Digital imaging has come on a long way in the last 20 years. From physical film to digital files, from manual exposure to Photoshop, the things we can do with pictures is incredible.
As screen and camera technology get better and better, the demand that photo editing software places on your computer gets higher and higher.
Nowadays, you might find yourself editing photography in 4K+ resolution. To do this, your computer is going to have to have an incredibly capable graphics card.
A strong graphics card will work in tandem with your CPU to allow you to edit high-resolution photography without horrible lag.
Why Photo Editing Requires a Quality Graphics Card
The reason that photo editing has become such a demanding task is due to several factors. The first factor is that the size of a 4k image is much larger than your standard 1080p image, which again is much larger than your old school 720p image. Transferring, loading, and editing this data requires more power for each step up in quality you go.
Secondly, photo editing is a graphics focused task. Unlike most tasks that require processor power from your CPU, photo editing relies almost solely on your graphics card. G
Graphics cards are continually evolving too, and this means that you need to keep an eye on the age and power of your card, even if it is only a couple of years old. High-end software will update in time with new cards, making some older machines obsolete.
Buying Guide: Choosing A Quality GPU For Editing Photos
Photo Editing Software/Compatibility
Making sure that your components are compatible with your preferred editing software is, for obvious reasons, of vital importance. This is slightly less important at the lower-intermediate levels, where a mid-level graphics card can cover most tasks.
If you are planning on working with 10-bit displays and colors and above, you are going to have much stricter requirements. If you want to work at this high level, you will need an Nvidia Quadro or Radeon Pro card.
For 8-bit and below, you should find compatibility less of an issue. The only problems you will run into is slow loading times and lag if you are using underpowered software.
CPU and GPU Balance
We won't go into the exact science of how your CPU works (we discuss it here), but making sure that it can keep up with your GPU and vice versa is extremely important. If your CPU cannot handle the power of your graphics card, you are going to get a bottleneck.
This means that your nice expensive new graphics card will only run at 70,60,50% of what it should be able to run at.
If you are looking for a new GPU and you are planning on installing it into an older machine, this is something you will need to consider. This is a handy calculator that takes the hard work out of doing the research.
One final thing, don't forget to make sure that your computers RAM is capable as well. Aim for a minimum of 8GB, preferably 16GB and above for the smoothest experience.
Graphics Card Features
4K Resolution Support
4K is becoming the golden standard for image quality. Replacing 1080p in the technological evolutionary chain. Just like when we swapped from 720p to 1080p, it took some time before mass adaption really took place.
The same is true with 4K resolution. There are still lots of cards out there that do not have the support for 4k resolution. If you plan to work in 4K, this will be a major consideration.
Brand (NVidia vs. AMD)
Just like the CPU chipset race, there are only really two competitors when it comes to high-performance graphics cards. Nvidia has been the forerunner for graphics cards for many years now.
When it comes to gaming, they are the kings. Their GTX and RTX range dominate the graphics card scene for most computers. AMD, as usual, has a strong offering to make as well. While not as established in the graphics card scene and Nvidia, their cards are making waves. Users are reporting that they are competent and come at a much more attractive price tag.
Your graphics card has something called cores. A core is essentially an individual brain. Just like with CPU's, every core can work independently to the others, allowing for an increase in power. The more cores, the better your graphics card is at multi-tasking.
GPU Clock Speed
The clock speed of your GPU is how many decisions it can make per second per core. This means that a dual-core GPU that works at 3.0GHZ clock speed can actually run at around 6.0GHz, whereas a quad-core running at 2.0GHZ can run at 8.0GHz.
Memory & Bandwidth
The level of onboard RAM plays a crucial role in the smooth running of your graphics card, where the possible aim for as much VRAM as possible. The bandwidth is the next thing that will help your graphics card perform how you need it too. Make sure you don't end up getting a bottleneck from having too low bandwidth speed.
Thermal Design Power
High powered components produce high amounts of heat during operation; unfortunately, there is no way around that. This is why the thermal design of your graphics card is so important. When you have two similar cards, similar price, similar power, the deciding factor might be how well designed for cooling the card is or what cooling tech it has onboard.
The design of your card is something that most people do not think about. After all, the card is hidden away inside your case. For those who are planning on building their own pc or are replacing old parts with new parts, the design is monumentally important.
Newer style graphics cards are bigger and bulkier than they have been in the past; this means sometimes they can be too large to fit into an older machine. They also might not line up right in terms of slots and profile.
As well as choosing a strong graphics card here are our other recommended specs.
6 Best Graphics Cards For Photo Editing Reviewed
1. EVGA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
- Real Boost Clock: 1770 MegaHertZ; Memory...
- Single HDB fan offers higher performance...
- Built for EVGA Precision x1 EVGA all new...
- 3 year Warranty & EVGA 24/7 technical...
Our top pick
High End 1080p Display
Our top pick, the card we feel will fit into most budgets and spec lists, is the GTX 1660 Ti by EVGA. This Nvidia card makes use of the new "Turing" architecture at an incredibly attractive price. This 1660 TI has 1536 cores and is backed with 6GB GDDR6 onboard memory.
This gives it more than enough juice to play 1080p games and edit in 1080p at full quality. For the price, you aren't getting a card that can run 4K here, and it can run 1440p titles relatively smoothly, although it may require you to wait a little longer. This card is nearly on par with the more popular RTX 2060. The best thing?
The 1660TI is quite a bit cheaper, and the only real drawback is a lack of raytracing. For photo editors, this is probably not as important as for gamers, which makes this the ideal card for those who haven't got a fortune to spend on their GPU.
This is technically classed as an entry-level design, but you wouldn't be able to tell that by looking or listening. This isn't an ugly, loud card. The triple-slot CPU color has a strong single fan attached and comes without an overclock. The numbers are good across the board on this card though, if you are looking for strong overclocks, there are better cards on this list.
In terms of outputs, this GTX 1660TI has a display port, an HDMI, and a Dual-Link DVI. Combined, this gives the possibility of 3 display hookups. The HDCP 2.2 gives a 240hz max refresh rate and will allow a display up to 8K.
This GTX 1660 TI is our top pick for several reasons. Firstly, it offers the best price to performance ratio on any card in its price range, which is extremely reasonable.
This means it is the ideal card for the majority of users who want top-end 1080p displays but don't want to spend a fortune getting there. Secondly, the card comes with a three-year warranty too, which is a nice touch.
As with all things, there is a downside to this card. It is massive, taking up 2.75 slots, so it won't be suitable for a mini-itx build.
Asides from that, it's a brilliant card at an excellent price, which is why it is our top pick overall.
Also Recommended: Best 1440p GPUs
2. EVGA GeForce RTX 2070 XC
- Real Boost Clock: 1725 MegaHertZ; memory...
- Dual HDB fans and all new 2. 75 slot cooler...
- Adjustable RGB LED offers configuration...
- Built for EVGA Precision x1, EVGA all new...
Best Graphics Card for 4k editing
Raytracing and 4K
Next, we have our best graphics card for 4k editing. This hasn't just been judged on performance, we know an RTX 2080TI is going to be better than this, but this is by far the best-priced card for the average user who wants buttery smooth 4K capabilities.
The performance for this card is a beefed-up version of the original Nvidia RTX 2070 founder's edition. It has AI-enhanced graphical ability and real-time raytracing, rendering images in stunning definition.
Under the hood, the RTX 2070 XC has a whopping 8GB of onboard RAM and 2304 core. Supporting those parts are a 1410 MHz base, and 1710 MHz boost clock speed and a memory bandwidth of 448 Gbps.
This card is much more suitable for those who like to dabble with overclocking too. With the RTX 2070 XC, you have the capability of boosting the power limit by up to 30%. This is one of the strongest boosts on any of the RTX cards; the founder's edition, for example, only allowed a raise of 16%.
In addition to this EVGA has vastly increased the cooling tech in the XC edition, with dual fans and an increased blade area, you get a 12% greater airflow and a reduction in noise levels too.
Design-wise, the RTX 2070 looks cool. The sleek design updated with the companies awesome Precision X1 software allows you to change the RGB lighting around the logo of the card. The transparent shroud around the fans makes any build look cool and come with added color customization through additional kits.
Although raytracing hasn't taken off completely, yet the future of the tech is one reason to go for an RTX rated card. The main reason being DLSS or Deep Level Super Sampling. DLSS is the first instance of machine learning being added to a graphics card.
DLSS is essentially an antialiasing method, designed to bring smoothness and performance at a much lower power and hardware requirement. Thanks to this, RTX cards are definitely the best option for someone who wants to future proof themselves.
For 1080 and 1440p, this card doesn't even break a sweat, as long as your other components can handle it, you can run everything at full quality. When it comes to 4K capability, you are getting a middle of the pack card.
It runs 4K brilliantly, making it the perfect 4K card for the average user. If you have bigger pockets and a need for the best quality available, you might want to look to the RTX 2080TI later in this list.
Also Recommended: Best 4K Laptops
3. XFX AMD Radeon VII 16GB
Best Graphics Card for Photo and Video Editing
RTX 2080 Busting Potential and 4K
For those looking for a robust 4K card for video and photo editing from the AMD range, the Radeon VII is it. Although this card does not come equipped with the raytracing capabilities of the RTX range, it impresses in a different direction.
This card is actually capable of keeping up with an RTX 2080 in everything other than the raytracing department. It also runs cooler than the RTX 2080, making it a better card for photo and video editors who spend large amounts of time running their GPUS at full capacity.
The key to the Radeon VII's performance lies in its competent and fine-tuned parts. For example, the onboard RAM. The Radeon VII has an almost unheard of 16GB onboard VRAM. On top of that, the boost clock sits at 1800MHz. These two combined make the Radeon VII one of the best choices available for those who use Adobe Lightroom and Sony Vegas.
Although lacking in raytracing ability, AMD has surprised us once again with their addition of DirectML. DirectML is the answer to Nvidia's DLSS, a smart machine learning technology that makes the card smart and adaptable.
This proves that AMD doesn't just want to play a back-seat role in the GPU arms race. For those of us, I included, that have always loved AMD and their products, this is great to see.
All of this combined leads to a performance that destroys the RTX 2080 in almost every way. It is an incredible leap over the old Vega 64 card, and with its 16GB of VRAM, there isn't anything we could throw at this card to slow it down. For the gamers, this card can run at maxed-out quality in 4K. This shows the power of the card.
The Radeon VII is an incredible card. As long as you are happy with swapping from Nvidia to AMD and can deal with the small issues that may arise. As a result, you are going to get a card that performs exceedingly well. For a fraction of the price, you have a card that can take on the big dogs.
Also Recommended: Best Graphics Cards for Video Editing
4. AMD Radeon Rx 590
Best Budget Graphics Card for Photo Editing
Price to Performance Ratio
Perhaps the most surprising card on this list, is our winner in the best budget AMD graphics card category, the RX 590. Utilizing AMD's Polaris system, this card is the best performing card in the mid-low range on the market. With power efficiency increases across the board and some tweaks to the microarchitecture, the RX 590 is impressive in all aspects.
Creating the surprising performance is a combination of synergizing tech that works very well together to create performance power above what the specs say on paper. The XFX version here comes with a safe overclock from the factory, allowing for a clock speed of 1580MHZ.
This is relatively easy and safe to boost up to 1650 with little to no hardware upgrades needed. Even while overclocked, the RX 590 stays cool with temps at around 75C under full load.
This card is another king of the 1080p bracket. You should be able to edit and render 1080p images really quickly without lag, and running AAA+ games at 1080p maxed out is simple. You can technically run some 4K displays, but you may have to deal with long load times and jittery experiences.
Again, this is a card for those that are primarily focused on photo and video editing. Performance-wise, this card is around the RTX 2060 mark, and you just don't get the raytracing. This makes this card a better choice for those that do not intend to do any gaming or lightroom.
The main selling point for the RX 590 is the price tag. When you look at the performance to price ratio, it performs better than any other card on this list. If you are looking at a card for a new build or want to upgrade an old machine, this card is the option that will leave you more money in your budget without sacrificing power.
5. ZOTAC Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Super
- New turing architecture
- 8gb 256 bit gddr5x and card length is 211mm x...
- Super compACt 8.3-inch card, fits 99% of...
- Dual slot, 4k/ HDR/ VR ready, ice storm 2.0...
Value for Money
Best Budget Nvidia Card
For those with a lower budget that prefer offerings from Nvidia, the Zotac GTX 1660 super is the rival to the Radeon RX 590. Nvidia has taken its standard 1660 card and beefed it up, giving it the "super" title that it gives all of its upgraded architecture cards. This budget-friendly card is built to absolutely destroy 1080p resolution gaming and photo/video editing.
Another reason this card is so popular is due to its styling. Unlike AMD's boring style used on its budget-friendly cards, Nvidia knows the importance of style. The Zotac Super 1660 is a double slot card built in the usual matte black plastic shrouding.
The card looks great, so for those of you who enjoy the aesthetics of your computer components, or those who have glass cases, this may be a significant factor to consider.
Performance-wise you get a 1530 base clock and potential for a whopping 1785 boost. With 6GB onboard VRAM, the overclock ability here is incredible. With a card that is already 1.5x faster than a GTX 1060, you get a lot of potential here.
This card is gunning for the GTX 1660ti, and it comes really close to beating the top 1660 cards on the market. This performance makes 1080p displays look gorgeous and even has the potential for capable 1440p performance. The overhauled dual fan system keeps the card cool under strain, too, with peak GPU temps of 72 degrees under full load.
When the GTX 1660 was released, it shook up the GPU world. This budget-friendly card that was capable of running games at full quality and renders 1080p images lightning quick, became one of the most popular cards on the market. To then take that incredible card and beef it up? Let's just say Nvidia knows what they are doing.
6. ASUS ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080TI
- Powered by NVIDIA Turing with 1665 MHz Boost...
- Supports up-to 4 monitors with DisplayPort 1....
- Auto Extreme and Max-Contact Technology...
- ASUS Aura Sync RGB lighting features a nearly...
Top of the Range
World Ending Performance
Last on the list, and my personal favorite category is the winner of the top of the range title. This card is the best on the market, the one capable of handling anything you can throw at it. Run 4K with ease, edit at lightning-fast speeds and run top-level gaming without a single stutter. The only downside? The cost.
The title goes to the RTX 2080TI by Nvidia. The RTX 2080TI is the flagship model from Nvidia's recent high-end RTX range. With elite components and an entire companies research and development team, Nvidia has created an absolute monster here.
Under the hood, you get a whopping 11GB of GDDR6 VRAM, over 4300 Cuda cores, and a boost speed of 1635MHZ. Nvidia has also broken its own mold slightly here, and the RTX 2080TI comes with a factory overclock, something never seen before in a flagship model.
That isn't the only innovative thing either, not by far. The RTX 2080TI comes equipped with two new types of core, in the form of RT and Tensor.
The 544 Tensor cores are what allow the RTX 2080TI to really shine. These cores will enable the card to implement A.I deep learning. This deep learning allows the cores to work at around 8x the speed of the old Pascal format.
When it comes to ports, the RTX 2080TI shines once again. You get an NV Link, which promises over 40x the speed of previous technologies. Using these ports, you can comfortably power multiple 8k monitors.
If you plan to work in 8k or use 10-bit color technology, you are going to need to have a card this strong. There isn't much on the market that can compare when it comes to displaying and rendering in 8K.
The cooling system used to power this beast is extremely complex too. With full-length vapor chambers, a dual-fan multi-system, and strong heat sink abilities, the RTX 2080TI runs cool, and it runs quietly.
For those of you who have deep pockets and a need for the best, the RTX 2080TI is currently the best consumer graphics card on the market. With raytracing capabilities and the strongest A.I deep learning tech available, it runs rings around every other card on the market. The Tensor cores especially are something to watch.
Obviously, the tech and power involved are going to make this an expensive choice. Other than the price, though, there is absolutely nothing we could fault with the RTX 2080TI.
Photo Editing Software That Require Good GPUs
Almost every photo editing software worth its salt is going to require a powerful GPU to run smoothly. These are some of the most popular photo editing software today, all of which will require a good GPU to run.
In addition, by upgrading to one of the stronger GPU's found on our list, you can make use of the new GPU acceleration technology that many of the best editing suites are adapting. These allow you to boost performance in the suite if you have a card that can handle GPU acceleration.
How to Enable GPU Acceleration
As we just discussed, GPU acceleration is becoming much more widely adopted by photo-editing suites, but how do you enable it?
As Photoshop is perhaps the most prominent software in the world right now, I will tell you how to activate GPU acceleration in their suite.
- 1First, access the file setting.
- 2Next, go to project settings.
- 3Then enable Mercury GPU Acceleration.
That's it. Simple right?
Maintenance & Troubleshooting For Video Cards
Maintaining your computer components is crucial if you want them to last as long as possible before needing replacing. I won't go into every single issue and their fixes, but here is a good guide to fixing 90% of the problems you might run into.
At the first occurrence of an issue, run a program that might be able to troubleshoot your question from a software side. There are lots of free programs on the market that can do this for you. I like GPU-Z. Often it is a driver problem, not a physical fault that is causing you headaches.
Next, dust the fans of your graphics card. This is best done with an air can, which can be picked up for relatively cheap from computer shops or amazon.
If this still hasn't worked, disconnect your card. Dust the connection slot and the connector.If you need help with any of these, this is a great video on GPU maintenance.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Do I need a powerful video card for photo editing/photoshop?
The simple answer is yes. Almost every photo and video editing suite currently used require a strong graphics card to run smoothly.
What are the differences between integrated vs. dedicated graphics?
Integrated graphics are usually used in lower budget machines. They are underpowered and will not run any photo/video or gaming software. Dedicated cards are 100% necessary for anyone in the photo/video editing world.
Are gaming PCs good for photo editing?
As gaming PC's are usually some of the highest specced machines on the market, they typically perform other demanding tasks well. This is true when it comes to photo editing. Most graphics cards are designed with gaming in mind. It is just a happy coincidence that photo editors require similar specs.
Will an overclocked CPU help in photo editing performance?
If you know what you are doing, an overclocked CPU will help in almost every single task your computer undertakes. Often, an overclock isn't necessary. If you have no experience overclocking, I wouldn't recommend it on your work machine, and a bad overclock can lead to severe hardware problems.
Where is the best place to buy these graphic cards for photo editing?
Amazon is king when it comes to electronics and computer parts; they have the most competitive pricing and the best delivery service. They also have great return policies and fantastic customer service.
Graphics card has come a long, long way over the years. For those that have not been keeping up with the constantly changing GPU world, it can be easy to get lost amongst the numbers that manufacturers use to push their products.
Hopefully, we have cleared up any confusion you have around the issue. You now have the knowledge to make an informed decision on what card will suit your needs the best.
If you are still a little bit lost, we recommend our top pick, the GTX 1660TI. It is the most robust card on the list and will be the card that suits most people the best.
Holly Curell is a US-based freelance writer & editor extraordinaire. With over a decade of writing technical manuals, blog articles, & even company communications, Holly has a passion for providing value to readers on everything she knows about tech-related topics. When she’s not writing, Holly enjoys reading, hiking, wine, & wandering the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Holly is currently based out of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband Ken & their three children.