Image Editors Move From Desktop to Browser
In the beginning, there was Adobe Photoshop, an industrial-strength desktop application that was followed by cheaper, more consumer-oriented photo editors such as Photoshop Elements and Corel Paint Shop Pro. But the newest image editors on the block are free browser-based services that provide the basics, and sometimes a lot more. None of them render desktop software obsolete, but they're well-integrated with photo-sharing sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa Web Albums, and you can't beat the price. Of the six in this review (presented in order of best to worst), I chose Picnik as PC World's Best Bet; FotoFlexer wasn't far behind.
A Pleasant Picnik
Picnik is our Best Bet among Web editors--and its terrific interface gets a huge share of the credit. Every feature is easy to find, and even advanced effects are simple to figure out and use. Note the grassy-green tabs along the top: Picnik is a service that takes its name seriously, and is otherwise full of personality, helping to make it fun to use.
Free Versus Fee
Picnik is the only service here that’s available in two versions: a free one and one that adds a smattering of extra features for $25 a year. The biggest omission in the freebie edition: It doesn’t have a full-screen editing mode. And if you’re sensitive to marketing messages, you might find the promotion for the fee-based Premium version a tad heavy-handed--this screen has no less than three references to it.
All of these services let you edit photos directly from third-party sites such as Flickr and Facebook, but Picnik makes it especially easy. The Flickr tools let you browse your albums, sort by criteria such as data, or even search by keyword.
Picnik's newest feature, Picnik Basket (now in beta for the service's paid version), lets you drag multiple pictures from a slick browser interface into one document, and then apply effects selectively--perfect for collages and other projects that mingle multiple images.
Power Without the Pain
FotoFlexer is the second highest-rated editor in our roundup--and it shows that an online photo fixer with tons of features doesn’t have to be a chore to use. Like Picnik, it organizes its features into horizontal tabs: Click on Effects, and you get easy access to everything from "Fresco" to "Nightvision."
They Erase Horses, Don't They?
FotoFlexer's unique Smart Resize tool lets you change the proportions of an image by selecting elements to eliminate; it's also a good way to get ride of people you don't want in your shots, such as random passers-by. Here, the horse on the left has been painted with the Remove paintbrush, preparing him for an untimely end.
And here's the image after FotoFlexer has removed the horse but done a surprisingly effective job of stitching the area around him back together.
Photoshop Express (which at this writing is in the process of being rebranded as simply Photoshop.com) doesn't look anything like any other product with "Photoshop" in its name, and it's missing some very basic features, such as the ability to add text. But the interface is nicely done: Choose an effect, and you get thumbnails--in a row at the top--that show how that effect at various settings will change your photo. Click on a thumbnail, and you instantly get a full-size preview.
Photoshop Express's most effective use of thumbnails is in the way you can use them to review every change you've ever made to a photo-—even ones applied weeks or months ago. One click takes you back to your image in any of its previous states.
Photoshop Express may be short on some standard features, but it incorporates a full-fledged photo organizer along with its editing tools--a rough equivalent of Photoshop Elements' organizing features. You can sort up to 2GB worth of pictures into public or private albums and create flashy slide shows.
If Splashup looks eerily familiar, it's because its interface is a knockoff of Photoshop's, complete with drop-down menus, toolbars, and floating palettes. That didn't, however, make it the most user-friendly: FotoFlexer, Photoshop Express, and Picnik were all easier to figure out. More impressively, Splashup is the only online editor here that implements layers in a fashion similar to Photoshop's--and that lets you open multiple documents in multiple windows at one time.
For some reason, good online help is hard to find in most online image editors. Splashup practically taunts folks looking for assistance: It's got a Help menu, but every time I tried to use the Launch Help option, it was grayed out and unavailable. (Splashup's creators have said that they are working on a new version of the service.)
Another Photoshop-esque feature in Splashup: It lets you select part of an image and apply an effect to it alone. Here, a woman in the background of a photo has been lassooed, so you can lighten her up without affecting the area around her.
Lots of Stuff, Too Many Apps
FlauntR is jam-packed with features, but it unaccountably divides them up among six subapplications, presented in a row of tabs at the top: StylR, EditR, TextR, PicasR, ProfilR, and MobilR. That makes it harder to jump among its many tools--especially because it takes the service a few seconds to move between apps.
You've Been Framed
Among FlauntR’s lengthy list of canned elements for dressing up photos is a surging sea of frames, including ones to create e-cards. (It has 16 baby-related ones alone.)
Free, But Hardly Hassle-Free
Picture2Life includes lots of features, but its impenetrable interface left it at the back of the pack in our review. There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason for the positioning of important links like "Edit this picture" in relation to the image itself.
FotoFlexer and Picnik manage to make it easy to peruse a myriad of effects. With Picture2Life, however, it’s tough to remember the difference between "Quick Fixes" and "One Clicks," and between "My Effects" and "Favorites."