Advanced photo editing was once limited to desktop computers. Now, thanks to impressive performance improvements, not only can you capture high-quality photos on your phone, but also edit them directly on the same device. Despite the smaller screen and more limited processing power, the gap between what you can do on a phone and what you can do on a computer has narrowed considerably.
Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store have no shortage of photo editing apps to choose from. We have separate guides for the best camera apps for Android and iOS, but here we’ve compiled the best editing tools available on both platforms. Regardless of your choice of mobile OS, these are the apps you can count on.
Best photo-editing apps for your phone
- Adobe Lightroom — Free (optional subscription)
- Photoshop Express — Free
- Snapseed — Free
- VSCO — Free (optional in-app purchases)
- Afterlight 2 — $3
- Lens Distortions — Free (optional subscription)
- PicsArt — Free (in-app purchases)
- Hypocam — Free (in-app purchases)
Adobe Lightroom (Free, $10/month subscription option)
Adobe Lightroom comes in two flavors, Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. Classic has become the gold standard for digital photo management and editing amongst professionals, but the simplified interface and wonderful cloud-syncing features of the newer version means it doesn’t take a pro to manage or edit photos.
Available on both Android and iOS, Adobe Lightroom CC is a full-featured photo manager and editor, complete with RAW photo support, presets, exposure adjustments, watermarking, and so much more. It’s free to download and edit photos in, but if you want the ability to sync your photos across devices and use the premium features, you’ll need to shell out for Adobe’s Photography Creative Cloud plan, which costs $10 per month and also gives you access to Photoshop and Lightroom Classic on the desktop.
And while Lightroom CC makes the list for photo edits, the app also has a built-in camera that can do more than your native camera app with options like long exposures, RAW photos, and more advanced tools.
Photoshop Express (Free)
Speaking of professional-grade photography tools, there’s perhaps no tool that is more synonymous with photo editing than Adobe Photoshop. Adobe released an Express version a while back, which, while not as powerful as its desktop counterpart, still lets you crop photos, adjust exposures, and carry out a variety of tasks. You can even create your own presets, which can be a huge time saver when editing photos on your phone or tablet. Photoshop Express also has a healing tool (like you’d use to remove acne in a portrait), blur options, haze reduction, and collage templates.
If you want to work with layers, however, Express will let you down. Try Photoshop Mix instead.
A full version of Photoshop for the iPad is now out, but is designed for Apple’s tablet only, not the iPhone or any Android devices. If you’ve got an iPad Pro and an Adobe Creative Cloud photography subscription already though, Photoshop for iPad is the closest app to the popular desktop tool, even though many features have yet to arrive.
Snapseed is a professional-grade photo editing app designed by Google. It features a massive amount of editing options to help even the most mundane photos jump to life. It gives you control over your images by including a host of sliders capable of altering a photo’s vignette, blur, temperature, and other attributes. You can also add effects like grain, 1960s-style film looks, or the unique Retrolux filter. You can even stack effects, similar to Photoshop layers, making it easy to produce a brand-new result each time you edit a photo.
More advanced options, like perspective crops, a healing brush, curves, and local adjustments are included as well, making it a solid option for users who don’t want to download multiple apps to edit photos. Outside of updates for device compatibility, however, Snapseed doesn’t see major updates very often. Still, for a free app, Snapseed has a lot of tools and features.
VSCO (free, optional in-app purchases)
VSCO — pronounced viz-co — is a photo editing app designed around the idea of making your smartphone photos look more like film. In addition to a set of included filters, VSCO also lets you purchase packs of presets, each of which has its own aesthetic for particular types of images. Beyond the filters, the app has a good selection of editing sliders, from exposure to skin tone. Local edits, like healing brushes and dodging and burning are not included, however.
VSCO also features a built-in community that includes both professional and amateur artists and photographers who share their work in a more narrowly-focused environment than the likes of Instagram. With professional-grade tools and advanced camera controls, VSCO is a great app for novices and professionals alike. Mobile photographers can download it for free, but there’s also a VSCO membership subscription with the most tools and filters available as well.
Afterlight (free, with in-app purchases)
If photo-editing apps are all starting to feel the same, Afterlight could be the app to try. An Afterlight download has all of the basic photo editing tools you’ll need, as well as built-in filters, frames, local adjustments, and RAW support on both Android and iOS. Like other apps, you can even create your own filters to give your photos a distinct look time and time again. But, Afterlight also builds in some more unique options, like film light leaks, double exposures, textures, color shift, selective color, and more. The best part is, the formerly paid app is now free. Unlocking all the features, however, costs $3 a month, $18 a year, or $36 for a one-time purchase.
Lens Distortions (free, optional in-app subscription)
Cameras today are sometimes too good — because features like light leaks and flares are both imperfections and creative tools. Lens Distortions adds those creative imperfections back in. Whether it’s a color filter you’re looking for or an overlay effect such as a light leak or flare, Lens Distortion has a slew of realistic effects you can add to your photos. The list of options also includes weather effects like fog and snow and light rays. Lens Distortions is free to download on both Android and iOS and includes five free filters in each section with the free version. If you want access to all the features, you’ll have to sign up for a subscription.
PicsArt (free, optional in-app purchases)
If you’d rather re-mix photos than create simple touch-ups and filters, PicsArt may be more your style. Think of PicsArt as a mix between Photoshop and Paint. You can edit your photos, but then you can also use an assortment of brush tools to add to your images — adding some sparkle, decorating with text, adjusting a color, or creating whatever re-mix you can dream up. For example, with PicsArt, you can also cut an object out of one photo and layer it on top of another. WhilePicsArt’s stand-out feature is the re-mix (and the community for finding re-mix inspiration), you may not even need a separate app with tools for cloning and cropping.
The best thing about PicsArt is that it’s just professional enough for a mobile app to give you the quality images you’re looking for. Although there are a plethora of apps tailored to teens, with PicsArt, it doesn’t matter how old you are — its capabilities allow you to delve into the world of stunning digital art and impressive photography.
Hypocam (free, optional in-app purchases)
Mastering black and white photography involves learning to see the world in black and white — but with Hypocam, you don’t have to. The monochrome-dedicated app converts the live view to black and white, so you can see what the shot will look like without color before you take it. It’s like a glimpse into your future and the future of your photos. Besides the built-in camera, the app contains a plethora of different tools designed specifically for black and white photo editing, including textures. The app also includes a social media style news feed for finding more black and white inspiration.
Who knew that you needed at least eight apps to make your photos look good? OK, maybe you don’t need all of them. But it is a good idea to experiment with different apps and find the one that works best for your style. With any of these in your holster, you’ll be on your way to racking up the likes and comments you need in order to be a champion of Instagram. Go ahead, download them and achieve some social media immortality — or at least a courtesy ‘like’ from your grandmother.