What Is Adobe Photoshop?

Learn the basics of Photoshop, how it's used, and how much it costs

Adobe Photoshop Welcome Screen

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular and well-known photo- and graphics-editing software applications around. It was developed in 1988 and has since become a mainstay for users who want to edit existing photos or even create their own images and graphics.

Photoshop was first invented in 1987 by two brothers, Thomas and John Knoll, who sold the distribution license to Adobe in 1988. The product was originally called Display.

Adobe Photoshop Basics

Photoshop is available for both Windows and Mac computers. It is considered a raster graphics editor, which means users can create and edit images and save them in one of many formats. Edit individual images or large batches of images in Photoshop.

Photoshop employs a layer-based editing system that lets you create and alter images with many overlays. Layers can be used to create shadows and other effects and can act as filters that affect underlying colors.

Photoshop has many automation features and keyboard shortcuts that help you save time on repetitive tasks. Install filters and plugins, new brushes and textures, and other useful extras to Photoshop to continually boost its functionality.

Adobe Photoshop uses the PSD file extension for all its files.

How Can I Use Photoshop?

Photoshop is a mainstay for designers, web developers, photographers, graphic artists, and many other creative professionals, as well as hobbyists. The software is used for editing, creating, and retouching images as well as adding special effects. Graphics can be created and then exported to other programs.

With Photoshop, perform simple functions, such as erasing a blemish from a photo, or advanced photo editing and creation.

Like "Google" and "Xerox," the term "photoshop" has become a verb, although Adobe discourages this. When an image has been "photoshopped," it has the connotation of being manipulated to make the subject look better.

Adobe Photoshop Versions and Prices

Photoshop is often referred to as Photoshop CC because, since 2017, Photoshop has been available to purchase only via a Creative Cloud subscription. There are more than 20 desktop and mobile apps in the Creative Cloud collection, so the more apps you have in your subscription, the more it will cost.

Individual users may prefer the Photography package, which is $9.99 per month and includes Photoshop, Lightroom, and 20 GB of storage. (More on Lightroom below.)

Adobe offers a seven-day free trial of Photoshop as part of one of its Creative Cloud subscription plans, so you can get a feel for the software and see if it's right for you.

The Adobe Photoshop Family

If you don't need the full functionality of Photoshop CC, Photoshop has several sister applications to consider, including Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom, and Photoshop Express.

Adobe Photoshop CC can be expensive and overwhelming for new users. If you just want to edit a photo occasionally, then something like Photoshop Elements or Photoshop Express will be more than enough for your needs. 

Photoshop Elements

Photoshop Elements is a less robust version of Photoshop CC. It was created for consumers who are just getting started with photo editing and want an easy way to organize, edit, create, and share their photos. Unlike Photoshop CC, Elements is available as a one-time software purchase rather than a subscription, with a $99.99 price tag.

Adobe offers a 30-day free trial of Elements so you can test out the software's functionality.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Lightroom was designed for photographers who want to organize and lightly manipulate their photo collection. You can't doctor images like you can with Photoshop, but you can lighten up images at the touch of a button, as well as tweak colors and enhance or sharpen digital photos.

Lightroom currently has two flavors: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is the renamed version of the traditional desktop Lightroom. Lightroom is a cloud-based photo service that works across desktop, mobile, and web.

A Lightroom subscription is $9.99 per month; it's also available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan, which is $9.99 per month, as well. Try Lightroom for free for seven days to check it out.

Lightroom Classic is no longer available as a stand-alone product, but it is included in the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Adobe Photoshop Express is the mobile version of Photoshop, available as a free app for iOS devices and Android devices. It can also be installed on the Windows desktop with Windows 8 and above, via the Microsoft Store. It's far simpler than Photoshop CC, providing a basic range of image-editing functions, such as contrast and exposure tweaks and blemish removal. It's also possible to add text to images. 

If you're just getting started with image editing, consider a free Adobe Photoshop alternative.