Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 Software Review

Adobe just released a new version of Photoshop Elements, its popular image editor for photo enthusiasts and advanced amateur photographers. Adobe has added six new features and updated a couple more to Photoshop Elements 2021.

A powerful digital image editing program disguised as a simple platform for beginners and occasional users, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 offers a lot for a low price. But is it worth upgrading from last year’s version? And can it be useful to an Adobe Creative Cloud whiz like you? Read on to find out in this review of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021.

What’s New?
In many ways, Adobe adding features to Photoshop Elements is like Krispy Kreme adding a new donut flavor. You know from the start you’re going to like it, but there are already so many good ones to choose from that it’s difficult to enjoy them all. Call it an embarrassment of riches. This year, Adobe expands their efforts to facilitate complicated processes by escalating use of Adobe Sensei AI technology.

• Add motion to still images. Create GIFs with 2D and 3D camera motion.

• Fine-tune face tilt. Adjust the position of a person’s face. It’s great for selfies!

• Easily create Quote Graphics.

• Expanded and updated the Guided Edits. There are now 58.

• Instant modern duotones. Just a couple clicks for a beautiful two-color creation.

• Perfect landscape. Easily replace skies, remove haze and erase unwanted objects.

• Move, scale, and duplicate objects. Change position, size and more—easily.


Improved Adobe Organizer
With this update, Adobe’s image browser can now automatically back up your catalog structure curating albums, keyword tags, people, places, events and so forth. Organizer is similar to Adobe Bridge but not very.


Pricing and Availability
For new purchasers, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 costs $99. Traditionally, Adobe offers a discount to previous owners of recent versions of Elements. Photoshop Elements is available by download or in a box.

Adobe Premier Elements 2021
Simultaneously announced as per usual, Adobe Premier Elements is to video editing what Photoshop Elements is to still image editing. We do not take a deep look at Premier Elements here other than to mention that it’s available separately or in a bundle with Photoshop Elements at a special price. The bundle is available as a download from Amazon at $149.

You must admit that this software does an incredibly good job of moving and scaling subjects in an image.

Try Before You Buy
Download the 30-day trial version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021. Don’t give me that, “I use Photoshop…” routine. I use Photoshop Creative Cloud too, but I still truly enjoy using PSE for certain tasks, particularly colorizing images shot with my infrared camera.

For a recap of the features added last year as well as a general summary, please read my review of last year’s Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020. You can also view a feature comparison matrix on Adobe’s website.

Originally a black & white photo from the 1920s, this image of the Sultan of Swat (George Herman “Babe” Ruth) was colorized with Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021with one click.

Overview: Flexible Workspace Options
Since its introduction in 1990, Adobe Photoshop Elements has been continually improved and refined with—it seems to me—three major goals in mind. (Again, this is how I see it—not what the manufacturer says on the subject.)

The first goal is to provide workspaces where photo lovers of all skill levels can be productive and creative. There are three graphical user interfaces, and users can switch between GUIs at any time, even within the same editing process, or as their proficiency improves.

Quick interface has tools to accomplish basic Adjustments like Smart Fix, Sharpen, Exposure, and so on in the easiest possible way—just select the correction that’s desired, adjust the intensity with a simple slider control and then select the result you like most from a panel of preview thumbnails. Quick allows basic enhancements too. Choose from popular Effects like Cross Process, Split Tone, Toy Camera and Light Leak; select and apply them in the same way as Adjustments.

Guided interface leads users through all of the steps necessary to perform more creative (and more challenging) operations. There are now 58 Guided Edits in PSE2021. When the Guided GUI is selected, the workspace changes to show all of the available edits, grouped by general type, and displayed with easy-to-understand example images that can be dynamically wiped from Before to After.

Sure, I sometimes spend hours channel swapping and fine tuning infrared (IR) images in Photoshop. I also colorize them with Adobe Photoshop Elements sometimes. The four thumbnails in the center are the examples to choose from. Of course, you can also use the Manual setting for more options. The final result is on the right. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Expert interface has the training wheels removed. Users can select many of the same robust Tools, Filters, Enhancements (etc.) found in full-version Photoshop plus a few that aren’t. Remember that PSE2021 is built on the full Photoshop engine, so users can transition up (or down) with no impact from negative learning.

Adobe’s second goal driving Photoshop Elements development, I believe, is leveraging power and simplicity to create an environment where Beginners can progress up the ranks toward Expert within the same software version. By now it should be obvious that any user anywhere with any degree of skill can make creative edits and adjustments in the Quick workspace, learn new tricks in the Guided GUI and then fly solo in the Expert interface. In fact, they can do all three using the same image during the same editing session.

Duotone. ©Jon Sienkiewicz.

Their final (and most recently added) goal is to deploy Adobe Sensei AI technology to perform or assist with editing tasks that are either difficult to master without prolonged experience or not intuitive for those who are just starting out.

Adobe describes Sensei as “…the technology that powers intelligent features across all Adobe products to dramatically improve the design and delivery of digital experiences, using artificial intelligence and machine learning in a common framework.”

Stop clicking—it says GIF but it’s not; however, you can create GIF files and moving images with Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021.

System Requirements
Not surprisingly, there are certain hardware requirements; you can find the full specifications here.

Windows users please note that PSE2021 requires Microsoft Windows 10 version 1903 or later (version 1909 recommended); 64-bit versions only; Windows 7, Windows 8.1 not supported.

Mac users, if you have a current machine running macOS 10.14 through 10.15 (or macOS 11) and have 8GB of RAM you should be okay, but again, check Adobe’s website for most current System Requirements.

Why do I recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements, an admittedly entry-level image editor, to readers who are serious photographers and very likely use Photoshop Creative Cloud? To begin, it’s fun. That’s reason enough, but I have others.

In this image supplied by Adobe, the wedding couple is double exposed in a maple leaf. Not sure of the connection, but it works visually.

Photoshop Elements 2021 does a remarkably good job of colorizing old black and white images—and does it fast. I use it to colorize already colorful IR images, too, as can be seen in an example somewhere in this story. Can I do it as well manually? Of course, but not nearly as fast.

Challenging another landscape enhancing software, Adobe has now built Perfect Landscape into Photoshop Elements 2021 as a Guided Edit. Easily replace skies, remove haze and erase unwanted objects. Powered by Adobe Sensei AI. Original image shot on an overcast morning at the Jersey Shore (of course). ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Photoshop Elements spurs my imagination. We all need a little creative nudge now and then. Elements quickly creates some off-the-wall versions of my own images, sometimes leading me to process them in an entirely new direction.

Download the 30-trial full version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 now, or buy the license key and download this exciting software from Amazon for only $99.

—Jon Sienkiewicz


(As an Amazon Associate, Shutterbug earns from qualifying purchases linked in this story.)

dleippe's picture

The Microsoft Store sells "Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021", but it is not the same build as Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 purchased from Adobe or other third party vendors. You don't get a serial key, you can't register it in your Adobe account. You can't get updates from Adobe, because the update utility has been removed and Microsoft hasn't posted any of the three updates on Adobe's site. There are numerous features missing through out the MS build. The file structure is very different. Tech support from Microsoft is limited to the download, installation, activation(it isn't visible) and updates(they aren't doing them). Since you don't get a serial key you can't sell it or give it away in the secondary market. The "Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021" from the Microsoft Store is significantly different than the Adobe build and therefore has diminished value. None of the differences were published. The buyer is being cheated...