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Pro: Terrific user interface makes applying layers and other advanced features easy.
Con: Some features, such as full-screen editing, are restricted to the paid version.
Picnik certainly takes its name to heart: Its sleek tabbed interface has a blue-sky background and blades of grass, and it claims to be picking blackberries, buttering sandwiches, and cueing up birdsongs as it loads. But the service's playful personality belies its serious capabilities. In fact, its free version is my top pick--even without some features available only in the $25-a-year Premium edition.
The freebie version has fewer tools than the also-impressive FotoFlexer; but more than any other editor here, it doesn't just do a lot of things--it does a lot of things well. The controls for browsing, choosing, and using the dozens of special effects are particularly slick, and they can show you an instant live preview of an effect's impact on your photo.
Picnik remembers the last image you edited and automatically loads it when you return; the service also keeps track of the last five pictures you worked on and lets you undo the changes you made to them at any time, even after you've saved them to an external photo site such as Flickr or Photobucket.
Picnik is also the only editor here that lets you print photos. And even though it's the easiest to use, it also has the best help: Brief explanations of features pop up as you need them.
As I was working on this review, I was able to try out a prerelease version of a new feature, called Picnik Baskets, that works something like FotoFlexer's layers. While not as powerful as Photoshop layers, Picnik Baskets lets you drag and stack up to five images from a nifty pop-up viewer into an editing window, where you can apply different effects to each to create a photo collage.
Those images must come from your PC or another site: Unlike the other services here, Picnik doesn't store any photos. Fortunately, however, its support for third-party photo sites is as seamless and comprehensive as that of any other contender that I tried.
The one feature Picnik denies freeloading users that I really missed is a full-screen editing mode; the service displays banner advertising, which reduces the size of the editing window. (Every other service here except Picture2Life allows full-screen editing.)
The Premium version has no ads, however; its other benefits include stylish additional fonts and Photoshop-like manual editing of image levels and curves. Premium also lifts the five-image limit on Picnik Basket documents, and lets you track back through any image you ever edited and undo any change. For heavy users, I think Premium is worth the annual $25 fee--but Picnik's service is pretty darn likable even if you don't pay a cent.
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