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Best photo editing software and apps in 2020

best photo editing software

While cameras and smartphones can take ever-better pictures, the best photo editing software can help make those images look truly amazing. What's more, you don't need to spend more than $100. 

Rather than letting your photos languish on an SD card, good photo editing software will let you touch up your pictures so that they're looking their best when you share them with family and friends, or for when you want to print out your photos.

Regardless of what you want to do with your photographs, there’s a slew of photo-editing programs and apps from which to choose. To help you select the best software, we tested six popular photo-editing programs, all either free or under $100: Apple Photos, Corel PaintShop Pro, GIMP, Google Photos, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Serif Affinity Photo.

What is the best photo editing software?

After testing the leading photo editing software, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 emerged as our top pick for its robust yet accessible editing tools. It's available for PCs and Macs, it also has a gentle learning curve for novices, as well as tons of features to make the most of your photos. And, the program grows with you: As you gain experience, you can move out of the beginner mode to gain full control over all its features. 

Photoshop Elements has an AI that analyzes your images, and can automatically apply effects and create collages. A helpful organizer also lets you label and find photos by keyword, tags (people, places and events), and ratings (1 to 5 stars). Other new features for 2020 include a subject selection tool that makes it easier to create cutouts of objects, and a Smooth Skin tool to get rid of your wrinkles. 

While people who have a copy of Photoshop Elements from 2019 or 2018 may not find enough new features to make the upgrade worth it, others will find the cumulative upgrades to be worth the investment.

If you're a Windows user, you may get even more out of Corel PaintShop Pro 2020, which has more tools and is in some ways even more accessible.

When it comes to the best free photo editing software, Gimp has all the tools you could want, and works on Mac, Windows, and Linux systems. However, it has a steep learning curve, so we wouldn't recommend it for novices.  

The best photo editing software today

Best photo editing software: Adobe Photoshop Elements

(Image credit: Adobe)

1. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020

Best photo editing software overall

Platform: Windows, MacOS

Easy photo editing for novices
Powerful creative tools for serious photographers
Fun and useful AI-driven automation
Works with Macs and PCs
Can't turn off Auto Creations

While there aren't a huge number of changes from last year's version, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 is our pick for best photo editing software overall for its ease of use, fun creativity and underlying power. While there's not much new from last year's version, Adobe's excellent interface and robust toolset— as well as the fact that Photoshop Elements works on both Macs and PCs—make it the best photo editing software around. 

As before, three interfaces (Guided Edits, Quick Edits, and Expert Mode) make this program accessible for users of all experience levels. Adobe's Sense AI can intelligently analyze and tweak your images, saving you a step or two if you're in a hurry. And, a new subject selection tool makes it easier to create cutouts of individuals and pets, and a Smooth Skin tool is great at getting rid of wrinkles. 

Read our full Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 review.

Best photo editing software: Corel PaintShop Pro 2020

(Image credit: Corel)

2. Corel PaintShop Pro

Best photo editing software for novices

Platform: Windows

Great help system with integrated learning tools
Powerful features and creative tools for advanced users
Excellent content aware cloning
New ability to copy/paste layer styles
Windows only

In many ways, Corel PaintShop Pro 2020 is superior to Photoshop Elements, as it's a powerful program, yet is easy for novices to grasp, and has some additional tools, such as 360-degree photo editing. It's also touch-screen compatible and has a new streamlined workspace. The 2020 version of PaintShop Pro is only an incremental improvement over last year's version, though.

PaintShop Pro (and the upgrade, PaintShop Pro Ultimate) are also usually much less expensive than Photoshop Elements, making it a bargain.The biggest knock against Corel vs. Photoshop is that while Photoshop Elements is available for both macOS and Windows PCs, PaintShop Pro is a Windows-only program. 

Read our full Corel PaintShop Pro 2020 review.

Best photo editing software: Affinity Photo

(Image credit: Affinity)

3. Affinity Photo

A cross-platform budget photo editing program

Platform: Windows, MacOS

Budget price, with no subscription fees
RAW processing within workspace
Editing of very-high-resolution images in real time
Steep learning curve for novices
No 3D or internal vector tools
No custom workspace

Affinity Photo offers powerful tools, resolution-independent editing, RAW processing within the interface and most of the other features that professional photographers want and need — all for less than $50. In fact, the company is currently selling the software for $25, making it even more of a bargain. While its learning curve is steeper than most, you’ll be rewarded with a robust set of features, including Photoshop-like exposure controls, paintbrushes, layers and more. It can even open, read and edit Photoshop PSD files, making for a more seamless transition between the two programs. 

An update this year also added support for Smart Objects, as well as additional third-party plugins, and Canon CR3 RAW files. And, like Photoshop Elements, Affinity Photo works on both Macs and PCs. There's even a version for iPads, too.

Read our full Affinity Photo review.

Best photo editing software: Google Photos

(Image credit: Google)

4. Google Photos

Best for sharing photos

Platform: Windows, MacOS

Consolidates your photo and video libraries from multiple devices
Auto-syncing among all your devices
Simple, quick sharing
Minimal photo-editing tools
No user-applied keywords

Google Photos is better than any other tool for organizing and consolidating all your photo libraries, no matter where they are — which is why it's on our list of the best photo storage services, too. It's cross-platform, syncs across all your devices, and can also be downloaded to Android and iOS devices, too, so it's available wherever you are. 

However, in terms of editing tools, Google Photos offers only the barest minimum, helping you quickly prepare pictures for easy sharing. It does have facial recognition built in, so you can quickly search for all photos of a particular person. It also automatically tags photos by keyword, such as Sunset, Forests, Cars, and more, though you can't tag photos yourself, or add custom keywords. It’s best used in tandem with another app that offers greater editing features, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Read our full Google Photos review.

best photo editing software: Apple Photos

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple Photos

Best free photo editor for Mac users

Platform: MacOS

Free
Simple to use
Syncs your photo and video library through iCloud
Print projects available only via the desktop version
Available only on Apple products

iPhone, iPad, and Mac users looking for a simple, free video editor would do well to check out Apple Photos. While not as robust as paid programs, Apple Photos offers plenty of tools for quickly touching up, tweaking, and sharing your pictures to family and friends. 

Apple Photos also makes collages of your photos based on subject, theme, or location, such as "Four-Legged Friends" and "Best of Last 2 Months." It can also identify faces, and let you search through photos based on themes such as Concerts, Weddings, but it's not as comprehensive as Google Photos. Because Apple Photos syncs in the cloud, you can also connect your photo and video library across multiple devices, and if you run out of room, iCloud storage isn't too expensive.

Read our full Apple Photos review.

best photo editing software: GIMP

(Image credit: GIMP)

6. GIMP

Best open-source photo editor

Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux

Free and open-source
Nice collection of both basic and advanced photo editing tools
Extensible via Python, Scheme and other scripting languages
Improved, more standard interface
Poor help, no real guidance
Steep learning curve

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free, open-source photo editor that's beloved by many for its ability to help you get under the hood and change the source code of the program to best fit your needs. GIMP also has a powerful set of editing tools, many of which are on a par with paid software. Some of these features include the ability to create and edit layers, special-effect filters; exposure controls; and more.

Because GIMP is open-source, there's a very active community of users who have created plugins to add even more functionality to the program. However, despite a more user-friendly interface than past versions, Gimp offers almost nothing in the way of guidance, which makes it much more difficult to learn than other photo-editing software.

Read our full Gimp Photo Editor review.

How to choose the best photo editing software for you

When deciding on the best photo editing software, you'll first want to decide if you want to pay for it or not. Unless you're a professional photographer, your needs will be met with any number of programs that cost less than $100. And, if all you want to do is make your selfies, food pics, and photos of your pets look nicer, you can probably get away with a free photo editing program, or even the photo editing app on your smartphone. 

If you decide to go the paid route, you'll first want to make sure the program works on your laptop or desktop computer. Virtually all software is compatible with Windows machines, but far fewer will work on Macs. 

Last, you'll want to think about how experienced you are with photo editing. Adding filters is one thing, but adjusting contrast, paintbrushing and cloning objects, and making composite images is quite another. If you're a novice, consider photo editing software with guided edits, which will not only help you learn how to use the program, but teach you the fundamentals of editing, too.

How we test photo editing software

We considered the following criteria when evaluating the best photo editing software:

  • Organizing, syncing and accessing your photo library
  • Photo editing versatility and depth
  • Ease of use
  • Power
  • Sharing options
  • Device and file format support
  • Creative freedom
  • Fun

Each of the programs we tested didn't try to be the end-all, be-all for everyone. Therefore, we gave the various criteria different weights in our final ratings, depending on what the program's objective was and the kind of photographer to whom it would appeal.

  • seoguy
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-1915545/photo-editing-software-2014.html
    Reply
  • zer0c00l587
    The average user only needs GIMP, unless you're photographer, the rest is a waste of money in my opinion, long as the camera is good and you know hot to take shot, those programs is for when you do not know how.
    Reply
  • Michaelfx
    Thank you!
    Reply
  • Kora C
    Great list! I personally would add the app Deep Art Effects. Cool art style filters and a lot of fun!!
    Reply
  • STSinNYC
    Nice article. Affinity looks interesting. Nikon shooters can get two free editing programs from Nikon, View NX-i and Capture NX-D. View is easy to learn, has essential tools for editing RAW, esp. White Balance and Exposure, and then convert to TIFF or JPEG for further editing. Capture NX-D has more features but also not hard to learn. I am a working photographer, advertising and events, I do nearly all of my RAW (NEF) work in these two programs.
    Reply
  • marvelartlover
    Photoshop is the best tool for images.
    Reply
  • rashisaxsena
    Adobe Photoshop CC is the best photo editing software I have ever used
    Reply
  • jonhgaarg
    I prefer online photo editing services.
    Reply