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How to pick the best photo editor for your life

Lesa Snider | Dec. 12, 2014
Browsing the App Store for new photo-editing software can be overwhelming. There are dozens of image editors, and it's difficult to tell which is the right one for your needs.

Price: $10/month with Adobe Creative Cloud Photography program or $50/month for full Creative Cloud subscription.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Powerful yet user-friendly, this consumer-level editor is a scaled down version of Photoshop. Its three editing modes — Quick, Guided, and Expert — can accommodate any skill level (Guided mode includes step-by-step instructions for many practical tasks.) Elements also lets you create prints, books, cards, and calendars (though the templates are lame), Facebook cover images, etc. and easily share images via email and social media sites. Its database component, the Elements Organizer, lets you import and organize images, as well as edit photos non-destructively — it doesn't store edit requests, it merely lets you save multiple versions of the same image and tracks the copies. Elements supports layers and layer masks, and includes tools that you can use to remove and reposition objects, though it miraculously includes Photoshop's powerful Refine Edge dialog box for selecting hair and fur. (It also includes a scaled-down version of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in.)

On the downside, Elements only supports RGB color mode, it doesn't let you access individual color channels, or edit 16-bit files. You can create text, though formatting options are extremely limited, and while you can create vector-based art using its shape tools, you can't edit points and paths, nor is there a Pen tool that you can draw freehand with. Elements includes many Photoshop filters, including the powerful Liquify for extreme pixel pushing and subject reshaping, but lacks the Blur Gallery and the ability to use Smart Filters.

Price: $100 for perpetual license; not part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.


Pixelmator is a nice alternative to both Photoshop and Elements, as it has similar functionality but no database component. It doesn't support CMYK mode (save through soft-proofing) though it does work in ProPhoto RGB and sRGB, it supports 8- and 16-bit editing, layers, and layer masks. You can push a photo through text and create selections (though it doesn't have anything like the Refine Edge dialog box to help you select hair or fur). You can correct exposure and color (it has both Levels and Curves adjustments), draw vector-based art by freehand (you can edit the individual points and paths, too), create text (with limited formatting), and perform some pixel-pushing through Warp, Bump, and Pinch tools. You can also remove and duplicate objects, apply a slew of preset effects (think filters), create paintings, and easily share images via email or social media sites.

Price: $30; $10 for the iPad version.

As you can see, there are many image editors to choose from depending on your needs. If you're into scrapbooking, try Photoshop Elements or Pixelmator. Engineers, high-end retouchers, restoration artists, web professionals, fine-artists and die-hard graphics gurus need Photoshop CC. Everyone else may be best served by embracing Lightroom (or Apple's forthcoming Photos app) as their organizational, image improvement, and project creation tool. Lastly, everyone should keep an eye on Mylio, as it just might be the photo management tool of our dreams. Until next time, may the creative force be with you all.


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