Free Photo Filters
iPhone users--and people who know iPhone users--know that Instagram is a cool photo app that lets you apply retro-style filters to your pictures and share them on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, if you want to use Instagram, you'll need an iPhone or other iOS device--you can't use it on Android or even on your PC.
But that doesn't mean you have to go out and buy an iOS device just to get cool filterized photos. Here are five free websites that will let you get the same type of effects.
Pixlr-o-matic is one of the most true-to-Instagram services I've seen. It's not a photo editor--you can't use it to crop, rotate, or resize your photos--but it does let you add cool retro-style filters, textures, and frames to your pics.
To use Pixlr-o-matic, first upload a picture from your computer. If you don't have a good photo, you can take a photo with your webcam or use one of Pixlr's stock photos (if you just want to play around). Pixlr-o-matic has 26 filters, 30 textures, and 31 frames for you to choose from. With each photo, you can use one filter, one texture, and one frame.
Pixlr-o-matic: Bay Bridge
This is a stock photo of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. To get this look, I used the filter "Hagrid," the texture "Focal," and the frame "Sloppy." The Hagrid filter darkens the photo and makes it grainier, while the Focal texture washes out the center and adds scratches across the face of the photo.
This is a webcam photo of me. To get this look, I used the filter "Harry," the texture "Morning," and the frame "Rustic." The "Harry" filter puts the photo in Sepia tone and makes the photo grainier, while the "Morning" texture washes the photo out slightly and gives it a pinkish tint.
Pixlr-o-matic is the closest to Instagram you're going to get on a PC, in my opinion. It has the retro filters, textures, and frames, you just need to use three steps instead of one. Plus, it's got a user-friendly slider for choosing which effects you want to put on your photos.
Picplz is another Instagram-like app for iOS, Android, and your PC. Unlike Instagram, Picplz has a browser app. Though it only has only 12 filters (and no frames), Picplz makes a nice alternative to Instagram if you're looking for a quick and dirty way to filterize your photos and share them with your social networks.
Picplz is very simple to use. First, sign in with Facebook or connect with Twitter. Next, upload a photo from your computer--there are no editing options, so you can't resize, rotate, or crop your image. Then pick a filter, add a caption, and post the creation to your Facebook page or Twitter account.
Picplz: Palm Tree
This is a picture of a palm tree in Acapulco, Mexico. To get this effect, I used Picplz's "Russian Toy Camera" filter. Russian Toy Camera vignettes the image on the outer edges and darkens the colors of the photo.
Picplz: Colorful Wall
This is a picture of a wall in San Jose, California. To get the altered effect, I used Picplz's "C-41" filter. C-41 gives the look of a picture that has undergone the C-41 chromogenic color print film developing process.
Though Picplz is a lot like Instagram, it's not quite as full-featured. But Picplz makes it easy to share your photo creations with your Facebook and Twitter fans. In fact, sharing may be too much of a focus here: You can't save finished photos to your computer; your only option is to share them with friends.
Phixr is a photo editor with numerous capabilities. It lets you manipulate your photos--crop them, rotate them, resize them, or even use them to make photo collages with multiple photos--as well as add filters to them.
Getting started with Phixr isn't hard, and you don't have to set up a Phixr account to use the service. Just agree to to the service's terms, and you can upload a photo right away--from your computer or from another service (such as Facebook, Flickr, or Picasa). If your photo is too large, Phixr will offer you the option of shrinking it or cropping it.
This photo of two macaws was taken at Safari West, a wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa, California. To get the results shown, I started by cropping the photo, increasing the exposure (in Color Adjustments) to 25 percent, and increasing the saturation (in Color Adjustments) to 150 percent. Then I applied the "Lomo" effect (in Camera & Lens Effects) and finished by using "Make Instant Photo," with a rotation angle of 10 degrees, to get the Polaroid look.
Phixr: Little Girls
This is a photo of two little girls playing with Barbie dolls. Okay, it's actually a very old photo of me and my friend Lisa.
To get this effect, I first cropped the photo and I increased the contrast to 10 (in the Color Adjustments menu). After that, I tried to get rid of the film grain by using "Remove Noise" (2, Strong). Next, I applied the Duo Tone filter in blue and orange, and then I applied the "Grunge 4" texture to the photo.
Phixr has a lot of different camera and lens effects, color effects, textures, frames, and other options. It can be somewhat hard to use, however: The interface is a bit cluttered, and you make each change in a tiny pop-up window. Scrolling through filters one line at a time gets tiring.
Picnik is a full-featured, in-browser photo editor with a clean, easy-to-use interface. Picnik's basic services are free, but if you like you can purchase the premium version for $25 per year. Because Picnik is a photo editor, you can use it to rotate, resize, crop, and adjust the color/contrast/exposure of your images. Picnik also has a number of fun filters, textures, and frames--including 30 free filters and 7 premium filters.
Before you can get started using Picnik, you have to create an account. Luckily, it's a quick and painless process; and once you're done, you can start uploading photos right away. Picnik lets its free users upload up to five photos at a time (premium users can upload up to 100 photos at a time). You can also import photos from other sites, such as Photobucket, Picasa, and Flickr.
This photo of a giraffe was taken at Safari West in Santa Rosa, California. To get this effect, I cropped the photo, increased the saturation to 50 (Edit, Colors, Saturation), and increased the contrast to 15 (Edit, Exposure, Contrast). Then I went to the "Create" menu and applied the Vignette filter (Create, Effects, Vignette). I also applied one of the "Final Shuttle Launch Space" textures (Create, Featured, Space Textures, #11), using Overlay mode with 0 percent fade.
Picnik: Arizona Highway 87
This photo was taken on Arizona Highway 87. To get this result, I started by increasing the saturation to 15 (Edit, Colors, Saturation) and the contrast to 100 (Edit, Exposure, Contrast). Next, I went to the Create menu and applied the "Focal Soften" filter (Create, Effects, Focal Soften), adjusting blur to 30 percent, focal size to 75 percent, edge hardness to 25 percent, and fade to 20 percent. I also added the "Vignette" filter with default settings and added the "Rounded Edges" frame.
Picnik is an excellent choice if you don't already have a go-to photo-editing program such as Adobe Photoshop or GIMP. Picnik's premium features are interesting, but they're not necessarily worth $25 a year--unless you happen to be doing a lot of actual photo editing. The premium features include various touch-up options, such as dodging and burning on photos, using a clone stamp, and airbrushing. If you just want to add filters and the like, you'll be fine with the free version.
Lo-Fi isn't free and it isn't browser-based, but it's still kind of fun. A downloadable desktop program for both PC and Mac, Lo-Fi mimics a digital camera. The program is similar to Instagram and Pixlr-o-matic, in that it features different filters, textures, and frames. Lo-Fi lets you save your edited photos on your hard drive or share them on Facebook and Twitter.
Getting started with Lo-Fi is easy, and you don't have to shell out $15 right away--Lo-Fi offers a seven-day trial, with no credit card necessary. (The trial includes all options, and even lets you save your photos without a watermark.)
Lo-Fi's interface looks like a camera. On the left you'll see the photo you're working on (where the screen would be on a regular digital camera), and on the right you'll see the available filters, textures, and frames. One cool feature of Lo-Fi is the ability to add a second photo on top of the first to create a double-exposure effect.
This photo is a headshot of my husband, Ron. To get this effect, I first applied the filter (called the "Film") "Bypass," which desaturates and overexposes the photo. Next, I applied the texture (called the "Mood") "Gritty," which adds noise and film grain to the photo. Finally, I added the frame "Film Code," which introduces an old-school film code strip along the side, and also vignettes the photo slightly.
Lo-Fi: Yellow Frog
This photo of a yellow frog was taken in Medellin, Colombia. To get this effect, I first applied the filter "Ultra Contrast," which adds lots of contrast to the photo. Next, I applied the texture "Dreamy," which adds a soft, halo effect. Finally, I applied the frame "Crumpled," which adds scratches to the picture and a crumpled paper frame around the edges.
Lo-Fi is a good desktop alternative to Instagram, though its $15 price tag will discourage some prospective users. It's fun to play around with, though you can get essentially the same effects with the (free) Pixlr-o-matic.
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