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Group test: what's the best professional image-editing software?

The best image editors for professional photographers and designers

PC Advisor reviews the best professional image editing software packages. (See also: Adobe Photoshop CS6 review.)

5. Apple Aperture 3.5.1

Apple Aperture 3 now craftily straddles the divide between heavyweight professional productivity and consumer photo browser. There’s still that powerful indexing and manipulation we saw in Aperture 2; but now with better social skills, whether finding people in photographs, cataloguing where in the world your pictures were taken, or sharing them with the world at large through Facebook and Flickr integration. And new brushes and editing tools should make this upgrade a delight for all photographers, from ambitious enthusiasts to full-time professionals.

4. Photoshop Lightroom 4

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is worth the upgrade price for the Develop Module alone. The editing tools are more sophisticated than ever, yet often easier to use. Improved DNG output and email sharing might seem small at first, but with daily use of Lightroom, you'll be glad they are there. Some of the big additions, such as Map and Book, are certainly welcome to bring Lightroom up to date with Apple Aperture.

3. Serif PhotoPlus X4

Serif PhotoPlus X4 is fast and very powerful, giving you a great deal of creative control. For editing tasks it goes well beyond the basics – and if that’s what you want to achieve, you'll find plenty of guidance to help you along the way.

2. Corel Painter 12

With a raft of workflow enhancements from the moment the user creates a new canvas, and with improved operating system compatibility more akin to the usability of Photoshop, everything points towards Painter 12 being a substantial update and well worth considering an upgrade.

1. Adobe Photoshop CS5

Adobe Photoshop CS5 has lots of little tweaks, enhancements, and improvements that add up to smoother workflow, greater convenience, and more creative potential for those who use Photoshop day in and day out. If you're still using CS3, combining the advances of CS4 with CS5 makes upgrading an easy decision. If you are currently using CS4, moving up to CS5 could save you some time and effort - especially if your regular tasks include masking and cloning. If you are into painting, the new Mixer Brush may be enough to make the upgrade worthwhile. And if you do a lot of low-light photography, in which noise is a problem, the fact that Camera RAW 6 won't be available to CS4 users is very compelling. However, moving from CS4 to CS5 it isn't one of those mandatory, can't-avoid-it decisions for other Photoshop users who are satisfied with their current workflow and toolset. As usual, Photoshop and the rest of Creative Suite 5 are available in a somewhat confusing array of packages. But when you stop to read what each contains, it becomes a clear issue of deciding just what programs you need (or want) and which ones you don't. You can buy Photoshop CS5 Standard or Extended as stand-alone applications.

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