Adobe Photoshop Elements could easily be described as 'Photoshop Lite', image editing software aimed at consumers rather than professionals. It brings many of the visual tools and enhancements from the full version, but unlike regular Adobe Photoshop, doesn’t require you to sign up for a regular subscription.
There’s no doubt that Elements looks like, and is, a more pared-down photo editor than its full-fat counterpart. However, the software still allows users to create fun effects, work with Layers and Filters and even create content that Photoshop can’t, such as memes and reflections. New features of the 2021 version – including face tilt and sky replacement – are powered by Sensei, Adobe’s AI technology.
Because Elements’ main interface has a choice of three modes – Basic, Guided and Expert – the editing experience can be tailored for different abilities. It’s a photo editor well suited to family computers; beginners needn’t get overwhelmed, while keen photographers can access the tools they need quickly.
Because it doesn't have all of the bells and whistles associated with the more in-depth editors, it doesn't rank highly in our guide to the best photo editing apps. But it's still a useful package for amateur photographers.
Adobe Photoshop Elements review: Features
- Auto edits with Sensei artificial intelligence
- Elements 2021 Organizer
- Creative effects
The sheer myriad of creative effects available in Adobe Photoshop Elements– some of them a bit gimmicky but many that are genuinely useful – is one of the key reasons that people look to use the software They are all quick to find, select, and apply, even if they don’t offer much room for customization.
As well as adding frames and text to images, it’s also easy to add motivational quotes or personalized messages to pictures using one of the many pre-set templates. These are a bit cheesy but are bound to have appeal with family members wanting to make their own cards, albums, or even Instagram graphics.
Other standout effects include multi-photo text – where you can use a different photo to fill a letter and make a funky visual word – plus double exposures, pattern brushing, and adding a pop of color to a black and white shot. Elements is a scrapbooker’s dream, and even if you come into the software as a pro photographer feeling a bit snobby about it, it’s easy to lose an hour just playing around with everything that’s on offer.
New for the 2021 version is support for Adobe’s Creative Cloud storage service, enabling easy image sharing to Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Adobe’s artificial intelligence technology, Adobe Sensei, powers improvements such as perfect landscapes and the creation of duotone images, plus Auto and One-click subject selections.
Adobe is constantly adding more AI features to its software. The Sensei AI-powered one-click sky replacement tool that’s found in Photoshop 2021 also appears in Elements under the Perfect Landscapes Guided Edit. If you select Auto Match Color Tone the result is pretty effective, although the 12 included skies might be a bit limiting.
Another one-click transform is the ability to transform stills into moving photos to create animated GIFs. This one is great fun, and can literally be applied and exported in seconds.
Adobe isn’t the only company to use machine learning to transform digital images with the press of a button. Skylum Luminar AI was the world’s first image editor fully powered by artificial intelligence (the clue’s in the name), and DxO introduced DeepPRIME to its Photo Lab 4 software in October 2020, AI technology that denoises RAW images.
Alas, not all of Adobe Photoshop Elements’ AI features are successful. Colorize Photo only added subtle tones to the black and white images tested. It wasn’t an unattractive look, but not the magical transformation to a color capture that we were promised.
In terms of keeping your image collection in order, it’s worth noting that Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 is made up of an Editor and Organizer. The Organizer looks rudimentary but offers a powerful search function, while a catalog structure makes it easy to sort and tag your images by place, event, or location. What’s more, Smart Tags powered by (you guessed it) AI can automatically identify what's in a photo—a tree, a pet, a face, a landscape. This information then gets automatically backed up to the Cloud for easy recovery should something happen.
Every single photographer has their own unique workflow. If you’re used to an all-in-one approach such as that used by Apple Photos or Lightroom, then having two separate windows can seem a bit clunky. That said, it’s fairly painless to switch between the two workspaces using a button on the bottom panel.
- Related: Seascape Photography guide
Adobe Photoshop Elements review: Compatibility and plugins
Adobe Photoshop Elements is compatible with macOS (10.14 or later) and Windows (Microsoft Windows 10 version 1903 or later) operating systems, and is feature-for-feature identical on either. The system itself needs at least an Intel 6th Generation processor to run smoothly.
Elements can be paid for and downloaded online directly from the Adobe website. A DVD-ROM drive is needed if you buy the software on a hard disk (this is an option on certain websites).
Adobe Photoshop Elements review: Price and subscription options
Photoshop Elements is one of the only pieces of Adobe software that doesn’t require a cloud-based subscription. It can be bought outright for $100, whereas if you already own the software and want to upgrade to the 2021 version, that price reduces to around $80. A free 30-day trial is also available.
Should you buy Adobe Photoshop Elements?
Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great first step for those who are still learning the ropes of image editing and don’t want to invest in the steep learning curve and recurring payments of Photoshop. Amateurs will still find a generous amount of creative tools for enhancing the look of photos, and these are packaged in a simple interface that’s easy to navigate – especially within the Guided Edits tab.
Although Elements’ array of effects is better than some of its competitors, pros and enthusiasts are likely to find its appearance outdated and features too basic before long. While those looking for complex layering and advanced processing capabilities should head to Photoshop, photographers who want a streamlined all-in-one workflow solution would be better off buying Lightroom.