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Choosing the Best Photo Editing Software
While there is a clear industry-leading product for photo editing software, that doesn't mean it's the best option for everyone. Price is a major factor in addition to the equipment being used and the level or experience of the photo editor.
The 3 Best Cheap Photo Editing Software
The 3 Best Photo Editing Software for Beginners
The 3 Best Professional Photo Editing Software
What Photo Editing Software Features Matter and Why?
Advanced Editing includes the photo editing tools that are are required by most professionals and appreciated by the average consumer photo editor. Advanced Editing includes features like layers, masks, photo text entry, and selection options and tools. Advanced Editing is an important category because it holds high value for both consumer-level photo editors and professionals. Consumer photo editors will appreciate the ability to take their photos above and beyond, while professionals will rely on these tools on a daily basis.
- 16-Bit Image Editing - You can edit 16-bit images.
- Add Grain/Noise - You can add graphical identification metadata to your images.
- Advanced Color Image Operations - You can perform color image operations such as color correction, color zones, color transfer, and vibrance.
- Audio Editing - You can perform basic audio editing within the software.
- Black-and-White Conversion - You can convert a color image into a black and white image using any number of methods.
- Blend - You can blend areas of an image together.
- Blur - You can soften the detail of an image.
- Collage - You can create a collage of images.
- Color Adjustment Tools - You can use a tool to replace missing color or match existing colors.
- Color Management - You can maintain color quality as an image moves from device to device.
- Color to Grayscale - You can convert a color image into a black and white image using this specific method.
- Control Points - You can use control points, a series of small squares placed on the edges and corners of a rectangular selection, to modify a selection by dragging the small squares as needed.
- Distortion Control/Correction - You can reduce pincushion and barrel distortion effects.
- Effects - You can add general effects to an image.
- Exposure Adjustment - You can adjust the exposure of an image.
- Filters - You can use any of the standard filter types to alter images.
- Generate Mosaic Images - You can create a single large image made from a number of other smaller images.
- Gradients - You can create smooth transitions between adjacent colors.
- Image Correction - You can brighten shadows, fix unwanted flash, and repair backlight effects.
- Image Zoom - You can enlarge or shrink the view of the image, in part or in total, as needed.
- Layers - You can make changes to images on individual sheets that can be stacked to form the combined image. Each layer can be adjusted without changing the other layers.
- Masks - You can protect certain areas of an image from being modified.
- Nondestructive Editing Environment - You can make changes to image without altering the original version.
- Photo Text Entry - You can type right on the image you are working on and see the text in real time.
- Post-Processing Effects - You can create effects after processing to include framing and vignetting.
- Reshaping, Manipulating, and Resizing - You can enhance, enlarge or reduce images, cut images to predefined or custom formats, and measure and mark image content.
- Retouch Brush - You can remove blemishes, dust and other unusual elements from images while maintaining its integrity.
- Saturation/Warmth - You can control the strength and warmness of a color
- Selection Options - Once you have made a selection, you can set aspect ratios, adjust selection sizes, move selections, turn the selection into a mask and/or add feathering to the edges.
- Selection Tools - You can use different tools to select an area of the image to work on, including the circle, square, wand, and/or lasso.
- Sepia Enhancement - You can add a sepia (brown-gray) tone to an image.
- Shadow and Highlight Adjustment - You can control the levels of shadow and highlights in your image.
- Sharpen - You can enhance the detailed edges within an image.
- Support for Custom Palettes - This software supports custom color palettes.
- Templates - You can create project or metadata templates.
- Text Effects - You can add effect to text, such as drop shadows, 3D, perspective, curved text, and path text.
- Transformations - You can trim, skew, scale, flip, mirror, rotate, and/or add perspective to an image.
- Watermarks - You can create savable, personalized, and usually semi-transparent watermarks for your images.
Digital Painting covers a variety of tools that allow a photo editor to use different painting techniques on a photo. Some of the most used Digital Painting features are paintbrushes and pencils. To make things easier, many photo editing products also include custom brush options and a color mixer that allows the artist to save colors for later use. Digital Painting is highly important for professional photo editors who put a high value on post-production. For those who wish to keep their photos in more of a raw format, Digital Painting holds a much lower importance rating.
- Color Mixer - You can mix and save colors for later use.
- Custom Brush Options - You can change your brush options, including size, shape, and type.
- Drawing Modes - You can enter into different drawing modes within the software.
- Floodfill Options - You can fill in an enclosed area with your choice of color.
- Layer Blending Modes - You can control how different layers blend with one another.
- Mix Brush - You can have multiple colors on one brush.
- Paint Brush - You can paint color in several ways, such as airbrush, watercolor, and oil brush.
- Papers - You have a choice of paper options on which to draw.
- Pencil - You can use a pencil tip for more detailed painting.
- Pen Tablet Connection - You can use pen tablets to control specific drawing actions within the software, including pressure, direction, orientation, and more.
- Shapes - You can create different shapes, such as dots, lines, ellipses, rectangles, circles, and Bezier splines.
- Tools - You can use multiple tools such as stencil, crop, panorama, and distortion.
Interface is made up of the layout and options provided by the software. Some of the key features in the Interface category include being able to customize workspaces and view images in multiples ways. While Interface may not necessarily measure a product's capabilities in terms of editing, it can greatly enhance or destroy the usability and functionality of a product. For that reason, Interface is very important because convenience is valued by anyone using an editing software.
- Change Default Templates - The set of templates at startup can be changed.
- Configurability - You can modify and/or expand the overall interface to fit your needs.
- Create New Transparent Image - You can create a new image with a transparent background.
- Customizable Workspaces - You can modify individual workspaces within the interface.
- Dockable Panels - You can dock and undock individual panels from the main interface.
- Dual Monitor Support - You can work on this software on multiple monitors.
- Editable menu shortcuts - You can edit menu shortcuts.
- Filter Preview - You can preview filter changes in real time before applying the filter to the image.
- Panels - The software consists of paneled units, such as a color picker, tools, or gradient panel.
- Screen Capture - You can capture (save) an image from your screen.
- Scriptable File Management - The software provides a method to script the program.
- Support for Pen Tablets - You can use pen tablets to control general actions within the software.
- Tethered Capture - You can save live images on your camera directly to your computer.
- Viewing Options - You can view images in multiple ways.
- Virtual Memory Management - The software manages the virtual memory of the computer so as to not over-stress the entire system by taking up too much of the resources.
Learning Materials focuses on the assistance given by a product or company to help the user learn the software. Some of the ways to measure Learning Materials are to look at the user guides, help articles, and video tutorials offered by the company. Learning Materials is an especially important category for consumer-level photo editors because they are generally going to have to spend a good chunk of time learning the software. Advanced photo editors or professionals would also consider Learning Materials an important category, but it's likely that they have already invested the time in a previous version of the product and already know how to use most features.
- Help Articles - A set of detailed articles are available to help learn and understand the software.
- User Guide - A user guide is available to help learn and understand the software.
- Video Tutorials - Video tutorials are available to help learn and understand the software.
- Webinars - Webinars are available to help learn and understand the software.
Professional Editing is a category that is made up of only the most advanced photo editing tools that are primarily used by professional photo editors. Some of these highly advanced tools include adding 3D effects, animation, lense correction, noise reduction, and even content-aware tools, which automatically adjust to the content you are working with. Of course, Professional Editing is a very important category for people who edit photos for a living; however, consumers should place a much lower value on this category.
- 32-Bit Image Editing - You can edit 32-bit images.
- 3D - You can add 3D effects to your images.
- Animation - You can create basic animations from your images.
- Base-Level Image Operations - You can perform adjustments to the image, such as demosiac, highlight reconstruction, exposure controls, and base curve.
- Basic Video Editing - You can perform basic video editing functions, such as creating a still image, picture control, trim, and save.
- Blur Adjustment Tools - You can use tools to perform actions, such as Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Masking, in order to adjust the detail of the image.
- Chromatic Aberration Tools - You can automatically detect and correct chromatic aberrations, which are colors on the boundaries between dark and light areas.
- Compositing - You can splice together separate images or parts of images, in order to form one combined image. Panoramas are a specific type of compositing.
- Content-Aware Tools - You can use tools that automatically adjust to the content that you are working with.
- Gamma Correction - You can adjust the middle tones of the image.
- High Dynamic Range (HDR) - You can combine multiple photos at different exposure levels into a single photo.
- Histogram Correction - You can use the information from the software's histogram to help color-correct your image.
- Image Post-Processing - You can adjust your image after processing through split toning, high pass filters, low pass filters, lowlight vision, and/or bloom.
- Image Scaling Methods - You can resize your digital image with scaling methods, such as nearest neighbor, bicubic smooth, bicubic sharpen, and lanczos in order to address the inherent tradeoff between efficiency, smoothness, and sharpness.
- Image Slicing - You can cut up your image in any number of ways.
- Layer Management - You can copy, link, edit masks, and/or group layers.
- Lens Correction - You can adjust your image for lens defects.
- Noise Reduction - You can remove noise and grain from an image.
- Panoramas - You can create panoramic (wider) images from a series of individual images attached side by side.
- Perspective Control - You can correct a certain type of distortion where an object that you know to be a straight line appears curved in an image, by automatically adjusting the curve back into a straight line.
- Professional Color Image Operations - You can perform color image operations such as channel mixing and color profile management.
- Special Effects Filters - You can add special effects to the image through the use of vignette filters, metallic filters, distortion filters, Orton filters, and/or custom filters.
- Spot Removal - You can correct a zone in your image by using another zone as a model.
- Tone Image Operations - You can modify the tone of an image through tools such as tone curves, levels, fill lights, zone systems, and tone mappings.
- Trim to Shape - You can trim, or punch out, the area of the image that you want to work on with a specific shape or edge.
Publishing is the various methods of output that the software is capable of. With many of the photo editing products, it's possible to create books, CDs, or DVDs; print images; and generate web galleries. Publishing is very important to the consumer photo editing products because they are likely the features that many consumers value the most. Professional editors will place less importance on Publishing, but it's still important for the pros to publish their work in different formats.
- Books - You can create a photo book with the software.
- CD/DVD - You can save your images to a CD or DVD.
- Cloud-Based Storage - You can publish (upload) your finished images to a cloud-based service for storage or sharing.
- Preview - Your can preview your images before publishing them in some form.
- Printing - You can print your images.
- Screensaver - You can create your own screensaver.
- Send via Email - You can create appropriate images and send images via your email.
- Slideshows - You can create slideshows.
- Web Galleries - You can create HTML or Flash-Player-compatible galleries with your images for upload onto the Internet.
Standard Editing is comprised of mostly basic editing tools that someone would expect to see in all professional software and most, if not all, consumer photo software. Adjusting brightness, color balance, and depth; cropping; and basic drawing tools are all included in Standard Editing. This category is important for anyone looking to purchase photo software because any product must have the ability to make these types of edits to be considered useful.
- 8-Bit Image Editing - You can edit 8-bit images.
- Brightness - You can lighten or darken an image.
- Color Balance - You can adjust the colors of your image so that the more neutral colors are correct.
- Color Depth - You can adjust the color range possible in an image.
- Contrast - You can adjust the level of difference between the bright elements and dark elements of your images.
- Crop - You can trim an image to a specific size or focus on an area of the image.
- Drawing Tools - You can draw or paint colors onto your image using a brush, pencil or other tools.
- Flip - You can invert the image either horizontally or vertically.
- Picture Frame - You can add a simple picture frame or border to an image.
- Red Eye Removal - You can automatically replace the red pixels with black pixels in photographs where red eye has occurred.
- Resize - You can make your image smaller or larger.
- Rotate - You can rotate your image.
- Shapes - You can add basic shapes to an image, such as a circle, a square, or a rectangle.
- Undo - You can go back in your process one step at a time.
- White Balance - You can adjust to correct for the effects of different light on the colors in the image.
Standard Photo Management is made up of the basic photo management features that help a photo editor track and organize photos. Some of the important features of Standard Photo Management are viewing images, creating metadata tags, rating images, and searching for images. These more basic photo management features are somewhat important to professionals and consumers alike; however, these are certainly not the features that either group would specifically purchase a product for. Standard Photo Management becomes more important if someone is looking for an editing software that specializes in photo management.
- Audio/Video Playback - You can play video and audio files with the software.
- Create Albums - You can create albums in which to sort your images.
- EXIF Overview Data - You can use the image metadata, such as the date, GPS information, resolution, and other camera information that is included with the image file.
- Favorites Folder - The software has an easily accessible, designated folder where you can include select images.
- Image Labels - You can label images.
- Image Ratings - You can rate images.
- Image Search - You can search for an image with a dedicated tool.
- Image Viewer - You can view images inside the program.
- Metadata Tags - You can use, read, create, adjust, and save metadata (text-based information related to your image) that travels in the image file.
- Offline Photo Management - You can manage your software when offline.
- Thumbnails - You can create thumbnails of your images.
Advanced Photo Management covers the more complex photo managing tools that help with organization and identification. Some of these advanced features include geotagging, image conversion, and adding image captions. This type of photo management is not a major selling point for either consumer or professional products, but those interested in heavy photo management will want to pay attention to this category.
- Automatic Collections - The software uses metadata that automatically determines which collections your images may be sorted into.
- Batch Editing - You can edit files as a group rather than just individually.
- Contact Sheet - You can create a contact sheet of your images.
- Create Image Lists - You can create lists of you images.
- Event-Based Image Management - You can organize your images around events.
- Extended GPS Support - You can use GPS information beyond simple geotagging.
- Facial Recognition Tagging - You can have the software automatically determine the identity of people in your images.
- Geotagging - You can add graphical identification metadata to your images.
- Image Analysis - You can perform a detailed quantitative analysis of your images.
- Image Caption - You can caption your images.
- Image Conversion - You can convert images into other file types.
- Import and Edit RAW Files - You can import and edit RAW files.
- Location-Based Organization - You can organize your images around sites or places.
- Side-by-Side Image Comparison - You can compare images side by side.
- Slideshow to Video - You can save your slideshows in a video format.
File Management takes into account everything that has to do with saving, transferring, and organizing files. Being able to transfer images from multiple sources and creating templates to name images as they are processed are two of the most important features of File Management. For both consumer and professional editing software, File Management holds less importance because most software comes with sufficient file management capabilities. For those looking for software that focuses more on image management, File Management becomes much more important.
- Automatic Image Backup - The software automatically backs up your images, either locally or in the cloud.
- Batch Processing - You can process files as a group rather than individually. Usually this occurs when loading images in bulk.
- Compare to Last Saved - You can compare the current selected image with the last saved version.
- File Export Preview - You can preview the image before exporting the file.
- Image File Transfer - You can transfer images from multiple sources, such as digital cameras, video cameras, scanners, card readers, flash drives, and/or upload them to the Internet.
- Renaming Template - You can create a template to organize the naming of the images as they are processed.
- Scriptable - You can write scripts to deal with file management.
Formats are the the specific types of files that can be read or written by the software. Two of the major features that make up the Formats category are Image Read Support and Image Write Support. There are an extremely large number of file formats, and these formats are constantly changing, so having a software that can support many formats is key. Formats are more important for those who are primarily interested in image management and dealing with photos from a variety of sources. Otherwise, Formats has a relatively low importance rating to consumers and professionals who are importing their own photos because those formats are likely supported by the product.
- Archive Read Support - You can use this software to read specific archival file types.
- Archive Write Support - You can use this software to write specific archival file types.
- Image Read Support - You can use this software to read specific image file types.
- Image Write Support - You can use this software to write specific image file types.
- Other File Formats - You can use this software to read other file formats.
- Palette Import - You can import Palette file types with this software.
- Video and Audio Read Support - You can use this software to read specific video and audio file types.
- Video and Audio Write Support - You can use this software to write specific video and audio file types.
Support is the different ways that a company interacts with customers who may need some assistance. Some of the more important features in the Support category for photo editing software include online forums and online knowledge bases. These support channels stand out because the majority of the companies are focusing a large amount of their efforts on these support resources. Support is more important to consumer photo editing software because the consumer photo editor is more likely to run into technical issues in comparison to the professional photo editor who will likely be able to troubleshoot technical issues on his or her own because he or she has been using photo editing software for many years.
- Email - The company has an email address.
- FAQ Page - The company has a dedicated FAQ page.
- Live Chat - The company has live chat available.
- Online Forum - The company hosts an online forum.
- Online Knowledge Base - The company has a dedicated online knowledge base.
- Phone - The company has a phone number to call.
- Social Media - The company has active social media accounts to post questions or comments.
Third-Party Integration focuses on how well the software works with applications outside of the product. Some of the applications that fall into Third-Party Integration are Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Adobe Flash Player. Integration has a low importance rating for photo software because the features are considered add-ons and not major components of photo editing products.
- Adobe Flash Player - The software can integrate with Adobe Flash Player.
- Facebook - The software can integrate with Facebook.
- Flickr - The software can integrate with Flickr.
- Google Earth - The software can integrate with Google Earth.
- Microsoft PowerPoint - The software can integrate with Microsoft PowerPoint.
- Twitter - The software can integrate with Twitter.