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Luminar Neo vs. Luminar AI: Which is Better For You?

Last updated: September 21, 2023 - 9 min read
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When it comes to photo editing software, Luminar NEO vs Luminar AI is a tough call. They are two of the most popular options on the market. But which one is right for you? Here’s a look at the key differences between these two programs

Luminar Neo is designed for people who want to quickly edit their photos without spending too much time on each individual adjustment. It offers a wide range of presets and filters that make it easy to improve your photos with just a few clicks

Luminar AI, on the other hand, is more geared towards professional photographers and advanced amateurs. It offers all of the same features as Luminar Neo, plus a number of additional tools that allow you to fine-tune your photos in greater detail

We Highly Recommend
Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo
Looking to compare photo editing software? Discover which program is right for you in our article comparing Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI. Find out why Luminar Neo is the better choice for photographers of all levels.

Comparing Luminar NEO Vs Luminar AI

Luminar AI and Luminar NEO are two photo editing suits from Skylum. They both harness the power of artificial intelligence with AI tools that make complicated tasks far more simple.

They both have sky replacement AI, face AI, and portrait bokeh AI. These tools simplify processes down to a few clicks of the mouse. And they save you incredible amounts of time when editing photos.

Luminar AI is the older of the two, hitting the scene in December 2020. It was the first AI-powered software of its kind. People loved the easy-to-use interface, the AI tools, and the quick-apply options.

Then in February 2022, Skylum released Luminar Neo. And it was another AI-powered photo editing software.

While Skylum promised more features in their new software, there was a lot of overlap. It featured many of the same tools and functions, though some were renamed. It was surprising to see a brand new software release rather than an update for Luminar AI.

Luminar Neo hasn’t yet reached its final form. The initial release was met with positive reviews, and not just from Expert Photography. But the first release of Luminar NEO didn’t have all the promised features. Now we’re receiving the updates and seeing the fuller picture.

You can also read our full Luminar AI and Luminar Neo review for more in-depth information on each.

Screenshot of Luminar AI templates home page

What Do Luminar AI and Luminar NEO Have in Common?

The first thing that strikes you when using Luminar NEO and Luminar AI is how similar they look. The interfaces are close to identical. You have your photo in the center, the Catalog and Edit options at the top, and the tools listed on the right side.

Uploading photos is done in the same way. However, the catalog display has been improved in Luminar Neo. It uses equally-sized thumbnails that fit neatly into rows and columns. And they both support RAW file editing, which will appeal to professional photographers.

Sky Replacement AI

One key feature in both Luminar AI and Luminar NEO is the sky replacement AI tool. The sky AI tool allows you to change the sky in your picture with one click of your mouse. It evaluates the image and applies the sky you select in the correct space.

The sky replacement AI was impressive in Luminar AI. At least at first inspection. It worked well if there was a clear line between the sky and the features below. But if the area wasn’t clearly defined, the tool struggled.

Photo of people in a field near the sea loaded into Luminar AI

The example photo has a clear horizon line. But the sea and the sky are similar colors on the left side of the image. And this is where the sky AI tool in Luminar AI encountered issues.

In the photo below, you can see some overlap between the sky and sea after applying a new sky. The AI isn’t sure where the sky ends and the sea begins.

Photo of people in a field near the sea but the sky has been replaced

We encountered fewer problems and more accuracy with the sky replacement AI tool in Luminar Neo. And the collection of skies you can choose from has increased.

Templates vs. Presets

The templates were one of the flagship features in Luminar AI. They’re filters you can apply to any photo instantly. Select a photo, and the AI recommends templates suited to that kind of image.

The templates are an excellent way to change the mood or atmosphere of your photos. You don’t need to make adjustments to different tools or filters. You simply select a template from the recommended list and it’s done.

Man standing in a kitchen with the cosy refuge template applied

Seeing as the templates were a headline feature in Luminar AI, some were surprised not to see them in Luminar Neo. But it didn’t take long to realize that “templates” in AI were renamed “presets” in Neo.

The presets in Luminar NEO work in much the same way. The AI evaluates your photo and recommends presets from their library. Then you apply the preset of your choice with one click of your mouse.

Other than the renaming, not much has changed. At the moment, you can’t create presets on Luminar Neo. But Skylum has informed us that this will become a feature at a later date.

Face AI

The face AI tools in Luminar NEO and Luminar AI are very similar. They have the same adjustment options and they both have the same slide bar operation. You can make the eyes bigger and brighter, and you can even change the color.

You can also enhance the lips, making them redder and more pronounced. The face AI is an excellent tool for improving portraits. We were impressed with the face AI in Neo and Luminar AI.

The two programs also feature the portrait bokeh AI and we were pleased with the results from both.

Screenshot of Luminar Neo Face AI

What Are The Main Differences?

The Core Engine

You might think the new features are the big difference between Luminar NEO and Luminar AI. But it’s the new core engine that lies at the heart of the Luminar NEO vs. Luminar AI debate.

The AI tools in Luminar AI were impressive. But Luminar AI users complained of performance issues. It would run slowly and become glitchy and unresponsive if you applied more than one effect. We encountered these problems too.

We believe this was a fundamental problem for Luminar AI. Skylum knew they couldn’t solve this issue with updates. They needed something new.

Luminar Neo has a modular core engine. That means each editing area has a separate processor, improving performance for photo editors.

The modular engine in Luminar NEO isn’t just a gimmick. Luminar NEO runs smoothly and applies all changes at lightning speed. We haven’t encountered any of the running issues found in Luminar AI, but it has slowed down slightly with each update.

Screenshot of Luminar Neo interface

Power Line Removal AI

Any photo editor knows the pain of removing power lines manually. It’s painful and time-consuming, but Luminar NEO has the tool to save you hours of tedious work.

The Power line removal is genuinely impressive. You’ll find it in the Erase tool drop-down menu. And you have the option to remove power lines as well as dust spots. Photo editors will love this fast and accurate AI tool.

Mask AI

The mask AI tool is another feature you’ll only find in Luminar Neo. It also has radial and linear masking options and a brush tool for local adjustments. But the AI masking is something completely new.

The mask AI evaluates your image and identifies the elements within it. It identifies eight different categories. They are human, water, flora, transport, architecture, sky, natural ground, and man-made ground.

You select the element you want to change, and it will highlight it in red. Then you make the adjustments you want. The masking option is available for many tools including structure AI, enhance AI, and augmented sky AI.

Picture of a French church with man-made areas highlighted in red


You have some layer options in Luminar AI. But Luminar NEO takes layering to a whole new level, giving you more options for creative image manipulation.

Neo gives you a library of layers you can add to your images. But the library options are more like adjustable filters. The main improvement is the ability to add additional layers by importing PNG and JPEG files.

The layer controls are what separate Luminar NEO from Luminar AI. These controls are totally new. And photo editors and digital artists alike will love using the layers and its straightforward user interface.

Luminar Neo vs. Luminar AI: The Verdict

There are two questions we set out to answer. Which is better? And which is better for you? But when it comes to Luminar NEO vs. Luminar AI, the answer to the first question makes the second question pointless.

Luminar Neo is the better of the two programs. Luminar AI is cheaper and Luminar NEO is not yet complete, with updates still on the way. But everything Luminar AI does, Neo does better. And it does a whole lot more.

The first thing to mention is the core engine. Neo’s modular engine removes most of the running issues that frustrated AI users. Luminar NEO runs like a dream in comparison.

The templates were a popular part of Luminar AI. And Neo now has the presets, which are just as good. The AI tools, like face and bokeh AI, work well in both Luminar programs. But the Neo version encounters fewer hiccups.

As the updates come in for Luminar Neo, the lead grows larger. We’re still waiting for the portrait background removal. But the mask AI and layers give Luminar NEO an even broader appeal. It’s perfect for photographers of all levels, social media creators, and digital artists.

In the Luminar Neo vs. Luminar AI debate, there’s only one winner. Luminar Neo takes top prize as the best AI-powered photo editing software.

We Highly Recommend
Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo
Looking to compare photo editing software? Discover which program is right for you in our article comparing Luminar Neo vs Luminar AI. Find out why Luminar Neo is the better choice for photographers of all levels.