Updated: Nov 8, 2020
"Magicians never give away their secrets!". Well, I am NOT a magician, nor is any of this secret. Graphic design has been a passion of mine since the 80s with the Commodore64. No joke. I actually all started with "Leo's 'Lectric Paintbrush" and the PowerPad
The older I got, the more software and training I invested in. And today, I sit in front of my Mac using a various tools to achieve the results I want. It's a large investment in time and money (recurring software fees or subscriptions), but it's something I love.
Photoshop: The king of kings - for the most part. Advanced options with layers, better editing tools (well, more editing tools), better content-aware tools (it knows what a dog is, and will only select the dog), and super advanced healing tools.
Pixelmator Pro: Speed-demon (because it uses the Mac's native Metal framework), a better quick selection tool, really good machine learning, and - I love it's healing brush more than any other tool - even though I just bragged about Photoshop's healing tool.
Luminar: There's a love/hate relationship with Skylum (the makers of Luminar). Some people love the product, some people hate that they seem to abandon previous versions of its software. But they do offer a solid photo editing product, with REALLY SMART tools, it's moderately fast and is generally the first place I start. I can't stand it's healing tool and how it's implemented - it's not the best and there is an odd logic behind how it works.
Affinity Designer: This is more for vector design, even though you can switch to a normal "drawing mode". I use this mostly for my Cricut cutting machine. The tool is fast, and excels on an iPad with the Apple Pencil. I export my SVG files here, but sometimes the Cricut Design Space doesn't like what I import, so I need to touch things up in Photoshop and re-export.
And with all of these tools comes the need for training (both free and paid for), memberships if you wish, 3rd party plug-ins, certifications, etc. You also end up developing a "workflow". I don't use 1 tool - I use all of them for different purposes, and there's an order in which I use them. It's not for everyone, but I like it!