Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 Review

Adobe Photoshop Elements, the consumer sibling of Photoshop, is a photo editing powerhouse. You can take care of standard photo edits and alterations as well as take your creativity to a new level through guided (and freestyle) creative actions. Furthermore, you have the option of easily printing and creating finished products such as calendars and cards via Shutterfly through the Organizer.

If you are brand new to Photoshop Elements

What is Elements?
Generally speaking, adobe_photoshop_elements_12 is for the consumer rather than the professional. Professional photographers typically use Photoshop because of the more advanced features. If you are a graphic designer or interested in heavy photo manipulation or if you print detailed fine art photographs, Photoshop would be more appropriate. If your goal is to make straightforward edits to your photos, Photoshop Elements is perfectly sufficient and significantly less expensive. Click here to read a very helpful breakdown of Elements, Photoshop, and Lightroom via an interview with Adobe Certified Expert, David Asch. Photoshop also offers more assistance to the user.

Elements breaks your edits down simply into three categories: QUICK, GUIDED, EXPERT. GUIDED is extremely intuitive and easy for anyone to use, the moment they open the software.

Examples of what I mean by straightforward edits:

  • fix red eye
  • change the tone or exposure
  • fix minor blemishes
  • straighten
  • add vignetting
  • brightening eyes or teeth
  • slimming your subject down
  • cropping
  • changing your depth of field
  • other basic photo edits

Here are some visual examples.

1. This photograph has an annoying yellow rope in the top right hand corner. I can easily remove it using the spot healing brush.

If you look at the top right of this photo, you’ll see a yellow rope that is distracting.

Using the spot healing brush allows you to remove a blemish on the photograph while intuitively replacing that spot with surrounding content. The final result showed no evidence of the yellow rope.

2. You compose a picture that you love, only to realize later that it isn’t straight. There is nothing more annoying than a crooked ocean. The ocean wall in this photo was was not straight (it is slightly higher on the right side). It can become a straight, horizontal line using the rotate and straighten tool.

Once the image is straight, you can then crop the edges.

Elements 12 added a new feature called auto fill edges to the straighten feature to avoid having to crop the extra canvas off. In theory, this is a great idea. However, you’d have to have a really simple image with little detail for this to work because it can cause odd distortion. I likely will never use this feature and instead, I’ll crop the edges off.

3. You are working on a project that requires adding text to your photo.
You can easily add text to a photo and adjust to your liking (font, size leading, color, style, etc.)

This photo of a seed pod has a solid color fill layer (EXPERT mode) with white font added using the type tool.

Elements also offers interesting effects, such as Lomo Camera Effect, Saturated Slide Film, Reflection, Old Fashioned Photo, and more—with one or two clicks.

Original hydrangea.

Lomo Camera Effect.

Saturated Slide Film Effect.

There are so very many photo adjustments you can make in Elements and there is no way I can possibly list every feature here. From adding textures to the many features when working in the layers panel, there is no end to the edits you can make to end up with a final result that you desire.

For current Elements users: What is new in Elements 12?

Content Aware Move tool
This new feature allows you to move an entire subject in your photograph. Note, you may have a little clean-up to do after, but the software does a pretty good job of replicating the empty spot where your moved subject was. It is not perfect and it can be really unconvincing, but nonetheless handy in certain situations.

Original before the content aware move tool was used.

The content aware move tool in-use, moving the little boy from the right part of the photograph to the left.

The Zoom Burst effect
With the press of a button, you can add a burst movement to your subject. The key here is making sure the subject you want to be in focus is dead center, otherwise it won’t work. On my wish list for the future would be to allow the burst to be coming from a subject that isn’t in the center of the photograph.

The Zoom Burst effect, centering around one runner starting a race.

Quick textures
If you are in the QUICK mode, you can easily add various textures to your photograph.

Adding a pre-set texture to a photo.

Restore Old Photos
This is my favorite new feature. It guides you through restoring old photos utilizing the spot healing tool, healing brush tool, clone stamp tool, blur tool, dust remover tool, and then auto levels, auto contrast, auto color correction, and convert to black & white. You can even sharpen with one click, but in my experience, the sharpening button is usually best left alone. This process can be time consuming and should be done keeping your brushes as small as possible, but well worth it.

My mother’s high school senior portrait, which had been damaged.

Restoration in progress using the Restore Old Photos guided feature. I still have work to do, but I’m impressed with the ease of fixing up this precious, yet damaged photo from the 70s.

Updated Effects
With one click (though it takes a moment to load), you can add automated effects (basically “actions” or “filters”) to your photos.

You can view these effects while in QUICK mode. You may love them or you may not.

Mobile Albums
Last, but not least, the new Mobile Albums feature is most definitely worth mentioning. You can now access any of the photos from your Elements Organizer on your various devices using the Adobe Revel app. If you make an edit on your computer OR another device, it will update everywhere.


If you have Elements 11, should you rush to upgrade? If you are interested in restoring a lot of photos or you spend a lot of your time in Elements, I say yes (you’d get 20% off the $99 cost). If you are a fairly casual user, I’d say no. The new features aren’t life-changing.

If you are looking for your first, inexpensive, easy-to-use editing software, Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 is a great purchase, and worth every penny.


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    • I don't see anything here that I can't already do with my Elements 10 tools.

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    • A nice quick review, but you should mention that there is no Android app for Revel: only Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Windows 8. From the Adobe Revel FAQ:

      Does Adobe Revel work with PCs and Android devices?

      No. Revel only works on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. We do have plans to release Revel for Windows and Android in the future but don’t have specific timing for their release yet.

      For users with Android phones you can download Revel Importer. Revel Importer is not a full version of Revel but it does give you a way to import the photos on your Android phone into your Revel photo library.

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    • Cara, thanks for the rather comprehensive review.  Your examples are quite helpful.

      Looks like I see the purchase of an upgrade from PSE11 in my future . . .

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    • A useful review and a useful link.  Many of us who do not wish to pay rent for Photoshop into perpetuity are looking for alternatives.  

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    • I have read some pretty awful reviews of Elements 12 on MAC OS X 9.1 Though Adobe claims that that Elements 12 "can be installed",  I am hesitant to install either 11 or 12 on my new MAC. Anyone have any experience with this combination or recommendations regarding other comparable programs.  I really do not want to spend the $$ for full PHOTOSHOP and iPHOTO and APERATURE do not meet my needs. I have this great new MAC and nothing with which to edit :( 

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