We are not discussing the case of the photographer with a large number of images to touch up at once - in his/her case, a desktop application would clearly be better. We are specifically focusing on the workflow where, a few times a day, you need to upload quickly an image to a web page or a social site, for posting or blogging purposes. In fact, we probably would have grounds to call these editors online social image editors:-)
What makes a good online image editor for posting or blogging
- Speed: in some ways the most important factor. If you are posting often, it is critical for your everyday editor to be fast and well integrated into your workflow, for all of its uses.
- Resize ability: in most cases the image you are using does not fit exactly the format you need. You typically need to resize the image, and to store it in as small a file as possible so as to make your page load fast
- Crop ability: many images need cropping before they can be used exactly for the purpose you want them.
- Rounded corners: for this web 2.0 look :-)
- Watermark: if you need to keep your pics exclusive. We also like the watermark for attribution (to the 3rd party who took the picture). If you need both uses, then being able to watermark in 2 different places, and/or with 2 different font sizes/ fonts, is important.
- Touch-up ability in general: probably the least important aspect unless you are publishing on a photo-focused site
- Integration with the appropriate social networks and sites, where it is possible to directly upload to and from the site where the image resides or will reside.
The past two years have seen an explosion in the number of online photo editors available, and the quality of some of these offerings is simply amazing. There are few comparative reviews available because standard media typically look at purchased software rather than web apps - but numerous reviews may be found among the modern media, such as Life Hacker, Mashable and Tech Crunch. As for user reviews and lists, they are innumerable. In fact, the abundance of material, both in quotes and reviews, and in offerings, is such that it is somewhat overwhelming.
However, most reviews look at these editors from the point of view of functionality, and few do so from the point of view of speed and workflow (those who worry about workflow are typically professional photographers who need desktop applications and whose needs are totally different). In the present review, we look for speed and short learning curve as essential parameters - our ratings are therefore quite different from the usual evaluations. We used the enormous resources available to identify the most likely candidates, read hundreds of individual reviews, evaluations and discussion threads, then tried every single one of the promising candidates before meta-ranking them.
What you need to know about online image editors
- Technology: there are two primary categories - Flash-based editors and HTML-based editors. Flash-based editors provide an amazing look-and-feel, and their behavior can be remarkably polished. They are the ultimate web2.0 tools. But - they are slow to load, often more than 15 seconds (because there is so much Flash to download). It is not a problem when you are getting ready to have a 15 minute session on a complex photo-montage, but it is an extreme penalty if you need to process and upload a picture at a time a few times a day. HTML editors are in general less polished, not as able, and harder to learn, but much faster.
- Classes of applications: these online image editors can be broadly divided in three groups, high-power photo editors (near or at Photoshop level), capable image editors (the best of which exceed the needs of most users), and image processing utilities, sometimes focused on specific processing needs, such as crop, resize, or watermark.
What did not work for us
Specialized utilities, as a class, did not carry enough power for what we needed to do, and none of them made it to the top, with one exception at the end of this review:-) Many image editors, such as Flauntr or Snipshot, also did not make the cut simply because they were missing some of the capabilities we needed.
We were excited about the high-power photo editors, but quickly realized that, despite the review buzz they were carrying, their learning curve and more complex workflow were simply too heavy a price to pay when you need to do a very quick, almost standard processing for most of your imaging needs. Included in this set were Phoenix, Splashup, Pixlr, and Photoshop.com. While they were sometimes amazingly powerful, their usability, workflow and learning curve were such that we considered them inappropriate for the job - just overqualified.
We also found that a large set of image editors, while perfectly good for many uses, simply were not fitting well in the specific workflow we had for them: a quick in-an-out job with a few requirements, but requirements that must be met fast and efficiently. Sumopaint's workflow did not quite work for us and the capabilities were not easy enough to access, or simply not available. We really liked Picture2life, but we had several problems with image editing, and could not get it to work exactly as needed. DrPic had a simple but clean interface with multiple image editing tools, and could do well for many simple editing purposes, but resizing speed, rounded corners capabilities, watermark availability were not what we were looking for. Lunapic was a similar story, where scaling was imprecise, too many new page requests were issued, watermark transparency was not straightforward, and rounded borders were not easy to achieve.
The 4 best fast online image editors for posting or blogging
- #4 Phixr is a fast, HTML-based photo editor with all the capabilities needed to do what we need to do. Usability is not perfect. JPG storage quality is determined at download time when selecting JPG as an output format. Resizing is done through the Scale icon, while watermark is found under the Text icon. Rounding corners is a specific Round icon that is accessed by clicking on the "more" link under the standard left-side icons. Phixr integrates with Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Smugmug, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums, Twitter, Webshots, Webs, LiveJournal, ImageShack, Fotopic, Photolog, and Buzznet. If we were evaluating the editor independently of our specific speed and functionality needs, it would be rated much lower. As it is, all in all, it is a solid, but not always pretty, package that does the job quickly and efficiently.
- #3 Fotoflexer is a spectacular Flash-based editor, with amazing usability and a very fast learning curve. It is beautiful, powerful, and simple to use. Cropping and resizing are on the Basic tab, while rounded corners are found under Borders in the Decorate tab. Watermarks can be found in the Text tool, also under the Decorate tab. Fotoflexer can upload directly to/from Facebook, Smugmug, Flickr, Myspace, Photobucket, and Picasa Web Albums. Fotoflexer only has three issues: it takes 20 seconds to load on a standard broadband connection, does not allow you to control JPG quality, and its watermarks defaults are not ideal, resulting in some time lost. It is a spectacular application, penalized by the load time delay.
- #2 Picnik is a fantastik Flash-based online image editor, now owned by Google. It is so web2.0! Its ease of use for the capabilities it has is unmatched, and simply remarkable. It gives you enormous power as to what you do and how you do it. Resize is in the Edit Tab, while watermarks (under Text) and rounded corners (under Frames) are in the Create Tab. It integrates with Facebook, Webshots, Webs, Flickr, Myspace, Photobucket, Twitter, and Picasa Web Albums. The only issue: bringing up Picnik takes 15 seconds on a standard broadband connection (although less the second time around). In the end, it does the job perfectly - and more - but we penalized the time delay.
- #1 Pixenate is a fast, lightweight HTML-based image editor with all the capabilities we need. It is truly fast! Its default corner rounding is very web2.0 looking, saving more time in the process. It gives enough flexibility in watermark options (transparency, colors, location), and allows for multiple watermarks (i.e. yours plus attribution if needed). It integrates with Flickr. Pixenate has two weaknesses: it does not allow you to select JPG quality, and it does not integrate with many sites.While it does not compare to Fotoflexer and Picnik in polish and power, it does pretty much everything we need to do, and it does it faster. It is the best fast online image editor for posting or blogging!
However, we do need to comment on this ranking. There is an radical difference in polish, capabilities, usability and class between the two Flash-based editors on one side, and the two HTML-based editors on the other side. It is only because of our very strong emphasis on speed that Pixenate could be ahead of Picnik and Fotoflexer. Furthermore, if your needs are any different from the ones we listed as critical criteria, they would very possibly put Picnik, and possibly Fotoflexer, ahead of Pixenate. We had a hard time ranking Picnik only #2... Picnik and Fotoflexer are simply two outstanding web applications, with very quick learning curve, extraordinary usability, and amazing capabilities.
There is one small online utility that we think is worth mentioning. If you are desperate for loading speed for your blog or web page, PunyPNG, a great online application from GracePoint After Five, takes your final images ready for upload, and shrinks them even further.
We could fill many pages with useful links. For the sake of space, we will limit ourselves to Best-of lists, and related forums. The Best-of lists are all less than 18 months old.
- Best-of lists: LifeClever 10 free, DailyGyan 10 online, 1stWebDesigner 28 fun and 15+ fun, WebWare 15 online photo editors compared, FreeNuts 13 best, TechSupportAlert best 5, LifeHacker hive 5, Fotoflock best 6, DKSZone.net best 5, AppStorm top 8, BrowserLand miniguide, NextraPixel cool 26, Aext 20+, VisionWidget 15 best, OnlineTechTips top 25, SitePoint impressive 19, CNET top 15.
- Forums: DPReview forums, ePhotozine forums, PBase forums, Flickr help forum, PhotoCamel image editing forum, DeviantArt software forums, Computer Graphics (CG) Society forums, SmugMug forums.
Update: 3 months after picking Pixenate for its speed, we find ourselves using Picnik more and more for its versatility. Leaving Picnik open all day in a separate tab takes out most of its time penalty.