Not too long ago, complex photo editing software was only available to people working in the graphic design industry. But now, thanks to cloud computing and HTML5, everyone can access image editing applications through a regular web browser. What’s more, most of the best tools are free for everyone to use.
In this article, we’re going to focus specifically on tools that apply effects to photos, much like the filters you’ll have seen in the Instagram app. But photo processing isn’t just for smartphones: you can create crazy effects in your browser, too.
Pixlr is a cloud image editing tool that closely mimics some of the best features in Photoshop. Pixlr-o-Matic is its spinoff; a photo editing tool that allows you to apply effects to snapshots in a second.
With Pixlr-o-Matic, you can take a photo using your computer’s built-in webcam or upload a picture from your hard drive. By default, you can use 25 effects to change the color balance and contrast, but there are even more effects and frames tucked away in the Pixlr-o-Matic library. The results are impressive. You really could spend hours experimenting with this handy tool.
Like Pixlr-o-Matic, BeFunky accepts photo uploads and webcam shots. You can also directly import photos from Facebook, Picasa, Flickr and Photobucket, which is useful. Weirdly, the webcam input is reversed, but you can perform a horizontal flip if you don’t like the orientation.
BeFunky offers a mix of basic image editing tools and effects, and there’s also a huge library of frames and stampers, including fun Christmas borders and comedy hats. The results are colorful and cheeky, but the results aren’t quite up to par with Pixlr-o-Matic.
With a range of import options and cluster of different tools, FotoFlexer tries to cover all bases by offering photo editing alongside fun effects. It even bills itself as the “world’s best” in the field. Unfortunately its interface is very outdated, and it’s more difficult to find what you need because the tool icons are badly designed.
The effects offered in FotoFlexer are poor and really need to be improved if it’s to compete with some of the newer tools on the web. You could probably make a cheesy greetings card here, but there’s nothing that would be of any use for a good-looking snap or an amateur design job.
PhotoFunia is a little different from the others tools I looked at. While image processing and editing is covered across the board, no other tool attempted to integrate photos with backgrounds in a meaningful way. PhotoFunia uses face detection to superimpose your own shots over pre-made professional backgrounds.
While PhotoFunia is enjoyable, its strange tabbed interface makes it all to easy to lose your photo half way through. The filters on offer aren’t bad, and the effects are very clever, but PhotoFunia really needs to be more intuitive before users could make the most of it.
The Best of the Bunch
None of these browser-based photo editing tools are designed for professional graphic designers; anyone who works in design will know how to recreate most of these effects from scratch. But if you don’t have access to expensive software, each could provide the basic tools you need to bring out the best in a snapshot. In a pinch, Pixlr-o-Matic wins, and it’ll do a pretty good job of making your favorite photos look more appealing, vivid and interesting.