The photo above shows that Luminar is a great photo editing solution. It is fast and has AI-driven image enhancements for pros and amateurs alike. Luminar 3.1.0 or Luminar Flex? What is the difference anyway?

Standalone version or plugin?

The biggest difference between these two amazing photo editing packages is that Luminar 3.1.0 is a standalone product while Luminar Flex is a plugin for other photo editing programs. Luminar Flex is tested and works in Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, Apple Aperture and Mac Photos. Luminar 3.1.0 doesn’t need a separate program host as it is a complete editing and management program.

Library vs. no library

Another big difference is Luminar 3.1.0 has a library feature that acts as a digital asset manager, think catalog, to store and handle your photographs, RAW or not. Luminar Flex works on a photograph that is already open in a separate application.

To batch or not to batch

Luminar 3.1.0 handles batch processing of a folder or group of photographs. This makes it easy to apply Luminar looks based on Accent AI 2.0 to multiple photos for automatic image adjustments and enhancements.

Luminar Flex is a single photo at-a-time editor.

Quick Edit

Additionally, Luminar has a Quick Edit mode that allows a photographer to open one or several images at the same time for editing without first adding them to the Luminar Library, unlike Lightroom where photos must be imported before editing.

Accent AI 2.0

The new improved face-aware artificial intelligence in Accent AI 2.0 gives extra color and exposure boosts without affecting skin tones. This is a great place to start before exploring clarity, vibrance and saturation sliders. Accent AI 2.0 also features a slider for controlling the amount of the filter. Multiple Accent AI 2.0 layers may be added. This is a Luminar 3.1.0 feature that will be coming to a future update of Luminar Flex.

Smart Objects

Edit in Photoshop as Smart Object
Creating a Smart Object for Luminar Flex in Photoshop.

Lightroom Classic can hand off a file to Photoshop as a Smart Object by highlighting a photo then right click. Choose Edit In > Open as Smart Object in Photoshop.

Smart Objects are completely editable layers in Photoshop that can always be reverted to the original. There’s a lot more to it and that’s the nutshell version. I use Smart Objects all the time because often, my clients, change their minds. I do too, sometimes. Smart Objects let me revisit an edit and modify it. Luminar Flex supports a Smart Object workflow because it works inside of Photoshop. Luminar 3.1.0 is a standalone package. It does not support Smart Objects.


Here is some confusion. Luminar 3.1.0 can be used as a plugin in other applications at this time. Luminar Flex can work as a standalone as well at this time. “At this time” is the key. The roadmap for these two programs means that Luminar 3.1.0 will ultimately not install as a plugin while Luminar Flex will stop working as a standalone. (Tip: Luminar Flex does batch processing when launched as a standalone app. Remember that this functionality is only temporary. Future versions of Flex will only run as a plugin.)

Luminar 3 as a plugin

Currently, Luminar 3.1.0 can be installed as a plugin. It functions the same way as Luminar Flex.

Luminar Flex is the choice for plugin

Luminar Flex with task based workspaces
Workspaces for tasks speeds up workflow.

Luminar Flex offers several long-term advantages as a plugin than does Luminar 3.1.0 in its current form:

  • More support for host applications
  • The interface is sleeker with no tabs for Info or Library
  • Optimization for running as a plugin
  • Improved support for Smart Objects and Actions in Photoshop
  • Comes with an improved installer
  • Updated install path for better compatibility with Adobe apps
  • Support for Photoshop Elements in Windows
  • New Luminar Looks
  • New workspaces perfect for speeding workflow
    • Image Aware
    • Relight & Color
    • Intensify
    • Drone & Aerial
    • Film Lab
    • Black & White
    • Portrait
    • Expert

Luminar 3.1.0 and Luminar Flex are available now.