These are the best apps for photo editing on Windows
Nowadays, capturing and saving memories is easier than it’s ever been. Most smartphones now have very capable cameras, and they’re small enough to fit in a pocket. But for as good as these cameras are, there’s always something you might want to tweak, crop, or change entirely, and photo editing apps let you do just that. While there are apps for that on smartphones, computers still offer more capable experiences most of the time, and we’ve rounded up some of the best apps you can use for photo editing on Windows.
Whether you’re a professional photographer or you want to make a quick edit, you’re bound to find something you like here. Of course, some of these apps may require you to pay, so it’s up to your personal needs and budget.
Navigate this article:
- Best overall: Adobe Photoshop
- Best free photo editing app: GIMP
- Best for Windows ARM PCs: Paint.NET
- Best for simpler edits: PhotoFiltre 7
- Best for touch: Polarr
Best overall: Adobe Photoshop
Were you really expecting any other app to be on top of this list? Adobe’s Photoshop is the de facto standard for photo editing, whether that’s on Windows or Mac. This is one of the most advanced photo editing tools out there, offering everything from basic edits to advanced layered images and composition, including smart features powered by Adobe Sensei, like smart object selection.
Photoshop is sold on a subscription model tied to Adobe Creative Cloud (though you can pay for just Photoshop), which means you have to pay a recurring fee to use it. But it also means you often get big updates with new features and capabilities, like we recently saw at Adobe MAX 2021. On top of that, Photoshop has the potential to integrate with the rest of Creative Cloud. For example, you can export PSD files to use in Adobe Illustrator. Plus, Photoshop is cross-platform, so it’s on Windows, Mac, and even the iPad.
You can learn more about Adobe Photoshop and subscribe here. However, if you don’t need all these capabilities and you don’t want a subscription service, Adobe also sells Photoshop Elements, a one-time purchase that still offers plenty of features and stuff like guided edits so you can learn how to make certain adjustments to your pictures.
Best free photo editing app: GIMP
Photoshop may be great, but what if you’re not into the idea of spending hundreds of dollars per year to edit your photos? That’s where GIMP comes into the picture, being one of the most popular open-source photo editing tools out there. Just like Photoshop, GIMP gives you a ton of tools to work with, and the interface feels very familiar to Photoshop’s, too. Being open-source also means it’s free to download, and it’s designed to work well with other open-source software related to desktop publishing, like Inkscape, SwatchBooker, and Scribus.
GIMP is also designed to be enhanced by third-party plug-ins, so if there’s a feature you can’t find out of the box, you may just be able to add it for free, too. And if you have no idea how to use it, there’s also a page with plenty of GIMP tutorials to get you started with the app. You can download GIMP here if that sounds interesting to you.
Best photo editing app for Windows on ARM: Paint.NET
Photo editing apps are pretty heavy on resources, so if you have an ARM-based Windows PC, you may find that performance goes way down with most of these dedicated apps. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case. Paint.NET is another freeware photo editing app, offering a ton of tools, including support for layers, filters, and various effects you can apply to images. Most importantly, though, Paint.NET has been recompiled for ARM processors, so it will run at native speed on devices like the Surface Pro X or the Samsung Galaxy Book Go.
For simpler photo edits: PhotoFiltre 7
If you’re anything like me, the tools in apps like Photoshop and GIMP may be far beyond what you need in your daily life. Maybe you just want to mess around with some colors, work with multiple layers, apply some filters, and so on. PhotoFiltre 7 is a personal favorite of mine for simpler, but still capable edits. Object selection and masking is still available, you can change the hue of images and layers, and so on. The interface still has a few options, but it’s easier to understand the basics in comparison to more complex apps.
PhotoFiltre 7 is actually a pared-down version of PhotoFiltre 11, which is a paid app with many more capabilities, but we’d say it works best as a free app. Of course, if you find it intuitive, we won’t advise you against buying the paid version, too. You can check out Photofiltre 7 here.
Best for touch: Polarr
While these are all great apps for the common Windows desktop or laptop with a keyboard and mouse, there are many devices out there with touch screen that can also be used for smaller edits. Whether it’s tweaking colors, cropping, rotating, adding text or effects, there’s a lot you can do with this more intuitive input method.
Polarr is a true standout among the apps designed for touch on the Microsoft Store. It may not have all the features of the more advanced apps, but there are tons of controls available that are really easy to use with touch and visualize on the fly. It also has fantastic performance compared to competitors like Photoshop Express, for example. so everything feels really smooth and you don’t have to wait for the app to process your changes to see them. It has features like masks, overlays, detailed adjustments for colors and light, and more; it’s a very capable editor.
Unfortunately, some of the features are paid for, though you can experiment with them as much as you want without exporting, and you get one free “pro” export before having to pay up. Plus, it’s $20 per year, so it’s not going to break the bank. You can download Polarr from the Microsoft Store.
Those are what we’d consider the best photo editing apps you can find right now on Windows, whether you’re looking for advanced capabilities or more straightforward features. Of course, if you want the absolute simplest way to edit an image, Windows includes a few tools out of the box, like the Photos app, which has some editing features built in. We took a deep dive into the Windows 11 Photos app if you’d like to learn more about it.
If you’re finding that your PC isn’t fast enough for photo editing anymore, check out our list of the best laptops you can buy today, particularly the best laptops for creators. And if you prefer the macOS ecosystem, we have a list of the best Macs, too.