The best video editing software: paid and free

Whatever your budget and level of experience, we've found the best video editor for you – if you're making a whole movie or just need to trim a single clip.

There are superb free video editors available (and you'll find them on the second page), but we've started by rounding up the finest premium editing software on the market right now.

Opting for a paid product will get you high-end extras like 360-degree video support, motion tracking and multi-cam editing, but that's just the start. The extra resources available to commercial projects help to refine the entire package, often bringing more accurate and configurable effects, an enhanced interface and a faster rendering engine.

If you're a total beginner, there are affordable video editors that will make the whole process as easy as possible, with automated tools that will optimize and transform your clips with just a couple of clicks. These user-friendly editors offer a gentle introduction to video editing, so you'll learn the basics and be able to make the step up to a more advanced program when you're ready.

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Adobe Premiere Pro

For our money, Adobe Premiere Pro is the best video editor around. It’s powerful, highly customizable, and a great deal as part of a Creative Cloud subscription

Adobe Premiere Pro is an industry-standard video editor and getting the most from it will require an investment of time as well as cash, but if you’re serious about video then it’s well worth the effort.

Premiere Pro's interface (based around panels and a timeline) is often aped but rarely bettered. Unlike other apps, however, Premiere Pro is highly customizable. Once you've mastered the basics, you can tailor the interface to suit your own workflow.

Whereas previous versions of Adobe Premiere Pro required users to switch to different apps for some parts of post production, the latest edition tucks everything into one neat interface, including captions and audio editing.

It's hard to do justice to all of Premiere Pro's features, but there's a vast assortment of stackable audio and video filters, support for 360-degree and VR video, native support for a huge number of raw file formats, and the ability to work collaboratively with others. You can even start editing your videos before they've finished importing. 

Adobe Premiere Pro is available as an individual subscription, or as part of the Creative Cloud suite (a better investment if you want more than one of Adobe's apps). If you join CC, you'll benefit from easy transferring of project files and other resources between Adobe apps like After Effects.

This kind of power doesn't come cheap and the monthly or annual subscription fee adds up, but the lack of a large initial outlay makes Premiere Pro surprisingly accessible. It's worth downloading a trial of the other video editors here before making a decision, but Premiere Pro is extremely versatile and the cloud-based model means you won't have to pay for upgrades as they're released.

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Apple Final Cut Pro X

If you own a Mac, Final Cut Pro X is hard to beat. Its trackless timeline is unusual, but works brilliantly

Final Cut Pro X (also known as Final Cut Pro – Apple uses the two interchangeably) is Apple's premium video editor, and it's every bit as polished as you'd expect. It's also exclusively for macOS, so Windows users will need to look elsewhere.

This is a video editor aimed squarely at the professional end of the market, but it's not needlessly complicated. Its interface is a little different to most, and is built around a 'trackless' timeline that encourages you to organize elements into specific 'roles', such as voiceover, music and titles. It's a clever design and works well in practice.

If you're looking for a video editor to pair with your drone, Final Cut Pro is an excellent choice. It supports raw video from all the major makes and models, and is regularly updated with additional profiles. It also supports 360-degree video editing (fast becoming mandatory for premium video editing software) and HDR, with advanced color grading.

Rather than adopt a subscription model like Adobe, Apple has chosen to make Final Cut Pro available for a one-off flat fee. It's relatively expensive, but includes all major updates and will work out cheaper than Premiere Pro if you keep using it over a couple of years. If you own a Mac and are torn between Apple and Adobe, we recommend taking the free trials of both for a spin before making up your mind.

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CyberLink PowerDirector 16

If you need an affordable video editor, CyberLink PowerDirector 16 is well worth a look. It neatly bridges the gap between beginner and expert, with a choice of interfaces

If Adobe Premiere Elements and Apple Final Cut Pro X are overkill for your video editing projects, take a look at CyberLink PowerDirector.

Although PowerDirector is a premium, feature-packed video editor, it's also very forgiving, and offers a gentle introduction to post production that won't faze complete beginners. The Magic Movie Wizard is the ultimate example, paring the task of combining and optimizing videos down to a few clicks. You'll achieve better results by spending a while in the timeline editor, but for anyone who just wants to quickly piece something together to publish on Facebook, it's ideal.

That's not to say that CyberLink PowerDirector is dumbed down, though; far from it. The software also offers a standard post production interface based around control panels and a timeline. It sometimes takes a little while to drill down to the finer controls, but every filter and option is extremely flexible once you start exploring.

Perhaps most impressive of all, CyberLink PowerDirector makes video editing fun. If you're relatively new to post production but want something more flexible than free software, PowerDirector is the tool for you.

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HitFilm Pro screen grab

For post-production special effects, you can’t beat HitFilm. It’s hugely popular with fanfilm creators

HitFilm Pro is a premium video editor that's a firm favourite with fanfilm makers – and with good reason. It's packed with tools for creating stunning special effects, but is accessible enough for home users.

One of HitFilm Pro's biggest selling points is the ability to tackle pretty much every aspect of video post-production within the editor. Animations, titles, audio editing and color grading are all accessible with a couple of clicks, but the interface is intuitively designed and never feels cluttered.

Effects can be queued, and drilling down through the software's advanced options is a straightforward process.

Unlike the other video editors in this roundup, HitFilm Pro supports importing and animating of custom 3D models, complete with simulated 3D cameras, custom shadows and dynamic lighting. There are also impressive particle effects, and superb chroma-keying to minimize annoying spill.

HitFilm Pro will be overkill for beginners, but if you have a creative filmmaking project in mind then it's a fantastic choice.

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Adobe Premiere Elements 2018

For true beginners, Adobe Premiere Elements offers the most gentle introduction to video editing

Of all the premium video editors in this roundup, Adobe Premiere Elements is the most beginner-oriented. It's designed to make video editing as easy as possible, and even its Expert interface is extremely straightforward.

Unlike Adobe's premium software (like Premiere Pro), Premiere Elements is only available as a one-off purchase, so you aren't committed to paying a monthly fee to keep using it. It's also one of the most affordable video editors around, which is impressive for a huge name like Adobe.

You can create your own video project from scratch using a timeline, or choose one of Adobe Premiere Elements' templates: Video Story (based around a life event like a wedding or birthday), Instant Movie (a combination of video clips with a style of your choice) and Video Collage (a fun combination of still photos and videos).

Some video editors assume a certain degree of familiarity before you begin, but Premiere Elements is ideal even for total beginners. Its interface features large buttons, clearly labelled. There are also some excellent tutorials included to help bridge the gap between creating a video using wizards and using the more traditional multi-track timeline.

Our main reservation about Adobe Premiere Elements is that you might grow out of it quite quickly. It's a brilliant tool for total first-timers, but there's a huge gap between this and Adobe Premiere Pro. If you want to work up to more advanced video editing, a tool like CyberLink PowerDirector will make the transition easier.

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The best free video editing software

If you're not ready for invest in a premium video editor, there's also superb video editing software that's yours to download and use completely free.

If you just want to cut a clip to size or add a new soundtrack, there are lightweight editors that will help you get the job done in seconds, and export the video in a format suitable for uploading online, or playing on any desktop or mobile device.

Alternatively, if you're looking for more advanced tools like chroma keying and color grading, there are also advanced programs that offer everything you'd expect to find in premium software – except the price tag.

Not all free videos editors are created equal. Some prevent you exporting projects longer than a couple of minutes, offer a very small selection of editing tools, or add unsightly watermarks to your finished work. Here we've rounded up only the software that delivers on its promises, making video editing easy and fun, with no compromises. 

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Lightworks

Lightworks is the most powerful free video editor around. It’s much more than just a replacement for Windows Movie Maker, and can help you achieve professional results at home

Lightworks is an incredible tool that's published free with the noble aim of making professional quality video editing software available to everyone.

Lightworks is far more than a simple application for combining video clips and applying filters; it's been used to produce Hollywood movies including The King's Speech and Road to Perdition.

As you would expect for such a powerful video editor, you won't be able to master it overnight, but that's certainly not something you could hold against it.

Lightworks is described as the professional video editor for everyone, and we reckon that's a fair summary. Despite its power, it will run well on fairly modest hardware, and it handles video capture and advanced editing with aplomb.

If you've tried other free video editors you'll probably find that the interface is a little different to anything you're used to, but you can arrange the various controls and windows to create something that suits your way of working.

The free license has everything you need to make amazing videos, but TechRadar readers can also get 40% off a monthly Lightworks Pro license using the special discount code TECHRADAR_LW_PRO_MONTH_2018. Lightworks Pro adds the ability to export in formats other than MPEG, publish 4K video directly to YouTube, and export 3D videos. Find out how to use your discount voucher.

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Hitfilm Express

Hitfilm Express is a very powerful free video editor, and can be expanded with premium extensions if your needs outgrow its standard features

Hitfilm Express is another video editor that promises pro-level features for free – and it delivers. The basic editor is very impressive, with advanced cutting tools, a great set of audio and video filters, layers and masking, compositing options, and chroma keying for creating green screen effects.

Additional tools are available for a fee, starting at £8.85 (about US$10, AU$15) for a pack featuring color-correction, exposure adjustment, split screen masking, and various creative filters.

The downside of all this power is that Hitfilm Express is much more demanding than either Lightworks or Shotcut, which is the main reason it's dropped to third place. Make sure you check the technical requirements before downloading it to avoid disappointment.

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DaVinci Resolve screen grab

Like Lightworks, DaVinci Resolve is used for professional TV and movie post-production

DaVinci Resolve is a free version of a premium video editing suite, but as with Lightworks, it's so feature-packed you probably won't miss the few tools it lacks.

DaVinci Resolve is a professional-grade video editor, with intuitive interfaces for editing, color correction, audio mastering and exporting. There's the usual multi-track timeline for arranging video and audio clips, plus context-sensitive trimming, and a vast collection of filters and effects.

Color correction is one of DaVinci Resolve's standout features, whether you want to adjust a whole video or just a selected part. There's HDR support, and you can work on raw files directly from your camera.

A few of the filters are exclusive to the premium DaVinci Resolve Studio, and there's a maximum export resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, but those are the only limitations. It's overkill if you just want to trim a video and upload it to YouTube, but for bigger projects DaVinci Resolve is hard to beat.

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Shotcut

Shotcut is a superb free video editor that lets you layer filters and effects on top of one another, and adjust each one individually

Shotcut is another professional-feeling free video editor that requires a little patience if you are achieve the results it is so capable of delivering. The slightly unusual interface can be put down to the fact that this started life as a Linux application, and little has changed in its conversion to Windows.

To start with, the interface may seem a little stark. You will need to not only load a video, but also choose which editing mode you would like to work in and which tools you'd like to use.

There's no getting away from the fact that Shotcut has a steep learning curve. It's possible to achieve some impressive results by simply applying one of its many filters to your video, but the real rewards will only be reaped by those willing to invest the time and energy in fully getting to grips with what's on offer.

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VSDC Free Video Editor

VSDC Free Video Editor is wonderfully flexible, giving you full control over the clips, photos and audio files you’ve pieced together to make your project

VSDC Free Video Editor provides a huge array of effects and filters to enhance your footage, with both wizards and manual options to suit beginners or more advanced users.

VSDC is highly capable, and can yield superb results. As a non-linear editor, it works in rather a different way to many other similar tools, letting you position  clips and other elements on the timeline wherever you like and edit them there.

With the ability to not only work with multiple scenes and transitions, but also to add sprites and text to videos, you can create a professional-quality movie if you're willing to stick with VSDC's slightly odd way of working and unusual interface.

The latest version of VSDC adds extra artistic effects, including smoke. There's also a dedicated Instagram export profile and automatic image stabilization. It's noticeably faster, too. An excellent choice for creative video projects.

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