You might expect to need a powerful computer to get into photo editing, but there are a lot of great tools available for the iPad. With these apps, you’ll be able to touch, tap, and drag your way through edits, regardless of whether you’re looking for a full suite or just a simple tool to add cool effects.
Update, 8/5/21: Checked all picks for accuracy and relevance. Updated links and language as needed.
There’s plenty to think about when selecting the right photo editor. Photo editing is a deep world, and there are many ways for apps to differentiate themselves. Here are some general things to consider to find an app that works for you.
- Intuitive Design: It’s hard to make a powerful photo-editing app simple to use. The large number of tools and options they present are bound to make an app, no matter how skilled the developers are, feel overwhelming to a certain extent. Still, there are ways to make the learning process easier on the user, and that’s always appreciated.
- Focus: Photo editors can vary a lot in what they focus on. Some may be aiming to be the most powerful tool on the market, while others just want you to have a good time adding special effects to your photos. Just by those short descriptions, you can probably tell what end of the spectrum your wants and needs land near, but it’s really just a matter of finding an app that matches up with what you want.
- Basic Tools: Regardless of an app’s focus, it should cover some basic features like cropping and color adjustments. These features are always useful to have around, regardless of what type of photo editing you’re doing.
- Bonus Features: Some apps on this list feature things like cloud storage or video editing. These are not necessary features for a great photo-editing app by any means—but are nice to have around regardless.
- Payment Model: Most photo editors will require you to pay to gain access to all of their features. This may be done through a large one-time purchase, smaller in-app purchases for specific features, or a monthly or yearly subscription. We’ll clearly state what each app wants of you in this regard.
You’ve probably already heard about Adobe and its photo-editing programs. But what you might not be aware of is that Adobe has brought over nearly complete versions of those programs to the iPad.
Photoshop is one of, if not the most, powerful photo editors for desktops. The wealth of features and tools it boasts allows you to edit and fine-tune photos in every way imaginable. This is why it’s so impressive that Adobe was able to bring it over to the iPad, while keeping the program mostly identical to its desktop counterpart.
Of course, the design was changed to be more friendly to a touchscreen, but you can still touch up photos, create composites, mix and trim photos, and use unlimited layers. The app even uses the same PSD file format as the desktop version, so you can easily switch between platforms using Adobe’s cloud storage service.
As far as tailoring the app for the iPad, Adobe included gesture controls and the ability to use the Apple Pencil for further precision (which if you’re doing complex edits, you’ll definitely need).
Photoshop for iPad is free to download and will grant you a 30-day free trial. After that, you’ll need to pay for it monthly. Just like on desktop, you have a few options to do this, but the Adobe Photography bundle (which starts at $9.99 a month) is your best option. It includes 20 GB of cloud storage (which is expandable), both the desktop and iPad versions of Photoshop, and Adobe Lightroom—the next program we’ll be talking about.
While Photoshop is a photo editor of raw power, Lightroom aims to simplify things a bit. As far as the actual photo-editing options go, everything is done with simple sliders and presets to adjust things like color and shading. It may not grant the more advanced tools that something like Photoshop can give you, but Lightroom still offers enough tools to create unique and great-looking edits.
Lightroom also excels in another area: photo organization. Lightroom makes it incredibly easy to sort and manage your photos as you see fit. You can even batch edit a ton of photos at once for a consistent look. And, just like Photoshop, you can use Adobe’s cloud storage to hop back and forth between platforms making the organization part of Lightroom even more useful.
Lightroom is free to download, but you’ll need to pay for it if you want to access features like batch editing and cloud storage. As we said earlier, you can get Lightroom included in the Adobe Photography bundle alongside Photoshop for $9.99 a month with 20 GB of cloud storage (which is expandable). You can also get Lightroom by itself for $9.99 a month with 1 TB of cloud storage if you don’t need Photoshop.
If you don’t want to pay the premium subscription for Photoshop while still having a photo editor that can rival it in features, then Affinity Photo is the app for you. Just like Photoshop, Affinity Photo is a desktop application that was brought over to the iPad while still keeping its large selection of tools and features.
Affinity Photo is a newer program than Photoshop, sporting a more modern design and smoother overall feel. Just like Photoshop, Affinity Photo for the iPad is still powerful enough to edit and fine-tune photos, create composites, and use unlimited layers with real-time blend modes. It also features some options tailored to the iPad, such as Apple Pencil support.
If you don’t want to pay the premium price of Photoshop while still getting a full photo editor for your iPad, Affinity Photo is definitely your best choice. Affinity Photo only costs a one-time payment of $19.99.
While the other two programs we’ve already discussed were brought over to the iPad, Pixelmator Photo was made from the ground up for tablets. That doesn’t mean it skimps out on features either—it can still crop and mix photos, do in-depth color balancing, and batch edit large groups of photos. There are even some AI-powered editing tools, so that way the program does some of the work for you.
Pixelmator Photo may not reach as far as options like Photoshop or Affinity Photo, but if you’re new to photo editing or just don’t have complex needs, it’s more than a worthy tool. It also only costs a one-time payment of $4.99.
Darkroom, as you may have guessed from the name, tries to compete with Adobe Lightroom. You can do the same simple editing with sliders and presets as you would with Lightroom. There’s also a wealth of options for organizing and batch editing photos. Darkroom manages to fare pretty well when compared to Lightroom, and is a worthy alternative if you don’t want to pay Adobe’s premium price tag. Darkroom even features some video-editing options as well.
Darkroom is free to download, but if you want access to more filters and the video editing features, you’ll need to pay for it. You can either pay $3.99 a month, $19.99 a year, or do a one-time payment of $49.99.
Sometimes, you don’t want to go in-depth with your edits, and instead just want to use a simple filter to save some time. Well, with over 400 filters made by professional designers, A Color Story is the app to help you out. You can fine-tune filters to limit how much they’re affecting your photos and even create your own filters as well. On top of the premium filters, you’ll also have access to some in-depth editing options if you still want to get into the nitty-gritty of your edits.
A Color Story is free to download, but if you want access to more filters and further color-grading features, you’ll need the premium subscription at $4.99 a month or $24.99 a year.
While A Color Story focuses on professional filters, Prisma just wants you to have a good time with your edits. With over 300 filters, you’re able to tap into the wackier side of photo editing, whether that’s turning your latest landscape photo into a Picasso painting or making your favorite selfie look hand-drawn. New styles and effects are added all the time, so there’s always something new to try out as well.
Prisma is free to download, but if you want access to even more filters, you’ll need to get the “Prisma Unlimited” Subscription for $29.99 a year.
Sometimes, you want to revisit the past, but time travel is complicated and probably impossible, so Retrospecs lets you add some cool retro-style filters to your images instead. Whether you want your photo to look it’s running on the original Nintendo Gameboy or is a program on the Commodore 64, Retrospecs gives you a wealth of options and effects to take your photos back in time. You can even adjust individual pixels in the more pixelated effects to make sure images look just right.
Retrospecs is free to download, but you’ll only have access to a limited number of effects. If you like the app, you’ll want to purchase the “Unlock Everything” in-app purchase for $3.99, which unlocks, well, everything.
While plenty of photo editors may offer simple text creation tools, few can give typographers the freedom and features they need to create something truly unique. Typorama aims to fix this though through its “auto-magical” feature. By selecting a few different styles you like, Typorama will automatically create a unique text layout and style for your image. From there, you can fine-tune things like color, font, location, and even merge the text with the photograph.
This randomization combined with user customization ensures that anyone from a complete novice to an experienced designer can create something that looks fully unique. You can even throw in your logo and use your designs commercially if you wish (if you’re using the paid version).
Typorama is free to download, but your images will have a “made with Typorama” watermark and you won’t have access to backgrounds or the ability to add your logo to designs. For the full Typorama experience, you’ll need Typorama PRO, which is either $5.99 a month subscription or a one-time payment of $29.99.
Google’s photo editing app Snapseed manages the same “simple but powerful” feel that most Google apps do. In Snapseed, you’ll find plenty of tools and effects that can be fine-tuned to your liking. Whether you’re warping part of the image or trying to bring out some color, Snapseed manages to bring all the tools you’ll need to your fingertips without being overwhelming. And as you may expect of Google’s apps, it’s completely free—no reason not to try it out.
Glitch Art Studio is all about taking a normal photo and making it look surreal. With wild effects that vastly change the tone of your photos, images that come out of Glitch Art Studio definitely have a unique and identifiable style compared to other apps. You can mix effects to create your own look, and all the features work for videos as well—you can even make GIFs. If you like the style Glitch Art Studios presents, then you are sure to love this app.
Glitch Art Studio is free to download, but if you want access to more filters and effects alongside getting rid of ads, you’ll need to purchase the Pro upgrade, which is a one-time payment of $4.99.