Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI: Which Skylum Photo Editor is Right For You?
If you’re having trouble choosing between Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI, I don’t blame you!
After all, both photo editing apps were released within almost a year of each other, sharing similar branding and features.
If you’re new to Skylum photo editors, the decision is simple – buy Luminar Neo, since it has all the latest tools and updates.
However, if you’re an existing Luminar AI user, the decision is a little harder – that’s why I’ve written this guide :-)
Let’s take a closer look at the key differences between Luminar AI and Luminar Neo so you can decide which one is right for you.
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Where to Get Luminar Neo and Luminar AI
Luminar Neo is available here for $79 (Use coupon shotkit10neo to save $10)
Luminar AI is available here for $54 (Use coupon shotkit15 to save $15)
Both photo editors offer a 30-day money-back guarantee and are available for Windows and Mac.
Skylum Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI: 5 Key Differences
When I interviewed Skylum, here’s what they had to say:
“Luminar Neo expands creativity compared to Luminar AI. Luminar Neo is completely different from previous Luminar apps.
However, it keeps your favourite Luminar AI tools and expands your arsenal with more state-of-the-art technologies and important changes at its core.
Luminar Neo improves on all previous versions of Luminar based on feedback from photo lovers all over the world. The result is a new photo editor that helps you achieve photos just as you imagined them.”
This is all well and good, but as someone who’s trying to decide between Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI, we need specifics to make a sound judgement call on which photo editing software to buy.
Let’s take a look at the 5 key differences between Luminar Neo and Luminar AI here in 2022:
1. Modular Engine: faster, less resource-intensive, easier to update
What differentiates Luminar Neo from all previous versions of Luminar is its ‘modular engine’.
‘Modules’ help to evenly distribute the load while using the various editing tools in Luminar Neo for faster image processing.
This allows you to apply lots of different tools to an image without significant performance loss, with all edits saved automatically.
Where this is most noticeable is when you’re using the various AI-powered tools in Luminar Neo, such as Sky AI and the new Relight AI tool.
The new modular engine also uses less memory (RAM) and storage space on your computer. Users with low-powered computers who were frustrated with slow performance in Luminar AI should have a better experience with Neo.
In my Luminar Neo review, I found that while the AI tools in Luminar Neo could definitely be quicker, there was a noticeable improvement in speed when compared to the same tools in Luminar AI.
Finally, a modular engine means that the new architecture of Luminar Neo is more flexible, allowing Skylum to update it more easily in the future.
In an ideal world, Luminar AI would have been built on this same modular engine, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t. To take advantage of the fastest version of the software yet, you need to buy Luminar Neo.
2. New tools to fix common problems faced by photographers
We all do our best to get the perfect picture ‘in-camera’, but sometimes, there’s something out of our control that can spoil the image.
Luminar Neo features 3 brand new tools which can help us fix these issues much faster than by using Photoshop or any other image editor.
- Relight AI – if you don’t have a flash or reflector, it’s common to have a photo that’s properly exposed for the background, while the subject (the foreground) is too dark. With the Relight AI tool, you can control the foreground and background exposures separately – artificial intelligence detects objects and human figures and recognises a 3D image space. It’s like being able to add a virtual flash, but with the light looking soft and natural-looking.
- Remove Powerlines – automatically removes any unwanted phone or power lines in your travel and landscape photos. This is similar to the clone tool in Lightroom or Photoshop, but Luminar Neo does it in just one click, as opposed to having to ‘paint’ over the lines manually to select them.
- Remove Dust Spots – get rid of dirt, sand or dust spots which appear in photos when your camera sensor or lens is dirty. This is way more common than you’d think, even with new camera gear.
The Remove Powerlines and Remove Dust Spots tools are a nice addition to Luminar Neo (and unavailable in Luminar AI).
In my opinion, the Relight AI tool is worth the price of Luminar Neo alone – without it, you’d need to carefully ‘brush’ over the subject or background using a local adjustment brush in Photoshop or Lightroom, which could take hours of fiddling to get perfect.
3. AI Masking to save time with automatic object selections
Even professional retouchers struggle with masking in post-production. ‘Masking’ involves manually selecting various elements in a photo (usually by ‘brushing’ over them with a selection tool), in order to show, hide or edit them.
The new AI Masking tool is only available in Luminar Neo and allows you to automatically create masks for various types of objects: humans, buildings, skies, vehicles, water, mountains and both man-made and natural ground.
The AI Masking tool takes a few seconds to analyse your photo, then provides you with a selection of ‘tags’ of the various objects the artificial intelligence has identified, which you can toggle on and off.
One thing’s for sure – AI Masking saves a lot of time on manual selections – when comparing Lumnar Neo vs Luminar AI, the latter only offers basic local masking (all fully manual), whereas in Luminar Neo, it’s all automatic.
This unlocks more possibilities for creators, to separate the background from the foreground, edit colours without influencing other objects in the photo, blend images, or apply a filter or a black-and-white effect to a masked object for a creative touch.
AI Masking is far from perfect, but it’s exciting to see where it’s heading. Since it’s only available in Luminar Neo, it’s a nice little bonus editing tool to have if you frequently need to perform masking, and something that Luminar AI doesn’t offer.
4. Layers Mode
While Luminar Neo isn’t a fully layer-based editing app like Photoshop, it does offer some fun ways for you to apply layers (overlays) to your images to make collages, add double exposure effects and more.
You can also use blending and masking modes on the layers, then mix them with Luminar Neo’s filters, LUTs and other AI tools to create something entirely unique.
When comparing Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI, this goes far beyond what you can do with the single-layer mode in Luminar AI. Moreover, applying a Preset or LUT does not discard previously made changes, as it does in Luminar AI.
If you’re a fan of experimenting with your images, the new Layers Mode is a lot of fun, and only available in Luminar Neo.
5. Luminar Share App
This app is unique to Luminar Neo and allows you to quickly share images between your desktop and laptop.
While Mac users may already be using AirDrop to do similar cross-device sharing, the Luminar Share App allows images to be shared directly to and from Luminar Neo, which results in fewer clicks and a smoother workflow.
This is great for Instagram, where any edited image can be quickly and easily shared from your computer to your phone. The app is only compatible with Luminar Neo, not Luminar AI.
The Future of Luminar Neo (Compared to Luminar AI)
As we’ve seen, Luminar Neo also offers several new tools and features that differentiate it from Luminar AI.
Portrait Background Removal AI is another exciting tool that’ll be added to Luminar Neo in a few weeks. This will allow you to remove the background from your photo in just one click, which promises to be a massive time saver.
Luminar Neo will also inherit features already present in Luminar AI, such as the ability to create presets, dodge & burn tools, cloning, and the radial and gradient masks.
Although there’s no official statement on this from Skylum, it’s likely that Luminar AI will eventually be retired in favour of Neo, which will inherit all future updates and existing AI features to render it redundant.
(Something similar happened with Luminar 4, which was brushed under the carpet in 2021, much to the annoyance of existing users and fans of the software – myself one of them!)
It’s clear that if you’re concerned about having the latest and greatest version with all key future updates, Luminar Neo is your best bet in 2022.
It’s clear that Luminar Neo offers several key benefits over Luminar AI.
If you’ve never purchased a Luminar app before, the decision is simple – get Luminar Neo.
You’ll benefit from the latest tools and features, plus regular updates that keep introducing new ones.
(Luminar AI will continue to be updated to fix issues, but new features will be released only to Neo.)
If you already own Luminar AI, the decision is a little harder, but I hope the above differences will help you decide whether you need to upgrade to Luminar Neo.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.