• January 23, 2018 - Since our initial publish, Adobe has updated its software and terms of use considerably. We're in the middle of researching these changes and seeing how Adobe currently stacks up against the competition, but remain confident in recommending Adobe for its extensive tools and in-depth knowledgebase. Stay tuned for our update; in the meantime, we have edited this page for clarity and consistency.

The Best Photo Editing Software

The best photo editing software is a perfect combination: it has the right tools to fulfill your needs whether you’re a beginner or an expert, an easy to learn interface — or better yet, a customizable one — and has excellent resources to help you make the software your own. However, which software is right for you depends in part on which technical aspects you value most. For some, of the more advanced features are definite must-haves, but they can come with a significant cost increase, so casual consumers may prefer to start off with a program with fewer features to save a few hundred dollars. After assembling a list of 127 photo editing software programs, we dug into over 150 tools and features to find out which one is the best for professionals and amateurs alike.

Editor’s Choice

Adobe Photoshop CS6Adobe Photoshop has earned its rank as industry standard with nearly endless features, customizable interface, and advanced image editing tools.

Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard for good reason. To start, it has the most functions — and the most useful functions — of any photo editing software available. It also comes the closest into giving you a feature overload. While you can open it out of the box (or fresh from the download folder) and get straight to work, be prepared to sink some time learning how to use this software, particularly its advanced features. Adobe Photoshop has the tools to let you work with 3D images and create 3D models, including shading, lighting, and compositing, and painting in 3D. Additionally, it comes with in-depth quantitative image analysis tools that can make it easier to sort and catalogue your images, no matter how many gigabytes they take up.

If you’re trying to edit a picture of the Tower of Pisa — without all the tourists — Adobe Photoshop can help you layer photos and edit out the tourists without leaving odd humanoid cutouts in your end image. Its content-aware tools can also be helpful here. These will automatically perform their specific functions to help extrapolate missing data. If you have a photo of three paintings on a wall, and one is slightly crooked, you’ll be able to adjust the crooked frame, and use content-aware tools to fill in the missing wall behind it.

We loved Adobe’s unparalleled user support. In part because of how widespread Adobe Photoshop is throughout the photographer and artist communities, there is a staggering number of tutorials for this software program. Since the initial learning curve for Adobe Photoshop is fairly steep, this is particularly helpful. Adobe also has extensive video tutorials and help articles to walk you through both basic and advanced tools and techniques.

Photoshop CS6 does have some limitations, however. If you need advanced image processing, or advanced organization and file management tools, you’ll need to pair it with another Adobe product: Adobe Bridge. They’re both packaged under the Creative Suite, but it will cost extra to have access to this toolkit. Photoshop CS6 also is limited when it comes to video editing — look to a different program if you need a software that can handle extensive video and photo editing, or upgrade (for a significant price hike) to Premier Pro CS6. Finally, CS6 costs $1550, though you can test it out for a free thirty day trial. It is the industry standard, and a must-have for professionals, but if you’re just starting out, you might want to check out our review for the Best Photo Editing Software for Beginners.

How We Found the Best Photo Editing Software

To find the best photo editing software, we looked for three important features: a customizable interface, a wide variety of learning materials, and the opportunity to publish your work across multiple formats. Regardless of your skill level, photo editing comes with dozens of possible tools, and you’ll want to customize your interface to hold the ones you use the most often, in the places that are most convenient to you.

Learning materials can be anything from a series of help articles, to a more robust user guide, video tutorials, or webinars which can help you learn and master the software. Similarly, publishing can mean anywhere from being able to save your images to a CD or DVD, sending them to email or cloud-based storage, publishing them online in web galleries or slideshows, or printing them in person or with a photo book company.

Beyond this, we dug into three general categories of tools provided by photo editing software companies to figure out which ones have the functions necessary to support professional and novice photo editors alike. You’ll need to take a closer look into each of these three larger categories — basic and professional editing, digital painting, and photo and management — to determine which tools are must-have features, and which ones could potentially cost more than they’re worth. Since the more advanced tools typically cost more money, you can save by choosing a more novice program, which will still have all the tools you need, but won’t be able to support a professional editor.

Basic and Professional Editing Tools

First of all, the best photo editing software should master the basic tools and tricks of the photo editing trade. Whether you’re touching up an image to remove the red-eye from your holiday photo, or manipulating a photo to where it looks like a hyper-realistic painting, these tools are useful both for experts and beginners.

For beginners, we looked for tools that might sound familiar, especially if you’re on Instagram or other smartphone-based photo editing programs. The ability to use filters, color to grayscale, sepia, or black-and-white, and adjust the exposure is an easy way to play around and learn the basics of each software program, as well as dip your toe into the technical skill of photo editing.

We also looked for functions important for adjusting photos. The simple but mighty retouch brush can help minimize or eliminate dust, blemishes, or other small errors from your photo, while advanced color image operations can help with color correction, zones, transfer, and vibrance. We also looked for image correction tools that can help brighten shadows, correct against an unfortunately timed flash, and repair backlight effects.

For not so beginners, we added in a few extra requirements. The best photo editing software needs to be able to handle more advanced skills like transformations, where you can trim, skew, scale, flip, mirror, or rotate the image to change its perspective. There also needs to be the ability to use control points, layers, and masks to help you change only the sections you want, in the way you want.

For professional photo editors, we looked at a more advanced set of features. If you’re just starting out, these tools will greatly expand the capabilities of your photo editing software, but typically do so with an increase in cost. Some of these more advanced tools include adding 3D effects, basic animation, as well as lens correction, noise reduction, and even content-aware tools, which automatically adjust depending on the content you’re working with. These tools are more critical if you are editing photos for a living, but first-time consumers might place a lower value on this category.

Digital Painting Tools

If you’re primarily interested in digital painting, you’ll also want to make sure your photo editing software has the right equipment to make sure your only limit is your imagination — and not whether your paintbrush has run out of colors. However certain digital painting features are also important for photo editors who want to manipulate their photos more personally, or to a greater extent.

Most photo editing software companies provide their own custom brush options and a color mixer that lets you save colors for later. In addition, we looked for software that let us choose from different papers for our backgrounds, and offers different textures of brush and pencil so we can select the option appropriate for our particular task. We also only looked at software that was compatible with at least one type of pen tablet so you can choose whether you want to edit your photos with mouse clicks or pen strokes.

Photo and File Management Tools

Photo and file management is no joke, especially when you need to find the right photo in a sea of hundreds. If you’re a beginner, being able to create labels, albums, or perform a image search can make it easier to find photos from Summer 2017, and not Summer 2016.

For more advanced users, we dug into features that take more effort to organize than dropping batches of photos into folder, but can make it easier to sort and compare photos, like geotagging and facial-recognition tagging. We also looked for tools that would make it easier to sort and edit photos in large batches, to handle the larger volume professional photographers typically work with.

Additional Considerations

Finally, we looked for softwares that could support reading and writing different formats, work well when partnered with third-party applications, and ones whose company offered important support features. Working with different formats and third-party integrations help make your software more versatile — you won’t have to find workarounds just to publish online, or coordinate your Flickr account.

Customer support is a three-fold component for a company. We looked for resources for you to get some self-help, like an online knowledge base and a FAQ page, so you can try to troubleshoot your problem, or learn about techniques independently. Then, we looked for peer resources, where artists can look towards each other for help, since sometimes the best tricks to using a program are the ones learned and kept by the community. We gave points for companies that offered an online forum for this purpose. Finally, we required that companies offer multiple means of communication. If there is a problem with your software, you want to be able to contact them, and quickly. For this, we looked to see if each company had an email address, live chat, and a phone number easily available on their website.

Our Top Pick for The Best Photo Editing Software

Adobe Photoshop CS6Photoshop CS6 offers the best range of features and a flexible interface for professional photographers, living up to its title as the industry standard in photo editing.

Other Photo Editing Reviews

The Best Photo Editing Software for Beginners
Adobe Photoshop Elements 12
The Best Professional Photo Editing Software

Adobe Photoshop CS6
Best Cheap Photo Editing Software
ACDSee 17