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Best affordable graphics and photo-editing apps for Windows

Photoshop on Surface
Photoshop on Surface (Image credit: Windows Central)

There are plenty of graphics software packages available that are awfully expensive. When you're looking to edit your vacation photos, or experiment with your own designs, you're likely not looking to spend a fortune on the software you need. Check out our list of graphics software that's easy on the wallet, whether you're an old pro or a total newbie.

ACDSee Photo Editor 6

ACDSee Photo Editor 6

For beginner editors, ACDSee is a good place to start. You can learn the basics of editing and experiment with fancy effects without draining your bank account. ACDSee offers free trials of their software, and they frequently put their packages on sale. You'll pay as little as $19.95, but not more than $59.99 for Photo Editor 6. The price is reduced significantly during regular sales on their official website so it's worthwhile to check in and make sure you're getting the best deal you can.

Even at full price, the software is an excellent deal. It comes with over 500 font styles, 77 photo filters, and a large number of templates and pre-designed grids. Batch Processing allows you to apply the same edits to groups of photos, which is a time saver. The user-friendly interface offers easy access to lists of how-to details and interactive lessons.

The major downfall of this budget-friendly software is that it lacks 3D effects and tablet compatibility. You also won't be able to do any photo merging or HDR imaging, but in all likelihood, you'll be ready to spend a little extra on your next software purchase by the time you're ready for those.

See at ACDSee (opens in new tab)

Corel PaintShop Pro X8

Corel's software is hard to beat. First, there's the price, which is beyond reasonable at $39.99. Then, there's the learning center lists, which provide tips for each of the tools. The software itself is broken into three user-friendly menus: Manage (where you view your available documents), Adjust (which houses your color correction and photo effects), and Edit (the home of the illustration tools).

This software has loads of good things in store. Corel gives you 88 filters, over 370 font styles, Batch Processing, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The software also includes HDR imaging, panorama merging, and 3D effects. Those family photos are going to look much, much cooler from now on.

For some time now, Corel's software has been tablet-compatible, so your brush tools can have a completely unique flare. Impressive at this price point, right?

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Gimp

The most affordable price of all is free. Gimp (or GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free app for photographers and artists alike. From original image composition to basic photo retouching, Gimp offers a wide range of tools.

Gimp allows editors to access things like airbrushing and cloning, as well as multiple pencil and brush tools. If you're working on a larger project, you'll be able to have almost limitless numbers of images open at the same time. One of the great things about Gimp is that it's designed to expand. There are already over 100 plug-ins available with extra tools and special effects.

Keep in mind that Gimp is a little more technical than most other photo editors, so it might take you longer to get the hang of some of its tools. But hey, it's free — if you don't love it, you haven't wasted a dime.

See at Gimp

Serif PhotoPlus X8

If you want to focus primarily on photos, Serif's PhotoPlus X8 is a strong contender. The emphasis here is on photo perfection and special effects for pre-existing images. At $99.99, the price is still manageable.

PhotoPlus X8 comes with over 560 font styles, good for everything from holiday pictures to school projects to marketing flyers. There are more than 60 filters to choose from and experiment with, so go ahead and make your photos look whimsical and misty before sharing them online. PhotoPlus X8 makes exporting and printing photos easy, so you'll be printing from home more often.

The PhotoFix tool is handy for quick and easy correction of imperfections, and once you've got the hang of that, you'll want to try your hand at restoring old photos. PhotoPlus X8 comes with a StartUp Assistant that's brimming with tutorials, so you'll be ready to go the moment it's installed.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Photoshop Elements 14

Photoshop Elements 14

Photoshop has long been the go-to name for graphics software. This version is $69.99, but for $112.00, you can add the Premier Elements package, which includes video editing tools. If you or somebody in the house is getting into video editing, it's worth a little extra coin to get it.

If user-friendly software is important to you, this is what you're looking for. Quick Edit Mode includes simple-to-use formatting tools that let you perfect little picture glitches and makes automatic adjustments to help you align images. Hundreds of filters let you experiment until your photo has just the right look. It's also simple to merge photos, so that your group shot looks like you're in the Caribbean (instead of your less-tropical living room). You can also merge those individual shots of the kids so that it looks like they were posing together (instead of refusing to stand next to each other).

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Adobe Photoshop CC

The subscription model from Adobe Photoshop CC gives you the basic photography app for $29.99 for one month, or you can pay $74.99 for one month of access to over 20 apps — all continually updated. The tools you'll be provided with are impressive and expansive — and suitable for new users or experienced editors.

The Creative Sync feature allows you to connect your project from your laptop or desktop to your phone. You'll have access to a virtually endless supply of royalty-free photos and graphics, as well as popular assets like brushes, shapes, and shareable Libraries. If everything is new to you, Photoshop CC includes numerous short tutorials that will teach you the essentials. From there your only limit will be your imagination. More experienced users will appreciate the customizable toolbar and workspaces, as well as support for plug-ins.

See at Adobe (opens in new tab)

The bottom line

For versatility, price, and user-friendly, software, Corel's PaintShop Pro X8 is a safe bet. Even well-versed artists will find the tools and effects to be top quality, and its tablet compatibility is a bonus feature you'll come to enjoy.

These are only a selection of graphics software available. Do you have affordable software that you can't do without? Sound off in the comments and tell us why your budget-conscious choice is a contender.

60 Comments
  • I'm cheap. So got Photo Editor pro | Polarr for 79p on my Surface 3.
  • How does it perform? The reviews suggest the Pro version has loads of glitches/crash issues.
    (I would buy it - but if it doesn't work properly then it isn't worth spending any money at all)
  • Haven't put it through its proper paces yet. Did some small edits and it ran reasonably well. I didn't have any other apps open when using.
  • It is worth the money. Yep it does crash very frequently if you are using a processor earlier than 5th gen. And most of the desktop users are using earlier than 5th gen processor. This particular software is processor intensive. You can safely use its web app with full functionality if paid for the full version.
  • Hi
  • Well this just got weird fast...
  • I know you mentioned GIMP, but what about Paint.NET? It is a great alternative to GIMP, even though it isn't cross platform like GIMP is.
  • ^ paint.NET is free, lightweight, and supports extensions. My editor of choice (although I occasionally bring out the gimp for some special detail work) Sent from my Toaster Oven (Lumia Icon)
  • Occasionally bring out the gimp. This is too much LOL
  • Definitely prefer Paint.NET, anytime I see anything GNU related all I can picture is that video of Richard Stallman picking stuff off his feet and eating it while doing an interview. I'll pass, thanks.
  • Yup. Paint.NET is one of my first installations whenever I get a fresh PC. Mighty usable.
  • I only pay $9.99 a month for Photoshop CC. But whenever I don't have that available for some reason, I use Paint.NET.
  • I like Paint.NET, but side-by-side with GIMP, they're unstoppable
  • Yep nice alternative to anything Adobe
  • For free software, I use Paint.net when I don't feel like opening Photoshop. Gimp is powerful but the UI is a hot mess.
  • I maintain a lot of high school PCs, and they all have that steaming mess on them.  I feel so sorry for the kids who have to learn photo editing on that.
  • Sad part is that Paint.net is closer to Photoshop in the way it's laid out. If they wanted to transfer to the real deal later, Paint.net would give them better preparation for the industry standard.
  • That's why I never used it too.
  • only photoshop cc cracked version
  • When I hear this I immediately know you're struggling financially. Not sure that is something worth broadcasting.
  • Nah, hes probably like most people and can't justify a $40/month cost for basic editing tasks but believes that he HAS to have PS to do his cropping and instagram-like filters with.
  • He can get Photoshop for $10 a month tho
  • Would love to see a similar article about video editing apps. As for image editing I would recommend Photoshop every time unless all you need is a very basic toolset, even as a beginner if you stick with Photoshop and keep learning eventually you can turn that into a skill for your CV and that's always a good thing, learning other editors while valuable will not be as useful on your CV as Photoshop is the industry standard.
  • Full photoshop is so stupidly overfeatured for 90% of ppl out there, and Elements is hopelessly underfeatured, most other capable editors all do things completely differently so your skills can more often than not, not be translated betrween apps. Most ppl DO only need a very basic toolset, but while sheep keep on buying full PS to do cropping and rotate tasks, adobe will never release anything for the middle ground.  Its either hopelessly slow, bloated and overcomplicated PS, or hopelessly underfeatured PSE.
  • My point is for people to learn Photoshop so they don't end up just cropping and rotating, otherwise they might as well use the Photos app that comes built in with Windows 10 for free. I've used Photoshop for many years now and 90% of the time I use 1% of the tools available which can easily be achieved in other apps, but for the 10% of the time where I need advanced features Photoshop never lets me down. There's also the quality factor, and Photoshop has top quality algorithms for processing photos, other apps do great on some aspects of that but again Photoshop never once let me down. And in respect of learning and developing your photo editing skills, Photoshop gives you virtually unlimited room to grow, most other apps you run into a wall quite quickly. Posted from my Lumia 950
  • Paint.net user too :))
  • I use Elements because Photoshop is overkill for what I need to do. Having said that, I hear this may be the last release of Elements (sniff).
  • Don't worry, it will become Cloud Elements at $18/month.  10% the functionality of the 'real PS' at 80% the price (orwhatever). A steal at twice the price.   I miss true non-subscription stuff, but the whole world seems to be going the 'pay up every month or your house burns down' path.
  • Considering they have never put Elements into CC, I really doubt that ;)
  • I hope someone lied to you. I love PS Elements. They surely don't think that the Elements customer is going to CC.
  • if you are talking about photography, the best and cheapest is Adobe Photography plan which is  US$9.99 monthly. Lightroom and Photoshop and other mobile services and apps. so I don't know what can beat that, of course if you are focusing on doing more professional and amazing work that's the way to do it, not only because they are standard on professional and all, but all the plugins and extensions Adobe products have. ​For example I like using BMD fusion and davinci, but once you see all the scripts, templates, plugins, tutorials they have, you understand that they are hard to get away from After effects and premiere. same with Photoshop, all the templates you can get and plugins and extensions, actions, presets are just too many to be comparable to other photography software. $10 dollars monthly is not that much for Photoshop, so it must be the best and cheapest alternative right now for photographers.
     
  • I agree and that is what I use for my photography company. $10 a month for all of those editing abilities is such a great value!
  • Subscription software is a scam.
  • So what exactly are they misrepesenting, lying about, obfuscating, or stealing?
  • When many of them present their products as sort of not subscription based when they absolutely are, then either force you to pay more than the price they sucked you in with, or start popping up annoying adverts and nag messages, then its pretty scammy. However ppl should ALWAYS read the fine print stuff, but seldom do.
  • I use Corel Paint Shop Pro X8 professionally and can confidentally say that it covers 90-95% of Photoshop's fuctionality. In fact, I prefer it to Photoshop for a lot of uses. It runs like a dream on my company's 2014 Dell XPS 15, but it frequently crashes on my Surface Book, I'm hoping this gets addressed soon.
  • I use it professionally, too, and don't miss Photoshop at all. Corel just doesn't get enough attention.Great product at a very cheap price!
  • The problem with a lot of these is how they want to install some photo management software that overrides a lot of the built in tools. For example, the last time I installed Photoshop Elements the Organizer completely took over and deeply embedded its self into everything. I ended up creating a VM and installing there so I would only need to see all those extras when I would use Elements.
  • Seriously stay AWAY from Paint Shop Pro x8.  Ever since corel bought JASC they have ruined what was a brilliant editor, with almost no control over things, replaced with a 3x3 preview grid to let idiots 'pick the one you like best' instead of offering any actual control. Corel has done this for years now, everything they acquire gets dumbed down to the most basic common denominator, bloated, and eventually killed off because nobody wants that crap any more. I still use PSP 9.  Its the first release after corel got involved but hadn't had a chance to screw it up yet.  Its small, lightweight, almost as fully functional as modern image editors (though all the bells and whistles that nobody uses can hardly be called features IMO) and works brilliantly despite being 10 years old.
  • I personally use The GIMP and sometimes even MSPaint for simple edits.
  • To bad the article dosent list if the programs have raw editing compability. Anyway nice article.
  • Try Fotor on Desktop for basic dng manipulations. I recently picked it up and it is a pretty good UI and covers the basics.
  • Painshop Pro does raw.
  • Hello there, I use Cyberlink Director Suite and it covers all my video, photo and audio needs. You guys should take a look. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Guys, little bit old school graphic software list :) You forgot mention f.e. Krita (painting software) and new upcoming Serif Affinity Photo/Designer on Windows which should arrived in August this year.
  • Krista is not a photo editor. And upcoming applications, well they're upcoming. They can be in next year's list.
  • Where is Paint.NET ???
  • 4 letters GIMP But i hear that paint.net is great too. I'll give that a shot as soon as my exams are over. (or maybe tomorrow when I'm procrastinating...)
  • I originally discovered Gimp for Linux, but the Windows version works great too. Posted via my Moto X Pure Edition using the Windows Central App for Android
  • Art Rage
  • Yeah got Photoshop CC and Lightroom for 10$. Would just do Elements for your same reasons Daniel, but I need Lightroom more.
  • I use Lightroom and Elements. As of now, you can buy both straight up without a CC subscription.
  • For a free Photoshop alternative, I suggest Krita - https://krita.org/   
  • Thanks for the good article!
    Could you do article like this abaut video editors too, please? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Like some others, Paint.NET (http://www.getpaint.net) is my image editor of choice on Windows. Price is right, great feature set, easy to use, ongoing development. I'd love it if the dev ran it through Centennial.
  • What?! Paint.Net didn't make the list?!
  • Anyone here uses irfanview? Well I use it most of the times for image editing and it has large number of plugins for different needs.
  • Anyone have any suggestions for a decent piece of 3d design (CAD) software with pen support? I'm designing some pieces of furniture for myself and I'm looking for something decent to just pick up and use on my surface without going too expensive since I probably won't use it much after the 2 pieces I need.
  • PhotoPlus is pretty great... But I would hold out for the infinity range from the same manufacturer which is bring ported to windows right now! Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Sorry, it is called Affinity... Have a look and drool. Should be available soon. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android