Over the past few years, phone cameras have managed to jump from serviceable shooters to flat-out great. They may not be able to match the quality of something like a DSLR camera, but for most people, they’re more than enough. And, while plenty of stuff already goes on behind the scenes of your phone’s camera to increase image quality, even the best photos can use some touching up—and that is where photo editors come in.
What to Look for in a Photo Editor
Before we dive into the list, here are some general categories you can judge photo-editing apps on.
- Tools: Toolsets vary from app to app, but you want to ensure that the app you download at least covers the basics: cropping, color grading, and filters. Some more advanced apps can offer tools like merging images, special effects, and auto-enhancements, but that depends on how deep you want to go with your edits.
- Focus: With how deep the world of photo editing is, some apps choose to only focus on one aspect of it, while others try to be all-rounders. You can find great apps in both of those categories, but what’s important is making sure that the app’s focus matches up with your use case.
- Easy Sharing: Chances are, if you’re editing a photo on your phone, you’re doing it to post on social media sites or to share with friends. Most apps make this as simple as tapping the “Share” button, and we made sure that all the apps we selected offer that simplicity.
- Additional Features: Some apps take things a step beyond photo editing and provide additional features to make the app more versatile. This can range from social elements (like publicly sharing your images with other users of the app) to features like camera support (being able to take photos from the app itself) and video editing. None of those are necessary for a photo editing app to have, but are nice additions regardless and will be noted as such.
With all that said, let’s look at some apps.
The Professional Choices: Adobe Photoshop Apps and Adobe Lightroom
Just like in the desktop photo-editing market, Adobe is a huge player in the field of mobile photo editing with four great apps.
Photoshop is one of the most powerful photo editors on desktop, and when you’re trying to translate such a complicated program to mobile it can be difficult to do so without making it feel bloated. So, Adobe actually has three different Photoshop apps, each covering a different section of the photo editing process: Photoshop Express, Photoshop Fix, and Photoshop Mix.
Photoshop Express is a general-use editor, including filters, simple effects, and collage editing. If you want to get deeper into fixing your photos, then Photoshop Fix gives you access to a ton of tools for retouching and editing your photos. Fix is where you can do things like smoothing out faces, adjusting lighting, and warping parts of the image. And finally, there’s Photoshop Mix, which is pretty simple—it allows you to cut out and mix parts of various photos.
You can use all three of the apps together to create some fantastic images. Perfect the look of your image in Fix, then crop and cut it in Mix, before finally using Express to add it to a collage or add some final touches.
All three Photoshop apps are free. But they can also be used with a Creative Cloud subscription (starting at $9.99 a month for Lightroom and Photoshop access) as well to transfer projects back and forth between desktop and mobile—perfect for professionals who need to do some editing on the go.
Lightroom is focused on making the photo editing process as simple as possible, so photographers can spend more time actually taking photos than looking at an app on their phone. You can use simple sliders to adjust everything from the contrast to color grading, or use various presets that match your tastes. Lightroom is surprisingly powerful despite its simple design, and can even be used in conjunction with the Photoshop apps listed above for some more in-depth editing.
Lightroom is free to download, but if you want some more features like cloud storage, selective adjustments, and a healing brush, you’ll need to pay $4.99 a month or $59.99 a year for Lightroom Premium.
Free and Simplistic: Snapseed
Snapseed is the simplest route to in-depth photo-editing effects. It’s made by Google, so the UI has the same “simple but powerful” feel that a lot of Google’s apps do. Snapseed boasts a large and varied toolset of effects and they’re all extremely tweakable, so you can make your image look exactly how you want.
And the best part? Snapseed is completely free—no reason not to try it out.
General Purpose: Pixlr
Pixlr is a great in-depth editor. It features more complex tools like merging images and double exposure, but it still keeps things simple enough to not be overwhelming. There are even plenty of templates and presets for novices to use to show them the capabilities of the app as well.
Pixlr is free to download, but if you want to remove ads and add more tools like stickers, overlays, and an additional 150 fonts, you’ll need you to pay for the premium subscription, which is $1.99 a month or $11.99 a year.
Varied Tools: PicsArt
Picsart is a photo editor filled to the brim with effects and tools. There are over 3,000 tools in the app that range from complex effects to simple cropping options. You can add text and stickers, use templates, and even do some light video editing. It also includes “Daily Challenges” that task you with a specific photo-editing objective if you’re looking for some inspiration.
Picart is free to download, but if you want to get rid of ads and gain access to some more advanced features, you’ll need to buy the “Gold” subscription, which is $3.99 a month.
Simple but Stylish: Polarr
If you prefer to make simple but impactful edits, Polarr is the app for you. It may not boast thousands of effects like Picsart, but the features it does give you are powerful and can lead to great-looking images. You can also apply filters, overlays, and use auto-enhancements, so that way the app does some of the work for you.
Polarr is free to download, but you won’t have access to some advanced features (like overlays). For the full Polarr experience, you’ll need Polarr Pro, which is $3.99 a month or $19.99 annually.
Social Editing: Fotor
Fotor is another great editor with plenty of features, including various effects, in-depth tools to edit things like color and lighting, and the option to create collages. But beyond that, and what makes Fotor special is its social component.
Fotor focuses on sharing photos with other users of the app, and even holds contests for users to participate in—you can even win prizes. Not everyone is into that, but if you are, it can provide some nice variety and motivation for your photo editing. You can even sell your photos on the app (but Fotor does take a hefty 50% of all profits).
Fotor is completely free.
Camera Plus Editor: VSCO
VSCO can act both as your photo editor and your camera app. Even with this split focus, it still manages to pack in an impressive photo-editing suite. You can apply filters, adjust color grading, and add frames and borders to your images. It’s not as deep as some of the more powerful apps we’ve listed above, but it’s still enough to enhance images without needing to switch to a different app after taking your photos. It also includes some video-editing features as well.
VSCO is free to download, but you can also pay for its membership ($19.99 a year) to gain access to 200+ presets for photo editing, some advanced video editing features, and weekly photo challenges.
Best for Editing Portraits: Airbrush
Meitu (China) Limited
Airbrush focuses on making sure that your selfies and portrait photos look as good as possible. You can smooth out faces, brighten eyes and teeth, remove blemishes, add in special effects, and adjust depth. With such powerful tools, your photos will look better than ever with Airbrush.
Airbrush is free to download, but if you want to get rid of ads and gain access to some more premium features (like adding backgrounds and more facial retouching tools), it’ll cost you $19.99 a year.
Best for Black and White Photography: Hypocam
Black and white photography is trickier than it appears. It’s important to get the tone, texture, and angle of a photo just right or else it’ll look like a cheap filter. This is what Hypocam focuses on, giving black and white photographers a specialized toolset—nothing more, nothing less. There are even large collections of sample photos from renowned photographers to give you a boost of inspiration.
Hypocam is free to download, but there are various filter and texture packages available as in-app purchases.
The One You Already Have: Google Photos
Google Photos may not boast the same in-depth tools or advanced effects of the apps we’ve already talked about, but it should by no means be disregarded. It includes the most basic tools, like lighting and color-level adjustments, along with the ability to draw on images, crop images, and add filters. While the photo-editing features in the app are simple, they’re still good enough to do some quick edits to your photos. And, considering Google Photos comes preinstalled on most Android phones (and is free regardless), that’s about as much as you can ask for.
Built-in Editing: Instagram
While it may seem strange to rely on Instagram’s included photo editing, its built-in editor does have some nice features and effects that are difficult (or impossible) to find in other apps. It also covers all your basic needs of color grading, cropping, and filters. You don’t even have to post the photos to save them to your phone (although, it does require a bit of a workaround).
And, as you probably already know, Instagram is free.