting, raw editing, retouching and more.
PhotoDirector 365: $49.99 / £13.99 per year
CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 offers all the features you'd expect from a top photo editing tool at a very reasonable price. A great way to get high-level editing features such as levels and colour adjustment for less.
The best photo editing software 2022
Photoshop is the godfather of digital image editing, and it remains today the best photo editing software, bar none. Its range of features is practically endless, but it's typically used to edit and compose raster images, combine graphics and text in multiple layers; edit and render text and vector graphics; and create and edit 3D graphics and video.
Adobe has been boosting Photoshop further of late, by introducing AI tools that will smooth skin and remove artefacts from your pictures at a touch of a button. Other filters make it easy to edit expressions in portraits, add makeup to your subjects, colourise black and white photos and more.
Because it includes so many versatile features, Photoshop isn't just popular amongst photographers and photo retouchers, but also with digital artists, graphic designers and art directors, and even animators, 3D designers, game designers and VFX artists. Beyond what's in the interface, you can enhance the software further with any of the large selection of free Photoshop brushes and free Photoshop actions available online.
You can subscribe to Photoshop on its own, but many professionals tend to team it with another Adobe tool in their workflow. For example, a commercial photographer would likely pair it with Lightroom, while a motion designer would use it in conjunction with After Effects. In such cases, an All-Apps payment plan makes the best sense, particularly as this gives you access to other Adobe services such as Adobe Fonts and Adobe Stock; this can be surprisingly affordable with the best Adobe Creative Cloud discounts.
Like the sound of Photoshop, but not the expensive monthly subscription? Then here's the closest alternative for a one-off price.
Affinity Photo is a professional-standard photo editing programme that's cheap and subscription-free. High-end features include RAW editing, HDR merge, panorama stitching, focus stacking, batch processing, .PSD file editing, 360° image editing, a non-destructive layers-based workflow, and smart object support. So while it doesn't include an equivalent to every single feature you'll find in Photoshop, it's pretty darned close, making it exceptional value.
As well as Windows and Mac versions, the software is also available as a dedicated iPad app. Its maker Serif also has a graphic design package (Affinity Designer) and a desktop publishing app (Affinity Publisher). You can transfer images between these apps smoothly and easily, much as you can do in Adobe's suite between Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
For many people, Photoshop's panapoly of sophisticated tools are overkill and add up to an unnecessary learning curve. So if you just want an uncluttered interface that's easy to use, CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 is worth checking out.
Aimed at consumers and prosumers, this photo editing software give you all the standard image editing tools and features you'll likely to need, along with some nice AI tools, such as automatic body shaping, skin and face tools, plus some lighting and animation effects. The interface is simple to pick up, fast and reliable.
CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 has its flaws, with typos and little glitches that might easily put you off. However, the cheap annual subscription and high-level editing features such as levels and colour adjustment make this a decent option for creatives that occasionally need dedicated software to edit images and don't want to break the bank. For more information, see our CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 review.
Need to edit your photos as quickly as possible? Skylum Luminar AI is our top choice. This photo editing software is firmly focused on speeding up the process, so photographers can spend less time editing and more time creating.
As the name suggests, the software uses artificial intelligence to suggest editing options that can enhance photos of different styles. It can suggest the best templates to improve images and has tools that can be used to tweak skies, accents, skin, faces and even eyes. There are specific tools for portraiture, landscapes, fashion, architecture, nature, and black and white photographs.
At a very reasonable one-off cost, this AI-based software for MacOS and Windows is certainly worth checking out. For more details, check out our tutorial on How to edit photos with Luminar AI.
InPixio Photo Studio is another middleweight photo editing software that's easy to use, and features some clever AI. Currently on version 11, its background eraser and cutout tool are particularly well designed, and there's also a cool sky replacement tool, although the results are not always the most realistic.
With a intuitive interface, this is among the most accessible yet full-featured photo editors for beginners, and makes it easy to perform basic edits very quickly. With the Pro version, you also get inPixio's Photo Maximiser for enlarging, and Photo Focus for sharpening; two job-specific tools that can be used separately.
Want to make edits right in your web browser? Whether you're on a mobile or desktop device, we recommend Pixlr X and its sister app Pixlr E. Both are very easy to use, and there's nothing to download.
The free plan is perfect if you just want to use these tools occasionally. However, you will have to wait for ads to load, which can slow things down. Alternatively, subscribe to a paid plan and the ads disappear.
Pixlr X allows you to make non-destructive edits to your images, and brilliantly can be used within Dropbox, which makes it a great addition to your toolkit for collaborative work. With a Photoshop-like interface (albeit much simpler) it offers a good range of adjustments and filters. Pixlr E, meanwhile, offers the same classic photo editing tools, with the addition of some extras for the pros.
Corel PaintShop Pro has been the budget alternative to Photoshop for Windows users for more than two decades, and it's still going strong. Supporting layers and allowing you to edit in both raster and vector image formats, as well as aping some of Photoshop's more advanced capabilities such as content-aware move, gradients, and filters, it has a lot to offer anyone who does photo-editing as part of their day-to-day job.
The latest version includes some smart AI tools, including AI Background Replacement, AI Denoise, which removes noise from a picture, and AI Portrait Mode, which lets you select a subject and add background blur. It also adds support for the HEIC and HEIF file types used on iPhones.
While Adobe Lightroom has a lot of good photo editing tools, at heart it remains a tool for organising images. For that reason, it's a great choice for anyone working with large numbers of photos, such as photographers and designers, who'd normally use it in tandem with Photoshop.
Lightroom helps you to organise your work by letting keep all of your photography in one place, edit it and share it from anywhere. You can store images on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android device and even transfer photos automatically from your phone into Lightroom as you take them.
And that's not all. It can also handle complicated image management jobs that Photoshop isn't designed for. For example, it makes light work of day-to-day enhancements and RAW files. Syncing is automatic, so when you make an edit or flag an image as a favourite in one place, it updates everywhere else too.
If you're just getting started with image editing, full Photoshop may be a bit too much of a learning curve. Instead, you'd be better off with Photoshop Elements; a more basic alternative to Photoshop. Its handy Quick and Guided Edit modes make it great for beginners, but that doesn't mean it lacks power.
The 2021 version includes Auto Creations, a collage tool that scans and groups photos automatically or via the tagging and sorting tool Adobe Sensei. It also comes with a range of performance enhancements and upgrades. Best of all, it doesn't require a subscription: it's available for a one-off fee. On the flipside, that means you don't get it as part of a Creative Cloud subscription.
Looking to convert RAW files? DxO PhotoLabis is the best in the business. It's a slightly complex tool to use, but it achieves impeccable results. You can browse images on your computer folder by folder, then select an image and choose from the default conversion/correction setting or a range of presets.
The software offers lens corrections that automatically compensate for the different degrees of distortion, chromatic aberration, edge softness and vignetting that are common to most digital camera lenses. The results are outstanding, although note this is a specific tool, not a general photo editor.
Fotor is a free easy-to-use photo editing and graphic design tool, aimed at amateur photographers and design enthusiasts. There are mobile and desktop apps as well as an in-browser version, and you get a full suite of tools that should cover most people's needs.
A one-tap enhance button aims to offer an instant fix, which will be loved by some and hated by others. A greater degree of control is offered via tools for resizing, cropping, rotating and straightening images. There's also a background remover and some handy retouching tools such as red-eye and wrinkle removal. There's even an HDR image creator and tilt-shift editor in case you're looking to turn your photos into something more dramatic.
GIMP is another free photo editing tool, but this one is open source. That means it will be free forever, and there's an enthusiastic community of worldwide developers behind it, who are constantly working to improve it.
The software available for Linux, Windows and Mac, and offers a broad range of tools including painting tools, colour correction, cloning, selection, and enhancement. The team has worked hard to ensure compatibility, so you'll be able to work with all the popular file formats without problems. The software also boasts a very capable file manager built in, similar to Adobe's Bridge.
Sumo Paint is another very capable browser-based image editor. It boasts all of the standard features you'd expect in a desktop tool – in fact, the Pro version for $9 a month includes the option to download a desktop version if you prefer.
Tools include brushes, pencils, shapes, text, cloning and gradients, which can all be accessed quickly from a Photoshop-like floating toolbar. Sumo Paint can open saved documents from your hard drive, making it a viable option for editing and re-editing, and its latest upgrade gives it a slick look. There are significant limitations, though. The editor appears to be RGB only, limiting its use to work designed for screens. There are No CMYK, Lab or other colour models offered.